Peter Meadows has drawn attention to the August wildlife highlights summary in the latest BBC Discover Wildlife magazine which may interest other MKNS members, as may the news about the DEFRA decision to give wild beavers permanent right to remain in England, following their successful re-introduction in East Devon.
Saturday 8th August was “Hen Harrier Day 7”, an annual event which started in 2014 with “the sodden 570” at the Derwent Dam. It is the day when people stand up and be counted to say they protest at the threatened extinction of the Hen Harrier as a breeding bird in our country. This year, events were planned at 7 locations – Snowdonia, Arne, Rainham, Cairngorms, Sheffield, Aberdeen and Kirriemuir. Wild Justice (Chris Packham, Mark Avery and Ruth Tingay) said in March this year “These events are sufficiently far away that it would be premature to fear they won’t happen but it would be a brave person who was sure that they would”. Well, none of us need reminding about the devastation SARS-CoV-2 has wreaked!
Last year, in Derbyshire, Wild Justice organised the largest ever Hen Harrier Day event with at least 1500 attendees. This year we’ve been part of the gang but a new charity, Hen Harrier Action, has organised Hen Harrier Day. When they started they thought that they would be helping lots of local organisers set up their own events, big and small, across the UK but coronavirus put paid to that. Instead we had Hen Harrier Day online going right through from 10am until 4pm. A flavour of the event can be seen from the video of the event’s evening final here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwNB8MCN_qA
The image above is from Hen Harrier Day 6, in Derbyshire. Andrew and I were both there and we are in the photo, see if you can spot us! We’ll be at the MKNHS inaugural “zoom” on Tuesday and can reveal the answer then.
Photos by Gordon Redford. Above: a Crescent moth
If someone had asked me on the 31st July how I thought the past month had been for mothing at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR) I would have replied by saying that, apart from a couple of highlights, it had not been especially great. It did not feel to me that it had been a good month. Now, having fed all the records into Mapmate, it is clear that my answer would have been incorrect. The facts are that July, 2020 has been the best July since recording regularly at LLNR began in 2011. The best not only in the numbers of moths attracted to the moth traps there but also in the numbers of species recorded.
4,746 moths was the July, 2020 total and this exceeded by some 400 moths the previous highest July figure of 4,339 in 2017. The 236 moth species recorded in 2020 also exceeded the previous highest July figure, also in 2017, of 200 species. 36 of the 236 species recorded in July, 2020 were new to July records and 15 species were new to the site. The other 21 new species to July but not new to the site had been recorded in other months. Good quality biological records are vital so that effective nature conservation decisions can be made and they can also confirm, and in my case, disprove a “feeling” that the month had not been that good. As alluded to above, there were some highlights and probably the brightest of these was the appearance on the 24th July of a Dark Crimson Underwing.
This is a moth on the move. The Atlas of Britain and Ireland’s Larger Moths states that it is ”A rare moth confined to the New Forest and a few woods in north Hampshire and south Wiltshire with signs of a recent increase in range”. The Buckinghamshire County Moth Recorder told me that it was only the 3rd record for Bucks in modern times with the other 2 being in the last 2 years. The caterpillars feed on Oak.
Highlights numbers 2 and 3 are also moths on the move. On 8th July 2 Dotted Fan-foots (or should it be feet?) were found in the trap.
The Atlas again has this moth expanding its range from the wetlands of East Anglia, Essex and the Thames Estuary westwards. The County Moth Recorder has this record as 25 km further north than any of the 40 or so records he has for the county. Let us hope that the moth takes to the wetlands of Milton Keynes.
Highlight number 3 is a Tree Lichen Beauty which appeared on 27th July. I have to say that I do so like those moths wearing green and it is good to have this one join the list. The green seems to wear pretty quickly so it is especially good to see a freshly emerged specimen.
After three 19th century records, there were no sightings in Britain until 1991. Immigration became more frequent and by the early 2000s, the moth was established in south-east England and it is now steadily spreading. The moth was not in the trap but on the wall behind it which is covered in lichen.
Having owned up to liking my greens, there now follow 2 moths that made appearances in July sporting some green. On 17th of the month on the last egg box to be checked I found this Large Emerald.
It was the third record for LLNR and was last seen in 2015. Caterpillars feed on Birches and some other trees too. Its legs are tucked away in the photograph but they are brown and white in colour.
The final “green” moth is one of a group of LLNR specialists in that their favoured habitat is wetland. It is the Cream-bordered Green Pea. It is about 10mm in length and rests with its wings at a steep angle.
It is resident at LLNR and 3 were recorded in July on 12th, 29th and 30th. Its caterpillars feed on the terminal shoots of sallows and willows. A good friend of mine once remarked that a name like Cream-bordered Green Pea sounds like something that should be on a menu rather than be that of a moth.
Another wetland specialist is the Crescent and there were 9 records for this month in July. The food plant of the caterpillars is Yellow Iris and Great Fen and other sedges and Bulrushes. It overwinters as an egg.
While inspecting one of the ponds in Tattenhoe yesterday (31st July) I spotted an Emperor that stood out from the rest nearby. With green eyes and a largely brown abdomen with a blue segment beneath the wings, it was almost immediately clear this was a male Lesser Emperor. Getting sharp, detailed pictures was a bit of a challenge as he spent several minutes patrolling the pond, occasionally getting into fights with the other male Emperors before disappearing over a meadow nearby. Fortunately, the few I did get, while blurry and a little distant, were clear enough to show the distinctive features.
After its first appearance in the UK in 1996, this species has slowly appeared throughout England and Wales, breeding across an increasing range of sites, becoming less of a vagrant and more established coloniser. They have already been present in Buckinghamshire for several years but this is the first one to have ever been recorded in Milton Keynes, verified by the British Dragonfly Society’s Bucks County Recorder Alan Nelson.
Having skimmed past them in my odonata books over the past few years, it was amazing to finally see one, out the blue and virtually on my doorstep!
Unfortunately there was no sign of him today, 1st August 2020, in the same location or around any of the other ponds nearby. There is a good chance he may have just been passing by, especially with the strong southerly breeze from yesterday afternoon onwards. Still, with recent sightings of them at Tring and Wilstone Reservoirs over multiple days recently, it is worth keeping an eye out for them around MK’s large ponds and lakes. If you find any in MK or any other part of Bucks, be sure to report them via The British Dragonfly Society: https://british-dragonflies.org.uk/recording/submit-your-records/
Our first edition of the new ‘Magpie Digest‘ is now available on the website. To minimise costs, it is only being printed and posted to members without online access. When our new team took over the running of the website it was decided a rethink was needed on the overlap of material that existed between the Website and Magpie newsletter. We are keen to continue to provide access to interesting publications/articles for all members so this publication is composed of a selection of the articles sent in by our members to the Society’s website over the past 4 months.
Partly thanks to Covid and also the enthusiasm and encouragement of our new team we have had a wonderful number and variety of contributions which we hope will continue to flow in our post Covid world. As editor of this Digest, I have not been able to use all the articles published on the website as the cost of printing them all would be too high but I have tried to select shortish articles which I feel translate best to the printed page and cater for a broad range of interests from plants to insects to birds etc. I have not included all photos submitted with the original articles and have very occasionally edited out some text, but I hope you feel that I have got the balance about right and apologise to anyone who is disappointed that I have not included their article. I am open to thoughts and comments about this publication. (Please send these to email@example.com.) Enjoy!
Reluctantly, the Committee has concluded that for the rest of this year the Society’s activities will have to be delivered virtually using Zoom technology or via the Society’s website. This decision has been taken in the light of the continuing government limitations imposed as a result of coronavirus on individuals and organisations, and advice from the City Discovery Centre that the Cruck Barn is unlikely to be available for hire earlier than the New Year. Should CDC be able to open safely earlier than this, they will let us know. You may already be aware of other local organisations which are having to make similar decisions and you may already have been using Zoom yourself with friends, family or work colleagues during the lockdown.
Zoom is a digital platform that allows multiple participants to meet together in real time with the option to be heard and seen, and to hear and see others. To access meetings you need either a PC (with camera), a laptop, a tablet, or an iPad. A smart phone can also be used, but the size of screen limits what can be seen. Before a Society meeting, members will be sent an invitation including a link to join the meeting (all these meetings are member-only events: visitors by prior arrangement may be possible for later events). If you are using a PC or laptop, simply click on this link and follow the instructions in order to join. If you are using a tablet, iPad or smart phone, you will need to download the app form the relevant app store.
More information about how to access and use Zoom features is available on the website’s new Zoom Support page.
Access to Zoom sound by telephone is still under investigation.
