Author Archives: Martin Ferns

BFG: Rushmere Estate on Sun Oct 17th; Wotton House Estate on Sat Oct 23rd

A message from Bucks Fungus Group about two forthcoming walks. Members of MKNHS are welcome, as MKNHS is a member organisation – but you need to book!

This is your final reminder for our walk at Rushmere Estate (Milton Keynes area) this coming Sunday, October 17th – not to be confused with Rushbeds Wood near Brill! There are still places available if you book via the website now (though you’ll need to pay the £6 daily parking charge). For those who sent their car registration to Justin, if you experience any problem with access at the barrier you can either press the buzzer or call visitor services on 01525 234260.

Next weekend we visit Wotton House Estate on Saturday October 23rd. On Sunday Oct 24th you may join Friends of Holtspur Bank Beaconsfield, where I lead a walk starting at 2.30. On Monday Oct 25th you may join Friends of Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens where I lead a walk starting at 10.00. Booking for all these events opens a week beforehand, from the website at www.bucksfungusgroup.org.uk/events.html.

Whipsnade Zoo with the Herts/Beds Group on Oct 28th is already fully booked.

Best wishes,
Penny

Setting up a Natural History Society in Pembrokeshire – Steve Brady’s Zoom Talk – Tuesday 12th October

A recording of Steve’s Zoom talk is available to view for the next 30 days.

To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/a0F9xChNMJO7yd5KUE9v4vv8Rh_BbH4bTgYEdu8uKX0icD02RemjWYLj84M_fyot.e2vkZcTIAQWJKOX4

Passcode: f4kqJzK&

Steve has provided a link for the video clip if you’d like to hear the seals as the sound didn’t come through on Zoom.

 

Click here: 20200927_154523.mp4

Mr Ulysses A Vincent and the Big Seal – Matt Andrews

The following story is from a first-hand recounting I was privileged to be present at some forty years ago and it concerns the account given to me in person in 1981 by the superbly named Mr Ulysses A. Vincent, affectionately known as ‘Vinnie’, a botanist who specialised in the recording and photography of Hebridean flora in the 1930s and 40s.

I was involved with the setting up and establishment of Pitstone Fen reserve in Buckinghamshire, near to Tring in the early 1980s;  this reserve later morphed into College Lake Reserve which lies adjacent to (but split by the railway from Euston north) Pitstone Fen and is probably familiar to quite a few of us now.  Pitstone Fen has been left to return to nature in favour of the larger College Lake but still has a good colony of Marsh Helleborines as well as Small Blue butterflies and Water Shrews amongst other little gems.

The late Graham Atkins was the principle driving force behind this project.  Graham worked as a cement lorry driver for the then Tunnel Cement company who owned the rights to quarry this location and he persuaded Tunnel Cement that they should consider their ‘green credentials’ and allow him to develop a small, abandoned piece of their quarry into a wildlife haven…Pitstone Fen. He was subsequently responsible for the founding, setting-up and running of the College Lake reserve. He was an exceptionally energetic and knowledgeable ecologist and we formed a lasting friendship.

During our conversations, Graham kept on mentioning ‘Vinnie’ and thought I ought to meet him as he had such wonderful accounts of his days in the Hebrides.  He was, I believe in his early nineties by then and although fully compos mentis, was nonetheless a physically frail person living in sheltered bachelor accommodation and unable to venture out on his own, much to his chagrin.  Well, we finally arranged a meeting one Saturday afternoon in late 1981 and along I went with Graham to see Vinnie in his charming little almshouse in Princes Risborough.

He was a wonderfully enthusiastic botanist still, full of anecdotes and recounting his adventures in the Scottish islands, in particular the Outer Hebrides where he spent most of the 1930s and 40s cycling around the various islands having got up there by train, bus and ferry and then bicycle. He would take his heavy and unwieldy square-format camera, lenses, glass plates and other paraphernalia along with his botanical recording books, etc., with him and stay at various guest houses up there, braving inclement weather, midges and other privations for several weeks at a time, two or three times a year and all at his own expense as far as I am aware.

Graham kept asking Vinnie to tell me his ‘big seal’ story, to which Vinnie would laugh and self-consciously look down muttering “he doesn’t want to hear that old nonsense” which meant of course, the more they bantered, the more I did want to hear it!  He eventually gave in to Graham’s pressure and said he would tell me the story but on the strict understanding that I was not to consider him anything less than fully sane and he then proceeded with the following incredible account which I have tried to recall as accurately as possible after some forty-one years and without any embellishment.

