Jesus College Nature Trail

Biodiversity in Jesus College, Cambridge


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Autumn Beetles

I found my fifth Bronze leaf beetle (Chrysolina banksia) in the woods on Monday 9th November.  These beetles are new to me this year, but it seems as if we now have a small colony in College.  I have found four of them on, or by, the large Green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) patch just to the west of the Cricket Pavilion, in a 10 foot patch by the path.  The other beetle was seen about 20 metres away to the east, still on the north side of the trail.

These are large beetles, with a body length of  8-12mm. They have a bronze, metallic sheen to their bodies and they have orange legs.  The first was seen on the 25th September and the last on the 9th November. 

This is a local species in the UK, usually in coastal areas of the south, and its favourite plants seem to be Ribwort plantain and Black horehound.  They have not been recorded much around Cambridge; they were spotted once in Cottenham, in 2019, but there have been no sightings more recent than that according to the NBN atlas.

They can be seen all the year round, although they tend to take shelter near the host plants in poor weather.  The ones that I saw could have been new generation adults: they appear in May/June and feed for a few weeks before aestivating during the summer.  They reappear in September and lay their eggs soon after.  The eggs are laid in small batches on the undersides of the host leaves – I have searched the Green alkanet and Black horehound nearby but have not found any eggs. 

I have been able to get a three new small wasps identified; unusually two of them had tricoloured legs, so identification was possible. There are thousands of small wasps in the UK and so identification can be difficult.  They were Rhopalum coarctatum (a small stem-nesting solitary wasp) and Schizopyga frigida (a parasitoid of, usually immature, spiders).  Other notable insects this season have been the ladybirds.  The first 16-spot ladybird (Tytthapis sedecimpunctata) was seen on the tarpaulin over the cricket practice nets on 6th October. I also found a Kidney-spot ladybird (Chilocorus renipustulatus), which is not uncommon in Jesus College, but this one had a moss-like fungus growing out of the beetle’s wing-case.  The fungus turned out to be a Hesperomyces species; a fungus that is usually only found on Harlequin ladybirds.  This is a sexually transmitted disease that does not kill the host.

This year has been a good year for fungi in College (or more exactly, as a fungi expert said to me, it has been a normal year after quite a few bad years).  I have seen much the same sort of fungi as in other years, luckily they often appear in the same place and so I am slowly learning a few more names each year.  The Shaggy parasols (Chlorophyllum rhacodes) by the Leylandii tree in the Orchard have been especially spectacular this year.  New fungi this year have been the tiny Small staghorn (Caolocera cornea); the Sheathed woodtuft (Kuehneromyces mutabilis) ; the popcorn looking Crepidotus (probably C. variabilis or C. cesatii); and the mushroom known as the Prince (Agaricus augustus).  I also think we have the Crystal brain fungus (Exidia nucleate) on some of the wood piles.

The Badger (Meles meles) has not been spotted again in College, but we have found another latrine – this time on top of the (squashed down) soil mound that covered the fox den by the cricket practice nets.  There have also been quite a few ‘snuffle holes’ around the trail, especially in the northeast corner of the trail.  A badger has also widened an old fox hole near the Glade.  There are two entrances that are used regularly.  Both foxes and badgers will move around and don’t always use the same sleeping place at night.  They may just bed down in a handy place.  We think we have a small Badger that visits occasionally rather than a full-time sett in the College as we are finding new snuffle holes every week.  Our dog Fox (Vulpes vulpes) has been seen occasionally around College, but usually in the early mornings (between 6-8am) and at night.  We don’t think that we have any foxes living on site any more. Izaak van Dongen  did send in a wonderful video for our facebook site of a Fox at dusk chasing a Heron from the field behind North Court one evening.  The male Fox was seen on the old hockey pitch on the night of 15/16th December by Ian Gilchrist, one of our porters, and it was calling loudly.

We have a  Grey squirrel that has a partly red coat.  Their fur can be variable in colour but this one is more obviously red compared to our other squirrels.  It may be making a nest in the new owl box in the NE corner of the trail.

