March Sightings 2018

What could be nicer than the sight of a Kingfisher in Paradise on the first of March! Thanks, Mary, for this one. Rarer, for me, was the Treecreeper at the end of the lane to the bathing place.  A flock of 20 Lapwings, a Kestrel over a bird feeder, 5-6 Snipe in the Skaters Meadows, a female Blackcap in a garden – lots of bird sightings in the cold early part of the month. In Grantchester Meadows, fishermen told me they had just seen a Barn Owl and later I came upon a pair of Little Grebes together and calling – a lovely downward trill which I had not heard before (  The pennywort clearance work has cut back much of the overhanging vegetation, but been careful to leave periodic refuges for breeding birds.

The Newnham Heronry is noisy and there are at least 3 nests, possibly more. On the peninsula opposite Paradise, where the feral domestic white Geese hang out, I found 3 nests, two of them with eggs, but no sitting birds. Although they are sitting now, I doubt whether any will hatch after such freezing exposure. This flock once numbered more than 20, but has fallen to about 12 now – considerably inbred, a few have a congenital wing deformity which prevents flight. Two male Teals were seen in Newnham and further afield, I saw 12 Teals consorting with Mallards on a frozen pond near Long Rd, a single Shoveller on the Cam and a Grey Wagtail under the M11 bridge, calling very loudly against the thunderous roar of overhead traffic. A Sparrowhawk was seen at Cherry Hinton Pit. Fieldfare and Redwing became tamer in the cold weather – this fieldfare was eating an apple in the snow – thanks Mike.

Mike Thompson

Ben Greig describes a Stock Dove in his garden on 10th and a Buzzard still present (hunting) in Histon Rd allotments. First sighted 1st March, it was often seen circling over the farmland that is now Darwin Green, but not on the allotments themselves until now. Also small flock of Reed Buntings and a few Linnets on the allotments 1st March (that very cold week). A Woodcock was flushed when we visited the Laundry Farm ancient orchard, alongside Barton Rd on March 14th.  I am told that Red Kites have bred in the north of the Project Area in 2015 and raised one chick.  And one was seen over Regent St on 4th March, so they are around!

Red KIte (Milvus milvus)

What else? Spring is generally delayed by the freezing weather! I returned from 2 weeks in South African autumn expecting to find the blossom was over, but little had changed. The occasional 7-spot Ladybird, two Frogs mating in Pam Gatrell’s pond on 9th Mar. Over 50 Toads were recorded migrating to the pond for spawning from Stanley Road & Oyster Row. Volunteers here round them up from roads and paths, taking them to the pond safely.  Duncan McKay found some Green Hellebore growing in the West Pit at Cherry Hinton – a first sign of spring. Lots more to come in April, no doubt.

June sightings

High summer!! A alternating mixture of rain and heat has provided an excellent growing season and some spectacular flowers. In my garden, bumble bees are investigating the honeysuckle and foxglove flowers. In particular, the Common Carder (Bombus pascuorum) and the Garden Bumblebee (B. hortorum) have long tongues and are able to reach into the deeper flowers. I have also seen the Early Bumblebee (B. pratorum) here.

In Paradise, there is a nest of Tree Bumblebees (B. hypnorum), recognised by its combination of ginger thorax, black abdomen and white tail. The nest is in a willow tree about 8 ft off the ground and is patrolled by ardent males, waiting for the virgin queens to emerge. These bumblebees are relative newcomers to UK, having arrived only in 2001 from Continental Europe, but are spreading widely and have reached both Ireland and Scotland.

Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum

In the heat, the river is a popular place to swim. However, there is a warning of the “river itch”, especially on hot days. This is caused by the larvae of a flatworm, whose primary host is a snail. The free-swimming larvae seek their secondary host, a duck, but may mistakenly attack a swimming human. Apart from an irritating rash, the larvae are harmless to us.

There seem to be exceptional numbers of singing Blackcaps and I am also hearing Chiffchaff locally. The Song Thrushes are still vocal and a little pile of broken snail shells indicates where they are feeding.  Skylarks sing over the Grantchester fields, but I have not heard a Yellow Hammer there this year. The local Herons are noisier than ever, now that the young are hatched and courting is overtaken by childcare duties.

In the house, I disturbed a very large House Spider (Tegenaria domestica). I left him there, hoping his diet includes my current plague of Clothes Moths. There seem to be very few flies for him this year. A recent publication* states that there has been a

decline of about 80% in the biomass of insects over the last few decades (since 1989). I wonder why?

Olwen Williams