Category Archives: Project Blog

This blog will record the progress of the project as we go along.

Paul’s Garden a year on

It has been a year since the last post on this blog and although the main project is finished my garden project that emerged from it goes on, so I thought it was a time for an update. At the time of compiling chapter 15 of The Nature of Cambridge the species count for my garden had reached 783 and that total has now nearly doubled to 1492 including 1201 invertebrates.

A breakdown of these species can be viewed HERE. The spreadsheet containing the full list of species can be downloaded HERE.

I plan to provide future updates on a monthly basis covering new and interesting species found both in my garden and in the City, starting today with last month’s highlights.

September Garden Highlights

I don’t suppose many people get exited by finding aphids in their garden but I do when its a species I have not seen before such as the small number of Macrosiphoniella sejuncta (Large Mottled Yarrow Aphid) I found in my wildflower meadow patch. The distinctive aphid supposedly feeds exclusively on yarrow but mine seemed quite content on ox-eye daisy.

This is the 25th species of aphid I have found in the garden and nearly all of them a very much under recorded, this one in particular, as there are there are no other UK records on iRecord or NBN atlas. For more information on aphids and to help ID any unfamiliar ones I would recommend visiting the Influential Points website.

Pantilius tunicatus is striking and unmistakable plant bug, found mainly on hazel, alder and birch. Adults are to be found between Sept-Oct, and several have been recorded in the city over the last couple of years.

Stenidiocerus poecilus

Stenidiocerus poecilus is a rarely recorded leaf hopper and it would appear to be just the second record for the county. Found on Populus species , but adults overwinter on evergreen plants which may be why I found it in my Poplus free garden

One group of insects that is certainly under recorded in our garden are parsitic wasps which is mainly down to the the difficulty in identifuing the species once found and photographed especially the very tiny ones, so it is very satisfying when one is found that can be identified.

Itoplectis maculator is a large ichneumon wasp that is a parasite of various butterfly and moth pupae and the female uses her long ovipositor to lay her eggs within the pupae.

The tiny chalcid wasp Euplectrus bicolor are also parasites of moths, but this species is an external parasite with the female laying her eggs on the skin of caterpillars. The wasp larvae are able to stay attached to the host until fully fed as their mother injects it with a venom before laying her that prevents the host from moulting its skin.

Itoplectis maculator
Euplectrus bicolor

September City Highlights

I found Lasius fuliginosus (Jet Ants) on an oak tree in Trumpington Meadows. There are only a hadfull of county records for this species and this would appear to be the first city record. Apart rom underrecording, the scarcity of this ant may have something do do with there life cycle. It is a semi-social parasite of a semi-social parasite; that is, the species establishes its colonies in those of the Lasius umbratus group which are in turn founded in colonies of the Lasius niger/flavus species complexes. The chances of success for a founding queen under these circumstances may well result in the highly localised distribution of colonies seen in the field.

Lasius fuliginosus attending Lachnus roboris (Variegated oak aphid)

There do not appear to be many people recording the county’s spiders and records of many species are thin on the ground. Despite the common name Agalenatea redii (Gorse Orbweb Spider) can be found in grassland and this one was found on Magog Downs. At first glance this spider could be mistaken for a small Araneus diadematus (Garden Spider) and reveiwing some earlier photos I seem to have made that mistake with another individule I photographed back in June at Trumpington Meadows.

Agalenatea redii

September 2022 Sign-off

We are now at the end of our 5-year study of Cambridge wildlife, and our book The Nature of Cambridge will be published on 21st October 2022.  In it, we give a comprehensive overview of the city and its wild inhabitants, including geology, climate, urban development, plants, animals, nature conservation and comparison with other cities.  It is still available from the publisher at the pre-publication price of £17.50 plus £4.00 delivery charge.  To order it go to the publisher’s website where it is prominently displayed.

Committee members were asked for their individual comments on how this study has affected their appreciation of local wildlife.

Mark Hill, project leader, botanist and bryologist said, “Our project began with a discussion at the council of the Cambridge Natural History Society in December 2015.  The first committee meeting was held on 7th January 2016.  We decided to call ourselves NatHistCam and to be separate from CNHS.  I chaired the committee and acted as its secretary.  Progress was initially rather slow, with an official launch at the CNHS conversazione in June.  We planned for the main project to run from 2017 to 2019, after which we would write a book.  By autumn 2016 we had set up a website, filmed for Cambridge TV in Paul Rule’s garden, planned a garden survey and a mistletoe survey, planned for monthly blogs, and presented our proposals at a meeting of CNHS.  We were ready to go.  Over the succeeding years, the project has changed and grown, but the two main aims have succeeded, with a book to appear in October 2022 and involvement of the wider public through monthly blogs by Olwen Williams and Bob Jarman.  The project had no outside funding.  We have enjoyed ourselves and all of us have learnt many things.”

Duncan Mackay, generalist with special interest in invertebrates says, “When I started to consider this project, I had some misgivings, because I thought it was going to be yet another story of environmental doom and gloom. I produced a little film with the message that “Cambridge is getting bigger and bigger and wildlife is getting squeezed into smaller and smaller spaces”.  But as the project went along, it became increasingly clear that the opposite was in fact true…. Cambridge really is a wildlife hotspot and there is a wonderful concentration of species within the city.

I looked at the dragonflies and wondered how close to the Wicken Fen count of 22 species we could achieve. I could hardly contain my delight when the city total reached 24 species. Yet we found that the same great diversity was true for so many other species. However, the corollary of this is that the range of species is so much lower elsewhere.  I think we have in the city the sort of diversity that Victorian naturalists found in the countryside, but now with the widespread use of pesticides and herbicides and the loss of natural habitat, we have such a decline in diversity elsewhere in the county that soon we will be building wildlife corridors out from the city in order to recolonise the surrounding area.” 

