Category Archives: Project Blog

This blog will record the progress of the project as we go along.

Goldcrests

Now is a good time to see and hear Goldcrests, our smallest bird. They like to nest in conifers, especially Scots and Corsican Pines and mature Leylandii. In Coldham’s Lane, Roseford Road and Whytford Place, even isolated Leylandii trees hold their own self-sustaining populations. They rarely visit bird tables and seem to find all they need in their own small habitat. They often join flocks of tits, especially Long-tailed Tits and can be seen almost anywhere in early winter in deciduous trees and shrubs especially with dense ivy.

They are prolific nesters and can lay clutches of 12 eggs although 6-8 is more common; the females often lay a second clutch before the first brood has fledged. They are vulnerable to cold winters and numbers fluctuate, but the recent mild winters have boosted populations and forced birds to use other evergreens, such as ivy, as nesting habitats.

Goldcrest looking for insects on bracken fronds in St Andrew’s Church Cemetery, Chesterton, October 2015

Although it is our smallest bird it is an impressive migrant. In 2015 there was an exceptional influx of birds between October 11th and 20th along the East coast; at Holme Bird Observatory on the north Norfolk coast 829 were ringed in October 2015, compared to the previous October record of 338 in 2005. There was a large influx this year due to the prevailing easterly and north easterly winds that coincided with their exodus from northern Europe. Ringing recoveries show birds have come from Norway, Sweden, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. Before ringing, ornithologists could not believe that such small birds could migrate and thought they hitched a ride in the feathers of larger migrants such as Woodcock which arrived at the same time. One migrant Goldcrest that landed on the sea wall at Cley in Norfolk was so hungry it attacked a Hawker dragonfly and was dragged along by it in mid-air before giving up and letting go.

Now is a good time to look for them across the City, because our resident population has been boosted by these newly arrived migrants that have filtered inland. The best way to locate them is by call, a very high pitched thin repetitive zeee zeee zeee. Be patient, they can be difficult to locate as they move constantly and nervously through the vegetation, gleaning small insects from the leaves and branches often hovering as they do so. They look “open faced” with a pale area around the eye and a yellow crown – the males have a crimson stripe in the yellow – and two prominent pale wing bars in their greenish plumage. If you see one with a bold white stripe over the eye it’s a Firecrest and that’s another story!

Bob Jarman (bobjarman99@btinternet.com)

NatHistCam filmed by Cambridge TV

NatHistCam was lucky enough to feature on Cambridge TV recently, with a focus on the Garden Survey. Rosie Earwaker tells us how the filming went…

Wednesday 19th October came, and I was a mixture of both excitement and nerves with the prospect of being filmed. Paul Rule had kindly offered his garden, which had plenty of interesting features to talk about. The first thing to do when I arrived was to check what had been attracted into the moth trap, which I had set up the previous evening. It’s always exciting turning over the egg boxes at the bottom of the trap to see what creatures might be lurking, but it was very anti-climactic with just two moths showing up! That was moths off the cards then.

In the meantime, Mark Hill and Monica Frisch had started compiling a plant list for the garden. Mark was focussing on mosses, which varied from flicking bits off the roof with a long pole to getting low to the ground with hand lens to the eye (in typical botanist style). The film crew arrived after the plants had been thoroughly inspected and we launched straight into the plan for the day.

Monica was first up, with a closer look at the variety of plants in the lawn. We were a bit early for the Bee Orchid rosettes, but there were plenty of other species to talk about. Paul followed with a bit about his garden and how he encourages wildlife (deliberately or not!). Then Roger Featherstone arrived and the filming focussed on the snuffling contents of the small mammal traps, which had caught a number of lively beasts. The sun had even appeared at this point, which provided some welcome warmth on quite a chilly day.

While some of us refuelled inside for a bit, Mark was interviewed by Adam Canning about the Project and wildlife recording in the area. Last up, it was my turn to talk to Jamie Wyver about the importance of ivy as a food resource for pollinators and about bees and wasps. I found it difficult at times not to look into the camera, which was pretty close to us, and just focus on having a chat with Jamie!