There will be several opportunities to try it out and get familiar with using Zoom during August.
Tuesday 11th August: Social members meeting via Zoom for familiarisation
Tuesday 18th August: A virtual tour of College Lake hosted and presented on Zoom by MKNHS member Sue Hetherington
Monday 24th August: Social members meeting via Zoom for familiarisation
Tuesday 1st September: First meeting of the autumn progamme – Welcome Back Members Evening with a focus on summer highlights.
Further details of all events are on the programme page.
Currant Clearwing moths ….no!…but….
A few weeks ago I put in an appeal here to see if there were any extensive black or red currant bush plantings in or near MK, which I could access. The objective was to place a synthetic lure in prospective sites to see if Currant Clearwing moths Synanthedon tipuliformis were present. This was always a rare species, but as the growing of currant bushes in gardens has declined, it is presumed it has also decreased in numbers.
I received two very positive responses.
The first was very local to me, where Jenny Mercer obtained permission for me to place a lure in Stony Stratford, Wolverton Road, allotments, under her supervision, only for that to be withdrawn by a ‘jobsworth’ at the last minute.
Undaunted, on Tuesday 23rd June, I decided to recce the allotments to see if the currant bushes were close enough to the fence to make it worthwhile to put up a lure outside. I decided to try, but was taken by the proximity of some old apple trees. So I first put up a Red-belted Clearwing Synanthedon myopaeformis lure (another nationally rare species) on a sapling outside the allotment fence, with no expectation at all. By the time I had put up the Currant Clearwing lure on another sapling and turned round, there were two male Red-Belted Clearwings at the first lure. Once photographed, that lure was returned to its sealed and cold container in a ‘cool bag’, so that they would not be attracted again. They need to be attracted to real females.
My second lead for the Currant Clearwings was provided by Julie Lane, who arranged for me to contact Mike Totton, the Chairman of the Olney allotment association. He was perfectly happy to allow me access, but finding a mutually convenient date with the appropriate weather conditions of sunshine and a light breeze was not easy.
In the period before we actually met, I discovered two relevant things. Firstly the Currant Clearwing ‘season’ in other areas had started early and could easily be ‘over’. Secondly, during a Zoom meeting of the Beds moth group, I noted that Raspberry Clearwing Pennisetia hylaeformis had been found in north Bedfordshire. This is a fairly recent colonist which appears to be spreading west from Cambridgeshire, where it was first discovered in 2007.
By now the continuing inappropriate weather was making our lack of a rendezvous embarrassing. Therefore, despite poor conditions, I visited Mike on his allotment to explain what I wanted to do and why. I put up lures for both aforementioned species … but not for very long as conditions worsened. However, Mike did give me carte blanche to visit whenever I wanted. In the next week only Friday 17th July seemed at all likely. So I gave it a go, placing a Currant Clearwing lure invitingly adjacent to a nice crop of currants. There were a few scattered raspberry bushes I could see, but placing a lure close to any of them meant watching with binoculars while attending the currant bushes. Given this tricky situation I simply hung the Raspberry Clearwing lure on a pole close to where I was standing. To my amazement, ten minutes later a male Raspberry Clearwing turned up, and I was able to take a few pictures. After a couple of minutes, I took the lure down for reasons noted above. Needless to say, no Currant Clearwings appeared in the next half an hour, but I think I got a great deal, since Raspberry Clearwing has only been formally recorded in Buckinghamshire on one occasion in 2012, with, possibly, a not yet submitted sighting in 2019.
Currant Clearwings will have to wait until next year.
I live in a 2-year-old new-build in Gawcott. The front was a horrible desert – completely block-paved. We ripped up the block paving, re-laying just enough to serve as a driveway, and returned the rest back to nature as far as we could. We chose to put a rowan tree in – to be honest, in the very ambitious hope that we might get waxwings in winter one day. It flowered like mad this spring and the berries are coming on well.
I was amazed to do a bit of “washing-up time” birding from the kitchen window today and see a blackbird already setting about the berries. It might not be my target bird but I was still very pleased to see that when you invite nature in, it will come.
(Not a great photo but not bad, given I was up to my elbows in washing up suds the minute before!)
A new invertebrate photography competition has been launched.
The new annual photography awards will celebrate insects and other invertebrates in 10 categories, with judges including Buglife president Germaine Greer, naturalist and BBC Wildlife columnist Nick Baker and professional invertebrate photographers such as Levon Biss.
For further details go to the Luminar Bug Photography Awards 2020. https://www.photocrowd.com/photo-competitions/photography-awards/bpa-2020/#section-1199
The Grand Prize winner of the competition will be awarded £2,500 cash and the title of ‘Bug Photographer of the Year 2020’, as well as other prizes. There is also a title available for ‘Young Bug Photographer of the Year’ for the 13-17 age group.
Entries close 7 Sept 2020.
The featured photo of a bee in this item was taken by Paul Lund in his garden, and won first place in the 2015 MKNHS Photo Competition.
In May we posted news of the death of Peter Kent, a former Chairman and active member of the Society over many years. For those MKNHS members who remember the Kents, we now pass on the news that his wife, Jean, also an active member, died just a few weeks after Peter.
(Photo: Kent Wildlife Trust)
With the effects of the climate crisis on the environment becoming increasingly clear, there are some interesting plans to re-wild areas with benefits for wildlife, ecosystems – and people too.
A very local project is the planned introduction of European Bison in Blean Woods near Canterbury, under the management of Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust *:
Another on a much broader scale, led by a group of farmers in East Anglia, is the subject of an article by Patrick Barkham in The Guardian on 14 July:
*Thanks to Peter Hassett for sending the links.
In late May and then throughout June and into the first few weeks of July, we are privileged to enjoy the emergence and spectacular appearance of male Stag Beetles (Lucanus Cervus). Happily for us, one of the best places in the UK to see these wonderful insects is Totternhoe in Bedfordshire, just a few miles south of Milton Keynes, the topography of which means one can see them both flying and settled without too much difficulty.
Totternhoe Knolls is located on the north-east side of Totternhoe village, and the woodland spilling down from the Knolls meets the beetles’ requirements with undisturbed dells and hollows full of dead trees and rotted oak stumps, home to the inch-and-a-half long, curved beetle larvae. Emergence into the adult state takes between four and seven years. Dependent upon available nourishment for the larval stage, the adult male beetle may be anything from one to three inches long, possessing ‘antlers’ (the male beetle’s jaw appendages) upwards of half-an-inch to over an inch long. And yes, they can pinch unwary fingers to draw blood, which I can attest to from my first ever Stag Beetle encounter in southern France, despite literature assuring you to the contrary. So, best not to touch!
With their wing cases stuck outwards and upwards at ninety degrees to their body line, sepia wings frantically buzzing and legs akimbo with those spectacular jaws jutting out to the front, these insects present a unique sight and sound on balmy June evenings. The Elm hedge lining the opposite side of the road makes ideal landing spots and with care, you can hear the male beetles rustling about in the crisp bunches of Elm leaves.
Female beetles are difficult to find but by wandering – carefully! – with a good torch, along the rather busy Castle Hill Road from the ideal starting point of the Cross Keys pub, a great refreshment spot in better times, from around 9.45pm through until 10.30pm, you should both see (and hear) male Stag Beetles flying like miniature lunar-landers above you along the tree-line right down to head-height!
Enjoying the sight and sound of Europe’s largest beetle has become a much looked-forward to experience every summer and really is to be recommended as something not to be missed.
For those of you who know and enjoy Stonepit Field at Great Linford, in particular the species-rich limestone scrape which gives the site its name, you may also like to visit Stanton Low this summer.
Two new scrapes have been created at Stanton Low using a similar seed mix to that used at Stonepit over 20 years ago – and already wildlife is flourishing. There are several hollows near the canal which are the relics of the nineteenth century limestone quarrying which took place here. Early in 2019, the topsoil was removed and subsequently Parks Trust staff and volunteers sowed the seed mix. Dominant in the seed mix is kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria which is the larval foodplant of Small Blue butterfly. The butterfly should be able to make the short hop across from Stonepit and colonise this new habitat. You will also find Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus, Salad Burnet Sanguisorba minor, Field Poppy Papaver rhoeas and Sainfoin Onobrychis viciifolia in these hollows. Also of note is Viper’s Bugloss Echium vulgare, a plant which is cropping up more and more in Milton Keynes of late.
When Helen and I visited one evening recently, we saw plenty of Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Ringlet and Marbled White butterflies and a fantastic number of bumblebees enjoying these nectar rich plants. Spoil from the two scrapes was mounded up close by and these mounds are now covered in thistles and teasels, which are another great resource for pollinating insects. The scrubby grassland surrounding the scrapes now regularly hosts breeding Grasshopper Warblers as well as the more abundant Common Whitethroat. Lesser Whitethroat has also been present.