Monica Frisch, botanist, says, “Working on NatHistCam has been a very rewarding experience and has revealed a great deal of fascinating information about flora and fauna in the Cambridge city area. The book will be an invaluable record of the natural history of Cambridge.” She sent a picture of a Willow Beauty Moth, found in the house and returned to the garden.

Willow Beauty Moth
Monica Frisch

Paul Rule, generalist, entomologist and photographer, whose garden had a mention on BBC Springwatch 2020, says, “As of the end of September 2022, my total garden species count had reached 1,234 species. Of these, 980 are invertebrates and several new ones are added each week. We are now in peak spider season and my two star additions in the last week of September were both arachnids.”

The Pirate Spider Ero tuberculata is a species recorded at only one other location in Cambs (Wicken Fen). The other highlight was finding the first Pseudoscorpion in leaf litter. The Dimple-clawed Chthonid, Ephippiochthonius tetrachelatus is not uncommon, but at only 2mm in length and hidden away from the light, they are rarely seen. There was also a Jumping Spider, Heliophanus flavipes and a Green Crab Spider, Diaea dorsata.

He records a female Garden Spider, Araneus diadematus, who was approached by a male of the same species. Before seduction could begin, she just pounced on him and started to bundle him up for her next meal. Then there was the spider being attacked by a Spider-Hunting Wasp, probably Auplopus carbonarius. Not a good week for spiders?!

Chris Donnelly, Cambs Geological Society says, “On a Fen Edge Trail walk in June, we looked at the geological setting of both the wildlife and history of the city – enjoying a different perspective to the usual Cambridge walk. The current Cam, fed mostly by streams from the Chalk, is much smaller than the ice-age, powerful river that created the valley and deposited huge amounts of gravel, forming several ‘terraces’ of higher land on either side. Both wildlife and man have made use of this drier, more free-draining land – as we saw when looking across at the King’s College Chapel and its flowering meadow, both sitting ‘high’ up on the 1st /2nd terraces.  (The walk happened to be exactly when King’s new wildflower meadow was in full bloom.)  There’s lots more about local geology in the book….”

Illustrating Cambridge Geology – the gravel terraces above the Cam (King’s College new wildflower meadow in the background). Chris Donnelly

Bob Jarman, our resident Birding expert, sent a picture of a Willow Emerald damselfly (with its distinct pterostigma!).  “It is a recent colonist and new to me at Logan’s Meadow.  The rare wader, a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper was found just outside our study area near Shelford. It breeds in high the Russian and Canadian Arctics. Most over-winter in South America but some take a westward migration into Europe – there are about 50 UK records each year.” He also mentioned a number of Sept/Oct 2022 sightings of both Wrynecks and Whinchats.  Read his chapter, which describes the huge and unexpected number of bird species, including those flying over at night (NocMig recording) and the high density of raptors in the city.

Shaggy Mouse-ear-hawkweed WikiMedia

Jonathan Shanklin, County Botanical Recorder says, “Despite the tetrad TL45J having one of the highest species counts in the country it is still possible to find additional species.  Whilst at the Cavendish Laboratory in mid September I found a patch of Pilosella flagellaris (Shaggy Mouse-ear-hawkweed), whose only other site in the NatHistCam area is on Newmarket Road.  This demonstrates that recording is never complete and that there will always be new or overlooked species to discover in the City.” (Pilosella flagellaris is  very similar to the more common Mouse-ear-hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum), but distinguished by Pilosella flagellaris having have two or more flower heads produced from one stem.) 

My own comment, “We have all found a new curiosity about wildlife outside our original area of interest. The scale insects on my apricot tree; the white mites running over a slug, in and out of its pneumopore; the empty snail shell hanging from a spider web (some spiders eat snails); the mass of Garden Spider spiderlings which dropped from the bunch where they had hatched when disturbed and then gradually reassembled: these were all observations made in the back garden where I take breakfast every day.

From here, I have done a weekly bird count over the last year, admired the mixed flock of rooks and jackdaws in the winter and the heronry in the spring. The thing I have enjoyed most about writing this blog has been the enthusiasm of my many contributors – to whom much praise and thanks. I hope they will enjoy the book.”

I finish with Duncan’s comment: “The team spirit and the inspirational cooperation and sharing of ideas that came from the project was truly wonderful. I was very honoured to have been president of the Cambridge Natural History Society for at least part of the time this was going on, but the real honour should go to the presidents and others who put it all into action and got us all out in the city looking at the wonderful diversity that was really there.”

Olwen Williams October 2022

June Sightings 2022

I am writing this in mid-July, with outside temperatures of 35degC+ and no meaningful rain for about 4 months.  The birds have gone silent, except for the Swifts who are having a good year. Jeff reports a flock of about 200 feeding over the fields by Barton Rd in the evening. Newnham swifts have done well, Pam’s last chicks fledging just in time to avoid being cooked by the heat. Three chicks and two adults in one nest! She has 5 nesting pairs and about 10 prospective breeders, so fly-pasts and screaming parties of about 20 over Newnham every evening.  Helen’s swifts returned to Norfolk St  this year for the second time  – credit to all who have worked so hard on providing boxes for housing.

Moon Carrot Gleb Berloff

In May, I commented on the lack of Kingfishers in Newnham.  Kate reassures me they had return nesting Kingfishers in the wall drainage pipes of the Scholars Garden just above the Cam. They can often be seen flying down the drain between Clare Avenue and Kings paddock, or just resting on the railings by the willow in Kings paddock and four were counted at once, so hopefully were young of the year. 