 

The large mixed flocks of tits have been flying around the woods and gardens; they usually consist of mainly blue tits, but I have also seen Great tits, Coal tits and Long-tailed tits; although the Long-tails have often been seen in a flock on their own.  In December the tits seem to be pairing up and the Robins are beginning to sing to claim their territory.  A female Green woodpecker (Picus viridis) has been seen quite often in Library Court, either on the lawn early in the mornings searching for ants, or up in the Sycamore outside the library.

Kestrel, female

We have had a female Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) living in College this autumn.  She has been regularly seen, either in the woods or sitting on the edge of the cricket practice nets.  She can be hard to spot when she is in the trees, as she seems to fly away when anyone approaches, but occasionally she lets people get closer.  Hopefully she will stay around over the winter and nest next year; this may happen if she manages to find enough food (consisting of small mammals).   We occasionally saw a dark buzzard for a few weeks in the woods but it has not been seen since October.  

We seem to be getting a larger and larger flock of Black-headed gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) appearing on the sports field each year, usually on the football field.  I don’t check the numbers regularly, but I did see 54 of them on 7th October, and there was also one Common gull (Larus canus) amongst the flock.  A common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)  (either a female or immature) was seen around College in early December.  The short tail on the bird seems to suggest that it was an immature bird.

I have found a few more plant galls this autumn; Dasineura urtica on Nettle, and Dasineura fraxini on Ash. Aceria cephalonea on Sycamore, the Oak marble gall Andricus kollari, on Oak and Aceria ilicus on Holm oak; (Aceria ilicus type 2).  Experts say that there seem to be two types of gall called Aceria ilicus, the pimple type on the upper side of the leaf that was mentioned in the last blog, and the felt gall that I subsequently found on a different Holm oak in the woods.

Unfortunately the old Bird Cherry in Garden Court fell down on 24th October.  The dead tree had been carved into a sculpture by a local artist, Richard Bray, in June 2015 and it was called the Bird Cherry Spire.  Richard did comment at the time that the tree stump was in a worse condition than anyone has expected and there were quite a few beetle larvae (Cockchafers) found in the trunk when it was being sawn into shape.  The Spire had been leaning for a while and  it eventually fell over this autumn.  We have had lots of fungi growing on and around the stump, particularly Common inkcaps (Coprinopsis atramentaria) and Turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) at the base for the past couple of years and the Slime mould Enteridium lycoperdon on the trunk in 2018.  When the soil under the tree was investigated we found lots of Lesser stag beetle larvae (Dorcus parallelipipedus) – they are known to live in decaying wood. NB The larvae can be difficult to differentiate between Lesser stag and Stag beetles but I have never seen a Stag beetle on site, and I have seen two adult Lesser stag beetles next to the sculpture this year, so I think that they were probably Lesser stag beetles.   Although I am sad to lose the sculpture, the gardeners have planted a new Bird cherry sapling (Prunus padus) in the same place and it will be good to get a beautiful tree in the path.  I have fond memories of arriving in College and walking under a canopy of spring blossom from the old Bird cherry tree.

Our gardeners were lucky enough to receive bales of hay cut from the flower meadow in King’s College this autumn.  After drying out the bales, the flower seed was collected and a lawn in North Court was sown on October 26th.  Although this project was planned mainly so as to improve biodiversity in College, the chosen lawn had not been in a good condition and it is also one that had a lot of Chafer grubs under the grass, so that the flowers will help prevent this area from looking unsightly due to the Crows digging up the lawn for beetle larvae.   

It is wonderful that Jesus has its first wild flower meadow (although the area round the wildlife pond is also sown with native flowers) and it is exciting to start a project that has been in the planning stage for a few years.  The donation from King’s College has meant that we could plant the meadow this year rather than having to follow our original plan of sowing next year.  This first year seed mix will be mainly annuals, as the hay was a cut from the first year on King’s meadow, and so hopefully the gardeners will also be able to add some perennials to our lawn mix next year.  Lawns are mainly monocultures, so having a mix of native wild flowers will help with biodiversity in our College (see the report from King’s College https://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/news/2020/biodiversity-survey-wildflower-meadow).  


