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