Paradise was blessed with two male Cuckoos, one calling for several weeks from May into June.   Jeff noted 4 Red Kites feeding in a freshly cut hay field with 5 Buzzards and a Kestrel also present. He reports a Hobby over Mill Rd cemetery and 2 hawking over Paradise Island. Ionathan describes a very large bird with white tail and pale head over his neighbourhood on 14th June. Did anyone else see a White-tailed Eagle

Bob comments on the spectacular number of singing Blackcaps this year.  There were several pairs of Yellow Wagtail breeding in winter wheat, with Corn Buntings in the same area (Jeff).

Sheep’s Green is covered in Spear Thistles and Ragwort, both of which attract a lot of insects.  Paul’s star find here was the beetle Pseudocistela ceramboides whose larvae feed on decaying wood, so this is probably a good site for a not very common species. He also noted a splendid Red-tipped Clearwing Moth whose larvae feed inside the stems of WillowOrange-tailed Clearwing were attracted to a pheromone lure in his garden.

Paul’s garden (list now over 1,100)  also turned up the 3mm long plant hopper Eupteryx vittata, and a less welcome, Aculops fuchsiae, the fuchsia gall mite. The mites are too tiny to see but the galls they form are very noticeable. They are another invasive species from the dodgy plant trade. Originally described in 1971 on Fuchsia species in Brazil, they spread via USA to Europe in 2001 on Fuchsia cuttings illegally brought to Jersey and propagated onwards.

The larvae of the gorgeous micro moth Pammene aurita feed inside developing Sycamore seeds (who said Sycamore had no parasites!?). The Apple Seed Weevil prevents apples from fully forming – a less welcome guest.

Some insects arrived indoors.  Jill heard an alarming hum in the kitchen, which turned out to be a Hummingbird Hawkmoth.  Val’s delight was a succession of enormous black Peacock Butterflies. Many people mentioned these as common just now. Liza found Oedemera nobilis (thick legged flower beetle) in the shower which she rescued and restored to the garden.  This is another species which is extending its range as the temperatures rise.

Peacock Butterfly Val Neal

There have been reports of other common and less common Butterflies. In the garden in Tenison Road, Martin found Holly Blue and Purple Hairstreak drinking on wet grass (must have been using the hose!). Jeff recorded Large Skipper, Meadow Brown, Marbled White and Gatekeeper along the SW Cambridge fields.  Ionathan turned up a Lilac Beauty Moth, apparently not very common. And here is one invertebrate all gardeners should celebrate: a Lacewing larva and its Aphid victim.

For the botanists, the prize in June was a Lizard Orchid on an un-mown roadside border near Marshalls Airport (Jon, Gleb). Pyramidal and Bee Orchid (Coldham’s Common, Barnwell East, airport) had all finished however (Gleb). Bob counted 142 Ivy Broomrapes on the traffic island in Longworth Avenue, Chesterton. These are plants which are parasitic on the roots of other plants, in this case Ivy and are sometimes mistaken for orchids.  

Fish!  How many good general naturalists know anything about fish?  Guy saw a 400mm Pike in Jesus Ditch, along with numerous Chub.  Formal recording of fish from the Byron’s Pool fish pass, which will have drain-down and enhancement shortly, saw 18 species and nearly 3000 fish (2429 of them were Minnows however).  Gudgeon, Bullhead, Chub, Dace, Roach and Spined Loach made up most of the rest, with small numbers of Brown Trout, Stone Loach, Perch, Pike, Eel, Lamprey and 3-Spined Stickleback.  Just as in the Serengeti, the prey (minnows) greatly outnumber the top predators (pike and perch).

This is about the end of our NatHistCam Project and while I will not be continuing a monthly blog, there will still be things to report. You will certainly hear from me when the book Nature in Cambridge finally sees the light of day. So please continue to send me anything special.

I leave this month’s the last word to Ionathan, school student in Coleridge College:  “If there is one thing this project has told me, it is that we MUST help invertebrates. It’s like trying to build the Eiffel Tower upside down, concentrating on top predators such as Pike and White-tailed Eagles. First, I think our council should plan more meadows and bee banks in parks, this can also get younger people into nature. Only then we can concentrate on apex predators.

We must continue to campaign and championship Cambridge’s rich biodiversity. We have seen meadows in King’s College, all three Egrets in Cambridge, but this is not enough. We have to work harder. Development plans for North Cambridge are currently horrendous in terms of wildlife, but we can still change that.” 

Thanks and good luck, Ionathan, and to all contributors over the 5 years of this project.

Olwen Williams

May 2022 Sightings

First of all, my thanks to everybody who has supported this project over the last 5 years and especially to regular contributors. After two years of Covid restrictions, we have more or less emerged back to normal activities. The eminent early naturalist Gilbert White (1720-93) said, “Men that only undertake one district are much more likely to advance natural knowledge than those that grasp at more than they can possibly be acquainted with.”  I suspect that many of us became very acquainted with our own little areas and if I have at times overemphasised the joys of Newnham, I make no apology – this is where I live.

Whose eyes are these?

I also make no apology for this picture : one of very many supplied by Paul over the years.  But whose eyes are these?  Try and find out before learning the answer at the end.

Last month, I asked everyone for a round-up of their local wildlife gains and losses over the last 5 years.  Several people mentioned the positive impact the NatHistCam project has had on the City Council and on the University.  Contact with all the College gardeners has encouraged a wild-life friendly approach, at a time when student allotments, bee hives and vegetable gardens were becoming popular and student societies were demanding a greener approach.  King’s Wildflower Meadow is the most prominent example of this, but the other initiatives include a regular Moth Survey in the Botanic Garden which recently produced this fine Figure of Eighty Moth

Figure of Eighty Moth Duncan Mackay

On the other hand, University and College building projects continue to multiply.  Ionathan says Eddington’s brown-field areas are much richer in wildlife than the designated parkland, but are threatened with development. In Barton Rd, King’s cut down mature trees in Millington Wood, while in Owlstone Croft, Queens’ are proposing to build 4 blocks of new 3-storey houses on the lawn, right against the Paradise Reserve. 