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July, August and September

The female Speckled wood butterfly is playing dead, the male is moving around her, trying to lift her upright and fanning his wings. This is probably to waft phoromones over the female. Evnetually I got too close trying to video and they both flew away.

My last blog was written in July.  The College has changed from mid-summer into autumn since then.

There have been several new sightings of species in College, but there have been no confirmed sightings of the fox cubs since they left College in the spring.  We have occasionally seen the dog fox but, despite a new fox hole in the woods near the glade, he has not been seen regularly since the spring.  Foxes do tend to move around quite a bit, so hopefully we will see them both back in College again soon.

Badger latrine, by trail close to Lower Park Street gates.

The main sighting this summer has been a Badger (Meles meles).  It has been seen twice; once at 2.58am on 23rd July by our porter, Ian Gilchrist, and there was another sighting of the badger on 29th July with Jake Moscrop.  The badger was seen (thank goodness for CCTV!) leaving the College by going under the Lower Park Street gates and it was seen for the second time in the same area.  The nearest badger setts are in St John’s and Churchill and so perhaps it was a young male foraging.  They do travel  far to forage, 2k is a good distance for this.  There have been no sightings since then, but there have been lots of snuffle holes around that side of College and on 11th September I found a badger latrine – a hole where a badger had recently defecated.  They tend to do this on the edges of their territory, so I think we can say that Jesus College now has a badger on site.  Foxes and badgers can coexist, even though badgers are more dominant.

My favourite sighting this summer was of a butterfly, the White-letter hairstreak (Satyrium w-album).  It was sitting on the grass between North Court and Maintenance, and when it eventually flew off (I got too close with my camera) it flew towards the Buckthorn trees outside North Court.  I didn’t get very good views, but they were good enough to identify the large white ‘W’ on the outside of the hindwing.  I have never actually seen this species before and so it was a lifetime tick for me as well as being new for the College.  Other Lepidoptera sightings have been more reports of the Box-tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis).  I haven’t had the moth trap out since lockdown, but I have seen this moth several times on the roof of the Library Cloisters.  All three colour shades have been seen, the white, striped and dark forms of this moth.  I have looked at the box in College but have not seen signs of any caterpillars (yet).

One new beetle for the site was the tiny beetle seen on the Dogwood in Library Court.  This turned out to be the Bruchidius siliquastri; a recent (2014) introduction of the species to Britain.  There were about 30 of them seen on the one Dogwood plant, about 40 feet from a Judas tree on the other side of the court.  This beetle lives in the pods of Judas trees.  I also found several  Viburnam beetles (Pyrrhalta viburni) on the Birthwort plants in the Fellows’ Garden.  I wonder if this beetle is responsible for the small holes that have appeared in the Birthwort (Aristolochia clematitis) leaves this year.

The Willow emerald damselflies (Chalcolestes viridis) have been seen around the pond and Jesus Ditch and I have seen several pairs mating on the vegetation overhanging the pond.

The young Tawny owls (Strix aluco) have been seen a few times this summer, and I have also seen what is probably an adult on a couple of occasions (the young begin to look very like the adults towards the autumn and so it can become difficult to tell them apart).   Other bird news is that our Stock doves (Columba oenas) fledged at least two chicks this year.  We don’t know if the Sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus) have nested in the College grounds this year, but we have seen them flying over College several times and we have also seen several signs of them feeding here too.

The corvids are digging up our lawns again for chafer grubs.  The Crows (Corvus corone) were seen digging up the lawns in Chapel Court on September 4th, and the Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) were seen digging in Second Court on 14th September.

