Category Archives: Project Blog

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

April Sightings 2020

April Sightings 2020

This month’s specials!

Although (or possibly because) we are still in pandemic lock-down, I have had a huge response to my request for sightings again. Who needs walks into the countryside when so much turns up on your doorstep?!  Highlights were reports of Grass Snakes (one at the Sanctuary Reserve (Paul), one in Paradise (Vic) and one swimming in the brook near the Burnside allotments (Holly)), a rare Snail and a Weasel.

Mammals

In the spring warmth, bats are out of hibernation : Richard’s detector picked up six species flying around the house at Hobson’s Park: Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Nathusius’ Pipistrelle, Noctule, Lesser Noctule and Serotine. My sighting of the month was a couple of views of a Weasel playing around the hedge near Skaters’ Meadows. Jill reports Water Vole in Hobson’s Brook at Empty Common and also noted a Hare crossing Grantchester Road.  Muntjac are ubiquitous as ever: one was spotted in a garden off Newmarket Road (Sarah). Rhona’s Jesus College Foxes are perhaps suffering marital discord with the lock-down.  The Vixen was seen carrying cubs, (at least 4) one by one, across College and out along Jesus Lane and Manor Street.  It seems she has taken them to a new den in Christ’s College gardens.  Meanwhile, the Dog Fox is still seen in Jesus grounds most days.  Vanessa sent a lovely video of a young Rabbit family in Hobson’s Park, greatly enhanced by the background of a Lark singing and a contribution from a Cuckoo.

Birds

Besides this Cuckoo heard in Hobson’s Park on 4th Apr, several others have been around this month. In Newnham, they were calling between Apr 28th to May 2nd (Jill, Penny, Olwen), in Highsett on 3rd May (Vicky), Cherry Hinton on several mornings (Holly) and in Trumpington Meadows on 19th April (Mo). Mo also spotted a migrating Wheatear in Trumpington Meadows on 22nd and  Maria reports an Oystercatcher on the lake in Hobson Park – this is turning out to be a magnificent place for birds.

Barn Owls are back in Newnham, flying low over the meadows both morning and evening, in broad daylight (Sandie, Dorothea).  Red Kites are becoming more regular (Vicky) and Martin noted numerous Buzzards over the city, including three above Fenner’s cricket ground recently.

Lots of folk mentioned their garden birds: using nest boxes, coming to feeders or just being around (Bernie, Jane, Loic, Maria, Jean, Holly). Thanks for all these. Bird song has been deafening this year, perhaps because of the lack of traffic noise. I found myself wondering whether they had increased their volume over the years and would sing more quietly if all the cars went for ever – sadly this hypothesis will not be tested. Val notes “The 8pm Thursday NHS clapping startles all the birds, who fly off in alarm”.

Spring migrants continue to arrive. Martin saw his first Swift on 28th April, earlier than usual.  Common Terns have been seen in Newnham (Olwen) and Hobson’s Park (Richard). Swallows arrived by 9th April (Jeff) and on 29th a cloud of House Martins joined them over the Hobson’s Park lake feasting on insects (Richard). Reed Warblers were heard in Trumpington Meadows on 19th (Mo). Jeff reports Sedge Warblers (2 on 15th) by the Cam in Grantchester Meadows and 3 Whitethroat and a Lesser Whitethroat on 19th, all singing along Grantchester Road. There are large numbers of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps almost everywhere and last year’s Cetti’s Warbler have returned to Cherry Hinton lakes (Holly).

What else?!  Grey wagtails in Grantchester and Newnham, (Loic, David): a Nuthatch in a Newnham garden (David), Jackdaws sitting on the Cardoon seed heads, scavenging fluff for their nests (Jane), Reed Buntings in Trumpington Meadows (Mo), Tree Creeper in Byron’s Pool woods (Vanessa), Buzzards circling over the city (Jean), Peregrine on URC in the city (Vicky), a pair of Partridges exploring an abandoned building-site at Homerton College (Sam), a male Tawny Owl in Histon Road Cemetery (Lesley), Jays (Colin, Holly), Little Grebes nesting on Trumpington Meadows pond (Duncan) and Jeff’s list which included Marsh Harrier (1st summer female), Red Kite, Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear female in Grantchester Road.  A spectacular haul.

I have been struck by the scarcity of Collared Doves and Jane also says theirs seem to have disappeared.  Another non-sighting – a troubling lack of Moorhens on Jesus Green, where previously there used to routinely be ten or a dozen, but recently barely any (Lesley). Then a complaint from Richard! Canada Geese invaders are breeding at Hobson’s Park. I remember the Colleges had this problem on the Backs and invested in a mock Coyote – effective apparently.

So much for the birds – what about the bugs?

Maria send a pic of a Rosemary Beetle (Chrysolina americana). Originating from south Europe, it has become established in Britain since the late 1990s. Paul’s garden continues to produce an amazing array of invertebrates: first 14-spot Ladybird of the year and the bug Mocydia crocea. The harvestman Platybunus triangularis was in the Sanctuary Reserve and Shieldbugs Dock Bug, Hairy Shieldbug and Juniper Shieldbug all turned up in Trumpington (Mo).

Large Red Damselflies appeared through the month and Duncan has been waiting to see the first Hairy Hawker dragonfly. More and more butterfly reports (Brimstone (Alec), Speckled Wood (Karsten), Orange Tip (David), Red Admiral (Jeff), Holly Blue (Val)) – thanks to all who sent these.

Ben’s highlight for April was finding Hairy-footed Flower Bees in the garden.  Bill’s experience was not so good – while some of his Honey Bees were flourishing, he had a nasty attack of Wax Moth (Galleria sp.) pupae in a bee hive.  Pam has been carrying “Bee Saviour” Cards, with which she was able to rescue a damp and bedraggled Queen Bumble Bee.  After probing the sweet spot, it warmed up, did a buzz and a short flight, then zoomed off!  Wasps are also emerging: Paul snapped a Common Wasp queen, who after drinking in the pond flew to the greenhouse to preen herself and have her portrait taken. He also found Marsham’s Nomad Bee, a new species for his garden list. All nomad bees are wasp mimics and kleptoparasitic, entering the nests of a host and laying eggs there, stealing resources the host has collected.  John asked about another “Bee”- actually a fly pretending to be a bee –the Bee Fly Bombylius major.  Another parasite of bees and wasps, its eggs are laid in the nest and the larvae eat the host larvae. 

Lesley sent a picture of my favourite snail, Cepaea nemoralis, the banded snail, This extremely variable snail is much studied by geneticists. The pattern of banding and the underlying colour are all quantifiable genetic characters. This one was “yellow” (there are also “pink” and “brown” ones) and of the potential 5 rows of bands, it seems to have 2 and would be scored as 1-0-3-0-0. Even better, this guy does not attack your plants, living mainly on detritus – so don’t squish him!

