April 2022 Sightings

A visit to Clare College recently turned up 7 different ladybird species on a couple of pine trees. They were 7-spot, 10-spot, 14-spot, Cream-streaked, Eyed, Harlequin and Pine Ladybirds (not even Harlequin – that invasive alien). The older college gardens can be very rich in wildlife, having been (relatively) undisturbed for centuries. (Jonathan  and Rhona.)

At the Chesterton community college Dip Nature Reserve, Amy found a Mourning Bee – so called from its drab costume with white spots down the sides of the abdomen.  They are cleptoparasites (thieves) which will invade the pre-stocked nests of their host, the Hairy-footed Flower Bees and lay their own eggs.  

Meanwhile, Paul has been fishing about in Paradise pond for various species of Caddis Fly, whose larvae make the most amazing cases – examples above.

He also found 2 small species associated with Oxeye Daisy in his garden: a Fruit Fly Tephritis neesii and a Weevil Microplontus campestris.  Next was a Balloon Fly (Hilaria sp), whose males gift-wrap a present in silk for the female. While she is pre-occupied with unwrapping her present, the male takes the opportunity to mate. (Mary adds “There is another species that presents the female with a similar but empty silk parcel. By the time she has discovered the deception, it’s too late…”)

The reason for Paul’s obsession with small invertebrates is that his Garden Species list had reached 975. (By May it has already topped 1000. Definitely calls for celebrations.)  One species which I managed to find before him was an Emperor Moth: this one a female.  Duncan found a Poplar Hawk Moth in the Botanic Garden a full 3 weeks before it usually emerges.

Poplar Hawkmoth Duncan Mackay

Mikel was lucky enough to spot a  Grass Snake on Coe Fen.  Mark comments there are quite a lot in Coe Fen, frequently seen swimming in the river, but they are absent from Grantchester Meadows, presumably because of a lack of prey items. Ben recorded a pair of Pike sunning themselves on the Backs.

Mike, visiting the heronry at Paradise Island comments “The juvenile Herons sound and look prehistoric with their wispy throat and head feathers and partially developed wing feathers.  Other than the clacking when they utter some unearthly sounds, they do it when spreading their wings and jumping around.”  I am glad the 14 herons I saw earlier in the spring have got down to business!

Pike enjoying the sun Ben Greig

David spotted a white bird walking on the Coton footpath near the west Cambridge site. It was the same size and shape as a male Pheasant with very long tail, so presumably an albino.  Anyone else seen this bird? Lesley enjoyed watching a Carrion Crow bringing a big lump of dry bread to the bird bath to soak it before eating.  Most things are dry after this 2-3 month drought!  Val has increased the amount of water in the garden to a litre-plus each morning. Plenty of bird splashing, drinking and enjoyment.

Peter comments on a pair of Stock Doves (Columba oenas)  among the mature limes at Petersfield Green. Wood pigeons are always about and occasionally Feral Pigeon but he had not previously seen Stock Doves.

Bob reports Grey Wagtails displaying at Riverside, first Swift on 28th and first Swallows on 8th April. A Wheatear and 3 singing Corn Buntings were at Hobson’s Park on 30th and a pair of Common Terns occupying the new raft at Milton CP. Excitingly, a Nightingale was singing at Coldham’s Common and the first recorded sighting of a Raven in the NatHistCam territory over Eddington.

The very invasive Few-flowered Leek Allium paradoxum is taking over most Newnham College and private gardens, plus the Paradise reserve (Jean). It is native to Iran,  Caucasus, Turkmenistan and invasive in Europe.  It produces bulbils at the top of the stalk along with the flowers so is capable of multiplying exponentially. It can be eaten when cooked, with a garlicky flavour. I do wish the people who remove all the Chicken of the Woods fungus from the Willow trees in Paradise would also take some of the Allium!

Olwen Williams                                              olwenw@gmail.com