Well, the Water Meadows certainly came into their own this month! Upstream of the city, there has been widespread and repeated flooding : Paradise, Coe Fen and Sheep’s Green, Skaters Meadows and Grantchester Meadows all turned into lakes. (So far, there has not been enough of an overnight frost to turn them into skating rinks.) Fulbrooke Wood and allotments suffered from a blocked drain adjacent to the woodland. The water level in the lake in Hobson Park and in Hobson Brook was also very high. Along with the rain came mud, in large quantities! The riverbank path in Paradise has been closed and most footpaths are uncomfortably muddy. Cold water and high water levels did not deter a couple of swimmers, however. Furthermore, all this rain must be good news for the chalk streams and aquifers.
Some decided to stay indoors: David sent this picture of a Christmas present Grow Box for Yellow Oyster mushrooms. Grown in the kitchen indoors, they were from a self-contained kit, and all that was needed was to spray with water – too easy, he says. I hope they tasted good.
Quite a lot of Raptor reports: a Buzzard sitting on top of flagstaff on The Job Centre opposite the Jesus Green footbridge (Liza). Jesus’ female Kestrel is still around (Rhona). Peregrines were mentioned by Jeff and by Gleb, who also encountered a Sparrowhawk sitting on the pavement, eating a pigeon. Pam was entranced by the sight of a Red Kite, low over Paradise and heard Tawny Owls calling in Newnham.
From being an occasional and notable rarity, Little Egrets are now about as common as Herons. I spotted 4 together on Skaters Meadow and several others also sent reports (Mo, Richard, Rosemary, Jeff, Bob). They seem to be everywhere (but where do they nest? A NatHistCam prize for the first answer to this question.) However, in addition to the Little Egret, Grantchester has been visited by a Cattle Egret (Gleb) and Bob says there had been about 6 in the Earith/Fen Drayton area. Perhaps they are moving in too?
At Hobson’s Park, the island in the lake has been drastically reduced by the rise in water level. Squashed into this area were at least 100 Snipe, a dozen Lapwings, a pair of Teal, a male Shoveler, Tufted Ducks and several Pochard, a pair of Great Crested Grebes, an occasional Cormorant, Egret and Grey Heron. And then there were the Geese! Up to 100 Greylags plus plenty of Canada Geese : the roosting birds were unable to practice social distancing on the island, the snipe being forced to roost along the tops of the tree trunks. (Richard comments that Countryside, the main developer here, failed to cut back the vegetation last year on the eight rafts on the lake, which deprives the birds of roosting space now and of nesting sites later on.)
A female Goosander was seen sleeping with the Mallards in the flooded field opposite Paradise (Pam, Bob, Gleb). There was also an Egyptian Goose in the same place – chased by the local Domestic Geese, who then in turn were charged by a Swan (Gleb). It’s all getting territorial as spring approaches. Jeff reports about 30 Teal and 3 Shoveler (2 drakes and a duck) in Grantchester Meadows. The Glossy Ibis is also still around, caught here with a rather disgruntled Heron.
The unmistakable first overhead honk of a Heron was around 20th January – a week earlier than 2020 (Pam). In Newnham, this signals the end of winter – the change-over from large gatherings of Rooks and Jackdaws as the herons reclaim their nesting territory in the tall trees of Paradise Island. Ionathan comments on a Black-Headed Gull with a pink breast in Logan’s Meadow. (I have never noticed, but apparently it is not uncommon.) Bob saw a Water Rail at Logan’s Meadow.
With typical under-statement, Jonathan had ‘nothing of real significance’ to report on the botanical front for January and had seen only 314 species in the NHC area during the month, with 111 of them in flower, the most frequent being Common Field–speedwell. Monica’s perambulations turned up a few Sweet Violets in flower along Snakey Path and Aconites at Cherry Hinton Hall. Meanwhile, Bob has been further afield, finding Daphne laureola (Spurge-laurel) flowering in woods between Girton and Madingley.
Bee Orchid rosettes are appearing: at West Pit Cherry Hinton, near Addenbrooke’s hospital and at Nightingale Recreation Grounds. This last site was the scene of spectacular Helleborines last spring – one benefit of lock-down, when children were excluded. Hopefully it will not be repeated this spring.
The distinction between ‘garden’ and ‘countryside’ tends to blur in the winter, as hungry Fieldfare (Jeff) and Redwings (Stella) invade our gardens. Ionathan (aged 12) says, “You may be interested to know that during the Big Garden Birdwatch I saw a Black Redstart in our garden. It was unmistakable and amazing.” Certainly unusual! Stonechats have been reported from 3 sites (Richard, Jeff, Bob) – are they getting more common? The hedgerows and meadows around Grantchester Rd turned up about 400 Lapwings, 9 Grey Partridges, around 80 Skylarks, 8 Meadow Pipits, 32 Pied Wagtails and 6 Corn Buntings (Jeff), while Bob noted about 1000 Linnets on crop/trash and stubbles between Impington and Huntingdon Road and 40 Meadow Pipits behind Huntingdon Road. David reports a flock of 25 Goldfinches near the Coton Footpath.
Lots of reports of Blackcaps visiting feeders (Pam, Liza, Clarke). Less usual were 2 Greenfinches (Clarke), not seen or heard here for a long time: indeed Goldfinches and Chaffinches have also virtually disappeared from Newnham. However, I did see a Bullfinch at the Pembroke allotments and Jeff reports 3 from Fulbrooke area. Then there were 2 Siskin in Paradise, doubtless enjoying the Alder catkins (Jeff). Bob heard a Nuthatch calling around Chaucer Rd – nice to have additional records, away from the Backs. Lots of comments about Great-Spotted Woodpeckers, both sightings and drumming. Jo reports up to 8 Magpies together in Mill Road cemetery. Do we have a magpie boom just now?
On Jan 26th, Liza says, “The sun is not shining and the air temperature is 3 degrees C, but I have just seen a queen Bombus terrestris visiting flowers of Clematis cirrhosa.” Rhona also reports Buff-tailed bumblebee on Hellebore. In Madingley Hall grounds, Peter found a statue with a beautiful ‘tiara’ of hibernating 7-Spot Ladybirds. A small number of early moths – Chestnut & Pale Brindled Beauty – are starting to turn up in moth traps (Paul). Finally, I found a perfect, though dormant, Peacock Butterfly on the kitchen carpet.
Water Voles have been active at Cherry Hinton Brook (Monica) and Logan’s Meadow (Bob) during the month. (Apparently, they do not hibernate over-winter, but do spend more time in their burrows.) Jill reports a Fox abroad at night, while Jeff saw a Stoat crossing Grantchester Rd with prey and a couple of Brown Hares in the same area.
Clarke reports 3 Frogs and a Newt in small garden and comments, “Plenty of fodder for the Grass Snake (September sightings) if it reappears in 2021!” However, I imagine they have disappeared again during our current cold snap.
I leave you with Val: “What I’ve seen is birds (magpies, robins) rushing about with stuff in their beaks like they are building nests. And the birdsong is getting louder, more frantic and more beautiful. Is the sap rising? Snowdrops are coming out – and I saw a daffodil yesterday.
Oh Wind, if winter comes, can Spring be far behind? (PBS)”