Paul also had a snail adventure. On Worts Causeway on the way up to the Roman Rd, he found several small (~15mm) snails. His initial identification was Kentish Snails Monacha cantina , but an expert identified it as the much smaller and far rarer species Monarcha cartusiana Cartusian Snail. (In 1999, this was only known from a total of  fifteen 10-km grid squares in coastal areas of South Eastern England. It was probably introduced to Britain from Southern Europe as a “weed” of cultivation by prehistoric farmers (Susan Hewitt).)

Plants

We mustn’t let the animals have all the attention – the plant hunters have had fun too.

Paul found large clumps of White Ramping Fumitory in flower in Coleridge recreation ground, Chris noted a very pale Green alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens on River Cam opposite Jesus Green. Jill came across a ditch full of Water Crowfoot behind the rugby club. Although recently dredged, this is stagnant water.  Vanessa found Three-cornered Garlic, Allium triquetrum on the guided busway in Trumpington – an introduced plant from the W. Mediterranean.

More complaints from Richard! Hoary Cress or Curse-of-Kent Lepidium draba, an aggressively rhizomatous species thought to have been introduced to the British Isles with fodder or straw, is spreading ominously into Hobson Park. Green Alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens is forming ‘extensive monocultures’ with a ‘strong negative impact on most of the native species’ that it replaces on banks and beneath hedges. A garden escape, comparatively rare as recently as the 1960s, it is now naturalised and spreading widely. I am certainly aware of this taking over my allotment and other places locally. Himalayan Balsam (Policeman’s Helmet) Impatiens glandulifera seedlings are emerging near the entrance to Byron’s Pool LNR. It forms high dense stands probably restricting the growth of native species. This has been fought by the Wildlife Trust up and down the region’s minor waterways and clearly the battle is not yet won.

On brighter notes, Jo found Nonea lutea, a rare weed, growing at Murray Edwards College, probably introduced with top soil. Simon likewise found Musk Storksbill Erodium moschatum,  a long way from its designated habitat! Horse Chestnut ‘candles’ have been magnificent. I learned that the centre of each flower changes from yellow to red after it has been pollinated. Apparently all flowers will eventually turn red, but pollination speeds up that process by a day, giving a traffic light signal that directs pollinators to fresher, unpollinated flowers. (Thanks Paul).  Cowslips have also been magnificent everywhere this year.

Last month’s mystery (above) was a Hoverfly pupa, Epistrophe eligans.  Louise Bacon (the only contender!) came very close. This month’s puzzle picture was taken in Churchill College – below. Who will be the first this time?

Let’s keep going! April 2020

I can just about do it in my hour bicycle exercise: fifteen minutes to get there, half an hour round Hobson’s Park and a fifteen-minute cycle ride back home. I can cycle to most parts of the City and our NatHistCam project area and back within my allotted one-hour exercise with the exception of one day when I fell in the river, with my bike, at Newnham. That’s another story; my camera and binoculars survived but my mobile phone did not!

Blackcaps are singing across the City including Harding Way where I lived as a boy! I have never heard so many. They even made it onto the BBC Radio 4 national news at 7:00 on 25th April – Frank Gardner, their Security Correspondent, is a twitcher and he commented how widespread they are this spring. In Chesterton my ranking order of dawn chorus songsters is: Great Tit, Blackcap, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon then Collared Dove and Robin, often a Green Woodpecker in the background. Chiffchaffs have followed close to Blackcaps in abundance across the City this spring. This has been the sunniest April on record with an unusual sequence of north-easterly winds.

In 2019 Duncan McKay encouraged members of CNHS to send in Dawn Chorus recordings on their mobile phones to identify songsters. The ranking order was Blackbird, Robin, Wren and Blackcap. This year Dawn Chorus Day is Sunday May 3rd – let’s do the same again! The Wildlife Trusts have information on their web site. The Cambridgeshire Bird Club is also asking everyone and anyone to keep a weekly log of their garden birds – see their web site and download the record sheet!

The lock-down and the traffic silence has encouraged me to listen to urban bird song closely. Coal Tits breed just across to road to me but rarely venture onto my feeders – they have two songs. Blue Tits also have at least two songs and one that is only occasionally heard – a hoarse “cheeva..cheeva..cheeva”. I think this is a territorial statement from the male bird of an established pair and the familiar song is to attract a mate. In Germany, Blue Tits have been found with a deadly contagious disease rather like Trichomoniasis in Greenfinches. So far, this infection has not appeared in UK Blue Tits.

Despite trichomoniasis, Greenfinches appear to be having a good breeding season across the City and must have made a recovery from their contagion.

At 4:00am on 2nd April Redwings were passing over in numbers. Buzzards and Red Kites have been seen widely including over the junction of Histon Road with Castle Hill, a Red Kite over Tenison Road (Martin Walters) on 4th and my first Buzzard seen from my house on 5th and another on 26th; a Red Kite over Hobsons Park on 17th April.

A Willow Warbler was singing at Barnwell East LNR on 6th April (Iain Webb, cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com) and one at Coe Fen the next day. Also, on 7th April a pair of Oystercatchers and a pair of Lapwings were at Hobson’s Park and on 15th April an Oystercatcher over Chesterton early morning. On the 9th a Swallow flew low over my Chesterton garden; on the 10th the breeding pair of Swallows were back along the river under the A14 bridge and another Willow Warbler was singing in Milton Country Park.

On 14th April I heard a Grey Wagtail singing by the river at the Doubletree Hotel – I probably have heard them before but this was the first time I have registered and listened carefully to Grey Wagtail song; the bird had been ringed. The song was a tuneful rattle interspersed with call notes. Very different from the woeful “slurp. ..slurp …slurp” song of Yellow Wagtails. (The worst bird song!)

The Chiffchaff and the Greenfinch

On 18th April the first Corn Bunting was singing at Hobsons Park and on the same day a Chiffchaff and a Greenfinch arrived together in my garden. Both are unusual in my small garden but they arrived together, hung around the feeders together and left together. Maybe we will have a Chiffinch before the season is out!!

At 22:30 on 18th April two male Tawny Owls were challenging each other with quiet alternating hoots; they were close by and were probably more audible because of the much-reduced traffic noise in the lock-down.

On 19th April Rob Pople reported an Osprey (cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com) and at Eddington I heard my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year – but still no Whitethroats (but … first one heard at Baitsbite on 26th)! A pair of Sparrowhawks were displaying over Castle Hill when they appeared to be intercepted by a second displaying pair. The real sensation of the month was on the 22nd April – a White-tailed Sea Eagle reported over Bolton’s Pit, Newnham (James Cadbury: cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). It was probably one of the released birds from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme. They have been seen over Greater London and a bird was tracked up the Suffolk and Norfolk coasts during March.

A Mistle Thrush was still singing in Huntingdon Road (they have been singing since November 2019) and a Yellow Wagtail and a pair of displaying Sparrowhawks were over my house in Chesterton. Skylarks were in full song throughout the month at Hobson’s Park and in arable land behind St Giles, Cemetery off Huntingdon Road. The male Peregrine was reliably in attendance on his lookout perch in the City centre throughout April. On 26th April 4 Swifts were seen high over Histon Road.

