November 2020 Sightings

Although this month is nearly all about birds, I propose to start with the Ladybirds. At this time of year they hibernate, often in groups. Rhona’s 7-Spot huddle on holly leaves is complemented by John’s double take: 7-spots occupying one cane and Harlequins the other.  (Segregation of species is apparently normal.) All the canes in that area had ladybirds crowded into them.

Less fortunate were Rhona’s Kidney Spot LB, which has Hesperomyces sp. fungi showing on the wing case.  This fungus is known to infect several ladybird species including Harlequins. Then Paul found a dead 7-spot Ladybird with the cocoon of the parasitic wasp Dinocampus coccinellae attached to its underside. The gruesome story here is that this wasp lays a single egg which is planted in the host’s soft underbelly. The wasp larva hatches after 5–7 days into a first instar larva with large mandibles and proceeds to remove any other eggs or larvae, before beginning to feed on the ladybird’s fat bodies and gonads. After a further four larval instars, when it is ready to emerge, the wasp larva paralyses the ladybird before tunnelling out. It pupates in a cocoon attached to the leg of the living ladybird, whose brightly coloured body and occasional twitching deter predation. While the developing wasp is extremely vulnerable, the ‘zombified’ ladybird acts as its bodyguard.

Jeff reports a small, dark Sylvia Warbler over the fields to the west of Grantchester Rd on 7th. There was a prevailing south-easterly airstream.  It was uniformly dark grey, with a red eye ring. He thought it might be a Marmora’s or Balearic Warbler, otherwise perhaps a juvenile Dartford Warbler. Lesley comments on the increasing Starling population in the trees in Histon Road Cemetery. She asks, “They like the high limes rather than the lower sycamores. I’d be interested to know if that’s because they prefer to be high up or because the limes provide more food –  no doubt someone in this group can tell me!”  A winter murmuration of Starlings can be seen over Newnham, the birds roosting on the island of Bolton’s Pit (Penny). A Song Thrush was heard singing 20/21st Nov.

Ben’s ‘Arbury’ Peregrines are still about and hunting the Pigeons above St Luke’s School. Malcolm reports one at close quarters near the river in Newnham.  Jill watched as a male Kestrel dismembered a catch (probably a vole), one foot holding it firm, beak wrenching away. After ten minutes a fat grey squirrel challenged it and it flew off. Sparrow-hawks are regularly seen at St John’s (David) – I hope they don’t find Maria’s Sparrows, seen in numbers on the feeder in S. Cambridge for the first time in 15 years.  David also reports Nuthatches and Treecreepers at St John’s – rare elsewhere.  Many thanks to all who sent accounts of other bird-life, including Goldcrests in the trees along the Burnside allotments (Holly). Like many others, I have enjoyed the flocks of mixed Tits, especially the Long-Tailed Tits.

The usual water birds are reported – thanks to Sue for the picture of the Heron. A Water Rail has been seen several times at the end of Burnside along Snakey Path (Holly).  Several folk had seen Kingfishers – Pam for the first time, in spite of living locally for 60 years! It was fishing alongside a Cormorant.

Martin reports a female Blackcap feeding on over-ripe grapes and rowan berries, while Clarke watched one eating mistletoe berries in the garden. He informed me that the BTO had recently drawn attention to a paper on blackcap migration, showing that the UK’s winter blackcaps (rather strangely) migrate in a northerly direction to come here for winter from central Europe, while the ones that breed here in summer head south for winter! It makes me wonder if they greet each other as they pass.  Our winter blackcaps have increased in recent decades and are very good at distributing mistletoe seeds.

Jean comments on the Buff-Tailed Bumble Bees which are still active. A queen (from a second brood) regularly visited her ‘Hot Lips’ Salvia until mid November. Steven Falk notes that “In some areas (especially southern cities) these queens give rise to a third winter-active generation that take advantage of winter-flowering shrubs”.  Most other invertebrates have retreated for the winter, though Paul continues to find new ones – his most recent tally is 503 insect species.

 Gleb saw a small Hedgehog off Church Street – possibly too small to survive the winter – they shouldn’t be out in November.  The Botanic Garden turned up a Water Vole scampering along at the edge of the lake, and a beautiful large Fox which strolled off across the lawns (Sam).

Maria was visited by a Muntjac Deer in her S. Cambridge garden.  She says, “We had just finished breakfast, when it wandered onto the patio, at one point coming right up to the door. It stayed for about 15 minutes investigating the bird food and nibbling a few plants before leaving by the steps to the main garden. There was a cat sitting on top of the steps and the deer calmly stepped over the it: neither seemed bothered, so I don’t know if they have met before!”  It certainly looks a bit skinny and under-fed.

PS I previously asked where to find red toadstools with white spots: Mark says “The reason we do not get Fly Agaric in Cambridge is that it is a strict calcifuge”. The Wildlife Trust says it occurs in Holme Fen and in beechwoods – both presumably acidic soil.

Olwen Williams                                  olwenw@gmail.