I thoroughly recommend a visit to this new habitat. If visiting by car, park in the large car park off Wolverton Road near Asda (SP837417). From here, follow the mown path alongside the canal until you reach the two scrapes. There are seats and picnic tables right next to the scrapes.
Main photo: Burnished Brass. All photos taken by Gordon Redford
At the beginning of June 2020, the number of species recorded in June at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR) stood at 293 accumulated over the 9 years that records have been consistently collected there. By the end of June 2020, the number of species recorded in that month now stands at 310, an increase of 17 species. Of those 17 newly recorded June species, 3 were new records for the site and the remainder were all species that had made early appearances as they have been recorded in July up till now. This appearance of some moths earlier than previously recorded continues the trend noted in the report for the month of May.
The month began with the appearance of the Beautiful China-mark some 10 days earlier than previous earliest date. The moth is very well named as the photograph below shows. There are 4 species of china-mark moth which remarkably have aquatic or subaquatic caterpillars. The china-marks are named from the resemblance of their wing patterns to makers’ marks pressed into Chinese porcelain.
The first week of June, the 4th to be precise, saw the appearance in the trap of the Burnished Brass. 21 were recorded during the month which is bettered only once in the 10 years of records. The caterpillars feed most often on Common Nettle of which there is plenty at LLNR. The adults, when fresh, are a delight to move when the sun is shining as the “brass” really comes into play.
One of the 3 moths recorded as new to the site in June was the Burnet Companion. It is a day-flying moth and has probably been there all the time that this recording programme has been in place and before that too. Why it is so named is a bit of a mystery: although they occur in the same habitat as other Burnet moths they are seldom seen together, as the Burnet Companion flight season is over by the time the Six-spot Burnet appears.
The number of moths to visit the trap in June was 1,851 with 149 species recorded. This compares with 2,824 moths and 170 species last year. A Hornet was found on an egg box in the trap in mid-June so it may be that the Hornets are affecting numbers. The Heart and Dart was the most numerous of the moths in June numbering 239. Often the most abundant moths are also the most variable and the Heart and Dart is no exception. However, all show the pair of pegs or darts on the top of the wing and the rough heart shape mark about half way down.
At the other end of the scale, it was good to report records for Iron Prominent and Leopard Moth, just one for each. Neither appear in large numbers nor every year. There are 9 Prominents in the UK and all have a tuft of scales which sticks up like a little pyramid. The Iron Prominent is so named because the dark grey wings are edged with flecks of red-brown or rusty iron. Leopard Moths spend at least 3 years as caterpillars as they feed inside the trunks, stems and branches of trees where large volumes of wood have to be eaten to provide enough food for the caterpillar to develop.
It is very good to report that 9 Scarlet Tigers were recorded during the month of June 2020. I can recall the great excitement caused about 10 years ago when a couple were found at Shenley Brook End so for 9 to be counted is something special.
On the last day of the month it was lovely to see a Maple Prominent on an egg box in the trap. Only the third time to be recorded there in the 10 year period and a very fine moth too.
Gordon Redford, June 2020
The National Biodiversity Network Trust (NBN Trust) is accepting nominations for the NBN Awards for Wildlife Recording 2020.
The National Biodiversity Network are once again accepting nominations for their Wildlife Recording awards.
All being well, the ceremony is to take place in Milton Keynes this year…could be a good omen for any recorders in the Society who would like to enter for one of the awards. What are you waiting for?? Nominations close 26 July.
Brian Eversham, Chief Executive of Beds, Cambs and Northants (BCN) Wildlife Trust, outlines their stance on the Ox-Cam Arc, and sets out the principles by which this, and any other development, should abide if the biodiversity crisis is to avoided. Brian has given talks to MKNHS on a number of occasions. BCN Wildlife trust works closely with BBOWT through the Nature Recovery Network and their campaign to strengthen the Environment Bill.
Both trusts together with the RSPB have set out a set of principles For ‘Nature’s Arc’ which can be found in full on the RSPB website. They are encouraging members to contact their MPs to express the importance of strengthening the Environment Bill
You may also be interested in the following critical perspective from George Monbiot:
Perhaps he has a point if it is the case that there is still a chance that the whole project might be dropped. However, given that the same organisations have been campaigning vigorously on this issue for some years with only minor successes, maybe the new approach is more pragmatic. The same debate applies to new development in and around MK – is it better to resist the building of new homes, or accept that it is inevitable (‘people have to live somewhere…’) and work to ensure that the planning of new housing developments both conserves as much wildlife as possible, and where possible provides new opportunities?
You may recall the name David Lindo – he’s The Urban Birder, author, naturalist, media personality etc. – and he generously wrote a piece for The Magpie 50. During the pandemic disruption he is hosting quite a few free hour-long zoom webinars, which you can book to join in live, or you can access a recording later. You just need to go to web address https://theurbanbirderworld.com/live-webinars/ and scroll down to ‘Join In the Conservation’ (yes, that’s a pun – conservation/conversation).
There are upcoming ones which can be booked – mostly these are totally free. You just click on the link and check out as you’d do with any online purchase, except this one has a charge of £0.00. In due course you get an email confirming your order, which gives you a link to click on at the scheduled start time. Easy as that!
Of particular interest is that Edward Meyer was ‘in conservation’ with David on the theme of Save our Swifts on Tuesday 23rd June. This and other past sessions are listed under the upcoming ones, by date. You just click on the one you want to see and it starts there and then.
The ‘In Conservation’ series is in association with Leica Nature and Birding, and is part of the Nature Unwrapped season at London’s Kings Place – in which there a lot of other interesting events, past and planned (moved online until further notice). See https://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on/nature-unwrapped/
On Sunday 21/6/20 afternoon and I very cautiously ventured out from pandemic purdah!
I wanted to see what was happening with the County Hall peregrines and I saw this juvenile two sets of windows down from the breeding platform. It was very vocal, occasionally flying in pursuit of the adult. I only have patchy information about this year’s Aylesbury story – essential building work enabled the County bird recorder a sneak peek in early May when one tiny chick and 3 eggs were briefly glimpsed (a longer look of course being prohibited by law because peregrines are category 1 protected) There was a recent report of a faller being found by the nearby railway yard, taken to Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital at Haddenham, then placed back on the roof of County Hall. I don’t know if that’s the one in the photograph nor do I know what happened about the rest of the clutch of eggs. A piece of information did pop up on Twitter a while back to say that an Aylesbury ringed bird from 4 years ago (identified from the lettering on the orange darvic ring on its leg) was paired but non-breeding on a building in Kettering.
In case there are any more ‘urban peregrine’ fans out there, I have a little more Buckinghamshire news. There are now FOUR such sites in Bucks – Aylesbury and the MK Dons stadium and also the parish churches at each of High Wycombe and Marlow. The latter two are also young pairs and not believed to be breeding yet. Now the pandemic infection rates are falling a little, I may cautiously attempt to venture out to see if I can observe anything at these sites.
2020 has been a fabulous year for European Cuckoo in Milton Keynes and Bucks. At the time of writing, the number of calling cuckoos in our county is well over one hundred, and no doubt other records will come to light. Quite why the cuckoo has had such a successful year, set against many years of decline, is as yet unknown.
Local bird ringer and friend of MKNHS, Kenny Cramer, was aware that there were a number of male birds calling at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve this year and was determined to try and get some of them ringed. Even he could not have anticipated how successful he would be! What follows is Kenny’s own entertaining account of trapping and ringing cuckoos in early June:
“After successfully catching and ringing two new cuckoos in mid-May (our first since 2017), we decided to try our luck with a few sessions specifically aimed at cuckoos.
On Monday evening, a single 60′ net was set in the same position on the bund which had proved successful in the past. For this I chose to use a 45mm gauge net to reduce the chances of these larger birds bouncing out as they frequently do with standard 16mm nets used for catching small passerines. With Colin the decoy (a stuffed cuckoo!) in position, I retreated to the edge of the bund where I set up camp. I was joined by Martin Kincaid on this occasion (at an appropriate social distance of course..) and it wasn’t long before we were being treated to incredible sights and sounds of as many as four cuckoos singing and occasionally squabbling in the tree tops above us.
The first net round produced nothing but the frustratingly familiar sight of a cuckoo perched on top of one of the net poles and another flying overhead. We waited patiently for another few minutes, enjoying the strange grunting and chuckling sounds the male cuckoos make between songs. I spotted one bird flying low towards the net and went to investigate. This time we were successful and our third cuckoo of 2020 was in the bag! Despite at least 3 other birds being present, the only other captures were two blackbirds and eventually we decided we had had enough mozzie bites for one evening and furled the net.