Male Kestrel at Clay Farm

Two Common Sandpipers were at Hobson’s Park on 24th April (Martin Walters). I have tried to count the Black-headed Gulls at Hobson’s Park but each time I do the number increases; I think there are 100 breeding pairs, a number of non-breeding adults and 12-15 birds in their second calendar year i.e. they were fledged juveniles last year. These birds act as colony guards and look-outs ready to mob the passing Heron or Lesser black-backed Gull but also ready to sneak a crafty copulation with a lone female; no further sighting of the 2nd year Mediterranean Gull there with nest material. Two Common Terns were at Milton CP on 25th just outside our project area. On 28th April Swallows, House Martins, Sand Martins and two Reed Warblers were at Hobson’s Park. On 29th April, along the Coton footpath, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler were singing.

On the 30th a Common Tern over the Mill Pond and three Corn Buntings singing on the ground – which I have not seen before – about 50 House Martins plus Swallows, 3 Sand Martins and a high over Common Tern were all at Hobson’s Park and Nuthatches were calling from a back garden in Chaucer Road (a new Cambridge locality for me). Also on 30th a Red Kite over Castle Hill and a Wheatear, Cuckoo and Cetti’s Warbler at Trumpington Meadows (Jill Aldred: cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com).

Local House Spug

I finished my March blog with a comment about House Sparrows. A lone male bird now makes regular visits to my feeders (picture below). House “Spugs” get little press but they are barometers of the health of our urban bird life. During the lock-down more people than ever, especially children home from school, are taking an interest in the wild life around us. In Cambridgeshire, House Sparrows have become almost extinct in the wider countryside because of intensive farming and the loss of over-winter stubbles to feed. They have adapted to western urban environments and rural villages. In eastern Europe to central Asia, Tree Sparrows are the birds of human habitations and House Sparrows are birds of the open countryside.

March Sightings 2020

March draft

This spring has coincided with pandemic lockdown and I have had a huge number of responses this month (hence the lateness of this report).  Thanks to all contributors. We really do have time to stop and stare!

Quiz for this month – what is this? Read on…………

Amphibia

In Chesterton frogspawn appeared on Mar 1st and this was followed by a slew of other sightings. Jenny says, “We have been hoping for Frogs for the last 4 years since we put in a small wildlife pond.. we saw four extremely active large frogs busy doing what frogs do at this time of the year! (More reports from Peter, Heather, Paul, Pam, Jonathan.)  Smooth Newts also put in an appearance (Ben, Olwen, Jill) while Heather saw mating Toads at Clay Farm.

Plants

Butterbur flowers appeared in Paradise on Mar 2nd (and my first Asparagus spear on 17th).  At Jesus, Rhona found Yellow Figwort Scrophularia vernalis – Alan Leslie notes it as a weed of Cambridge College gardens, with a long, if discontinuous history in Cambridge.  First described 1830, he found it by Wesley House in 2013 and also in Jesus Lane.  Mo describes how she ordered some Creeping Comfrey Symphytum grandiflorum, having seen how attractive it was to bees.  With the plants still in their wrappers on the doorstep, a large bumblebee immediately headed for the flowers.

Jonathan reports spring annual plants – Cerastium semidecandrum Little Mouse-ear, Myosotis ramosissima Early Forget-me-not, Poa infima Early Meadow-grass, Saxifraga tridactylites Rue-leaved Saxifrage and Stellaria pallida Lesser Chickweed – on the gravel of the W. Cambridge car-parks, several new to this site. (I suspect we mostly ignore these as the LBJs of the plant world!) Also Luzula campestris Field Wood-rush in Cherry Hinton churchyard and Ranunculus auricomus Goldilocks Buttercup just starting to come into flower.

Vanessa describes Dog’s Mercury Mercuralis perennis in the woods near Byron’s Pool with clumps of Wood anemone Anemone nemorosa. In Coton, Lesley admired Cornelian Cherry Cornus mas in flower, with great drifts of Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara.  Monica’s daily exercise is now a survey of street weeds within about a kilometre of home. White Ramping Fumitory Fumaria capreolata was just inside Coleridge Recreation Ground (previously recorded there by Alan Leslie in 2008).  Near Rustat Avenue were masses of Early Forget-me-not Myosotis ramosissima, with tiny deep blue flowers, hardly bigger than pinheads.

Mo queried one flower and learned it was a Campion hybrid. Apparently, Red Campion Silene dioica flowers during the day and its most important pollinators are butterflies, bees, and flies with long proboscises. Its close relative White Campion S. latifolia opens its flowers at night, so is pollinated by night flyers. Occasional shared pollinators allow cross-breeding.

Butterflies

My first Yellow Brimstone butterfly was Mar 17th but there were many more butterfly reports from Mar 11th onwards (Rhona, Pam, Judith, Bernie, Sue, Miles). Also Commas, Small Tortoiseshell, and a “Tiny Blue” (Judith).

Bees

Penny’s permitted daily walk along Grange road passes the Cherry trees outside Selwyn. At their flowering best, there was the most amazing ‘hum’ of Honey Bees visiting the flowers.

There are Buff-Tailed Bumblebees reports galore, but also a Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum seen in Jesus on 10th and a Mining bee Andrena bicolor male, a thin bee with a black face tuft, on 9th March (Rhona). Mo found a Red Mason Bee Osmia bicornis  while Garret reported an Osmia cornuta by Jesus Lock: a first for Cambridgeshire. It has distinctive facial horns and black and red pattern.

Ladybirds

Rhona, 6th March, noted the first mating 7-spots Ladybirds of the season. Pine Ladybirds were spotted in St. Andrews church yard in Cherry Hinton by Paul, at least a dozen scurrying about  the trunk of an ash tree. Jonathan also found large number of these on trees in the West Cambridge site car-parks.

Eyed Ladybird Paul Rule

Sanctuary Reserve turned up an Eyed Ladybird. There are few records of our largest ladybird from Cambridge city, but they may be under-recorded, as they are mostly hidden away in conifers.

Mammals

Hedgehogs are beginning to stir:  Ben and Dorothea both have active hogs. Dorothea says, “The dish has been licked clean the last few nights and their poo trails criss-cross in all directions”. However, on 13th Jenny, found a sleeping hedgehog under a pile of leaves and covered it back up again quickly. Was it still hibernating or just taking a regular daytime nap? 

At Jesus, Rhona reports a Squirrel with a white tail. Anita says Water Voles are active in the mill ditch by Lammas land. Two Woodmice and a Stoat were spotted on the Coton reserve, just outside our area.

Birds

I had a huge number of bird reports, all valuable for our records but not possible to include them all. Thanks for sending them.  Notable findings were the first Chiffchaff song, arriving exactly on time (Mar 17th) and  I had a close encounter with Barn Owl near Skaters’ Meadows, in broad daylight about 4m away at eye level. A Red Legged Partridge joined Jane on her allotment  and Heather rather casually mentioned a couple Bearded Tits at Clay Farm – a most unusual bird within the City boundary and a credit to the new Reserve there. Bob suggests they may be breeding there.