I have started searching for Oak galls this year; it is apparently a good year for them.  Plant galls are ‘abnormal growths induced by the presence of another organism living in or on the host plant and causing its cells to enlarge and/or multiply to provide both food and shelter for the gall-causer’ (Britain’s Plant Galls; a photographic guide by Michael Chinery, 2011).  The presence of these galls on our oaks indicates the presence of specific gall-causing invertebrates and so we can add a few more species to our species list.  The most common gall seen on most of our oaks is the Knopper gall and this is induced by the gall wasp Andricus quercucalicis.  The Common Spangle gall is caused by the gall wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum; the Ram’s-horn gall is caused by the gall wasp Andricus aries and Cola nuts by Andricus lignicolus.   Our Walnut tree by North Court is infected by the gall mites Aceria erinea and Aceria tristriati.  There are Cecidophyopsis psilaspis and Taxomyia taxi on several of our Yews.  I have made a new Page for Plant Galls under the species lists and hope to add to this list in spring.


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The Golden Hoverfly (Callicera spinolae)

Golden hoverfly

I was lucky last week when I caught sight of a rare hoverfly in College.  I took some photos, did a little research and it turned out to be the Golden hoverfly, nationally ‘Rare’, JNCC ‘vulnerable’  and a UKPAB species. It is also rare in Western Europe, with East Anglia being its European stronghold.   The Hoverfly Recording Scheme only receives records of about two sightings per year of this species; one recent set of sightings, I am told , is usually from along the edge of The Lodge in Sandy, although I believe they spend a long time searching for that record every year.  The NBN Atlas  has 54 records in total, going back as far as 1924.  The Buglife website says that it has only been seen in four locations in the past 10 years.  This hover is known from East Anglia, but the only other record from this hectad was in 1991 from Wandlebury. 

The Golden hoverfly is a large yellow fly, with long antennae, and it is one of the three Longhorn hoverfly species in the UK. If you get a good view you should be able to see the distinctive white ends to the antennae.  Parts of the abdomen can look brassy or a metallic green and there are large yellow stripes across the abdomen.  It is usually seen in September or October in old woodland, as the larvae breed in wet rot holes in deciduous tree trunks.  They take two years to reach the pupa stage and then they emerge; adults are most commonly seen feeding on pollen and nectar from ivy flowers.

I was walking round the woods one lunchtime and I decided to look at the fallen ivy tree by the Glade.  The tree has been an old trunk covered in ivy for a long while, but it eventually fell down in Storm Ciara in February this year.  I checked and the tree was originally an English oak (Quercus robur), but I am not sure when it lost its branches and became a pillar of ivy in the middle of the woods.  Luckily our gardeners left it in situ and it has continued to be a wonderful wildlife habitat this year.  I often see Blackbirds and Wrens amongst the ivy; and there is a new fox hole that was dug during the shutdown (sometime between March and September this year) under the tip of the tree. I think I even saw a Bank vole last week disappearing underneath the ivy too.  Now that the ivy has come into flower the plant is covered in all types of flies, bees and wasps.

I was on the hunt for the Ivy bee (Colletes hederae) in College.  I had had my first sighting in College the previous day amongst a garden border and I decided to check on flowering ivy to see if I could get a better photo.  I spent quite a long time with my camera trying to take pictures of this smart looking little mining bee and I became aware of a large hoverfly flying around too.  Never staying long enough for me to get a good look at it, it was a burst of yellow, flitting rapidly from ivy flower to flower.  My first thought was that it looked like the hornet mimic hoverfly, Volucella inannis, but that this identification was not quite right.  It was a very large hover, larger than the honey bees and Common wasps which were flying around, but I was not aware of anything that it could be that was so large, apart from the volucella hoverflies.  I managed to get a few quick record shots of the hover, but I was aware that I didn’t get a perfect photograph.  It spent quite a while on the other side of the fallen tree from me , whichever side of the tree I was standing on.  Eventually I had to move on and get back to work after my lunch hour.

