June 2021 sightings

One sad sighting this month was a council employee with a backpack of poison, spraying Herbicide on to the base of the fences and the gutters through Newnham. I imagine the rest of the city had similar treatment. Among other plants, he sprayed a Feverfew plant by my gatepost which was hosting a Pine Ladybird. I have written to my councillors urging them to stop this practice. If you agree with this, can you write to your councillors too and copy it to Joel.Carre@cambridge.gov.uk? He is head of environmental services but still needs to be convinced that this is unnecessary and undesirable!  In Newnham, we have persuaded them to stop the practice of spraying herbicide around the base of park trees and to leave a 2m margin at the edge of Lammas Land unmown.

I recommend “Rebirding” – a recent book by Ben Macdonald – which describes the stark state of our countryside (especially the national parks) and makes suggestions for recovery.  He condemns “Excessive Tidiness Disorder” – a good description of this waste of our money.

Ionathan is concerned for the area around Eddington, where there were masses of Brown Arguses in Storey’s Field – however this brownfield site is due to be concreted over in a few years time.  In Newnham, re-wilding of the Skaters’ Meadow area produced the first Small Copper Butterfly seen there and several sightings of Weasels. However, the saplings and newly sown wildflower verges have been trashed by motorists determined to park their cars. All these battles are time-consuming, but worthwhile and we fight on.

We have learned over the last 3 years how rich Cambridge is for invertebrates. In the Scented Garden of the Botanic Garden, Paul found a Wool Carder Bee.  Several people reported Scarlet Tiger Moths (Callimorpha dominula) (Lottie, Jonathan, Jeff): black with white or yellow spots and bright red underwing. Rhona found a scarce Horehound Long-Horn Moth Nemophora fasciella at Jesus.

At Trumpington Meadows, Becky reports Marbled White Butterflies in good numbers and also Large Skippers. Small Blue Butterflies were present again on the Meadows the other side of the M11 (Paul, Rhona). Then at the lake area, a White Legged Damselfly was found on a CNHS field trip (David, Jonathan).  In Grantchester Meadows, Paul spotted a web of Small Eggar Moth caterpillars (which several of us had passed without noticing!). Once a common species, they have severely declined through loss of habitat (hedgerows) and have not been reported within the city limits before.

Paul’s garden continues to produce new species (see his post). He spent 15 mins watching a Ruby-Tailed Wasp ovipositing on aphids. Based on that behaviour, he speculated that the species was probably Pseudomalus auratus, which parasitises Crabronid wasps. It depends on those species feeding on the aphids which contain its eggs.  Jeff’s survey of the lake in Paradise produced Banded Demoiselle,  Large Red, Azure, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed Damselflies, Hairy and Emperor Dragonflies, and Four-spotted Chaser, Black-tailed Skimmer, Common Darter and Ruddy Darter.  This is a very good haul for a large pond which was only created a few years ago.

A pair of observations from the NHC committee. Duncan’s Banded Demoiselle is consuming a Mayfly and both are in danger from the lurking Enoplognatha Spider below. Paul’s orb web spider is often found near water.

It has been a really special year for Orchids.  Gleb reports an absolute swarm of Bee Orchids on the roadside verge at Addenbrooke’s (also noted elsewhere by Monica, Becky, Jonathan, David, Ben) and a large colony of flowering Common Spotted Orchids at Barnwell East.  Pyramidal Orchids were in abundance at Coldham’s Common.  Monica spotted a fine crop of Broomrape among the Ivy at Ravensworth Gardens.

Christine comments on the fact that the Frogs in her Wordsworth Grove pond had mysteriously disappeared and then found she had a resident Grass Snake. Not one, but three! A second much smaller snake (about 8 inches long) was lying on top of the big ‘mother’ snake, with its tail curled around it! When ‘she’ slid off, the little snake stayed riding on her back with its little tail curled about her. They were then joined by another small snake, about 12 inches long. Asking our resident expert (Steve Allain), I gathered that both of the smaller snakes were likely to be young from last year (or the year before) which had overwintered and only just managed to have their first meal this spring/summer. It was far too early to be seeing young from this year. Grass snakes lay their eggs and leave them to their own devices, but do tend to bask communally.

Pam’s Newnham Swifts are doing well – a new young pair have found themselves an empty box and may breed next year. One of her established pairs have 3 chicks this year.  Helen put up a box in 2018, overlooking Mill Rd cemetery and was thrilled to have her first occupants this year. Jeff reports young swift pairs prospecting in Gwydir St, Queen’s and Newnham Mill Pond, so it seems as if they are now well established and spreading.

A male Hobby was spotted flying past the Addenbrooke’s House Martin colony (Jeff), while David noted a Kestrel nest with two chicks in box on the West Cambridge site. Grey Wagtails, possibly nesting, were seen in the 3rd floor courtyard of the David Attenborough Building (outside Monica’s  office). At the end of June, 2 Cuckoos were hanging around feeding in Trumpington Meadows (Becky) and Russ saw a family of Whitethroats there.  

There is a newly reported Badger Sett in the wild area of Chesterton school. The City does host a surprising number of badgers.  Dorothea has a regular Hedgehog population and was surprised by the sight of a Magpie harassing a Hedgehog in the garden. When approached, they rushed off in opposite directions and nightly visits by the hedgehog have fortunately continued. 

Finally (and not quite in June) Sarah met an Otter on the river bank at the Newnham swimming club at 11am on 1st July – another known resident which is rarely seen and most unexpected in the middle of the morning. But there are lots of Fish in the Cam. Time to head off there for my evening swim.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com