An update from Mike Foley Count on the Paradise Heronry. This year, there seem to be only 5 occupied nests, in comparison with 12 last year. There was also a beautiful Cormorant in full breeding plumage there and two Buzzards over the wood (he thinks they breed elsewhere).

It is good to get sightings of finches, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Chaffinches, recently in short supply (Holly, Pam) and 14 Yellowhammers at Coton Reserve (Lesley). She also mentions Stock Doves there – I hear these every day in Paradise, but never see them.  Little Egrets have returned to Newnham (Anita) but I still don’t know where they nest. Harlton (again out of our area) has acquired a Peacock: so far not calling or displaying.  Jill says there are many Skylarks above the fields in Newnham and Stella has a Nuthatch visiting  her Newnham garden. 

Fungi

Paul found this tiny Mollisia melaleuca fungus (1mm across) on rotten wood in the garden. It is less common than the similar Common Grey Disco (Mollisia cinerea) but that species has dark centres with pale edges and this is the other way round.

Other invertebrates

Lots of other insects are emerging just now.  Paul spotted Epistrophe eligans – an early hoverfly and points out the males are not to be trusted, as their eyes are too close together…. The Bee Fly Bombylius major was sighted by several people.  In Hobson Park, Vanessa reports signs of emerging caterpillars of the Brown-tailed Moth Euproctis chrysorrhoea from their overwintering strongholds. This white moth was originally coastal but seems to be spreading. The caterpillars live in white cocoons resembling strong opaque polythene. Beware! These caterpillars shed toxic hairs which can cause intense irritation and a rash. They infest various species of deciduous trees and can cause defoliation. Mo saw a Hairy Shieldbug Dolycoris baccarum and Paul snapped tiny Owl Midges (aka owl flies or drain flies) flitting around the Marsh Marigold leaves.

Aquatic fauna

Mo’s pond turned up some 1 – 2mm translucent balls, looking somewhat like tiny clam shells. Jean suggested it was a fresh-water clam, one of the Sphaerium species and to keep them under observation in the house.  Mo’s last words were, “I am not holding out any hope of pasta alle vongole sourced from my pond”.

Finally, something to investigate: What is This?  It was 7mm long and under the lid of Paul’s dustbin.  (The first thing is to decide which end is which and go from there. ) With all the time in the world on your hands, have a go…. The first correct entry will be acknowledged in April.

Olwen Williams                   olwenw@gmail.com                 

I’m not finished just yet! March 2020

It couldn’t have happened at a worse time! Being compelled to stay at home because of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) right at the start of spring and the arrival of our breeding birds is a blow. From March 24th, it’s birding from home neighbourhoods or gardens or what can be seen or heard on fitness excursions by foot or bicycle or on a visit to local food stores. On 25th a pair of Common Cranes were seen over a garden in Ely, Jon Heath saw five over his garden in north Cambridge last year and they are examples of what can be seen from an urban home neighbourhood. It’s a good time to see Common Cranes from the fenland breeding population as wandering young birds from last year are ejected from family groups and try to establish their own breeding territories.

Fortunately, our 3-years project to study the wildlife of the City has just ended. The Cambridgeshire Bird Club has an ongoing garden bird survey – see their website for details: www.cambridgebirdclub.org.uk A birder in the north of the City has recorded 105 species in and over his neighbourhood (plus 18 heard – not seen – from night-time audio recordings). That’s a challenge!

The spring passage is underway; Chiffchaffs are singing across the City: Tenison Road (Martin), Logan’s Meadow (2), Eddington, Huntingdon Rd/Histon Rd footpath and Huntingdon Road, Canterbury St, Hobson’s Park, Long Road (2) and along the river (4). Overwintering Blackcaps are singing a peculiar sub-song before they leave and before the breeding population arrives; a pair on 29th and 30th off Huntingdon Road. Buzzards are over the City and a pair appears to have a breeding territory in the remaining trees at the Milton/A10 roundabout despite the A14 workings nearby – they are just outside our project area.

The City centre Peregrines have been displaying noisily and the male can been seen above the nest site. A Peregrine was seen over Lovell Road on 23rd (Jon). The Newnham Nuthatch, seen on a garden feeder over winter, is still about so is probably breeding nearby (Stella).

Logan’s Meadow has had a tree tragedy. A major willow suffered a terminal split in its trunk and has been felled. I hope it was checked for roosting bats before it was felled. This is a good site for Pipistrelles and Daubentons. The immediate effect is shocking but perhaps some benefit can be had by planting understorey shrubs and allowing the ground flora to recover. Sadly, the two pairs of displaying Great-spotted Woodpeckers and the Tree Creepers have gone. Logan’s Meadow is one of the few, probably the only “wild” woodland site in north Cambridge. I did see a Water Vole in Logan’s Meadow on 19th, that’s new to me there – maybe not to the mammal experts– but some compensation for the wreckage in the wood. Also in Logan’s Meadow, Marsh Marigold and Coltsfoot are in full flower. A Badger sett was found at Eddington.

The rookeries on Hills Road and at Girton College seem to have made complete recoveries from the effects of the February storms Ciara and Dennis. The Hills Road rookery was wiped out but now has 14, possibly 15 apparently active nests (AAN’s) – 10 last year and the Girton College rookery has 38 possibly 40 AANs – 34 last year. It’s difficult to count the Girton College site because of the dense evergreen crowns of the pines and the Sequoia.

My first Brimstone butterfly was on 24th – lock-down day – and by 27th Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks and Commas had emerged from their winter torpor. Rhona has photographed a strange-plumaged Wren at Jesus College. Is it part melanism, is it a strange moult or discolouration for some physical reason? Between the bus station at Addenbrookes and the Outpatients Dept. is a shaded grass verge that has a number of Bee Orchid rosettes.

Through this winter I have seen been aware of an evening flight of Jackdaws going due north over my Chesterton home. They must be off to roost but where that is I do not know. I suspect it might be in Histon in the trees around the Church. At dusk one evening I counted 95 flying over.

House Sparrows are part of the background bird life that are never mentioned in any birding websites. But they are a barometer for urban biodiversity. They have recently returned to feed in my garden which means the colony in nearby St Andrews Road has been re-established. In the mid-1970’s, when the Plant Breeding Institute (PBI) was in Trumpington so many House Sparrows descended on the ripening cereals trials to feed it was feared the yield results would be compromised. They had a dedicated sparrow killer who chased the birds into a funnel trap and dispatched them. In the early 1980’s the population collapsed and the first House Sparrows recorded at Trumpington Meadows, on the site of the (PBI), was two years ago. I may have told this before!

Cycling along the towpath on 25th and a Common Lizard scurried across the track; I haven’t seen one of these in Cambridgeshire for very many years.

