March Sightings 2020

March draft

This spring has coincided with pandemic lockdown and I have had a huge number of responses this month (hence the lateness of this report).  Thanks to all contributors. We really do have time to stop and stare!

Quiz for this month – what is this? Read on…………


In Chesterton frogspawn appeared on Mar 1st and this was followed by a slew of other sightings. Jenny says, “We have been hoping for Frogs for the last 4 years since we put in a small wildlife pond.. we saw four extremely active large frogs busy doing what frogs do at this time of the year! (More reports from Peter, Heather, Paul, Pam, Jonathan.)  Smooth Newts also put in an appearance (Ben, Olwen, Jill) while Heather saw mating Toads at Clay Farm.


Butterbur flowers appeared in Paradise on Mar 2nd (and my first Asparagus spear on 17th).  At Jesus, Rhona found Yellow Figwort Scrophularia vernalis – Alan Leslie notes it as a weed of Cambridge College gardens, with a long, if discontinuous history in Cambridge.  First described 1830, he found it by Wesley House in 2013 and also in Jesus Lane.  Mo describes how she ordered some Creeping Comfrey Symphytum grandiflorum, having seen how attractive it was to bees.  With the plants still in their wrappers on the doorstep, a large bumblebee immediately headed for the flowers.

Jonathan reports spring annual plants – Cerastium semidecandrum Little Mouse-ear, Myosotis ramosissima Early Forget-me-not, Poa infima Early Meadow-grass, Saxifraga tridactylites Rue-leaved Saxifrage and Stellaria pallida Lesser Chickweed – on the gravel of the W. Cambridge car-parks, several new to this site. (I suspect we mostly ignore these as the LBJs of the plant world!) Also Luzula campestris Field Wood-rush in Cherry Hinton churchyard and Ranunculus auricomus Goldilocks Buttercup just starting to come into flower.

Vanessa describes Dog’s Mercury Mercuralis perennis in the woods near Byron’s Pool with clumps of Wood anemone Anemone nemorosa. In Coton, Lesley admired Cornelian Cherry Cornus mas in flower, with great drifts of Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara.  Monica’s daily exercise is now a survey of street weeds within about a kilometre of home. White Ramping Fumitory Fumaria capreolata was just inside Coleridge Recreation Ground (previously recorded there by Alan Leslie in 2008).  Near Rustat Avenue were masses of Early Forget-me-not Myosotis ramosissima, with tiny deep blue flowers, hardly bigger than pinheads.

Mo queried one flower and learned it was a Campion hybrid. Apparently, Red Campion Silene dioica flowers during the day and its most important pollinators are butterflies, bees, and flies with long proboscises. Its close relative White Campion S. latifolia opens its flowers at night, so is pollinated by night flyers. Occasional shared pollinators allow cross-breeding.


My first Yellow Brimstone butterfly was Mar 17th but there were many more butterfly reports from Mar 11th onwards (Rhona, Pam, Judith, Bernie, Sue, Miles). Also Commas, Small Tortoiseshell, and a “Tiny Blue” (Judith).


Penny’s permitted daily walk along Grange road passes the Cherry trees outside Selwyn. At their flowering best, there was the most amazing ‘hum’ of Honey Bees visiting the flowers.

There are Buff-Tailed Bumblebees reports galore, but also a Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum seen in Jesus on 10th and a Mining bee Andrena bicolor male, a thin bee with a black face tuft, on 9th March (Rhona). Mo found a Red Mason Bee Osmia bicornis  while Garret reported an Osmia cornuta by Jesus Lock: a first for Cambridgeshire. It has distinctive facial horns and black and red pattern.


Rhona, 6th March, noted the first mating 7-spots Ladybirds of the season. Pine Ladybirds were spotted in St. Andrews church yard in Cherry Hinton by Paul, at least a dozen scurrying about  the trunk of an ash tree. Jonathan also found large number of these on trees in the West Cambridge site car-parks.

Eyed Ladybird Paul Rule

Sanctuary Reserve turned up an Eyed Ladybird. There are few records of our largest ladybird from Cambridge city, but they may be under-recorded, as they are mostly hidden away in conifers.


Hedgehogs are beginning to stir:  Ben and Dorothea both have active hogs. Dorothea says, “The dish has been licked clean the last few nights and their poo trails criss-cross in all directions”. However, on 13th Jenny, found a sleeping hedgehog under a pile of leaves and covered it back up again quickly. Was it still hibernating or just taking a regular daytime nap? 

At Jesus, Rhona reports a Squirrel with a white tail. Anita says Water Voles are active in the mill ditch by Lammas land. Two Woodmice and a Stoat were spotted on the Coton reserve, just outside our area.


I had a huge number of bird reports, all valuable for our records but not possible to include them all. Thanks for sending them.  Notable findings were the first Chiffchaff song, arriving exactly on time (Mar 17th) and  I had a close encounter with Barn Owl near Skaters’ Meadows, in broad daylight about 4m away at eye level. A Red Legged Partridge joined Jane on her allotment  and Heather rather casually mentioned a couple Bearded Tits at Clay Farm – a most unusual bird within the City boundary and a credit to the new Reserve there. Bob suggests they may be breeding there.

An update from Mike Foley Count on the Paradise Heronry. This year, there seem to be only 5 occupied nests, in comparison with 12 last year. There was also a beautiful Cormorant in full breeding plumage there and two Buzzards over the wood (he thinks they breed elsewhere).

It is good to get sightings of finches, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Chaffinches, recently in short supply (Holly, Pam) and 14 Yellowhammers at Coton Reserve (Lesley). She also mentions Stock Doves there – I hear these every day in Paradise, but never see them.  Little Egrets have returned to Newnham (Anita) but I still don’t know where they nest. Harlton (again out of our area) has acquired a Peacock: so far not calling or displaying.  Jill says there are many Skylarks above the fields in Newnham and Stella has a Nuthatch visiting  her Newnham garden. 


Paul found this tiny Mollisia melaleuca fungus (1mm across) on rotten wood in the garden. It is less common than the similar Common Grey Disco (Mollisia cinerea) but that species has dark centres with pale edges and this is the other way round.

Other invertebrates

Lots of other insects are emerging just now.  Paul spotted Epistrophe eligans – an early hoverfly and points out the males are not to be trusted, as their eyes are too close together…. The Bee Fly Bombylius major was sighted by several people.  In Hobson Park, Vanessa reports signs of emerging caterpillars of the Brown-tailed Moth Euproctis chrysorrhoea from their overwintering strongholds. This white moth was originally coastal but seems to be spreading. The caterpillars live in white cocoons resembling strong opaque polythene. Beware! These caterpillars shed toxic hairs which can cause intense irritation and a rash. They infest various species of deciduous trees and can cause defoliation. Mo saw a Hairy Shieldbug Dolycoris baccarum and Paul snapped tiny Owl Midges (aka owl flies or drain flies) flitting around the Marsh Marigold leaves.

Aquatic fauna

Mo’s pond turned up some 1 – 2mm translucent balls, looking somewhat like tiny clam shells. Jean suggested it was a fresh-water clam, one of the Sphaerium species and to keep them under observation in the house.  Mo’s last words were, “I am not holding out any hope of pasta alle vongole sourced from my pond”.

Finally, something to investigate: What is This?  It was 7mm long and under the lid of Paul’s dustbin.  (The first thing is to decide which end is which and go from there. ) With all the time in the world on your hands, have a go…. The first correct entry will be acknowledged in April.

Olwen Williams