The City Council are at last beginning to commit to becoming herbicide-free. This is an ongoing battle, but Lammas Land can now boast longer grass verges, uncut hedges, areas of Wildflower planting and a magnificent giant log pile for invertebrates.  Maybe next year, the message will get through to the Operatives that we do not want our street fences and kerbs sprayed with poison.  Two Painted Lady butterflies on the Valerian by Pam’s front wall show what can happen when the wild flowers are not killed by spraying! There is so much more that could be done by the City Council : Jonathan asks why mown grass  cannot be used to produce power via an anaerobic digester.  And another disaster for the already over-built N Cambridge: a tower block built on St Alban’s recreation ground – one of the few open spaces/sports fields in the area.

Painted Lady on Valerian Pam Gatrell

Nature reserves have also been improved (alongside the massive house building programmes however : Hobson’s park was thought responsible for the the Box Moth, introduced with ornamental hedging and now infesting most parts of the City.) However, at Trumpington Meadows, Hobson’s Park and Logan’s Meadows, new habitats have given scope for species like water birds, orchids, butterflies and other invertebrates. Water Voles have returned to Logan’s Meadow, as well as the Sheep’s Green area. A new Tern raft at Milton Country Park was immediately occupied by a pair of breeding Common Terns.

There has been diligent work in many corners! Ben is very happy to have renovated the New Chesterton Allotment Society pond,  with Common Newts successfully colonising and this year’s adult Damselflies emerging in numbers. But in Paradise, the magnificent Chicken of the Woods fungus is now ruthlessly removed piecemeal by foragers and its attendant Fungus Beetles are gone.  We have so far failed to rewild the Skaters’ Meadow Footpath, due to the pressure of the car parking lobby on local politicians. Borders have been trampled by cars and saplings deliberately cut down.

Another failure is the disgraceful pollution of the Cam from sewage overflow.  (On this subject, Ofwat promises that “by 2040, 40% will have been eliminated”.  Really!?!)  Long-term fishermen say that catches have greatly reduced over the years. Certainly the number of people fishing has reduced.  I have not seen a Kingfisher this year, though they are still reported from the chalk streams like Hobson’s Brook. 

In Newnham, the gains include the return of Water Voles and Otters to Paradise and Sheep’s Green and the more regular appearance of Cuckoos and Grass Snakes there. A Cuckoo has stayed for 10 days this spring.  While Pam reports the regular occupation and breeding success of her Newnham Swift boxes, they have not returned to the boxes in Warkworth St this year (Suki). At St Regis House in Chesterton Road the Swift nest sites have been reinstated so let’s hope these colonies spread. Addenbrooke’s Hospital continues to host 60+ House Martin nests, but Swallows are few and far between. In Histon, (just outside our area) there was a report of the regular appearance of a Turtle Dove (though sadly not the higher numbers of previous years).  

Raptors continue to do well. Ionathan reports a Marsh Harrier over the Grafton Centre on 2nd and the city centre Peregrines have three well fledged young.  Buzzards and Red Kites are now too common to mention, with Kites breeding in the study area. Sparrow Hawks and Kestrels are seen regularly, the latter mainly towards the edges of the city.  Breeding Barn Owls are a credit to the private wetland area across the river from Grantchester Meadows (Gleb) and Newnham also has Tawny Owls.  An Osprey was sighted over Chesterton on 13th May (Simon Gillings).

Another major bird advance has been the NocMig recording and identifying the calls of fly-over night time migrants. This has revealed birds that are rarely seen including Bitterns, Common Scoters, Tree Pipits, Spotted Flycatchers and many more.

A Reed Warbler in St John’s College, together with Little Egrets, Grey Wagtails, Nuthatch and Treecreeper make an impressive collection there (David).  Simon wonders if Wood Pigeons have moved in to become garden birds, possibly at the expense of Collared Doves : several others mentioned a fall in Collared Dove populations (Rachel, Liza). Other vanishing birds include Finches (Chaffinch (Ionathan, Mo, Simon), Greenfinch (Olwen), Goldfinch (Liza) and typical woodland birds such as Woodpeckers (Sam), Willow Warblers, (Ben) breeding Spotted Flycatchers, Lesser Redpoll and Lesser-spotted Woodpecker (Bob). In Grange Road, Rachel has lost  Blue Tits, Great Tits, Dunnocks, with Blackbirds and Robins in single figures.  Trumpington Meadows has lost its Corn Buntings this year (Becky). But two reports of House Sparrows returning (Trumpington, Mo and Newnham, Pam) were better news.

Coleophora amethystinella Paul Rule

On the other hand, many Invertebrates are doing better. A combination of habitat improvements and climatic warming has produced records of previously unrecorded arthropods – insects and spiders.  At Trumpington Meadows and Magog Downs, Small Blue Butterflies have returned and are seen in numbers, with at least 40 on one day!  Over the months, I have mentioned many insects apparently moving north and Paul’s latest is a micro-moth (above) with orange eyes and eyelashes Coleophora amethystinella. This moth was previously confined to a couple of Essex coastal sites and this was the first record within the city.

Suburban Hedgehog numbers have suffered badly, probably because of the relentless arrival of Badgers. In central Cambridge, Dorothea’s Hedgehogs continue to romp through her garden, flattening the pinks with their amorous/avoidance procedures, but the Badgers (and Foxes) get ever nearer, Coleridge College being the latest site to report them and a total of known 12 setts in the city (Duncan).