On a lone, fitness, cycle ride to Hobsons Park on 26th there were 5 Little Gulls, the world’s smallest Gull, amongst the 300+ Black-headed Gulls in the colony – they had probably been brought in by the easterly winds. By 30th the colony had consolidated to about 130 birds; a passing Common Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull were seen off aggressively. On another cycle ride on 28th a 2nd year Mediterranean Gull was at a site in our project area, this bird was seen with nest material; three had been reported earlier including a pair displaying. I failed to locate it/them a few days later.

There are Lesser Black-backed Gulls over the City centre – will they/are they nesting on a rooftop?

I’m a great fan of Ivy! I dispute the theory it “strangles” trees when it grows up stems and trunks. What it does is add to wind resistance increasing the likelihood of tree fall during exceptional storms. It provides nesting habitats and a berry harvest that lasts through the winter and is important for House Sparrows and other species. I have seen more dead trees caused by a heavy parasitic load of mistletoe than ivy growth.

Best wishes to all during this very difficult time; please stay safe.

Bob Jarman 29th March 2020.

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

February Sightings 2020

This month’s highlight: read on!

I am told the best month for Mosses and Liverworts is February.  So it was no surprise when Chris Preston spotted two plants of the liverwort Sphaerocarpos on trampled soil at Mitcham’s Corner. It’s a very distinctive plant because of its balloon-like perianths (but with a small hole in the top).  This is the first record from the NatHistCam area since it was reported at Barnwell Gravel Pit in 1802 and there are fewer than 400 UK records altogether. So here is a challenge!  Where else can we find it in the city?  Please let me or Chris (cdpr@ceh.ac.uk) know, including location and photo if possible.

In spite of the weather (gales, inexorable rain, some frost, on 27th large snowflakes at breakfast, sun by noon) signs of spring are everywhere. There was no shortage of Daffodils on St David’s Day!  Violets are out, Early Dog Violet as well as Sweet Violet, and Cowslips are coming into flower too. Coltsfoot along Snakey Path and in Hobson Park is flowering, Cherry Plum is covered in blossom (you can tell it is not hawthorn or blackthorn because the youngest shoots are green). At Cherry Hinton Hall, Marsh Marigold planted last year is in full flower (Monica).

Our raptors seem to be doing well.  Guy spotted male and female Peregrine noisily mating on United Reform Church and Liza saw one over Alpha Rd. Jonathan enjoyed the sight of a Sparrowhawk eating its breakfast in the garden whilst he ate his and John also saw one kill a pigeon in King’s Hedges. On 23rd Feb, I had wonderful views of a Red Kite – my first sighting in Newnham.  Vicky spotted a large bird of prey, almost certainly a Buzzard, sitting on top of one of the new office buildings along Station Road, resisting the efforts of a couple of crows to move him on.  Jill reports regular Tawny Owl hooting at Pinehurst and a Barn Owl flying across the traffic on Barton Road, landing on the verge and staring at them (this was just outside the NHC target area however). Kestrels were seen in Hobson Park and Newnham.

Lots of water bird reports too: a pair of Tufted Duck on the lake at the Botanic Garden (Vicky) and more on the chalk pits at Cherry Hinton (Holly).  Little Egrets were seen in Coldham’s Brook by the Football Stadium (Guy) and fishing on Hobson’s Brook (Holly). Graylag Geese fly over between The Sanctuary and Bolton’s Pit Lakes honking at dawn and dusk (Jill). At Hobson’s Park, Richard has a bird’s eye view of the lake, where 100 Greylags are present. They nested last year on the floating rafts and Lesser Black Back Gulls have already gathered in anticipation of the coming goose egg bonanza. He also reports a single Great Crested Grebe (no Little Grebes), Mallard, Pochard, Shoveler, Tufted Ducks, Coots and Moorhens and a few Canada Geese. There have also been up to 20 Lapwings – wonderful group aerial displays but quite aggressive to each other on the ground. Kingfishers are frequently found along the Cherry Hinton brook and the Cam, always a delight to see.

Hobson’s Park also turned up a pair of Stonechats and flocks of Corn Buntings. Other less usual birds were this fluffy Coal Tit on a cold day at Jesus College (Rhona), Skylarks singing over the arable fields by Grantchester Rd and Little Grebes near Fen Ditton, on several occasions (Val). The Rooks and Jackdaws have mostly gone from Newnham (I am assuming the few remaining are youngsters who will not breed this year). Holly says they have arrived in Cherry Hinton, Jackdaws often on chimney pots along the far end of Mill Road and Rooks sunbathing on the treetops along Burnside, but no nesting activity yet.  Meanwhile the Heronry in Newnham is active with birds carrying sticks.

Loic reports the Blue Tits started nest building in the bird box on 3rd Feb and there is plenty of other chasing and bird song going on.  Along Burnside, Sparrows were claiming the Swift boxes (Holly) – this seems rather unfair!  Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Green Woodpeckers are vocal, with song from Greenfinches, Robins,  Dunnocks, Wrens, Song Thrushes, Great, Blue and Long Tailed Tits. However, Blackbirds, Blackcaps and Chaffinches are around but not singing yet. Several people have reported Jays, which seem now quite common in the City (Mary, Olwen).

Rhona reports a Fox enjoying the sunshine and a Bank Vole seen several times during daylight in Jesus Woods.  It had eaten all the Cow Parsley near its hole, was munching  its way through the Few-flowered Garlic, but (sensibly) had not touched the Nettles.  A Grey Squirrel, meanwhile, was enjoying the Crocus petals.  Holly noted the first sighting this year of a Water Vole  on Cherry Hinton Brook and Richard saw a pair of Brown Hares ‘boxing’ and chasing – behaviour usually associated with March.

Pam’s Frogs have been emerging from hibernation and swimming slowly in the pond. (She comments, “ This time last year it was 16C and I saw Brimstones!”). No frogs yet in Trumpington, however! (Mo). Paul’s Smooth Newts have already returned to the pond.

Several people have mentioned Bombus terrestris (Buff-tailed Bumblebee), but Honeybees are also up and about.  Rhona found 7 Pine Ladybirds on 6th Feb (along with some 7-spots) all on the same Sarcococca bush. But the most remarkable February sighting was the Violet Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa violacea) near Girton College.  Stephen Tomkins writes: “It was first seen locally nearly two years ago and I have now seen a male on a hot sunny February day.” Yet another species which is moving north and overwintering, breeding in the wood of old rotten fruit trees. First UK record was 2007 (I have only ever seen it in Sicily).

Finally, Paul captured a Rayed Earthstar Geastrum quadrifidum, which he found under lime trees in the Botanic Garden. A good specimen for the next wildlife quiz.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

It’s not the last one …… just yet! February 2020

Sitting in the café in Chesterton Road on 3rd February a female Sparrowhawk swept across busy Chesterton Road at knee height, through a front gate and over a wall. Perhaps it spotted a gap in the traffic, perhaps it just took a chance but it looked to me like reckless predation!

In Windsor Road, there is an apple tree that is completely infested with Mistletoe. It is a Bramley and now fails to produce any fruit. This seems to be reckless parasitism as the host appears to be dying. The houses at the Histon Road end of Windsor Road were built in 1937 on an established orchard owned by St John’s College and this tree is at least 100 years old.