I returned early Tuesday morning and quickly had the net open. There seemed to be less activity in general but it wasn’t too long before another new cuckoo was being ringed. This was followed by a re-trap of the first cuckoo we had ringed back in May.
I packed up the net and headed back to the car with various schemes and plans drifting in my head. I decided that it was time to dust off “the beast” (this is a rig consisting of 8m poles with nets being raised/lowered on a system of pulleys) and enlisted Sarah’s help to get it set up on Tuesday evening. I chose a position on the boundary path near which had been successful in the past and this time used two nets facing each other with Colin in the middle, one net on standard poles, and one net raised up on the beast. Once everything was set, we switched on the magical mix of cuckoo noises and hid by the car.
We hadn’t heard much cuckoo song while setting up, so I was utterly gobsmacked to return to the nets to find not one but *three* cuckoos in the nets (2 in the standard net, and 1 in the beast). I got them safely extracted and into bags while still in somewhat of a state of shock and disbelief. One of the birds turned out to be a re-trap of the same bird we had caught in May, and another posed an interesting aging challenge.
This bird had retained one of its juvenile chestnut barred primary coverts on each wing (see attached pics.) This would normally suggest it was a second year bird (or a 5 in ringing terminology), however within the wing there were multiple generations of adult type feathers and the iris was a striking bright yellow rather than a dull yellow, so in the end we aged it as a 6 (meaning a bird hatched 2 or more years ago.) Thinking that there was no way we could top that, we closed the nets and I returned on Wednesday morning for a final flourish.
The final flourish turned out to be more of a damp squib with intermittent showers forcing me to stop catching for a time. One cuckoo did hit the net but didn’t stick (this first time I have seen one get out of the 45mm netting.)
So while it might seem like a lot of effort to go to for a relatively small number of birds, the privilege of getting to see these beautiful and secretive birds up close more than made up for it. I also learned a lot, proved that 2017 was not a fluke, and made the possibility of looking into starting a tracking project a more realistic proposition.”
Since writing this Kenny has caught and ringed a further three cuckoos bringing the total for this year to nine!
Martin Kincaid and Kenny Cramer
Sue Hetherington’s article in the Magpie April 2020, mentioning her interest in seeing George’s moth collection, has prompted me to add more information.
Years ago it was known that George was making a collection of Lepidoptera solely from the Parish of Willen. He was asked if he would consider leaving it to Aylesbury Museum in his Will as a One Parish Collection would be a unique acquisition. This was duly granted and carried out after his death in 2012.
Our County Recorder for Moths, Martin Albertini, undertook the transfer of specimens from the original cabinet to the stackable Hill’s Units required for the Museum. As the transfer was made an Acquisition Number had to be added to the data on each pin. Entomological pins become very fine for tiny specimens, so it was specialised and delicate work. Martin carried it out with great dexterity and just one micro moth crumbled. In all, 1889 specimens were handled.
It was not a job that I could have done. My sole input was cutting up sheets of numbers and handing over the correct ones for the specimens as they were transferred. Two brass plates were suitably inscribed to be fixed to each cabinet.
Nothing stands still in the natural world and already several new species are in our county. George made his collection between 1967 and 2012. It remains a snapshot of Lepidoptera in Willen at that time.
Joyce Taylor Moore writes: With great perseverance (or, in his own words, being an awkward old ***) John Prince has rediscovered dormice in Little Linford Wood after an absence of over four years. The 300+ nest boxes and more recent footprint tunnels have yielded nothing but John, with great energy and technical expertise from https://www.ramblingsalamander.co.uk/, has found a dormouse high in the oak canopy on the first outing of his infrared camera trap. This has great implications for other projects where dormice appear to have dwindled away. John may have rewritten what we know about dormice – again!
Julie Lane adds an appeal on John’s behalf: I have spoken to John Prince at length and he is going to write a longer article for us on his findings and plans for the future of the Dormouse project. He has been working on this project for over 20 years with the support of others along the way, but he is struggling to get out and about these days and yet he is still full of enthusiasm to find out more about these beautiful and fascinating creatures. He has asked if there is anyone within the society who would be happy to join the team and volunteer with some of the work involved so that the project can carry forward into the future. If you are interested please get in touch with me, Julie Lane or Martin Ferns at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will put you in touch with John.
During the fairly recent spell of unseasonably warm weather with clear blue sunny skies every day, a Buff-tip moth was with us for a few days exhibiting what I think is very odd behaviour.
Around 10pm on May 24th, my wife Mairi and I went outside to look for a couple of hedgehogs which had recently appeared in our garden and to check the walls and fence next to my moth trap.
Mairi noticed a large moth fly in and alight on the unopened bud of an ornamental Poppy about 3m from the light of the moth trap. I was surprised it had not flown to the trap so photographed it with flash.
I was even more surprised to see it still on the bud at around 5.30 am the next morning. The sun was continuously on the bud and moth for at least the next seven hours. Thereafter it was in shade until the last couple of hours of sunshine on that day.
The night time temperature was ideal for moths to take flight, and the attractions of the moth trap were still available, but the next morning (May 26th) it was still there! So I took a photo showing its exposed position and another of the bud starting to open.
I took the following photo later that day as the bud continued to open.
With only a very small adjustment of position it remained on the Poppy head until it was fully in flower:
and still remained when the petals started to fall. When all petals had disappeared, it finally left the seed head…
…on the night of May 28th/29th to the fence adjacent to the moth trap!
It then never moved until the night of May 30th/ 31st when it finally disappeared.
The Buff-tip is an exclusively nocturnal species and generally such species abhor direct sunlight, but this moth was in direct sunlight for much of several days. That, and its unwillingness to fly on a series of warm nights seems extremely peculiar.
My knowledge of moth behaviour is very weak, so I have no likely explanation, but Buff-tip is notable for its confidence in the effectiveness of its well- camouflaged appearance, so that it does tend sit in very exposed situations around moth traps, rather than hiding away…..but for four days on the Poppy head and two days on the fence!!!
Moths are so great! Get a moth trap, or put out a sheet with a light behind it on a warm sultry evening, while enjoying a glass of vino.
All photos: Gordon Redford. Above: May Highflyer
May 2020 is my tenth year of recording moths at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR). A variety of moth traps have been used over that time but over the past 3 years access to mains electricity has allowed the use of stronger light sources. Prior to that, lower strength bulbs were used and they were powered by 12V car batteries. From August, 2019 a purpose built moth trap fed from the mains electricity has been in use and has provided most of the May records this year. The moths are attracted to the light source overnight which is over a box which readily permits access and less so egress. The moths settle in the box which is lined with cardboard egg boxes and there they stay until the trap is opened early in the morning when the moths are identified and released unharmed.
In May 2020 the trap attracted 1255 moths of 101 species. This is the highest species number ever recorded there in May over the ten years of recording. 99 was the previous highest number of species recorded in May, in 2017 when 1597 were attracted to the light. To confuse matters further, last year 2,917 moths were attracted to the light in May, more than doubling this year’s total, yet the total number of species recorded then was just 82.
A comparison of the species recorded over the years is interesting too. Of the 101 species recorded this year, 21 were new to the month of May and of these two, Shark and Least Black Arches were new to the site too. Most of the other new ones recorded for May were making early appearances as they have been recorded in June up till now. These records are confirmation of a trend towards earlier emergence by some species due to climate change.
It is well known that the numbers of individual moth species fluctuate over time with peaks and troughs. The May 2020 records have produced the highest May numbers at LLNR for Common Swift (162 – previous recorded high 112 in 2019), Poplar Hawk-moth (87 – previous recorded high 68 in 2017), White Ermine (179 – previous recorded high 92 in 2017), Treble Lines (87 – previous recorded high 52 in 2019) and Common Wainscot (82 – previous recorded high 8 in 2019).
Below: Moths recording their best May numbers this year
At the other end of the scale, the 2020 May records have produced low numbers for some species such as Small Square-spot (3 – from a high of 216 in 2017) and Green Carpet (59 – from a high of 300 in 2017).
In summary then, May 2020 at LLNR has been good for species recorded despite the numbers of moths attracted to the light being lower than in some previous years. It appears that some species are appearing noticeably earlier than in the past. Some species are clearly enjoying a very good May while some others not so.