Orchids have been variable, but there were spectacular displays of White Helleborine during Covid.  A Bee Orchid appeared out of nowhere on Simon’s neglected ‘lawn’ but have been hard to find in the usual places this year (Gleb).  

Rhona (Jesus College) has been a regular contributor and her latest sightings include a visiting Roe Deer, 6 Fox Cubs and a couple of Honeybee swarms. Jonathan found Phanacis hypochoeridis, a gall wasp that causes a gall on Common Cat’s-ear, at the British Antarctic Survey – there were no previous NBN records for Cambridgeshire. 

Roe Deer Jesus College Rhona Watson

This account would not be complete without the latest of Paul’s findings.  At the time of writing his section of our book, the overall garden species count stood at 744 but the 1000 mark was reached in June and the latest count is 1050 including 757 invertebrates. Ornithomya avicularia was found clinging to the trunk of a Sycamore tree. It is one of the larger louse flies (Hipposideridae) and more likely to be found on their hosts (pigeons and thrushes) than flying free. They are strange flies in that instead of laying eggs, the females give birth to a single offspring at a time. 

He also took the picture of the male Mayfly, whose eyes were at the beginning of this blog.  This is an insect which spends up to 2 years underwater as a larva, then emerges, moults, mates and flies for only a couple of hours before dying.  Why would it need such elaborate vision, with 2 pairs of compound eyes as well as central simple eyes? Perhaps to spot the overhead females? Well done if you could identify it.

One final thing to mention that has come out of the NatHistCam Project: Duncan is busy propagating resistant Elms, experimenting with hardwood and softwood cuttings to try and create some new trees from the 6 resistant elms we found in Cambridge. He reports good success with hardwood cuttings, and hopes to produce hundreds of these trees to re-establish resistant elms in the city. 

Resistant Elm Cuttings Duncan Mackay

There will be one more blog in June, so please send me your best observations this month. If you have not yet ordered your copy of the Book Nature in Cambridge, there may still be time to get it at the reduced pre-publication price as it is still advertised at

Olwen Williams

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                                    

March sightings 2022

Don’t forget to pre-order your copy of The Nature of Cambridge – the book which is the result of our NatHistCam collaboration over the last 5 years.

March has been really interesting month!

After years of decline, Frogs are having something of a come-back. Logan’s Meadow was a hot spot, as reported last month (Bob says, “Never seen frogs like that before!”).

Christine in Wordsworth Grove was disappointed by the small frog turn out (possibly due to a grass snake having taken up residence on the small garden pond). However, she noted one clump of spawn was white, thought to be from an albino female.  

The white eggs were very much slower than their black cousins to develop and hatch, even though laid on the same night. Most of them eventually hatched and had no black skin melanophores, but they had pigmented eyes, so it is likely the male was normally pigmented, Many were abnormal and had kinks in their tails.  No sign of the white female – perhaps the grass snake got her!

The next special was Rhona’s Dotted Bee-fly, Bombylius discolor from the Botanic Garden. It had not been recorded in Cambridge for 120 years.  It is similar to the much commoner Dark-edged Bee-fly, but the wings have black dots all over. The UK distribution shows it to be an insect of South and Central England, possibly creeping north now.

Paul reports a Cuckoo Bumblebee Bombus vestalis in the Botanic Garden – a parasite of Buff-tailed Bumblebees, hence the close mimicry.  Also Tawny Mining Bee Andrena fulva and Chocolate Mining Bee Andrena scotica, which was a new garden record, bringing his total species number to 938. (We have some Champagne on order for when it reaches 1,000.) Rhona found Grey-patched Mining Bee Andrena nitida and Common Mourning Bee Melecta albifrons and lots of Hairy-footed Flower Bees Anthophora plumipes.

Lots of Butterflies and Moths are also emerging.  Paul finally managed to attract a male Emperor Moth to a lure, but it refused to settle, so no photo! A lovely Brindled Beauty was added to the garden list. Aglaostigma aucupariae Sawflies, whose larvae feed on bedstraws, were noted at Jesus and in Paradise. 

Paul also found a cute Owl Midge Boreoclytocerus ocellaris, along with a Black Snail Beetle Silpha atrata, a tiny Moss Chrysalis Snail Pupilla muscoru and another previously overlooked micro-snail, the 2.5mm Ribbed Glass Snail Vallonia costata.  Finally, he turned up Pogonognathellus longicornis, our largest springtail whose antennae are longer than the head and body combined (and even longer than its name!).  Amazing what you find when you start turning over logs.

Paradise has larger species too – a Stoat emerged briefly (Anita) and Water Voles continue to spread along the river bank. Rhona spotted four Bank Voles at Jesus.

There is the general impression (Bob, Olwen, Ionathan) that Great Spotted Woodpecker numbers are down.  However, Newnham’s small nature reserve of Paradise has made up for that with a Chiffchaff on Mar 3rd, a Blackbird in full song on Mar 2nd, a Treecreeper, a Mistle Thrush in song, and both Blackcap and Garden Warbler song.  Pam was delighted by a return of House Sparrows to Owlstone Rd – in the garden for the first time for over 20 years. Sue saw a Bullfinch in the Cenacle. Being on the edge of the city, Newnham has garden, field and river species. A Reed Bunting cock was seen in Skaters’ Meadow, along with a couple of Snipe and Barn Owls are occasionally sighted there. The Herons have returned to the tall trees by the river, the Rooks having departed to their rookeries. Cormorants and Kingfishers regularly use the river as a flyway. A weekly survey done over breakfast through Feb and March produced an average of 14 species and a total of 22 (Olwen).  

Danish Scurvy Grass Paul Rule

A Tawny Owlet was seen in Jesus (Rhona) and a Bramling at Logan’s Meadow (Bob). There was a big influx of Chiffchaffs to the Science Park on 24th March (Duncan).

