January 2019 Sightings

I returned from a tropical holiday, thinking that there would not be many observations for a cold January, but was wrong!  Anita tells me that Paradise pond froze over for the first time this winter (having dried out completely in the summer) and looked lovely. She comments on the beautiful Turkey Tail fungus on some of the cut bits of tree in Paradise.  

Several people have noted Dab Chicks (Little Grebe),which seem to be flourishing in Fen Ditton (Trevor), Newnham (Anita) and Byron’s Pool (Ann L). More exotic was Holly’s sighting on 21st January of a Water Rail on the brook up by Blacklands allotments – a brief glimpse as it skulked in the margins. First sighting for several years here. 

 Winter thrushes are still about, with Fieldfares in Grantchester meadows (Jill)and lots of reports of Redwings, about 30-40 in Jesus woods (Rhona) and flocks near Lime Kiln Hill, also the Beechwoods and in Cherry Hinton Hall (Duncan).                                                  

Redwing        Duncan McKay

At Clay Farm lake (Hobson’s Park) a number of ‘Birders’ with telescopes were sighted!  Assuming that this meant something interesting had flown in, Richard went out and was shown a Jack Snipe along with about 40 Common Snipe.  (A useful guide to the difference can be seen here: https://www.bto.org/about-birds/bird-id/bto-bird-id-common-and-jack-snipe).  Little Egrets seem to be expanding their range generally and a pair was noted at Clay Farm (Vanessa) as well as on Sheep’s  Green in Newnham (Anita), who also saw Kingfisher,  and commented on the young incompetent Heron, begging fish from the fishermen! A Pied Wagtail plied the pavement outside the Co-op on Perne Road (Monica).

Guy noted the Peregrine, regularly seen perched on the United Reform Church, was feeding on feral pigeon on 21st Jan.  Tawny Owls have been calling in Newnham.  Both Green Woodpeckers (Ann G in Arbury) and Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been around, the latter starting to drum, though only occasionally (Pam, Sandra, June).

There are lots of reports of smaller birds, in particular flocks of Long Tailed Tits, mixed with Blue and Great Tits,Goldcrest, Coal Tits. Reports too of Blackcaps at feeders and the return of some finches, which have been very scarce recently.  June reports Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Chaffinch, Val had a Greenfinch on the feeders and Ann G saw a Chaffinch after none for some time. Then, in the Beechwood Reserve, lots of Bramblings were seen (Duncan, Paul).                  

Female blackcap on Crab Apples     Pam Gatrell

Jonathan led the New Year’s Day Plant Hunt and found 58 species in flower. Several unusual/overlooked ones were noted, including Butcher’s Broom and Persian Ironwood. The former shrub has tiny flowers in the middle of what look like leaves. These develop into red berries.  The Persian Ironwood (a tree) has small red flowers that appear like shrivelled berries.

After the drought of last summer and the mild winter, the autumn-germinating annuals are doing very well on Cambridge’s roadside verges, and in places there are dense swards of Geranium molle and G. pusillum. These support at least three species of parasitic fungi and fungoids including Ramularia geranii, shown as white colonies on the leaves which are discoloured and upturned at the edges. Another fungus which is currently very conspicuous on Cambridge’s roadside verges is the mildew Blumeria graminis, which parasitises grasses, photographed here on New Year’s Day by Chris.

Blumeria graminis             Chris Preston
Ramularia geranii           Chris Preston

Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) was flowering on the road verge in Cherry Hinton Road towards the end of the month and the Snowdrops and Aconites are earlier than ever. This is a good time of year to look for Bee Orchid rosettes- there are quite a few city centre monads without sightings, but the plants are quite likely to be there. Please let us know if they are in your lawn and avoid mowing them down! We still have no sightings of Mistletoe in Cherry Hinton or Grantchester.

Muntjac Deer are abundant in Newnham, both by the river and in many larger gardens (Jill, Anita). A Fox was seen in Brooklands Avenue (Ann L) and a couple of Hares in the Fulbrooke Rd allotments (Jill).  Val comments on a grateful Grey Squirrel who loves the bird food.

Finally, Paul found an abundance of 7-spot Ladybirds adorning the buds of trees and even the barbed wire fencing in Beechwoods. Good to see we have not been taken over entirely by Harlequins!  

7-Spot Ladybirds            Paul Rule

Olwen Williams                 olwenw@gmail.com