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.
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).