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   olwenw@gmail.com