An icy spell near the beginning of the month briefly set back the onset of spring. Chris found a spectacular icicle swarm around The Waterman on Mitchams Corner: presumably due a combination of freezing cold, burst pipe, an automatic watering system and an empty building during Covid. The cold evening sunset was at the Riverbank Bathing Place in Newnham.
By the middle of the month, butterflies were being seen : Comma (David), Peacock (Mo, Paul), Brimstone (Ann, David, Becky, Paul) with lots of Bumblebees and Honey Bees becoming active. A queen Red-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus lapidarius was reported by Jean. There were 3 reports of Pine Ladybirds (Mo, Mary, Paul). Paul found at least 50 crawling over the trunk of a large Ash tree in St. Andrew’s church yard Cherry Hinton. Ionathan reported the winter-flying Ichneumon Wasp Ophion Obscuratus.
Clear skies and a bright moon are not good for moth trapping, but on a mild and overcast night, Paul caught the first Common Quaker, Hebrew Character and Satellite moths of the year.
Paul’s other find was in the bath : “The most exciting thing I have seen this year”. A Spitting Spider (Scytodes thoracica) (3–6 mm) is an indoor specialist, preferring to make its home in heated buildings, but seldom recorded. It catches prey by spitting a fluid which congeals on contact into a venomous and sticky mass. It is produced by glands in the chelicerae and contains both venom and spider silk in liquid form. The carapace is unusual in sloping upwards towards its rear end, whereas the abdomen slopes downwards. It has six eyes instead of the usual eight.
Jonathan also had some excitement, in the shape of a Woodlouse on the kitchen floor. Clearly a pill woodlouse, he used the FSC “Woodlouse Name Trail” key and arrived at the Southern Pill Woodlouse (Armadillidium depressum). This was described as being locally abundant in the SW and rare elsewhere, with no NBN records from anywhere near Cambridge. However, it was confirmed by experts and apparently one had been found at the Botanic Garden in 2012. The rear of the woodlouse flares out a bit, unlike the Common Pill Woodlouse. Next time you find a pill woodlouse have a close look!
Spring moving on : Peregrine copulation observed on the church opposite Pembroke College (Jeff), Dunnocks collecting nesting material in Cherry Hinton (Holly), Blackcap (Jean, Bob), Chaffinch (Jeff) and Blackbird (Gleb) in full song, Long-tailed Tits pairing up (Paul), Grey Partridge – feisty behaviour, with much calling & pair forming between at least 12 birds (Jeff), hooting Tawny Owls (daytime) St Giles Cemetery, Huntingdon Rd (Bob) and Cherry Hinton (Duncan). On the other hand, Redwings and Fieldfares were still about, with a flock of about 12 Redwings in St Andrews Road giving communal pre-migration sub-song (Bob).
Finches seem to be very variable – I am seeing hardly any just now, but Lesley reports a flock of 50+ Greenfinches in the trees in Histon Road Cemetery, with about a dozen in Mill Rd Cemetery (Jeff). (Apparently they are recovering after having crashed because of trichomonosis, but it may now be affecting chaffinches.) Jeff noted about 4 Bullfinches near Pembroke allotments. There were 45+ Lesser Redpolls at Cambridge Science Park (Jon) while David saw around 100 Goldfinches on the West Cambridge site. Perhaps some of these will return to Newnham for nesting.
Less usual birds this month include a Pochard at Hobson’s Park (Gleb), Treecreeper and Goldcrest along Cherry Hinton Brook (Holly), a pair of Mistle Thrushes on mistletoe in Grange Rd (Jean), 2 pairs of Teal Grantchester Meadows (Jeff), a Green Sandpiper near Girton (Bob), 11 Siskins in alders at Lammas Land (Bob), a mixed flock of Golden Plover and Lapwings on the arable fields next to the Trumpington Meadows (Becky), a Woodcock at Storey’s Field (Bob), a Pink-footed Goose and 4 Barnacle Geese at Hobson’s Park (Gleb).
My latest contributor is Ionathan, aged 12, who tells me that he first became interested in nature when he was about four years old. Then a Year 4 teacher, who liked birds and moths, inspired him and he began to be really fascinated. He has visited many nature reserve in the area but has particularly focused on Storey’s Field and his own garden. So far, he has identified about 700 species in the garden and 900 in Storey’s Field. He wondered if the Little Egrets were nesting near Stourbridge Common, as he had seen up to 12 birds in the area at one time. (However, Bob thinks it more likely that they come from the Cambridge Research Park Heronry at Landbeach and had probably dispersed from the large breeding colony on the Ouse Washes (37 pairs in 2019).)
He sent me pictures of creatures found while conducting a pond life survey in his pond and Paul was able to help identify some of them. He also regularly runs a moth trap and sometimes stands for up to 5 hours in front of flowers to watch for pollinators.
Ionathan also sent the hazel flowers and Paul contributed some fungi – some cheerful colour at a bleak time.
Amphibia: Gleb has been on a one-man mission, finding 55 Newts in the ponds at Bramblefields LNR and 39 Toads at Regatta Court. At Logan’s Meadow there were 72 Frogs and 10 Smooth Newts. He also found first frogspawn at Hobson’s Park. In Paul’s pond, Frogs and Smooth Newts (100+) have returned, amid huge numbers of Daphnia.
Finally, a February rainbow of hope from Pam. A month of very mixed weather.