The day went really well and we’re pleased to share the final piece. Thanks to all those who were involved!

http://www.cambridge-tv.co.uk/the-wild-side-ep4/

 

November records

At this time of year, autumn colours are always a race between frosty nights and high wind.  Well, the frosty nights have come and the colours deepened, but now many leaves have blown off in the wind, so walking has become a childhood pleasure, through drifted piles of green, yellow, pink, red, plum and brown, to match the November fireworks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some insects are still active.  Ivy flowers provide a valuable food source in November and a late wasp was seen on these (above). A common darter was spotted on a stone wall (right).  Under a rough web, on a fallen leaf, a 3mm bright green spider lurked – Nigma walckenaeri (below).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is always a surprise to visitors that cattle graze the meadows along the Cam, even in the middle of the city.  Over the last few weeks, they have mostly been housed for the winter, no longer depositing their dung pats across the water meadows.  However, under the pats it is far from dead!  The larvae of dung beetles and dung flies survive over-winter as chrysalises, to emerge as adults in the spring.  Fungi break down the dung, worms and plants invade it, rain and frost contribute to decay and soon the nutrients are returned to the soil.

There are still lots of other fungi around.  In Paradise Local Nature Reserve, a huge willow tree was felled about three years ago, after it became dangerously decayed in the middle.  The logs were piled beside the path and now host various bracket and other fungi.  Altogether, I found 15-20 different species in the wood, including oyster mushrooms.

Olwen Williams, 11 November 2016

Late autumn and early winter bird report

Cormorant numbers are building up slowly! Four were roosting in the Riverside willows in late October. The anglers don’t seem to mind, although this is an ideal spot for them to nest. Numbers of Robins in our gardens have been boosted by a huge influx of birds from abroad. Most of our home bred Robins move south for the winter and are replaced by birds from Europe, particularly from eastern Germany and Poland.

Winter Robin in Fulbrooke Road Allotments

How many Blackbirds frequent your garden over the winter – 3 or 4, 5 or 6 at the most? That’s what a Norfolk birdwatcher thought until he ringed Blackbirds in his urban garden with individual combinations of coloured rings; he counted over 70 individuals!

Black-headed Gull numbers are now building up along Riverside. They are now in winter plumage without their black (actually brown!) heads. Amongst them are the larger Common Gulls without any head markings and a greenish bill. These can often be watched closely, as one cycles across Parkers Piece. Look for any  coloured plastic leg rings with alphanumeric numbering, designed to be read through binoculars or a telephoto camera lens. Details of where and when the birds were ringed are available on the internet.

If you are in the Cambridge Market Square and the pigeons are flying around in a panic, there is probably a Peregrine Falcon hunting. Peregrines now nest in the City; they were once thought of as birds of mountains, cliffs and moorland but Cambridge City now has as many breeding pairs as Shetland! If it’s warm enough, sit outside at Don Pasquali’s on Market Square with a coffee (and one of their excellent pizzas!) and watch the skies!

Large numbers of Waxwings have arrived along the east coast and are beginning to filter inland. These spectacular birds nest in the Scandinavian conifer forests but move south in winter searching for berries especially Cotoneaster, Mountain Ash, Wild Rose hips and Yew. Most years they are rare but there are occasional influxes; hundreds roamed Cambridge in the winter of 2012/2013. Please keep watch for them. They are often remarkably tame and like urban areas.

Waxwings

Waxwing

Waxwings in Longworth Avenue Chesterton 2013

October 2016 has been one of the most spectacular autumns on record for rare birds along the east coast, due to the prolonged period of easterly winds bringing in vagrants from central Asia. Yellow-browed Warblers from central Russia have appeared in exceptional numbers and many have continued a southerly migration inland. Several have been recorded in Cambridgeshire and one or two birds have been seen (and heard) at two locations around Stourbridge Common. They are small very energetic greenish leaf warblers that are best located by their call – a plaintive rising “sooeet”.

