November sightings 2018

At the beginning of the month, Sandie found a Garden Spider blocking her exit from the house. In trying to get a photograph of the beautiful web, she made it look quite scarily large!

Garden Spider

Araneus diadematus

Sandie Mercer


This has been a month of bird sightings and (at last) some fungi.  I have been somewhat dismayed at the absence of small birds locally, but at British Antarctic Survey garden, Goldfinches have returned and in Newnham, Pam reports an influx of birds to feeders in late November: Blue, Great and Long Tailed Tits, a few Goldfinches, at least four Blackbirds, males singing loudly in high ash trees, a  very young Robin and ever present Magpies. She also  heard a Wren in Paradise. Then Sue says there were far more Blue Tits than usual on the feeders, so maybe it was a good breeding year for them.  She also has a plague of Pigeons, which have decimated the large holly tree, leaving nothing for Christmas decorations! Mary has flocks of both Goldfinches and Long Tailed Tits in Highsett, while in Petersfield, Val has a visiting garden Wren.  She also noted Little Grebes on the river and Cormorants high in the trees towards Fen Ditton and a smallish flock of Starlings atop the Church on St Matthew’s Street.

 Wren   Paul Rule

Several other garden events were reported: June lives by the Cam in Chesterton and has had  about 14 Swans interested in the windfall apples, also two Great Spotted Woodpeckers at the bird feeder.  Jenny asks, “This morning a large Heron walked up and down on the top of hedge eyeing the pond but did not venture any closer. Do you think the sculpture heron at the pond’s edge really is a deterrent?”  In Eden St, a flock of Redwings appeared in the back garden. Mike looked out one day to see 10 male Blackbirds, presumed new arrivals from the continent.

In Arbury Rd, Colin was peacefully watching football when,  “A dirty great hawk (Sparrow hawk?) bombed down from the sky and completely flattened a poor fat Pigeon that had been safely grazing on the lawn.  It started plucking, then winged off, bearing the remains of its prey in its talons. I was left to ruminate on the fact that in 21 years in Kenya, I witnessed only one kill – of a water buck by a leopard – whereas in Cambridge I can watch kills from my armchair.”

In Empty Common, we had great views of a Little Egret (small white heron with black bill, yellow feet) fishing in Hobson’s Brook and perching in the trees above.  In the woods, a Jay was calling and they seem much more visible in autumn, busy collecting supplies for the winter ahead.  Judith noted one in the garden in Leys Rd – beautiful colours.

Blue Jay

Little Egret

Song Thrush and Wrens have been singing intermittently on the warmer days of the month. The mixed flock of Jackdaws and Rooks over Paradise Island is deafening at dawn and dusk, 200-300 birds circling the air and calling – wonderful sight and sound.  A spectacular murmuration of 500-600 Starlings has persisted over Bolton’s Pit (the lake in Newnham), circling at dusk, before suddenly settling on the reeds in the middle of the lake. As they settled, I noticed a couple of Bats emerging. November has been quite mild and these had evidently not hibernated yet (Nov 15th).

Starlings over Bolton’s Pit

Olwen Williams Nov 15th


Newnham’s river corridor is home to six species of bat: Common and Soprano Pipistrelle, Brown Long-eared, Daubenton’s, Noctule and Serotine. There is constant tension between the human need to see, be seen and feel secure and the need to avoid light pollution along the river, for example at the Canoe Club, the Queens’ hostel and the cycle way across Sheep’s Fen.  My own view of cycling here at night is that unless your bike lights are good enough to show you the way, it is safer to use Fen Causeway.  Stud illumination is already in place and for the sake of wildlife, this must not be increased to full lighting. Bats are particularly susceptible to intrusive light.

A small excursion along the Grantchester Meadows turned up the usual Mallard, Mute Swan, Moorhen, and Black-headed Gulls. More excitingly, there were a couple of Cormorants, a Dabchick (Little Grebe) fishing along the bank and finally a Kingfisher flying upstream.  This meeting was called to discuss the severe and increasing problem of river bank erosion, due mainly to grazing cattle but also punts, people and their dogs. Remedial measures will be needed, with alternative drinking places for cattle.

Kingfisher  Paul Rule

Sue noted a black Squirrel just outside the back door. Melanistic squirrels occur as a dominant mutation of the grey and are fairly common in N. Cambridge. Indeed, they are found in a ribbon across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire and in some hot-spots, blacks now outnumber greys, making up an estimated three-quarters of the squirrel population in villages such as Girton.  June reports a large Hedgehog in Chesterton, still active at the end of the month and sadly, a dead young one in Frank’s Lane.

Foxes seem to be doing well. I left food out for the hedgehogs and was surprised that the plastic bowl was disappearing as well as the food. After the third one went, I set the camera and found the fox had stuck his nose through the hedgehog hole in the gate.

Visiting fox                  Olwen Williams

Jenny has had chickens at the bottom of the garden since coming back to Cambridge 3 years ago, but this month acquired a family of Foxes – “They came, they ate and they stayed”. So she won’t be keeping chickens again anytime soon!

Alan reported several small self-sown plants of Sophora microphylla by St Bene’t’s church – a first county record for the species. Then Jonathan reports interesting finds during the CNHS visit to Bramblefields: Royal Mallow (Malva trimestris) growing by a pond – its second record in the county.  That excursion also turned up some fungi, including rare Conocybe plicatella (aka Pholiotina plicatella, Galerella plicatella) in grass just outside the closed-off bit. One other remarkable local occurrence was Leucopaxillus rhodoleucus under one of the cedars near the University Library–it is a south European species with just two or three twentieth-century British records, but now spreading, presumably thanks to warming. In Empty Common, we found Laccaria laccata, The Deceiver Fungus, maroon when wet, but drying to a brown colour. Jill found these Common Inkcaps in Fulbrooke Road.


Common Inkcaps

Jill Newcombe



Olwen Williams