The enforced confinement most of us have been living under in the wake of Coronavirus has at least meant that we have all spent more time in our gardens or local patch. Fortunately, we have been blessed with consistently warm sunny weather for most of the spring and so I am sure many of us have been delighted to find new species of plant and animal – or perhaps familiar species in greater abundance – than in previous years. And of course, the much reduced human footprint in March and April has seen wildlife thrive across the UK.
Of particular note has been an increase in reports of hedgehogs. I have tried keeping in touch with many society members and other friends with an interest in wildlife and nearly everyone I have spoken to has seen a hedgehog in their garden or very nearby. I have heard a few comments such as “first time I have seen a hedgehog in the garden for at least five years” or “we normally just see one, but there were four feeding together last night”. You know who you are! So why should this be?
A high proportion of my hog sightings every year come in the form of road casualties. In April 2019, a work colleague and myself decided to count all of the roadkill hogs we could find around MK in one month. We counted 24. I repeated this in April 2020 (admittedly alone) and found just two. We were put into lockdown on 23rd March and although some of us were still driving for work, there were very few cars on the road for the remainder of March and much of April and crucially, almost no cars late at night when hedgehogs are most active. This is a very basic hypothesis but my feeling is that far more hedgehogs survived that vital post hibernation period, when they have to fatten up into breeding condition, than is the case in a typical year. In our Oldbrook garden, the hogs have been feeding very well and we are finding more and more droppings every week!
I would be very interested to hear from all and any of you about hedgehogs you see, specifically in your back or front gardens. I have a database which I can update with your sightings – just one record per garden is fine. What I need to know is:
- Who – your name
- When – date and time of sighting
- Where – your postcode or 6 figure grid reference if you know it
You can either email me on email@example.com or phone me on 07765 010655. At the end of the year I will send all the collated sightings to BMKERC.
Finally, whilst we have all enjoyed the sunshine this year, as you may be aware hedgehogs are struggling to find enough to eat and especially to drink. If you think you have hedgehogs in your area, please leave out a shallow dish of water as often as you can, as well as any food you might put out. Tiggywinkles and other wildlife rescue centres report a huge increase in hogs with dehydration recently and this is something we could easily help to avoid. Remember also that we are now at the peak breeding season for these charming animals, so you may heard their noisy mating or, if you’re really lucky, find some hoglets in your own gardens.
(Photo: Julie Lane)
Early this year BMERC held the first Wildlife Photography Competition 2020, with two categories ‘Wildlife’ and ‘Landscape’. The judges independently voted for two winning photos belonging to the same author – MKNHS member, Harry Appleyard, to whom go our congratulations. More details can be found in the BMERC newsletter, linked below, which includes both photos: ‘Shepherd’s Delight’ and ‘Waxwing in Tattenhoe, December 2010’.
The judges commented that some that some of the entrants ‘showed amazing level of passion and skills. The variety and beauty of some shots revealed incredible expertise and patience.’ The report notes that the judges had a tough job, before choosing the work of ‘an extremely talented young photographer’.
We did the garden last year and we installed a pond, so I have been staking it out, looking carefully and pond dipping. At first I thought it was devoid of life, but after being told to be patient things started to appear.
First up were pond skaters, so had a play taking their photo while they were skating on the pond.
Above: (l) Pond Skater; (r) Young Pond Skater
While pond dipping found back swimmers, water boatman, Mayfly nymphs, damselfly larva possibly common blue. Later confirmed when a green form emerged from the pond. Darter larva, plus 2 different diving beetles.
Above: (l) Back Swimmer; (r) Mayfly Nymph
Above: (l) Lesser Water Boatman; (r) Diving Beetle
Also we saw our first frog last week, but no frog spawn, hopefully next year.
While watching the pond I found the exuvia of the dragonfly and damselfly which I have collected and put onto microscope slides.
Above: (l) Common Blue damselfly larva; (r) Darter larva, poss. Common
Above: (l and r) Common Blue damselfly – green form
In between pond watching and working I also have been taking pictures of Myriapods and Isopods. Plus anything else that stayed still long enough!
Above: (l) Millipede; (r) Millipede – Polydesmus species
Above: (l and r) Woodlice-Philoscia-muscorum
(who took all the photos)
Here’s the latest Marston Vale’s Nature News (18th May), which includes news and a great photo of an osprey seen over the park on 17th May:
If you haven’t already done so, there is still time to enter the BCN Wildlife Trust photographic competition for the best nature or landscape photographs taken in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire or Northamptonshire on the theme of ‘Local Gems’ For information go to:
Government advice now allows travel to other places in England so you may be thinking of visiting nature reserves further afield. If you are a member of either the BBOWT or BCN Wildlife Trusts you will have received an up-date on the current situation on reserves access. If not, do check out the advice on their websites: https://www.bbowt.org.uk/covid-19-update and https://www.wildlifebcn.org/news/how-we-are-responding-covid-19.
In both cases most reserves are open, but car parks, visitor centres and bird hides remain closed.
News of a busy Cotoneaster in Willen
One of the joys of late spring in our garden is the blooming of the Cotoneaster horizontalis. This plant produces small pink flowers which, unless you inspect closely just seem to be buds that never open.
Even on a day like today, when the air temperature is around 10 C, the plant is alive with bees. On a hot day, their humming is almost louder than the traffic on the M1. All cotoneasters are good for nectar but this species is the best. This plant is not more than 2 feet in height but about 5 feet across and, in a quick count today, there were at least two dozen bees on it. The majority were the workers of the tree bumble bee, Bombus hypnorum and the spring bumble bee, Bombus pratorem. Also present, a single honey bee – well it is a cold day.
The small flowers of the plant are well suited to the short tongued bumble bees. It is well known that bees do not bother to visit a flower that has been recently visited by another individual bee. I read in Dave Goulson’s book, A Sting in the Tail, that it has been shown, by clever research which involved washing the feet of bees, that each bee leaves a smelly footprint on the flower which can be detected by another bee. The smell declines over time so the insect can determine when the flower was last visited. Different plants refill their nectaries at different rates, borage being a notable plant that refills very quickly, in about two minutes, compared with comfrey which takes upwards of forty minutes. So out I go with my stopwatch and observe a single flower. I took three readings all under ten minutes, the average time between visits being 6 minutes. Considering that this single plant must be covered in thousands of flowers, it explains why it is such a good nectar source.
Our plant is one of a large family of cotoneasters which originate in India, Tibet or China. Horizontalis is the one that is most recognisable and has acquired a common name, the Fishbone or Herringbone cotoneaster. Originally found in China, it was brought to the west in the 19th century by that saviour of deer, Pere David. Considered by some to be too invasive, our plant arrived by chance about 20 years ago and established itself on the edge of our north-facing patio where, apart from when we trip over it, it has become most welcome.
As the year progresses, other species make the most of this shrub. This week, when the song thrush chicks fledged, their parent took them right under the branches into its heart to hunt for snails. Throughout the rest of the year, the wren is most active in it and the dunnock uses it as a hidey hole to escape from the aggressive robin. We often see glimpses of bank voles rushing into cover under it and frogs and toads live under it as well. Occasionally, a grass snake makes an appearance. On one memorable occasion, many years ago, a mink appeared from under it.
Once the berries form in the autumn, it becomes of great interest to other species. In the past, this would have been blackbirds, thrushes, sometimes redwings in the depths of winter but these days, the resident wood pigeon gobbles them up quite early in the autumn, a bird so fat it seems to waddle.
Ann and Mark Strutton
Jenny Mercer has sent in the video clip linked below about a patch of Meadow Saxifrage (saxifrage granulata) situated in Stony Stratford Nature Reserve. We usually visit it on our summer walks. This year it seems to be much less prevalent – but it’s there! Jenny’s commentary explains all.
Peter Meadows reminds us that there is plenty of wildlife interest in Marston Vale Forest. The Forest Centre remains closed, but the park itself and the car park is now open from 9am-5pm. You can see what’s about by following this link to the weekly blog on Nature news (https://www.marstonvale.org/blog/nature-news-11th-may) from the Forest, with updates on plants coming into flower, bird activity video recordings and insect sightings.
We received news recently that Peter Kent, a former member of the Society, former Chairman and long-serving committee member, died on Easter Sunday. There may not be many members now who remember Peter and his wife Jean, who were very active in the Society during the 1980s and 90s. Apart from being Chairman for 4 years from 1989-1993, Peter will be particularly remembered for planning and organising a number of successful trips for Society members, which saw groups travelling to Crete, Turkey, Israel, Texas and South Africa. He also arranged trips in the UK, both long weekends, such as to Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire, and day trips to places like Westonbirt Arboretum. Due to the lockdown restrictions, a small funeral has been held, but a memorial service will be held later. His wife Jean, now 90, continues to live in Stoke Hammond, where they moved from Bletchley a couple of years ago.
