Hawkers, Emperors, Darters and Swifts – July 2019

I’ve been affected by Duncan MacKay’s enthusiasm for the Odonata. I went on a Damselfly and Dragonfly identification course at Wicken Fen some years ago but never really followed it up. This year is different. Hip surgery means I’ve been confined to home, the daytime skies above and nearby Logan’s Meadow. I struggle with the small blue damselflies but am sure I have recorded Variable; Blue-tailed Damselfly has been present all summer; similarly Banded Demoiselles (the iridescent body colour of the males must be one of the most striking colours in nature!), the females are completely different; Common Darters appeared briefly; Brown Hawkers appeared for three-weeks; Anax imperator (Emperor – I prefer its Latin name!) cruised the meadow and a Migrant Hawker visited my small garden. Banded Demoiselles are often blown into the City centre and I have seen them fluttering over the Market Square and Petty Cury.

Male Banded Demoiselle (left) Brown Hawker – egg laying (centre) Common Darter (right)

In the poplar trees above the river near Logan’s Meadow are two juvenile Sparrowhawks (they breed here most years) that erupt out and fly in a panic then land in the densest part of the tree top canopy. Their principle seems to be if we cannot see you then you cannot see us. It doesn’t work! Reed Bunting in Logan’s Meadow on 26th July – probably been there for years but I have only just noticed! Two Buzzards over Logan’s and a Kestrel sitting on the goal posts on 1st August.

Variable Damselfly – I think!

At the beginning of July, the Council strimmed all St Andrew’s Cemetery just as butterflies were emerging. As a result, the butterfly list for the cemetery is limited to about 11 species compared to Histon Road Cemetery, which has active wildlife management with a butterfly list of 22 species this year including Essex Skipper, Ringlet and Marbled White. (per Martin Brett, Lesley Dodd).

I’ve been watching the Swifts! A cursory impression is that they have had a good breeding season with fine weather and plenty of flying insects.

I think there was a major departure on 24th of July, just before the hottest temperature every recorded in the UK at the Botanic Gardens on 25th – 38.7C; local birds moved out ahead of the weather front on 27th July and returned in numbers on 28th. There was another major departure on the 29th. A few still over the City on 1st August but the majority of local birds have now left.

On 9th July, a dead Nuthatch was found outside the Attenborough Building in Downing Street. Unusual! – over the last two years no breeding Nuthatches have been located in the Botanic Gardens or west Cambridge despite the wooded college gardens appearing to be ideal habitat.

Not so unusual! – just round-the-corner in Tennis Court Road is Pembroke College with its magnificent avenue of London Plane trees (possibly the tallest trees in the City). Nuthatches probably breed at Girton College and 2-3 pairs in Madingley Wood just a mile away. These two localities have mature oaks. I think they are absent from west Cambridge because of the loss/absence of mature oak trees. On 13th July: a Common Tern over Downing Street and six over the Histon Road/Huntingdon Road Junction on 16th July; 51 apparently active House Martin nests at Addenbroke’s Hospital on 22nd July. Juvenile Tawny Owl heard near the Huntingdon Road/Histon Road junction.

The weather front on Saturday 27th July caused a spectacular fall of waders migrating south along the east coast. My first Wood Sandpipers were at Cambridge Sewage Farm decades ago and I’ve never forgotten their distinctive “chiff, chiff” call. To find one Wood Sandpiper is a good day, to find two is a memorable day but 110 were at Cley, Norfolk on 28th July with Curlew Sandpipers , Little Stints and Whimbrels. On Sunday night 28th Jon Heath’s night recording had a Common Sandpiper, a Ringed Plover, a Dunlin and a flock of Curlew but no Wood Sands over the City although several night time recorders in Norfolk had Wood Sandpipers.

Bob Jarman 1st August 2019