May Sightings 2018

The late spring, combined with lots of rain, has conspired to produce enormously tall nettles with huge leaves. I found this to my cost when I revisited the site of a Grey Wagtail nest, underneath the bridge where the M11 crosses the Cam, in the extreme SW of our project area. It was quite impossible (in open-toed sandals) to get to the place I had seen them before and a detour led to a paddle through ankle-deep muddy water. So, grubby, scratched, bitten and stung, I can confirm that the pair are still there, but I saw no sign of fledglings, so will have to go back again. I can further report that I heard a Cuckoo there, so not a wasted trip.

Several people have reported the arrival of Swifts in early May and the Newnham nesting boxes are again occupied, though not yet those in Eden St. On May 9th, Pam says, ”Our first swift over Newnham at 6.20 pm : a magical moment for a swift addict”.  They are viewed in internal boxes with live video and one bird had to wait for three days before their mate appeared.



Swift box in Newnham



Jays seem to be perfectly happy in the city, one reported from Mitcham’s Corner (below) and another in the small gardens near the Mill Rd Cemetery .  


“Anyone in?”


A Green Woodpecker was seen enjoying the ants in a lawn – chased off by Magpies, but returned straight away. Alec noted a magpie harassing his small birds, before being chased off by the blackbirds, and asks, “So what are these magpies doing?” The answer lies in the scene I witnessed – a baby Blue Tit landed in my gutter and was immediately seized and carried off by a magpie, doubtless to feed its own chicks. I suppose this is why blue tits have such large clutches.

A Reeves Pheasant was spotted in Chesterton Hall Crescent, presumably escaped from captivity, as they are not native.

Ben reports two Stock Doves regularly in the garden in Harvey Goodwin Ave (captured here with a Feral Pigeon). They lack the white flashes of the wood pigeon. I have only recently become aware of these birds, mainly because of their “Uh Uhh” call. They are among the birds more often heard than seen, rather like greenfinches, cuckoos, chiffchaffs and bitterns!


Stock Doves (grey) with Feral Pigeon


Several people have reported Frogs and Newts. Pam’s Newnham pond had four mature frogs on 8th May and there were others in Trumpington, Chesterton and Langham Rd.  In Gilbert Rd, several clumps of frog spawn seemed to disappear when the weather returned to winter. Later, however, small Tadpoles appeared and at 1cm length, were clustered at the edge of the pond, basking in the sun  Then one Newt after another surfaced, sucked up a whole tadpole from the tail to head in one move, then sank away into the depths. Fortunately, some have survived!

It is great to have reports of live Hedgehogs from Highsett, after several sightings of squashed ones. In Newnham, my adopted hog George is now roaming the gardens, but still sometimes returns for bed and breakfast. I am not sure if he will be joined by Georgette, but I hope so. In Langham Rd, Paul stumbled on a hedgehog and while he took its picture, another one scuttled off under the hedge – hopefully a breeding pair.  In Chesterton, hedgehogs are visiting the garden every night – but fewer than last year so far.

We should not forget the river and its tributaries as a source of wildlife. In the first week of May, Roger Horton noticed Hottonia palustris (Water Violet) flowering through duckweed in Hobson’s Conduit by the Botanic Garden. This has also been found growing in a flooded coprolite pit on Quy Fen, but is an unusual find in a city centre. Pike have been observed in the ditch around Jesus College and also in Hobson’s Conduit near Brooklands Avenue bridge. At about a pound in weight, this one could present a problem to the fish, especially the population of Stone Loach. It is a big carnivore for such a small stream! Finally, there have been some interesting dragonflies on Hobson’s Conduit: Duncan saw Emperor Dragonflies together with Broad Bodied Chaser, Common Blue Damselfly, Large Red Damselfly and Banded Demoiselle. Indeed, the Large Red Damselfly, so scarce when we tried to survey it last year, is turning up in all sorts of places including St. Andrews churchyard and in Trumpington, mating and ovipositing over a garden pond.

Other insects? Admire this tiny moth, Pyrausta aurata feeding on thyme flowers.

Pyrausta aurata     Paul Rule

May Block reports ‘Alas the Red Lily Beetle is active, much to the detriment of our lilies.’ Then, on May 18th Paul took this picture of the Micromoth, Nematopogon swammerdamella at Laundry Farm. Its disproportionate antennae match the length of its name and rival the tail of the quetzal!

Nematopogon swammerdamella  Paul Rule

We asked for sightings of Maybugs, but have not had many yet. There is still time! Please let us know what you see in June. Cambridge is such an exciting place.

Olwen Williams