Dying Bramley apple tree with a lethal load of Mistletoe

The female Goosander was seen again at Milton Country Park on 8th February; it often swam close to the vegetation on the island at the north end of Dickerson Pit. A Blackcap was calling loudly from Logan’s Meadow on 6th and another was heard in gardens on Huntingdon Road on 7th February and a female Blackcap (“browncap”) in Lovell Road on 21st.

Sunday 9th was storm Ciara – one of the worst days for weather by far this year (followed by storm Dennis on 15th/16th). Still, a Song Thrush was singing in Chesterton during the day and off Huntingdon Road a “browncap”, Chaffinch, Dunnock and four species of tits were using a bird bath at the same time. Coal Tits are actively singing. A phone-in to Christopher South on Radio Cambridgeshire reported a Blue Tit nest with chicks. But the storm destroyed all the Rooks nests in Long Road although 31 Rooks, presumably the birds from the colony, were feeding on Hobson’s Park on 12th February.

I checked the state of most other rookeries on 13th February after storm Ciara but before storm Dennis. I counted the following intact nests (spring 2019 count of active nests in brackets):

  • Cherry Hinton Hall, 4 (10) and nearby Walpole Road, 5 (12).
  • Teversham Drift and close-by Church End, 18 (32).
  • Teversham Church and close-by Airport Way, 22 (26).
  • Girton College and nearby Huntingdon Road checked on 18th February after Ciara and Dennis, 14 (34)

All sites appear to have lost remnant nests from last year. How much of this is down to normal losses and how much is due to storm Ciara (and storm Dennis in the case of Girton College) I don’t know. The Walpole Road, Airport Way and Long Road sites are particularly exposed. Rooks were active at all the sites except the Girton College site. On 25th February five nests had been reconstructed in Long Road.

Rooks feeding in Hobson’s Park – February 2020

Three Bewick’s Swans circled over Jesus College on 12th before heading north-east (Rob).

Sunny mornings in February and March are good months to record House Sparrow nest sites and colonies. The males call loudly usually by the nest entrance. One of the best colonies in Cambridge is in Richmond Road with a colony of 4-5 nests in the dense Ivy on a west facing front wall of a terraced house.

Two Little Egrets were at Hobson’s Park on 12th February and three Little Egrets were in the horse paddock next to the A14 Bridge at the end of Fen Road; on 20th February, two were there and one in Ditton Meadows. Lapwings have taken up residence at Hobson’s Park and a male Peregrine was on the URC Church on the same day.

At our NatHistCam Committee meeting Duncan McKay reported there are six active Badger sets within a mile radius of the City centre; the largest in college grounds off Grange Road has 21 entrances! At this meeting, a map of Mistletoe distribution was circulated. In the east of the City – Romsey Town and Cherry Hinton – Mistletoe is scarce but is present in Wenvoe Close, Cherry Hinton and Seymour Street, Romsey. Strangely, none in Cherry Hinton Hall despite Mistle Thrush singing there on 13th February and a Blackcap calling in nearby Mill End Road also on 13th February – the two principal bird vectors of the parasite. Greenfinches were singing across Cherry Hinton on 13th February.

Cycle north along the Cam and you will see Cormorants, all are of the European race that develops a grey “shawl” of feathers over head and neck in adult breeding plumage. I reckon average dive time is 25 seconds with a range of 23-29 seconds; whether this is escape/avoidance dive-time or feeding dive-time I don’t know!

On 14th February, a Kingfisher was on Riverside and a pair in a display chase at Milton Country Park on 22nd February; the latest UK Kingfisher population is 3850 – 6400 pairs which is lower than I expected (British Birds, February 2020).

Wicken Fen is not in the NatHistCam area but the Hen Harrier roost is worth mentioning; Marsh Harriers are present too. I think it is one of the best birding sites in the County. At dusk on 14th of February five males and three ring-tails (female/1st y) were seen. It’s worth the National Trust entrance fee (and car park fee!); the best views can often be seen just outside the reserve centre or from the top of the scaffolding tower. Week days are best; weekends can get crowded! Barn Owls are an almost certainty too.

Goldcrests and Coal Tits are singing wherever there is a well-established stand of conifers and my first city flowering Blackthorn was on the 14th.

The south edge of Dickerson Pit at Milton Country Park on the 18th had a pair of displaying Great-crested Grebes, five Shovelers and five Wigeon on 22nd February; the commonest ducks were Gadwell and Tufted Duck – feeding dive time was 19-23 seconds!

“Are you looking for the Peregrines?” said a Civil Enforcement Officer (Traffic Warden) to me on 21st February. “I saw one earlier this morning” he said “Got a picture of it on my phone, have a look and last week I saw a Red Kite over Coe Fen”. The pair were displaying noisily at roof-top height on 22nd February and the size difference between the male (smaller) and the female (larger) was obvious. A Woodcock was off Huntingdon Road on 21st (Sean Rouse, www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com).

The Game and Wildlife Conservancy Trust encouraged land owners to complete the 30-minute Big Farm Bird Count during February. I completed one on the NIAB’s Trials ground that falls within our study area – 15 species in the half hour including Yellowhammer, singing Skylarks and a flyover Grey Wagtail!

The Hobsons Park Stonechat pair were feeding along the busway on 25th and 176 Black-headed Gulls were around the lake – 9 (5.1%) were first years. This matches a guestimate of first year birds along Jesus Lock to Riverside in winter 2018/2019 of 6%.

A flock of Long-tailed-Tits were arguing with their reflections in a garden mirror off Perne Road on 29th (Paul).

Bob Jarman 29th February 2020. – bobjarman99@btinternet.com

This could be the last! January 2020

A hint of spring sunshine and breeding behaviour begins. Great Tits are often first with their ringing song, Blue Tits too, but their song is often a coarse version of their call and they never sing for long. Great Tits keep going! Blackbirds are at it and Song Thrushes just revving up. Mistle Thrushes have been patiently singing since last November.

It happens every year – I hear a call, often associated with a tit flock, and ignore it until I remember what it is – of course it’s a Tree Creeper. I’m relieved that I can still hear it at my age. “Sibilant” is the word – it’s a word I have only read describing bird song but that’s what a Tree Creeper’s call and song sounds like: sibilant! One was singing in Logan’s Meadow in mid-January. Wrens are singing – they never seem to stop. They are our commonest bird with 11 million pairs out of the estimated 84 million breeding pairs of birds in the UK (British Birds, February 2020 Vol 113).

Four Great-spotted Woodpeckers were chasing each other through and around Logan’s Meadow. At least two were males with a red patch on the back of their heads. I like them. They are noisy, full of enthusiasm, careless and indiscreet in their nuptial display chases. Rhona Watson has photographed a female (without the red spot) in Jesus College grounds with a chafer grub. I think it was a gift and part of the rituals of a breeding pair bond.