I leave you with a picture of Danish Scurvy Grass, which is in flower on many road verges. Enjoy the spring!

Olwen Williams

February Sightings 2022

The Botanic Garden turned up some spectacular orange fungus – either Orange Peel (Aleuria aurantia ) or Orange Cup Fungus (Melastiza cornubiensis) by the brook (Rhona). The latter was thought more likely at this time of year (Jonathan).

Orange Fungus Rhona Watson

Lots of bird reports!  On 7th Feb, in the late afternoon, I watched 14 Herons circling the field opposite Paradise, near to the Heronry which they had still not occupied. Now, how on earth did these birds all know this was the time and place to gather to find a mate and grab a nest site?  Since then, from 14th they have returned in ones and twos and are busy patching up the nests. The Rooks have gone, as have most of the jackdaws. The following day, in a rather adolescent squeaky voice, a male Tawny Owl sat high over the back path of Paradise, calling frequently.

Becky reports at least one pair of Stonechats overwintering at Trumpington Meadows and a female Pochard had been hanging around the pond all winter. 4 Mistle Thrushes were seen there recently, as well as Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Song Thrush all singing.  In Paradise, Siskins have enjoyed the alder catkins and Treecreepers were seen. A couple of Nuthatches were spotted on a large Lime tree at Clare College, hopefully a breeding pair (Kate).

Female Pochard Paul Wyer

More exotic, 5th February about 10 am Martin saw a juvenile Gannet flying over the city, heading west and guessed the stormy weather must have pushed it inland.  A White Tailed Eagle appeared around 13/14th in Harston, again possibly derailed by the weather and was then seen being mobbed in the city near Victoria Rd (Clare).  Then a pair of Ravens appeared by the entrance to the Cambridge Crematorium – how appropriate! (Bob) (Apparently 44 were counted near a deer corpse in the south of the county, so it’s good to see them returning to our area.)

Blackbird on Crab Apples Pam Gatrell

Jesus still had ~40 Redwings well into February (Rhona), but other species were getting on with spring business: Buzzards displaying (Bob),  a Sparrow Hawk plucking a Chaffinch from the roof (Ionathan).  The Big Farm Bird Count (BFBC) between Huntingdon Rd/Histon Rd footpath and Girton on 17/2 produced 40 Skylarks, 20 Yellowhammers; 4 Grey Partridges and a male Stonechat. There was a Brambling in Logan’s Meadow (Ionathan).

At Hobson’s Park, many thanks to Guy Belcher and his teams, who have cleared the Tern nest rafts of overgrown vegetation. This hopefully will encourage Common Terns to return and breed.

Several people sent pictures of the FrogFest opposite Vie flats near Logan’s Meadow. Ionathan witnessed the spawning of about 60 Frogs with considerable croaking noises to match.

By mid-February, the trees were beginning to come into leaf and the Cherry Plum flowering well. The Coltsfoot along Snakey Path was just about to come into flower, though the individual stems were quite hard to spot until they did (Monica).  Insect life was also beginning to appear: an Early Bumble Bee on Aconite flowers (Pam), a Buff Tailed Bumble Bee on a Plane tree at Churchill College (John), a first Tortoiseshell Butterfly (Eve), several Butterflies and a first Hairy-footed Flower Bee of the year at Jesus (Rhona).

Rhona also found larvae of the Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner, the moth Cameraria ohridella. The adult moths are tiny (4-5mm in length), a rich brown colour with bright white chevrons edged with black. In early summer, the adult female lays up to 180 eggs on newly opened leaves. Larvae then burrow into the leaves, causing premature browning and leaf fall. In order to restrict re-infestation, all dead leaves should be gathered up and burned, to get rid of the hibernating larvae.

Finally, the good news of fresh Otter spraint often found along the river bank and near the pond at Trumpington Meadow (Becky).

Olwen Williams

P.S. The publication of our Nature in Cambridge book is due about May and I will make sure you are informed when and where to get it.

January 2022 Sightings

Another month of mixed weather: 17degC on 1st ( shirtsleeves in the allotment), but then a return to frosty nights.  Intermittently, Robin, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Starling, Wren and Blackbird have all been in spring song. At Logan’s Meadow Nature Reserve, Bob reports 250 trees have been planted by 160 volunteers on two sides of the playing field.

Hobson’s Park has become a very successful reserve. Rhona clocked up 27 different bird species, including Corn Bunting, Stonechat and about 20 Common Snipe and we saw a Common Gull among the many Black Headed Gulls. Ionathan noted a Jack Snipe and a Kingfisher there, as well as the more usual Lapwing, Snipe, Little Egrets and Teal. He was concerned that some dog owners allowed two dogs to run onto the islands, disturbing about 300 birds in the process. They said it was not their fault and that birdwatchers should ‘Put a fence around the lake’. In the breeding season, these dogs would be illegal and if you witness it, you should ring 101 (non-emergency police number). The City Ecologist says that the ditch will be deepened, so that there is always a moat there.

Lots of people mentioned Blackcaps (Jeff, Eve, Dorothea, Pat, Pam, Holly). It seems that many more are over-wintering here. I was delighted to see a flock of about 20 Goldfinches in Newnham, though still neither Chaffinch nor Greenfinch.  Val says there are suddenly plenty of Blackbirds and asks where have they been for months and months? Jesus College sightings included mating Stock Doves, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Treecreeper, Redwing and Jay . Pat reports a pair of Mistle Thrushes in trees by the Cam near the Green Dragon bridge in Chesterton. 

In the outskirts of the city, Jeff noted 20 Lapwing over fields near M11 and 46 Golden Plover near the rugby club. He says Grey Wagtails are regularly seen, but Kingfisher has become much scarcer over the last two years.  The Herons are coming closer! David noted one only 4 feet from many passers-by on Garret Hostel Lane.