I put some pictures on the wonderful UK Hoverflies facebook group entitled ‘Am I a hoverfly?’ and I quickly got quite a few answers!   The moderators of this website add the records to the national Hoverfly Recording Scheme and so ‘our’ hoverfly, female, will become part of the national and international record.

It was a lucky sighting, and the College gardeners’ policy of leaving dead wood (wherever safe to do so) has has a wonderful result.  I am not sure if the hoverfly was bred in our wood, but it is possible that it was.

I have been back to look for this hoverfly, but I have not seen it again.  It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime sighting.


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How do you move a bee colony?

 

Tim with the new bee colony

Noticed some strange boxes on the scaffolding in Second Court? You might be surprised to learn it’s the removals van for a colony of bees! Architect and apiarist Tim Wylie told us how it’s done.

A bee colony took up residence in Second Court in 2018 but putting up scaffolding to repair the stonework on the tower meant that the colony needed to be moved to a new location.

The colony had been using an overflow pipe to get into the building to their nest in the roof cavity. By coincidence, College librarian Rhona Watson was told about the swarm arriving. She wrote in the Wildlife blog: ‘A bee swarm came towards College on the weekend of the 19/20th May and headed across the playing fields towards Second Court.  The queen and her bees found a hole in the walls of M Staircase facing into the court.  You can still see some honey bees flying in and out of the hole if you look up towards the top of the building.

Having provided a home for the colony for two years, we wanted to make sure that our Jesuan bees were transferred safely to a new home. Just like moving your own home, moving a bee colony is costly and time-consuming! A colony will not move once it has set up its home; if the nest is destroyed the bees will not find a new home. Instead, we called in Tim Wylie, an architect and apiarist.

Mesh tube insterted into entrance of colony.

Tim placed a second colony of bees in a small hive next to the hole in the brickwork (the entrance to the old nest). A mesh tube was inserted into the hole so that bees can exit the old hive. The clever part is that when the bees returned, they were looking for a hole in the wall and didn’t know to go through the mesh tube to get in. They therefore joined the new hive. Hopefully the bees from the two colonies wouldn’t fight because Tim had chosen a new colony with lots of young bees but few forager bees.

The old queen was still in the old nest, laying lots of eggs. As she had lost her forager bees, the remaining colony were using up the stored nectar/honey to feed the new grubs. When a tipping point was reached, the old queen and what was left of the workers left the nest. 

A smoker (middle of the picture) with the new colony (wooden box with blue binding), and the mesh tube (top left of photo, to the right of the down pipe).

After the old queen had left, the new colony were left in place for a few weeks so that they could be checked for the disease ‘European foulbrood’, a known problem in Cambridge. If all goes well, the combined colony will be taken in stages to its new home in St Neots.

This technique is called ‘trapping out’. It doesn’t always work, but it is currently going well, with the new colony swelling in numbers.

The Jesuan bees are Honey bees, Apis mellifera. Honey bees come in a variety of shades: the new hive is a dark native brood, the old colony is a ‘reasonably’ dark bee. Honey bees have to contend with many diseases, intensive farming practices, and garden and agricultural chemicals. Bee numbers are declining, as are most pollinators and other insects. We are proud that we have been able to look after our bee colony by making sure it has a safe new home. (The last six photographs are by Tim Wylie).

 

Shorter version originally published at: Jesus College Cambridge; News and Articles.


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Spring into Summer

We started lockdown in the spring and it is now full summer in Jesus.  I have really missed walking around the grounds every day and seeing the small changes that make up spring and then summer arriving.  I have been allowed to come into College occasionally and I walked round the grounds with my camera.  It has been interesting seeing the different canvases of the seasons; the swathes of few-flowered garlic were covering the woodlands when I left, then the next time I came in the daffodils that were just bursting into flower were showing yellow under the trees.  Then the tree canopy closed over and the Cow parsley ruled but, the next time I came in, Nettles had replaced the cow parsley.  Once, when I walked round the nature trail, every bird box had tweeting coming from it and I saw lots of tit species flying to and from the boxes. Now the tree canopy is dark and it is overshading the almost bare ground.  Most of the juvenile birds have stopped calling and the swifts are sweeping over the grounds, screaming loudly.