I decided that in this time of lockdown it was about time I made the effort to get up early and go out into the local countryside to listen to the dawn chorus.
On my first walk, the alarm went at 5 a.m. and I stumbled out of bed and out into a misty cold and not very inspiring morning. I wandered down to the river and listened to the sedge warblers and reed buntings but I was very chilly and keen to get home for a warm drink. I came home via one of my favourite haunts and singing in the blackthorn scrub was a nightingale. All feelings of exhaustion and depression lifted and I stood and listened for about half an hour as he sang his heart out occasionally coming into view to check me out. I recorded several bursts of song on the voice memo app on my iphone and include one of them here.
My second walk took place on a lovely morning with blue skies but a layer of mist hanging in the valley floor. I listened to the nightingale for a while but he was sulking and only producing a recurrent whistle followed by a churr, so I decided to leave him in peace.
I wandered down through the fields into the mist by the River Ouse. As it started to lift the scenery was absolutely magical and the bird song from the reedbeds was amazing. I felt very privileged to be sharing the sunrise with only the wildlife (including a rather surprised fox) for company. I took some photos and recordings. How many birds can you hear in this recording?
Sadly when I downloaded this recording to my computer it seems to have more background ‘noise’ than the original recording on my iPhone but I can hear a song thrush, chiffchaff, sedge warbler, wren, blackbird and pheasant. And I expect I have missed something (maybe a reed bunting?)
7 May 2020
The prospect of lockdown as the most exciting season of the year for wildlife got underway was daunting to say the least, but fortunately through singular and fairly consistently paced walks, I’ve been able to see what’s about around my southern corner of Milton Keynes, while keeping to the best routes for social distancing and considering my timing carefully. It has also been an ideal time to use the garden for sky watching more than ever before, bringing some bird species I haven’t previously seen or heard from home.
Though there are a few fairly local places I like to travel to at this time of year, there is usually more than enough wildlife to keep me busy on my local patch. There are a range of habitats around Tattenhoe and the surrounding areas which make it well worth scanning for passing migratory birds from late March to early May. The woodlands and parkland meadows usually produce several species of butterfly and quieter periods can offer glimpses of some of the elusive resident mammals. Social distancing can be carried out here without much difficulty, so long as the narrow woodland footpaths and thin red ways between housing and hedgerows are usually avoided.
On my walks early April saw the return of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, which quickly gained in numbers as males began to occupy and defend territories. There was a brief movement of Willow Warblers with 6 singing males on 7th April, only two of which seemed to have remained since. The morning of the 8th produced my eagerly anticipated first Redstart of the year, unfortunately perched from a far from ideal place for photography in a private car park. Fortunately, an even better consolation prize followed immediately after with a northbound Cuckoo passing over Tattenhoe Park. This was my first Cuckoo for the Tattenhoe area since 2017 and the first reported in Bucks this year, just about photographed as a mere speck in the distance but nonetheless unmistakable in shape and flight.
One frequent passage visitor I think I have probably missed a few more of is the Wheatear, with just a single male seen so far stopping by on 17th April. Fortunately, lucky timing has given me sightings of some other unusual flyovers for this corner of MK included a Goosander heading north on the first day of the month and a Green Sandpiper, which also flew north on the 16th. Another local scarcity, the Ring Ouzel, dropped into Tattenhoe Park on the 9th, spotted in the exact same treeline as my previous one in October 2018. After many days of hoping for them last year it was great to see one here again, though the photo opportunities were cut short by a male Blackbird keen to prevent it from foraging around one of the fields!
Keeping an eye on the skies from home for longer periods than usual has also produced a few pleasant surprises including migrating Meadow Pipits, Linnets and a pair of Kestrels. All three of these are fairly common species locally but never seen over my suburban garden before, well away from the scrubby grassland habitats I tend to associate them with. Tagging in with the citizen science of “nocmig” or nocturnal migration, I’ve also been using my Tascam DR-05 sound recorder in the hopes of picking up bird movements at night. With a bucket, bubble wrap and the recorder on a tripod, my nocturnal recording setup is nowhere near as advanced or expensive as those I follow online but it has yielded some satisfying finds. So far the highlights have been two occurrences of Moorhen, a local resident species but rarely anywhere near my garden, Coot, which is an infrequent visitor to Tattenhoe’s waterways on at 2.53am on 26th March and an Oystercatcher, a rare flyover for this corner of MK, making a single call at 00.50 on 5th April.
After bringing the recorder back inside, I use Audacity to amplify the sounds of the recordings, then looking for blips in the spectrogram, the smallest of which are usually bird vocalizations. I’ve already known most of the calls I’ve picked up on them so far, though looking at other people’s recordings on Twitter and researching the vocals of various birds on xeno-canto.org has also been very helpful in identifying them since I started this last year. It hasn’t produced as many bird species as I had initially hoped for so far, but picking up just the occasional call of one that I don’t usually see from my garden or even my sometimes lengthy walks in recent years has made it well worthwhile.
In recent years, aided largely by spring migration, April has had a knack for bringing new species to my Tattenhoe birds list and 2020 has been no exception, bringing me the 126th since 2008 with my first ever Wood Warbler, singing his heart out while foraging the canopy of a thicket in the Tattenhoe Valley Park on 26th April. Being a rare visitor to Bucks with less than 5 reported across the county annually in recent years, this was easily my most exciting bird find of the year so far. As expected, this was a passing visit and there was no sign of him the next day. A bird I had been holding out hope for over several years, slap bang in the middle of a place I had already been to countless times. It just goes to show a local area with decent habitat, even in an urban setting can still be full of surprises after years of being watched.
A couple of days later, one of the trademarks of summer, the Swift arrived over my garden, with three hawking in the murky morning skies. Today as I type this on 4th May, at least 5 have been lingering around the nearby sky, performing aerobatics, and frequently chasing each-other from the late morning and into the afternoon.
Onto non avian wildlife, early April produced a huge butterfly boom across the local area. It didn’t take long for Orange-tips to appear in mass just about everywhere I looked, while Speckled Woods started to appear around the woodland edges and Holly Blues made passing visits to the garden, occasionally basking. The eagerly anticipated dragonfly and damselfly season finally got going for me on 4th May with two Large Reds emerging from one of the balancing ponds. A disappointingly late start to the season compared with other recent years, but with so many fine sunny days recently, I suspect many of them may have already gone missed on their maiden flights. 2020 also seems to be the year of the Cuckoo flower in Tattenhoe, with many more appearing around the woodland and parkland meadows than I can say I’ve seen before.
Lockdown life has taken some adjusting to, but it has been comforting to at least see a portion of what has been going on out there within compliance to the guidelines. It’s been a good spring so far, especially for birds and with these difficult times still looming over us, I’m feeling luckier than ever to have the parks, lakes and woodland of MK on my doorstep. Stay safe everyone.
Tattenhoe, 5th May 2020
All photos courtesy of Harry Appleyard
Just like everyone else, I still find it hard to believe I am actually living through what feels to me like a bizarre disaster movie. I feel the same mix of negative emotions – fear, anger, anxiety, loneliness – that I am sure we all do so I won’t rehearse them all again. I’ll just say we are all in it together in every way except actually being able to be together.
So, how has my lockdown been going? First, I’ve been reading my copy of Wonderland: A Year of Britain’s Wildlife, Day by Day by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss on a daily basis. The 22nd April entry reminded me of the joys of the dawn chorus walk. We duly went for ours on 22nd April and came home to a full cooked breakfast, just as in the book. The dawn chorus is a magical thing, even if you can’t get outside to experience it, I urge you to open a window about half an hour before sunrise at this time of the year and enjoy it while you can.
Andrew and I came to a decision very early on that in a world where all of a sudden “Everyday is Like Sunday” (as Morrissey sang in the 80s) we had to make a new normal and try to shape our time. We resolved that we would walk every day whether we felt like it or not. We are fortunate that we live in a small village (Gawcott) surrounded by miles and miles of fields and hedgerows. These were previously totally unexplored by us but we have now subjected them to intense scrutiny. And some amazing and unexpected finds have been made. Firstly, the field that I can actually see from my study is absolutely alive with yellowhammers yelling their “little bit of bread and no cheeeeeeeese” song, and skylarks pouring out their incessant song while I search for the little black dot they have become. My neighbour called out to me one day from his window: “Did you see it? Did you see the snowy owl?” He’s not much of an ornithologist as he obviously meant “barn owl” but he’s seen it and I haven’t! It’s on my “most wanted” list though and I keep looking. There was one fantastic evening when we saw a hare zooming over the field. We were amazed we had hares so near to us. I’ve picked 4 trees and have been taking a daily photograph of them all since 31st March to look back later and be reminded of the “lost spring”. I can’t help wondering if I’ll still be photographing them as the leaves turn to gold and fall.