There were still plenty of Redwings and Fieldfares about in January. Fewer seem to have ventured into the City this winter which has been mild. I think there is still plenty of food to be found in the countryside and on farmland although Logan’s Meadow has a regular roost of Redwings. Eighty-Five Fieldfares were in a flock on farmland in the north of our project area in early January. The Newnham Nuthatch was a regular visitor to a garden feeder during the month.

A female Goosander has been present on the Dickerson Pit at Milton Country Park during most of January. I have seen it in almost exactly the same place on several occasions – in the north end of Dickerson pit which is just outside our NatHistCam project area. The front cover of the latest Cambridgeshire Bird Club Annual Report (no 92, 2019) for observations logged in 2018 has an illustration of a female Goosander with chicks. Goosanders bred successfully for the first time in Cambridgeshire in 2018 at two sites; one site was on the River Cam at Little Shelford. Typically, it is a breeding bird of faster moving upland rivers and streams.

In 2014, I found a female Goosander with seven chicks in May on the River Great Ouse near Milton Keynes. They were amusing to watch. From a distance, they were like yobs on a day out diving, swimming and clambering over each other in the water until they saw me on the water’s edge when they lined up politely and immaculately behind their mother and swam past in a line. It’s a breeding bird we should now look for on lowland rivers.

Peregrine(s) have been seen regularly on the united Reform Church in Trumpington Street. On a cold wet morning, I saw the female perched on the very top of the spire looking huddled and damp.

I had not been to Kingfishers Bridge Reserve near Wicken Fen for many years but in the last two weeks I have been there twice! It’s just off the road from Stretham to Wicken opposite the road to Upware. Its free to visit and well worth it. James Moss, the warden, and Stephen Tomkins gave excellent talks about the reserve to the Natural History Society on 30th January. It has a visitors’ centre and encourages families and has hides, picnic tables and the “Bittern Hump” where you can sit and watch and wait for Marsh Harriers and Bitterns. There is a white-board where you can add your own sightings; someone had seen a” fezunt” which continues to amuse me!

In the month the regular pair of Stonechats, three Little Egrets and Kestrel were at Hobson’s Park and a Kestrel over the Market Square and Logan’s Meadow. The Kestrel is the common European lowland raptor and its range extends into North Africa and the middle-East.

Over the New Year I visited The Lebanon. The weather was terrible! Heavy rain every day often most of the day. I visited Mleeta in the south of Lebanon which can be described as the Hezbollah theme park! Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organisation but is an integral part of the sectarian peace and government in Lebanon. The park is on hills overlooking the lowlands of south Lebanon and was the resistance headquarters against the Israeli occupation in the 1990’s. It is a memorial to the deaths of the Hezbollah “martyrs” and shows captured Israeli munitions, a gift shop, lecture hall and a 200m tunnel through the hill to the Hezbollah observation post. The “sparrowhawk” is depicted as the bird of resistance because it “hovers, all seeing, over the valleys below and is bitter to the taste”. The Hezbollah guides were not impressed when I pointed out the bird described and in their propaganda film was a Kestrel.

Bob Jarman 31st January 2020.

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

January Sightings 2020

As I cycled through Grantchester Meadows after dark on 8th Jan, I was accompanied by Bats, which were chasing the Moths circling in my bike light.  Everywhere, everything is early. There were several reports of Buff-tailed Bumble Bees before 29th Jan (they are always the earliest to emerge) (Pam, Olwen, Paul, Rhona). Rhona also sent pix of an Angle Shades Moth caterpillar, which pupated on 20th Jan.

An Episyrphus balteatus Marmalade Hoverfly on Winter Aconite, a Common Green Sheildbug in its winter ‘brown’ colour and an Irish Yellow Slug (aka Green Cellar Slug) complete Rhona’s invertebrate haul.  She recommends the slug survey and identification guide https://www.rhs.org.uk/slugssurvey.

A very mild January has seen a return of Grey Herons to the heronry in Paradise Island, the first visitor on 8th.  By the end of the month, there were several sightings each day of birds returning with sticks to patch up the nests, a month earlier than 2019. The Rooks and Jackdaws are still around, but in smaller numbers and soon they will return to their nesting sites. Bird song has ramped up through the month: Green Woodpecker, Dunnock, Stock Dove, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Goldfinch, a solitary Greenfinch, a rather tentative Blackbird, Robin, Collared Dove and numerous Song Thrushes locally in Newnham. Add into this the drumming of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and you could be forgiven for thinking it was March!

Treecreepers were seen in Jesus College (Rhona) and also a pair along the Grantchester Meadows path (Penelope).  At the Newnham Riverbank Club, Ted and John saw 3 Snipe and a Woodcock rise on the opposite bank during a pheasant shoot. This land has become a wetland and Lapwing are seen there in the spring.  In the field above the Meadows on Jan 29th, 4 Skylarks were seen, one singing and two others having an aerial scrap.  Cormorants are seen frequently on this stretch of the river.

Val reports Long Tailed Tits at the feeder, a Jay and also a large Brown Rat which had somehow squeezed its enormous bulk inside the domed cage over the seeds. In CB1, Sandra had a couple of Jays feeding on mealworms and in Highsett more Long Tailed Tits were reported by Mary.  There was a Mistle Thrush in Jesus and another in Newnham in December (Ted) – they are not common, so it is nice to get these reports. Jesus College also hosted a flock of about 20 Redwings recently.  Rhona found a Coral Fungus (Ramaria species) and at Murray Edwards College, an Earth Star caused excitement (Jo).

Sarah send this picture of a Muntjac strolling along the King’s Backs on Jan 14th , while Rachel’s newly planted plants were systematically demolished by one in a Grange Road garden.  These guys are a real menace, both to gardeners and particularly to woodland.  They are so immune to danger that they no longer bother to be nocturnal. Breeding is currently unchecked by colder winters, they can breed year round and numbers have rocketed in the last decade. Venison, anyone?

On Jan 11th at 4pm, I listened to a Song Thrush singing in an ash tree above a field of cabbages by Grantchester Meadows for at least 20-30 minutes, into almost darkness.  I was reminded of Hardy’s Poem, written at the end of the 19th century and I echo its final hope for 2020.  Perhaps we can turn those cabbages into woodland for him.

The Darkling Thrush By Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate when Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter’s dregs made desolate the weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be the Century’s corpse outleant,

His crypt the cloudy canopy, the wind his death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth was shrunken hard and dry,

And every spirit upon earth seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among the bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small, in blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through his happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew and I was unaware.

Olwen Williams                               olwenw@gmail.com

December Sightings 2019

Jonathan Shanklin, who has been the botanical recorder locally since 2004, says, “I can report 2326 records of Vascular Plants, Liverworts and Ladybirds logged on my database during 2019 for the NatHistCam area.  (This is roughly the median number, ranging from 7022 in 2005 to 1157 in 2004.) Overall there were reports of 746 different species/subspecies/variants.”  The most exciting were Potentilla argentea (Hoary Cinquefoil) that Jonathan found at the Observatories and Cuscuta epithymum (Dodder) found by Alan Leslie at Hobson’s Park.