I have been lucky to spot wildlife this spring, and even luckier that people who have been locked in College have been sending me their sightings too.  

Fox and cub in Jesus Lane, sent in by William Fleming

I was sorry to miss the sight of our Fox cubs (Vulpes vulpes).   Four people sent me photos and information when they saw the vixen carrying at least four cubs, one by one, away from the den behind the cricket practice nets, into Second Court and Chapel Court, through the Master’s Garden and out under the gate and along Manor Street on 15th April.  We then heard that they had moved into Christ’s College  and there were five cubs.  (Thanks to Steve, Grahame, James and Will for the information). We haven’t seen them since in Jesus but we do see the dog fox quite often in the grounds.

Blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) nested in the College nest box again.  There were about 7-9 eggs, and 6 of them hatched, starting on 7th May.  Unfortunately a couple of them died, then a week later three more died.  One chick was left and fledged successfully on the afternoon of 29th May.

I was walking along the trail at 9.15 one morning (22nd June) and I don’t know what made me look up, (I usually look for movement when I am looking for wildlife, but on this occasion I did look up and there was a juvenile Tawny owl (Strix aluco) looking back at me.  It stayed still as I took lots of photographs.  It was out on a branch and only its eyes moved as I walked around the tree to try for a better shot.  As  I walked away, I saw a second bird hiding in the crook of the tree.  I later heard that someone else had seen four owlets and two parents in the same tree.  A student went the next day and also got some photos of an owlet on the same branch.  The tree was the Horse chestnut at the northeast corner of the trail, where the two paths meet, straight across the trail from the wooden bench.

Other notable spots have been a pair of Water voles (Arvicola amphibius) mating in Jesus Ditch (19th May); our Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus) nesting again in the Flag iris in the pond, with, I think, one egg fledging (thanks Ben and Lena) ; an Emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator) ovipositing in the pond on 24th June and some ‘new for site’ spots:

Astata boops ( a species of solitary wasp whose prey is shieldbug nymphs); Aritranis director, an ichneumon wasp; 2spot ladybird (Adalia bipunctata); Box tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis), an invasive species of moth that is devastating  Box plants across southern England;  Solomon’s seal sawfly larvae (Phymatocera aterrima); and Lesser stag beetle (Dorcus parallelipipedus).


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‘Daffodils that come before the swallow dares And takes the winds of March with beauty’, Shakespeare, A Winter’s Tale

Daffodil and 7-spot ladybird

College has been awash with daffodils over the past few weeks.  Even if you can’t get into the grounds to see them at the moment you can still walk along Jesus Ditch and see them in the woods.  Many of the spring bulbs have been providing food or shelter for early insect emergences.  The early solitary bees, hoverflies and even some butterflies began to be seen around College in March.

I saw the Hairy-footed flower bees (Anthophora plumipes) on 2nd March this year – my first spring bees (the Buff-tailed bumblebees and Honey bees have winter active nests and so have been around all winter).  I saw the Tawny mining bees (Andrena fulva) on my last day at work, Monday 23rd March with four males and two females flying around their usual area by the Victoria Avenue gates although I didn’t see any obvious ‘volcanoes’ of soil where they emerged from the earth.  As always, the small Cherry tree in the Orchard is the best place to see a variety of insects, bees, bee-flies and even the occasional butterfly

A pair of Long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) are nesting in the bush outside Library Court II and for a couple of weeks we saw them at the windows of Library Court and the Quincentenary Library picking up spider webs to help with their nest-making.  A pied Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) has been seen a few times behind the houses of Lower Park Street.  I have posted photos online and opinion seems to be divided on whether it is part melanism, or an unusual moult that is causing all the black feathers.  Rob also saw and heard 3 swans flying over College on 12th February.  He said that they came in from the east, they were calling as they circled College and then headed off NE towards the river. He is sure that they were Bewick’s swans (Cygnus columbianus).