Ann’s neighbour in Luard Rd found a Tawny Owl on the doorstep! Clare spotted two Buzzards circling low over the farmers’ fields near Trumpington Rd, while Bob saw one hunting just half a mile from city centre. He also reported displaying Sparrowhawks over Adams Road plus two juvenile birds hunting, and the female Peregrine near city centre nest site, despite nearby building works and crane. Lesley and Jean also reported Sparrowhawks in the garden (Victoria Rd and Grange Rd). Ann spotted 2 Red Kites flying over Fendon Road.  It seems that our raptors are doing well, even if not all the small birds.

Bob’s sighting of 13 Magpies, on early morning roof tops in Longworth Avenue, brought to mind an extended version of a familiar rhyme.

A few insects are turning up. Rhona had a Red Admiral on 14th  and on sunny days the Marmalade Hoverfly. Paul saw his first butterfly of the year – a  Peacock and the first moth of the year, an Oak Beauty.  Mo had Buff-tailed Bumble Bees on Hellebore flowers.  Ionathan, busy as ever, found a Dragonfly larva in his new pond.

Oak Beauty Moth Paul Rule

Foxes! Jenny’s ultra-tame crew have taken to basking on top of the ten foot high garden hedge and when disturbed, strolling along the top to the potting shed. Lesley found them hanging out on the fence in Histon Road Cemetery and Rhona reports a panting male fox running after the  resident female.  Like the Herons mentioned earlier, they seem unconcerned about human presence, one strolling around David’s garden close to the family.

Jonathan report that 92 plant species were seen in flower on New Year’s Day, out of a total of 278 species recorded during the month. 

Ionathan worries about sewage in the Cam, as he has seen several dead fish below the N. Cambridge treatment plant.  Mike Foley and Cam Valley Forum have been doing sterling work, taking samples for faecal bacteria and found there were peaks below all the sewage works, including Cambridge, but with Haslingfield the main offender – see

When will we have safe bathing water? Not this year, yet again.

Olwen Williams            

December 2021 sightings

On 30th December 2021, Cambridge recorded a daytime temperature of 16oC – the highest December reading since records began. This unseasonable warmth has generated considerable insect flight, including a Bumblebee at breakfast on the last day of the year. Ionathan found a Peacock butterfly and Mo’s compost heap exposed a lot of flying and crawling insects (also a giant Rat!). Paul’s pond cleaning produced a Newt and Val reports 6 red Raspberries ripening in the garden.

In St Matthew’s St, Val found a dead squashed Hedgehog which should have been hibernating, while Dorothea’s hedgehog was more happily still visiting the feeding station in the mild spells. This has now become a foodbank for other creatures, including a Wren, which disappeared inside for several minutes.  Ionathan comments “I think the birds are confused – I have heard Blackbirds, Blue tits, and Robins singing their spring song. I have never heard them this early before.”  Bob reports a Pipistrelle bat flying near Victoria Bridge on 11th and an early? (or late?) singing Corn Bunting at Hobson’s Park on the 12th.  All very mixed up.

More traditionally for autumn and winter, Monica found some magnificent fungi, on a tree stump along Snakey Path.  I think they are Oyster Mushrooms, together with Turkey Tail (others may know better). Lottie’s Blue Roundhead, on a pile of woodchip and a Field Blewit in the Newnham College orchard were equally spectacular. Rhona found a purple jelly fungus which I think may be Tripe Fungus.  Waiting in the Newnham queue for the fish van, my eye fell on a curious double-headed Puffball Fungus, which turned out to have a substantial “rooting structure” buried in the pile of dead leaves – I am unable to identify it further. 

Liza asks, “Where are all the garden birds?  I have one Robin in residence.  Usually Blackbirds would be around pairing up and squabbling over territories. This is the worst winter yet.”  I would entirely agree with this. Rachel speculates that it is the lack of insects in the spring – no caterpillars means no fledglings.  Others are not so pessimistic: Pam, Dorothea, Val all comment on their garden birds and Lesley notes a pair of Coal Tits on the feeder. However, Finches, Blackbirds and Thrushes seem particularly rare and even Collared Doves and Woodpigeons are unusual, while I have not heard a Stock Dove for months.  House Sparrows have also gone from my area of Newnham, but Suki reports lots of noisy sparrows pairing up near the Grafton Centre.

Pied Wagtails were mentioned by several (Val, Mary, Suki). Bob noted 25 Siskins and some Chiffchaff at Milton CP, and Blackcaps throughout the month at Logan’s Meadow, where there was also a large (16+) flock of Greenfinches (Ionathan). Other birds seen in gardens were a pair of Jays visiting a bird feeder (Sam); at Jesus College a pair of Goldcrests; Starlings singing on 10th December; a Mistle Thrush; 4 Redwings and Blackbrds enjoying winter berries (Rhona).

Several Red Kite sightings (Rose, Jean, Ann, Suki) indicate that these birds are now becoming common. Less usual were a Merlin (first-winter male hunting over Grantchester Road fields, Jeff) and a Woodcock in the garden (Ionathan). However, the rarity of the month was a Yellow-Browed Warbler found by Jon Heath at Milton Country Park on 21st: it should have been wintering in India or south-east Asia!

Yellow-Browed Warbler Jon Heath

The Cormorant roost at Riverside has risen to 11 (Bob).  Kingfishers were seen along Brookside (Bob) and on Christmas Day at Cherry Hinton (Holly). There were up to 9 species of duck at Milton Country Park, including male Goldeneye and male Goosander (Bob). A Little Grebe was seen using the flooded Paradise pond (Jeff).  