We’ve done lots of ordinary walks but a couple of crazy ones too. On 8th March we walked at 3:30am to see the much hyped “pink moon”. It was a fantastic full moon but it wasn’t pink! I discovered later that it’s called “pink” for some vague extraneous reasons, nothing to do with colour. Our village Facebook page also advertised times of the ISS (International Space Station) passing and we made a point of looking out for that too. Yes, I know it’s been going for over 30 years but I’d never somehow found the time before.
The President of Bucks Bird Club, Dave Ferguson, very kindly sent a copy of the local Butterfly Conservation group’s magazine to a large email group as a neighbourly gesture in the lockdown. He said please pass it on to anyone who may be interested so I am pleased to do just that. I enjoyed reading it and there are a lot of interesting ideas for enjoyable things to do. I was particularly interested in the article titled “Enjoying moths at home without a light trap” and plan to give it a go.
I know when it’s Saturday because I’ve been joining in with an initiative started by Si Nicholls, that well known MK birder! He calls it the #biggardensit. The idea is for birders to record as many species as they can in the hour between 8am and 9am STRICTLY from their own living spaces. A species can be counted if it is seen visiting, flying over, heard, seen distantly (even if 2 miles away sitting on a puddle). Good optics and great birding skills are useful aids! It started on 28/3/20 with mainly Bucks birders. By 18th April it had grown to 56 birders over 11 counties who between them clocked 90 species. I’m sure Si would be delighted to welcome more participants and the project is set to continue for every Saturday in May. If interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org And if you’re curious, on 25th April my score was a modest 18 while the top score was 40 (shared by a Bucks birder and a Cornish birder).
Finally, I will share one of my concerns about the pandemic. I am sure we are all aware the virus originated in Wuhan, China, in the so called ‘wet markets’ where all sorts of live animals, wild and domesticated, are killed in dirty conditions and sold for consumption. These markets were supposed to be banned and many of the wild animals are in theory protected by law. The virus probably originated in bats and passed along a chain of other animals until it mutated and jumped to humans. The science journal “Nature” reported the most likely vectors were some illegally smuggled pangolins.
Covid-19 is not the first disease that has originated in wildlife and spread to humans – a couple of other examples are the SARS epidemic and MERS. Voices are beginning to be raised calling for the UN to add a new Article – Article 31 – to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, recognising the right to a healthy environment. It certainly gets my vote. Enough is enough.
26 April 2020
Bury Common or Bury Field is an ancient common in Newport Pagnell, and is my main local ‘patch’. It is a large area of common land (first mentioned in 1276), and it is just five minutes walk from my house. It has been a regular part of my life for around thirty years now. Bury Common is mainly open pasture and was grazed for many years, but there have been no cattle there for a few years now. What is usually called the lower meadow borders the river Ouse and has recently been managed for restoration to meadow, which has included planting yellow rattle. Although not a massively diverse habitat, the common includes a river bank, floodplain, pasture, hedgerows and small copses, and is next to grazed paddocks (sheep and horses) where there is a permissive riverside path, and is also next to a small patch of woodland.
It’s a good place to walk at any time of year and I walk there with Teo our dog for an hour or so most mornings and evenings. As it is a 5 minute walk, I can still spend quite a bit of time here even in lockdown and it feels like a real blessing. For me the first signs of spring are the larks which are heard more regularly once February arrives, although this year, there seemed to be less activity, perhaps because February was so wet. I’m pleased to say that larks are doing really well on the common now, even though it is well used by dog walkers. At the moment, with traffic reduced during lockdown, the common is often full of lark song with little other sound to disturb it. I’m not sure how they are successful on what can be quite a busy area, but they manage it and there is at least one field fenced off (though a dog could get through the wire fence easily enough).
Of the other various small farmland birds, I love seeing and hearing the meadow pipit which I still associate with wilder upland places. Small flocks are present on the common and active in the early spring. Another of my favourites is the reed bunting which is also present in reasonable numbers through the year. But my biggest favourite is the lapwing, perhaps because of its persistence and its haunting cry. It also reminds me of the area I grew up in in North Wales, by the cost where lapwings and curlews were numerous. At the moment there is just one pair on the common, which is nesting in a field abutting the lower meadow. (There were two one year, but there are never that many). Ground nesting birds have a difficult time anywhere – but here there is just this one pair, and they are close to the rookery, so a tricky place to be successful. The spring aerial display was wonderful, and this morning another walker on the common told me they had seen two chicks. That’s great news and I will be looking out for them.
As far as I can tell, some of the traditional farmland birds are here in relatively small numbers: small flocks of linnets, greenfinch, chaffinch (I don’t see many of these) and larger flocks of goldfinch. I am told by a local birder that there is a pair of bullfinches in the hedgerow between the main and lower common but have not been fortunate enough to see them yet. At this time of year, more and more migrants are appearing. Swallows turned up about 10 days ago – unfortunately not that many and sand martins have returned around the same time. Today I spotted some house martins.
The boundary between one of the upper fields that used to be an arable field, and the lower meadow is quite a rich area, especially where there are brambles along the boundary wire fence and where there is a very small copse at the end near an ash tree. Many birds use the fence and the posts as perches. A highlight for me a week ago was seeing a whitethroat here.
The river bank provides a different habitat. There is a pair of mandarin ducks currently though I have only seen the female and am still hoping for an appearance by the male. The paddocks where the horses graze is next to the river, and walking the river path is delightful. Yesterday was a very good day as I heard my first cuckoo: it seemed to be in the Lathbury area (about half a mile away) but we usually have at least one calling on the common, and have had two in the past. I then heard the call of another favourite bird of mine, the ‘cronk’ of the raven. Isn’t it wonderful that these birds are now seen much more frequently in the east of the country? I imagine the ravens that I hear on the common (but don’t usually see) are birds looking for new territories. I would be delighted if a pair decided to nest here.
The final highlight of yesterday morning’s walk was the little owl. We have a pair here that frequent the area near the paddocks, usually roosting in the same willow tree, but I hadn’t seen one for a while. The habitat must be nearly perfect for them. There is a fence running between the first paddock and the second, with a number of old willow trees along the fence. A further fence runs along the upper edge of the paddocks (at a right angle to the first fence) with a hedge behind and more willows, and a third wooden fence borders the path by the river. There are further fences between the paddocks. The owls often perch on one of the fences, and when disturbed or when they have had enough, there is always a willow to retreat to, and they are very well camouflaged in the willow. I imagine that the paddocks with the horse manure are rich in earthworms, whilst behind the paddocks there is an area of rough grass which usually has a good population of voles.
[submitted 26 April 2020]
Some of you may have been at a MKNHS meeting last autumn when Ayla Webb, Gordon Redford and I spoke and illustrated three different aspects of our local ‘mothing’ activities during the year.
Ayla covered the use of pheromone lures to attract a group of day-flying species which are otherwise near-impossible to find. Of these, in 2019, we were able to locate and photograph Six-belted Clearwing, Hornet Moth (or Hornet Clearwing) and Red- tipped Clearwing. There are over a dozen other Clearwing species. One which ought to occur in our area and for which there is a pheromone lure is the Currant Clearwing.
This species was always difficult to find, but many more were discovered with the advent of the lure. However the growing of Black and Red Currants in any numbers has declined drastically either in large gardens or allotments. It is thought that the moth has declined in parallel.
So, do you know of any large patches of Red or Black Currant bushes which we may be able to access at the appropriate season…late June is the peak time. If you do, please contact me and we will see if we can locate and hopefully photograph the species. You get a mounted print if we are successful! For additional encouragement and to show you how beautiful these creatures are, here is a photo of the Red-tipped Clearwing taken at Stony Stratford Nature Reserve.
So please help if you can…many thanks
Andy Harding on 01908 565896 or 07969 916380 or at email@example.com
The latest issue of our society newsletter ‘The Magpie’ can be viewed in the Publications section of the website or by clicking here.
Over the past few years it has become apparent to those of us involved with the website and our newsletter the Magpie that there is quite a bit of overlap and also some muddying of the waters as to what content should be sent to which of the two forms of communication. Combine this with the work involved in collecting and collating the articles for both and it has been decided that we need to look at integrating the two forms of communication to maximise the quality of our output.
To meet this end the Spring edition of the Magpie that has just been circulated will be the last in its current form. In future we (the communications/editorial team) will concentrate on encouraging people to submit content for the website eg. interesting articles, local wildlife news and recent sightings of local wildlife. Then this will be posted on the website as before on a regular basis.