I was in the Fellow’s Garden one day and I met a  tree surgeon checking on the fungi in the large Holm oak.  He identified it as Artist’s fungus (Ganoderma applanatim) for me, another species for the site list.

An unusual plant species has been growing in College, there have been two plants on the old spoil heap originally from the Master’s Garden by the Glade, and one more near the Lower Park Street gates.  The plants eventually flowered and we were then able to identify them as Yellow figwort (Scrophularia vernalis).  Although first recorded in Cambridge in 1830, it hasn’t been listed in Cambridge since 2013 and so it is a nice record for the County Plant Recorder.


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Jesus College Live Nestbox

Two eggs

We have two eggs in the nestbox.

Rob has just sent an email saying ‘I’m pleased to report that our resident bluetit pair have been busy and there are currently 2 eggs in the box.  You can follow the action here: https://www.jesus.cam.ac.uk/college/life-jesus/wildlife-college The female will start incubating after all her eggs are laid, which can be around a dozen’.

We have a new camera in the nestbox this year, so you should be albe to see a clearer picture of the birds; the old camera has been placed outside the box so you can see birds flying into the nestbox.

 


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Storms Ciara and Dennis

Two weekends in February, and two named storms, Ciara and Dennis.  Jesus College fared very well in the storms, perhaps due to the local firm of tree surgeons and the periodic surveying and maintenance that is done on our tree stock.

Storm Ciara caused the most damage, with our ‘Ivy’ tree coming down in the strong winds by the glade in the woods.  I am not sure what tree this was originally, but it has been a trunk completely covered in Ivy for as long as I have known it.  It has been a haven for birds rushing into cover when you walk past, and the ivy flowers have also been a good source of nectar for late insects when most of the other sources have dried up in late autumn.  Hopefully the gardeners will leave it in situ for the sake of the wildlife and the ivy will root around the tree.

‘Ivy tree’ taken from the path by the glade.

The other casualty from the storm is a Balsam poplar in the corner of the Fellows’ Garden.  This tree fell on Tuesday 11th February, after the main storm but when there was still gusty weather around.  The gardeners said that they saw and heard the tree moving for half an hour before it finally fell.  That gave them enough time to warn the people nearby in Wesley House.  The tree fell with a great crack (disturbing a supervision in First Court) and it fell away from Wesley House and into the garden.  The tree fell neatly through the Yew hedge creating just a small gap in the hedge.

The gardeners quickly cut up most of the tree and shredded it for use on paths; the larger pieces of trunk they left for the tree surgeons and their large chain saw.

Storm Dennis came on the next weekend and there was no more damage – apart from one of the cricket practice nets being lifted up onto an adjoining one.  The trees will be surveyed again this week to check for uplifting.  The gardeners have also got to do a great deal of picking up of small twigs and branches around the grounds.

We have been very lucky in Cambridge.


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When daffodils begin to peer… (William Shakespeare)

Bank vole in the sunshine

The posts that get the most attention on the wildlife facebook site are those with pictures of or information on the two Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in Jesus.  I have had several people spotting them and sending in photos for social media.  They haven’t been seen regularly, even by the porters or housekeeping staff who are around when it is dark, but they have been spotted often enough so that we know they are still around in College.   There seems to be either a new den, or a new entrance to the existing den by the cricket practice nets.  It is about 25/30 feet away from the main entrance and it seems to have been excavated over the past month. Unfortunately the dog fox was seen on January 30th limping badly.  He seemed to be running on three legs and not using his front right leg.  Luckily a student saw the fox from the library on Sunday 2nd February and he was still limping, but he was running on all four legs.  He was also seen from Housekeeping on 5th February, again using all four legs.  Hopefully he is getting better. [Thanks to everyone who has been sending me sightings and photos].