Dodder is a very strange plant, consisting of multiple stems, almost leafless and without roots. It is parasitic on other plants, over which it forms a mat.  C. Epithymum has no chlorophyll and is pinkish in colour. Related to the Convolvulus family, it is parasitic mainly on legumes (gorse, clover) and also on heather. Other names include Hellweed and Strangle-tare! It likes rocky, stony and grassy habitats, favouring limestone. There have been no previous NBN records for Cambridge.

December so far has not been too cold and mammals are still being reported.  Fiona spotted a Hare on Grantchester Meadows on Dec 1stFox sightings seem to have increased in the Gilbert Road area: two sightings in Bill’s garden, both close to the house. One  was a rather lean looking dog fox, which chased two Grey Squirrels across the lawn but when they sought refuge up a larch tree, he then attempted to eat the fat ball on the bird table!  Even though it was not in our study area, I can’t resist adding in the Mermaid seen on the Ouse by Mike Foley. Not long before the sea reaches us here?

Jo was excited to see an Egret at Sainsburys.  (She doesn’t say what it was shopping for, however.)  Holly has heard Song Thrush and Robin both singing, with occasional drumming from Great Spotted Woodpecker. She also reports a flotilla of Tufted Duck on the Cherry Hinton chalk pits. Sandie snapped a Heron on the bank in Newnham, so motionless she mistook it for a tree stump at first.  Blackcaps were reported from Chesterton (Pat) and Petersfield (Val). Pam’s sharp-eyed granddaughter spotted Pied Wagtails in Chedworth St, a Grey Wagtail near the Mill Pool and a Grey Heron on Coe Fen. On Boxing Day, Pam took her four grandchildren at dusk with torches through Paradise, good floods to paddle in, blackbirds chinking, a rook flyover overhead.  

Mentioning Paradise, the Pallas’s Warbler sighted in November was still there on December 2nd, but not seen since. The congregation of Twitchers also flushed a Woodcock there, which apparently was poor compensation for not seeing the warbler. At St. Johns college, Nuthatches were seen again and also a Little Egret near the Bin Brook (David).

On 4th December, U3A naturalists had an excursion to the Botanic Garden, mainly to look at Bryophytes. We were delighted to find the “Lower Plant” glasshouse behind the main ones, as it has been greatly improved. There are many more “Lower Plants” than I had dreamed of. As a bonus Paul stumbled across a couple of (rather battered) Earthstars on the  way out.  At Byron’s Pool, another group came on some Stump Puffball at the foot of an Oak tree and in Paradise, Oyster Mushrooms were growing on dead Willow (thanks Bernie).

Paul sent a few more bug records: “Synophropsis lauri” is a Leaf Hopper and another species that has recently established itself on these shores (first UK record 2007). Females are believed to over-winter as adults. Sitona lineatus (Pea Leaf Weevil) was found hibernating in the seed pod of Love-in-the-Mist. Finally a very unseasonable moth record from 19th December: a Silver-Y Moth. These are common migrants, normally seen in large numbers from late summer into autumn.

Lesley reports a Bee in Highsett on 27th, also an Earthworm on the pavement and was delighted to assist it by putting it on grass. Winter proper has yet to come, evidently.

Finally, I copy you Alec’s commentary on his garden birdbath verbatim: ”I have the usual population of blackbirds and sparrows flitting about amongst the bare branches of my Forsythia. Yesterday, 31st December 2019, a sparrow was happily enjoying a lively bath in my birdbath (a pottery basin) on the ground when a blackbird suddenly jumped in and trumpeted, “You! Out!”. The sparrow reluctantly stepped out, but hopped around the bath watching the splashing blackbird indignantly. Then it hopped right back into the bath and exclaimed indignantly, “No! You, out!” and flapped around in the water as belligerently as it could. “Blimey!” quoth the blackbird. “All right, all right!” thinking, these little squirts can certainly lose their tempers, can’t they? And it got out and decided to wait its turn. Which shows how important a cold bath is to birds in midwinter… doesn’t it?”

Happy New Year and thanks to all contributors

Olwen Williams                                              olwenw@gmail.com

This could be the last! December 2019

This could be the last bird blog as our NatHistCam project comes to an end. It had been a fascinating three-year study – not just local patch birding but an attempt to record the changes in the City’s bird life and habitats. It’s difficult to understand just how big these changes are. Have all similar cities experienced the changes that Cambridge has? In a historical context, there have been major changes in the bird life of the City – some probably due to climate change, others to habitat loss due to building developments, and other changes, especially the increase in raptors, due to protective legislation. Perhaps the most interesting development has been recording of nocturnal passage over the City and identifying species and numbers of birds by their flight contact calls.

The Pallas’s Warbler was re-found on December 2nd at Paradise Local Nature Reserve. The other December highlight was the Western Siberian subspecies of Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita tristis) found in Logan’s Meadow Local Nature Reserve by Simon Gillings on December 11th and subsequently by Nigel Lister. I’ve had a couple of goes looking for it – the second time on 23rd December I found a Chiffchaff but it was always too mobile and too distant to clinch an identification; I didn’t hear it call – perhaps it didn’t.

Three Blackcaps – two males and a female – have frequented a garden off Huntingdon Road feeding on Mahonia nectaries and Honeysuckle berries; they have been seen most days during December including Christmas Day! Up to seven Cormorants have frequented the roost at Logan’s Meadow and a pre-roost gathering of at least 16 Magpies assemble there most evenings (down from 26 last year).

Little Egrets have been seen in and over the City in our project area at Sheep’s Green and Granchester Meadows on December 14th, over the junction of Histon Road with Huntingdon Road on December 13th, and over the Sir Isaac Newton pub on Castle Hill on December 21st. Twenty years ago, sightings like these would have been unthinkable; thirty years ago, would have required a full written description to the UK Rarities Committee.

Pairs of Stonechats have been seen behind the Cambridge Rugby Club near the Tennis Club and at Hobson’s Park on 21st December and 24th December respectively. Perhaps one year a pair will stay and breed in our project area but every year pairs appear settled but by March they have gone. Also at Hobsons Park on 24th December 17 Linnets, a Water Rail (heard only) and 21 Rooks. Were these the same 21 Rooks I saw on Nightingale Avenue recreation ground on 23rd December and were they from the Long Road colony or the Cherry Hinton Hall/Walpole Road rookery? On the very edge of our project area a flock of c220 Linnets were seen on a field of Maize stubble and potato haulms together with 26 Pied Wagtails,1 Grey Wagtail and 20+ Meadow Pipits. This highlights just how important over-winter weedy stubbles are!

Up to five Little Grebes are regular along the Cam from the Long Reach adjacent to Ditton Meadows to the bridge over the A14.

Late news from Hobson’s Park: Lapwings bred there this years and chicks were seen (Dusty Miller).

Bob Jarman 26th December 2019

bobjarman99@btinternet.com