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.”
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.