December Moth Paul Rule

Paul has been looking out for the December Moth for the last 4 winters and finally had this nice female in the trap along with another winter moth, the Mottled Umber. Some Sepsis flies, a red Weevil and a 16-Spot Ladybird all turned up on a December walk across Grantchester Meadows (Paul). The Sepsis flies are ant-mimics, often associated with animal dung. Rhona found a Euopedes species of Hoverfly, also 7-Spots and Harlequins out in the warm weather. Suki’s Spider (Tegenaria gigantea) (below) had chosen to avoid the weather altogether.

Monica reports the first Violet flowers – probably a naturalised form of an early-flowering garden cultivar and a precocious Primrose at Barnwell East LNR. Richard found plenty of male catkins and female flowers on the Hazel at Magog Down.

November to February is prime time for Bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) and the Weds Naturalists group co-opted Chris Preston to lead us round the Botanic Garden. Cushions and crawlers (Acrocarps and Pleurocarps) divided the mosses.  Here are a few of Paul’s pix – we were surprised by the variety of forms when viewed with a handlens. (Chris’s final comment on our identification attempts is best summed up by, “The one labelled Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus is Calliergonella cuspidata.”) 

Happy New Year and many thanks to all my faithful contributors over the last 5 years. Olwen Williams

November 2021 sightings

Up to storm Arwen (“worst storm in last 20 years”) at the end of the month, November 2021 was the driest November on record. The first frost was on 2nd  but the rest of the month was very warm.

A few invertebrates linger on. Several people reported Darters (both Common and Ruddy) (Mo, Jeff, Ben) and there were also butterflies – a Red Admiral at Trumpington Meadows (Rose) and several species at Jesus College (Rhona).

Monica had a bee land on her leg on 17th November when sitting in the conservatory. It was identified as a Drone Honey Bee, thought to have been evicted from the hive by the workers and unable to mate. Lesley asked what this spider might be – Spotted in Norfolk Street among dead autumn leaves.  It’s one of the few I can recognise instantly from the white cross on its back:- a Garden Spider, Araneus diadematusIt looks a rather healthier specimen than the one in my October blog ( 

I have seen hardly any birds around the house, except for the large flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws, and some Starlings. In Grange Rd, the only birds Jean had seen frequently this year were Jackdaws and Magpies, rarely a Robin and once a Blackbird.  There had been no Tits (Great, Coal, Blue, Long-tailed), Finches (Gold, Chaffinch, Green), Pigeons or Dunnocks. This seems a catastrophic decline in Newnham, no idea why.  I keep hoping that the warm weather has kept them in the countryside and that they will reappear. Cathy reports both a female and a male Blackcap on the Callicarpa berries in the garden and Bob found more off Huntingdon Rd on Honeysuckle berries and Mistletoe, with one in Mill Rd Cemetery.

The bird of the month was the Great Grey Shrike which turned up at Comberton (out of our area) – to Gleb’s great excitement.   Two Mistle Thrushes were seen in trees over Chesterton Road gardens (Pat) and several people reported Jays (Val, Eve) while three fledged from Jesus College this year (Rhona). Jeff reports up to 35 Pied Wagtails in horse paddocks near Grantchester Church.

Stonechat Bob Jarman

We have an overlap of summer visitors, not yet departed (Chiffchaff up to 18th) (Jeff) and winter visitors, with a big influx of Winter Thrushes especially Redwings over the City on 5th (Bob).  Jeff also reports 11 Siskin perched above the Paradise pond – they love the Alder catkins in this reserve. A Green Sandpiper was seen at Eddington and a Woodcock noted over Huntingdon Rd on 17th. (Bob says to look out for these in gardens during cold weather). Stonechats were seen throughout the month at Hobson’s Park and a pair at Eddington. On 14th  Nov, there was a covey of 11 Grey Partridges near the Histon Rd/Huntingdon Rd footpath (Bob).

Lots of water birds are around. The Botanic Gardens hosts Little Grebes, very much at home and feeding successfully on what appear to be very small fish (Vicky). Grey Wagtails (Rhona), Kingfisher (Mo), Little Egrets (Holly), Heron (Rose) were reported from various parts of our area. In Paradise, Janet spotted a female Goosander on the pond and Bob confirms there have been several other sightings. Up to nine Cormorants collect at the Riverside daytime roost and are often seen flying over. A first winter male Goldeneye was seen at Milton Country Park.

Holly has been amused to witness a pair of Swans on the Brook near Cherry Hinton Hall, trying to get rid of their juvenile who is still hanging around. The pair breed on the chalk pit lakes and use the Brook to go up and down to the ponds in Cherry Hinton Hall.

Chesterton Nature Explorers did Barn Owl pellet dissection with Peter Pilbeam from the Cambridgeshire Mammal Society. Amongst the voles and mice bones he identified a mysterious ‘hand’…. that of a Mole! He’d never seen a mole in an owl pellet before. The photo shows the forearm, with the extra digit, looking like a big canine tooth (Ben).  Judging by the number of mole hills, they are very active just now.

There were lots of reports of foxes this month (Mary, Rhona, Gleb, Jean) and also Grey Squirrels (Jean, Monica). One very tame fox is now to be seen regularly at the Botanic Garden, appearing to be totally unconcerned about the proximity of people (Vicky).

Peeling Oysterling or Soft Slipper Toadstool Lottie Collis

Finally, a Peeling Oysterling or Soft Slipper Toadstool,  Crepidotus mollis on dead wood at Newnham College.  Nature Spot describes Crepidotus mollis as a fan-shaped fungus, with a cap cuticle (skin) that readily peels away from the flesh. The skin is rubbery and transparent and can be stretched to at least double its length before it tears. Thanks Lottie for that one – quite new to me.

Olwen Williams