Yellow-browed Warbler – by Simon Stirrup

Bob Jarman

(Please send me any records of birds in the City and I will forward them to the County recorder) bobjarman99@btinternet.com

October update

After a long and mostly hot summer, temperatures are now dropping, especially at night and we can anticipate some autumn colours in the trees.

Walking through the Paradise Local Nature Reserve, I came upon a kingfisher moving ahead of me. Several times, he perched and then splashed down into the water in search of dinner. Kingfishers are the ultimate specialists, in terms of both diet (fish) and nesting place (a hole excavated in a steep bank, out of reach of rats and other predators). I remember that one year, there was a nest in an old drainpipe in the river wall of Clare College, right in the centre of Cambridge.

My cat brings me a variety of ‘presents’! On one occasion a live kingfisher was handed over unharmed and I was able to take it back to the river, where it flew off with an indignant squawk. This week, I found a Convolvulus Hawk-moth on the mat. A night flyer, I would probably never have seen it resting during the day, its grey speckled wings and pink and black abdomen blending perfectly with tree bark. These large moths are autumn migrants from Africa.

This year has been a spectacular year for snails and slugs. Under a pot in the garden, I found several large Black Slugs, Arion ater (which can be brown, yellow or even white) busy with their autumn egg- laying, after which they will die. Between August and October, each individual may lay multiple batches of up to 150 eggs, so if, as a gardener, you want to reduce next year’s population, clear as many eggs as possible! Otherwise leave slugs as part of the ecosystem, as they clear detritus and even dog mess and provide food for hedgehogs and others. I notice my slugs are parasitised by slug mites, Riccardoella limacum, tiny white creatures which run around the outside of the slug and into the lungs via the pneumostome. It reminds one of the rhyme, “Big fleas have little fleas, upon their backs to bite ’em, And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so on, ad infinitum.”

Olwen

11th October

Even the most urban parts of our city can hold wildlife.  October 10th was warm and sunny. Whilst walking through the underpass and the centre of the roundabout connecting Newmarket Road and Elizabeth Way, I noticed how alive with insects the rosemary was. Although I only definitely identified Honey Bee and Common Wasp, the sheltered nectar was clearly very popular with wildlife, providing a food resource in a somewhat concrete part of town.

Louise Bacon

Intro to the project by Olwen Williams

Cambridge City Natural History

 

The city of Cambridge includes grand buildings, new and old houses, streams, lakes, cemeteries, water meadows, gardens and recreation areas. The river Cam runs through the centre, forming a focal point for residents and visitors alike.  It is a small city, roughly eight kilometres square, densely populated but full of green spaces. Nowhere are you far from the countryside and even within the city, wildlife abounds.

 

This project, planned to last for 3-4 years, aims to increase public awareness of the diversity of plants, animals and fungi within the city and to involve everyone in documenting Cambridge’s natural history heritage. As part of the programme, a garden will be chosen in each square kilometre across the city and surveyed intensively.  Initial studies show that as many as 70 native plants may be present in an average garden and moth trapping in north Cambridge turned up a beautiful privet hawkmoth.

 

Just now, the season is turning from summer to autumn.  Tawny owls – two males and a female – were calling last night from the tall trees.  Other birds are quiet, in autumn eclipse.  There is no longer the noisy racket from the heronry by the river, suggesting that this year’s young have at last fledged.  The horse chestnut trees, whose leaves are attacked by the larvae of a moth, have turned brown and prematurely shrivelled. Although this moth only arrived in the UK in 2002, it has spread rapidly northwards.  Spiders abound – the webs of the garden spider lace the bushes. Butterflies, bumble bees and dragonflies persist, but in smaller numbers than before. A mating pair of Willow Emerald Damselflies were seen in the Botanic Garden on Sept 4th. This species was first recorded breeding in the UK in 2007 and seems to be expanding its range

Olwen