However we are also aware that there are quite a few of our members who do not have easy access to the internet and we of course must continue to cater for them. To this end we will also produce a twice-yearly set of printed articles or ‘digest’ of interesting content taken from the website that will continue to be called the Magpie (quite apt as Magpies do love a good collection of interesting objects!) This will be sent out to the members who are on our mailing list for printed communications.
This change will allow the editor of the Magpie (Julie Lane at present) to spend more time providing support/back up to the website editors when and where it is required.
We hope you agree that these changes are the right way to go forwards ensuring that the Society remains up-to-date in its methods of communication and continues to inspire its members to value and celebrate local wildlife.
PS Please note a mistake was made in the emailed Spring edition of the Magpie newsletter saying that there would be one more edition of the Magpie. Apologies for the confusion but this is not the case – this Spring edition is the last in its current form!
Two events have prompted a re-think about the way the Society website is used and the focus of its content.
The first of these is the resignation of Peter Hassett from the role of webmaster resulting in the establishment of a new, but less experienced, editorial team. [See ‘Changes afoot on our website’]
The second is the recent survey completed by a substantial number of members of the Society. This survey indicated that certain parts of the website were highly valued and very well-used, but some pages were visited much less frequently. With regard to news items, the pages presenting Society News were visited far more frequently than ‘Other News’. We know (and very are grateful) that Peter spent a considerable amount of time and energy researching the amazing variety of natural history related stories that appeared in the Other News section every week. Unfortunately, we are not able to sustain that degree of effort, and plan to give this lower priority, particularly now we know that the pages are not viewed as often as this effort deserves! We also feel that the website should focus on news about wildlife and environmental issues in the Milton Keynes area in keeping with the aims of our constitution:
- To promote and improve the knowledge and status of Natural History in Milton Keynes and the surrounding district.
- To co-operate with other organisations, and to do such other things as are conducive to further the above objects as the occasion may arise.
As a result, the website team and Society Committee have agreed that from now on, we will concentrate on Society and Local News. Of course there will be national or international developments and reports that impact on us all in Milton Keynes, such as the recent ‘The State of Nature’ Report. We will retain the ‘Other News’ page for such items.
This change means that the website will very much rely on YOU, the Society members, to send in news items/experiences/thoughts/sightings/photos and observations you’d like to share with others.
Rebecca, Martin, Julie, Linda – The Website Team
Wildlife Trusts warn of effects from neglected reserves and species loss, to fly-tipping and illegal shooting (Caroline Davies, The Guardian, 24.04.2020)
While lockdown has allowed some a greater appreciation of spring and the fun of seeing goats, sheep and deer foraying into urban landscapes, Covid-19 is wreaking havoc with UK biodiversity as vital conservation projects are put on hold.
On Friday conservationists warned of “desperate times” with an explosion in invasive non-native species during prolific spring growth and the deterioration of rare and historic wildlife meadows that could take years to restore. …
The full article can be found here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/24/biodiversity-in-britain-at-risk-from-standstill-due-to-coronavirus
The Sightings page is one of the most popular pages on the Society’s website. We think we can add to its interest, but it is changing and we need your help to do this.
The Sightings page is not only for experts to add their amazing sightings but for any MKNHS member, whether experienced naturalist or new member of the Society to submit their ordinary sightings.
Please look at the Sightings page every week to see what’s about. From time to time we will be adding new information about what to look for.
What we want to see on the sightings page
Up to now our website editor has laboriously transferred many individual bird records every day to the MKNHS Sightings page from the Bucks Bird Club website. To these he added any other sightings submitted direct to the MKNHS website, but there have been fewer of those. This has meant that those of you more interested in flowers, mammals or insects have seen less of interest on the Sightings page.
Bird sightings remain important and we would like you to submit those for the Milton Keynes area direct to the MKNHS website, as we will transfer very few from the Bucks Bird Club website ourselves. We explain later how you can find those elsewhere.
What to look for
Some of you may feel that what you see is hardly special enough to send in as an MKNHS website Sighting. But we want to widen what we all see on our Sightings page, so here are the kinds of sightings we will welcome:
- Your local wildlife around where you live
- Birds and insects in your garden
- The first of the season (first bluebell seen, first swallow to arrive, first butterflies of the year, which tree leaves are opening first)
- Birds, insects, flowers & fungi (wherever you see them in MK area)
- Indoor sightings (which house spiders? Oak bush-crickets in late summer)
- Plants or animals in unexpected places
- Animals not often seen (such as an Otter or a Weasel, or simply a Hedgehog in your garden)
- Road kill (such as badger, fox, hedgehog, owl)
- Animals or plants that especially interest you (but local sightings please)
- Interesting photos.
Sightings are enhanced when they come with a photo. It doesn’t need to be competition standard, just clear and in focus. So send these in, but sightings without a photo are equally welcome.
How to be sure of the identification of what you have seen
We don’t offer an online species identification service, but there are other ways you can check. When MKNHS meetings are running it is worth asking other members to find out who can help. If you have a few natural history field guides you may be able to work out possible options. Why not submit your sighting with what you think the species is but saying you aren’t sure or with two alternatives? But there is an online way of finding out through citizen science. Register for free with iSpot:
https://www.ispotnature.org/. You can then put a photo on the iSpot website and there’s a good chance other people will respond with the right identification. You can then submit your sighting to our website.
What information is needed for a sighting?
The basic information we need is: what, where, when, by whom. To which you can add a photo and a brief observation about what you have seen:
- What species?
- Where did you see it? Name of location, preferably with a grid reference.
- When did you see it? Simply the date.
- By whom? Your name
- A photo (format?)
- A brief observation. Such as how many you saw or what it was doing.
How to submit a sighting
All you need to do is e-mail this information to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bird sightings and the Bucks Bird Club
It is easy for you to view any bird sightings for Buckinghamshire simply by searching on Bucks Bird Club website. The quick route to the day’s sightings is: https://bucksbirdclub.co.uk/ then click on the drop-down in the top bar for Latest Sightings which is headed Buckinghamshire Bird News. Some of our MKNHS members are also signed up members of Bucks Bird Club and have registered to submit sightings to it. For example, on 1st April 2020 Harry Appleyard submitted 37 different sightings. Several other MKNHS members add their bird sightings to the Bucks Bird Club website. Joining fee for Bucks Bird Club is excellent value, as little as £15 a year.
After six years setting up and running our website from scratch Peter Hassett our webmaster finally stood down in March. We would like to thank him for the enormous amount of skill and effort he has put in to running such a great website and for his support during this changeover period.
To try and find a new team to carry this forward has been quite a challenge, but we are delighted to say that we now have two brave new volunteers who are prepared to give it a go. Both have little expertise in the running of websites so they will need a period of grace and understanding from Society members whilst they work their way into their new roles.
Firstly we have a new Administrator Rebecca Hiorns. Rebecca is a landscape architect, a profession she chose because of her love of the natural environment. She has recently joined the Society as she is keen to spend more time exploring and learning about our local wildlife. Rebecca will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the site making sure that it functions smoothly. She will also be responsible for implementing any structural changes that we have agreed are required to simplify the running and improve the layout of the site. We are hoping that these changes will enable our new team to run the site without having to be on-the-case every single day.
Then we have a team of three editors at present. However we are still keen to recruit one member more to join the editorial team.
Firstly a new editor Martin Ferns. Martin retired in 2018 from his post at the Open University where his roles included that of editor back in the 1980s – although not of websites. He has been resident in MK for much of the past 40 years interspersed with periods living and working in Malawi, Zambia (which he says is a wonderful country for wildlife/nature in general) and Cambodia. His interest in wildlife is general across the board.
Martin has agreed to take on the general editing of the site which will include postings of society announcements, society news, updating the Summer and Winter programme where/when necessary etc. The Recent Sightings page of the website is being re-focused with the help of Mike LeRoy to make it more relevant to MKNHS members by encouraging the reporting of more local sightings of a greater diversity of wildlife.
Linda Murphy our Treasurer has offered to lead on commissioning of articles and other contributions to the website in the short-term (until another editor has been recruited) and Jenny Mercer has offered to support her in this role.
Julie Lane who is at present editing the Magpie, our twice-yearly newsletter, is looking at ways to integrate the newsletter more effectively with the website. More about this later and in the Magpie itself due out at the end of the month.
As mentioned above the changes involved with getting our new team up and running as well as the changes in the actual website will take some time, so we ask for your patience and understanding at this time. We will be in touch in various ways letting you know more about our plans but obviously the first go-to place for information will be the website itself.