It has been a mild dry winter so far and that means that, on sunny days at least, there have been lots of birds singing and invertebrates out flying.  Thursday 6th February seemed to be the first day of Spring.  It had been warm for a few days previously and, on this day, the birds were flying in couples, the insects were flying and it made me realise how quiet and empty the winter had been.  It actually surprised me when I found myself ducking to avoid a cloud of midges flying above the nature trail.  I saw four Buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) queens flying about; there were several hoverflies – both Eristalis tenax and Episyrphus balteatus; even the Ladybirds seemed to emerge that day.  The large Sarcococca plant at the back of Garden Court had seven Pine ladybirds (Exochomus quadripustulatus) and eight 7-spots (Coccinella septempunctata) on the leaves.  I saw Pine ladybirds in College for the first time last year – again in early Spring, on the same plant.

I also have an Angle shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) pupa in a jar on my desk at work.  I found it as a caterpillar on 14th January in the middle of the Library Cloisters and brought it inside.  I tried a variety of plants – it is said not to be fussy when eating, but I don’t think it ever did eat anything.  I came back to work on the weekend on 20th January to find it had pupated. That is maybe why I found it in the cloisters away from any vegetation – it was looking for somewhere to pupate.  I am keeping the jar moist and hopefully it will emerge as a moth soon (although it might take up to three months). [Edit – the moth emerged on Satuday 8th February].

I found a brown shieldbug on the same Sarcococca bush (I always check it in passing as it is such a good source of invertebrates).  It turned out to be the winter colour of the Common green shieldbug (Palomena prasina) .   I hadn’t realised that they changed colour in winter, although only some of them turn completely brown.

The most interesting find this month has been a yellow coral fungus in the woods behind the Maintenance Department.  Ramaria fungus are difficult to identify properly – but it has been identified by the County plant recorder as either Ramaria curta, or something very similar.  Ramaria curta is seldom identified in the UK so even the chance of it begin this fungus is exciting.  It is also the first coral fungus that I have seen in College.


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In the Bleak Midwinter

 

Robin

The weather has not been particularly frosty so far, as we have only had a few mornings that have seen any frost, but we are in ‘midwinter’ so the title of this blog seemed appropriate.  We have had rain, cold, some sun, but mainly ‘dreich’ weather and, today, an awful lot of rain, so it certainly qualifies as ‘bleak’!

Looking back at the photographs I have taken over the past few weeks it is surprising how many sunny days we have had, and how I am now used to all the grey days at this time of the month.  The Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) have usually been seen in the dark, although they have occasionally been spotted during the day patrolling around College.  The dog fox is certainly more tame than the vixen, although she is also amazingly tolerant of people with cameras.

Insects have been hard to see this season but we definitely have at least one winter nest of the Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris).   I have also managed to get someone to identify a new opilione for the species list, a harvestman Dicranopalpus sp. (sp. as the species was split into two in 2015 and you can’t distinguish between them properly in the field).

No new birds have been seen, although Duane did see a pair of Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) fly over the pond last week.  They were heading towards St. John’s College chapel tower – a well-known feeding station for the pair that live in the city centre.  I saw one of them a week later calling from the top of the University Library tower. The Goldcrests (Regulus regulus) have been more visible than usual, at times I have seen six or seven of them around the woods.  There have also been at least one large (20+ birds)  flock of Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) around.  They seem to stay up in the highest trees, mainly the Plane trees in College, but they can be easily heard – the RSPB describes it as a liquid twittering sound.

It has been a good year for fungi, with another new mushroom spotted near to the Maintenance building, a gigantic Stubble rosegill (Volvopluteus gloiocephalus) which has the volva visible at the base which helps with identification.  I have seen many more logs covered with Jelly ear (Auricularia auricular-judae) this year than I saw last year – they dry out in the dry weather and they almost disappear and then, as soon as there is rain, the ears appear again looking like new ones.  I have also found a lot more Candlesnuff (Xylaria hypoxylon) and Turkeytail (Trametes versicolor) fungi in late autumn than I did in early autumn –  two names that are perfect for Christmas!