Vinnie was at his usual haunts one year, he didn’t say which year but it must have been in the late nineteen thirties by virtue of his most active period being then, on one of the long chain of Outer Hebridean islands but with no definite or precise location given.  He had gone out to count Grey Seals on a beach colony overlooked by steep cliffs.  If he mentioned the location, I cannot recall it.  Grey Seals were nowhere nearly as abundant as they are now and monitoring their populations at known breeding sites was carried out by many naturalists who otherwise specialised in different disciplines of natural history.

The time of year was not given but in view of the fact it was a Grey Seal colony, one may assume it was possibly in September or October as he would probably not have been looking for Hebridean flora throughout the winter pupping season.

He had a fair walk to get to the viewing location so went lightly equipped and once there, settling down on a grassy cliff overlooking the seal colony, Vinnie commenced his counting.  He had finished one count and was in the middle of a second confirmation count when he noticed an unusual looking seal and brought his binoculars up again to check it.

His description went as follows “…it was the same size, roughly, as an adult Grey Seal and was laying on top of a flat rock with a couple of seals nearby and with a slip-off access to the sea;  it was mid-grey in colour, possibly with darker blotches, again, similar in appearance to the surrounding seals but had a tapering neck about half as long as the body with a small but well-defined head attached.  It had two sets of flippers but these were clearly set at right angles to the centre-line of the body, totally different to the seals and a short, conical tail…it looked like a picture book illustration of a Plesiosaur.  I watched it for about an hour with good light using binoculars but didn’t have my camera so reluctantly left and went to fetch it.  By the time I returned, the creature had of course gone and I never saw it again, despite many repeat visits, both on that trip and subsequent ones“.

Sadly, Vinnie passed away a few months after this meeting so I was never able to hear this story again or indeed, have another chance to meet this fascinating old man but of course, have never forgotten this account of his ‘dinosaur sighting’!!

I suppose we must take this as another unconfirmed report of a strange and unfamiliar animal with no photographic evidence and no other eye-witness accounts. Nonetheless, I feel this is an account worthy of note purely because when I met Vinnie, he was an experienced field naturalist, clear and concise in his accounts of Hebridean botanical treasures, was clearly totally aware of his frailties but also of his mental state which was in excellent order;  finally, his story was short, modestly recounted and from Graham’s comments later, the same as it had always been and not added to for effect or to make it more believable. He was very bashful when starting the story but was absolutely convinced of what he saw.

I have tried to find Vinnie through various means both electronic and previously though library records, etc., but to no avail.  I would love to be able to pin down his Hebridean records of course, but sadly, until now, I have remained unsuccessful.

I must confess to being somewhat sceptical when the so-called Loch Ness Monster is attributed to a long-lost, land-locked plesiosaur-like creature.  Food availability, extremely low loch temperatures, a lack of numbers for breeding thus leading to inbreeding and eventual extinction make this improbable – and of course, the likelihood of a colony of large animals, reptilian or whatever, or their remains evading human sightings for thousands of years since the loch formed as a separate entity with no ready sea access and in such a restricted environment is so low as to be practically non-existent!  However, a reptile used to the colder temperatures of the open oceans and who is either living in these northern latitudes or indeed, is perhaps a Gulf Stream stray who wandered away from its normal home and found itself in a seal colony miles from its normal home much as a rare migrant bird, sea turtle or cetacean turns up in unexpected circumstances, might well be more plausible.

Saltwater Crocodiles swim many miles in the south Pacific and must often experience low sea temperatures too, yet still manage to not only survive but turn up at locations where they are not expected…!  I have seen for myself Monitor Lizards swimming to shore in Borneo from distant, barely visible shores and of course, Saltwater Iguanas have evolved a coping strategy for cold-water immersion, albeit for short periods in the Galapagos.  I have watched Loggerhead Turtles in the cold waters of the Mediterranean as well as Leather-back Turtles heaving themselves out of the Caribbean onto remote northern Trinidadian shores. Reptiles and some very large ones, can and do thrive in our oceans.

I sent this account off to Adrian Shine, who is the president of the Loch Ness Project and has featured many times on television as the principal collector of ‘monster’ stories and in particular Loch Ness’s very own and well known phenomena.  Although not able to take this account as being authentic, he is at the moment investigating Scottish west coast ‘monster’ sightings and felt this was noteworthy to the extent he has submitted it to the Highland Archive in Inverness. Plesiosaurs disappeared from the fossil records around sixty-six million years ago, the same time that Coelacanths disappeared … until they were ‘discovered’ in 1938 off the South African coast and latterly, the Indian Ocean too!  They are absolutely identical to Coelacanth fossils set down four-hundred and ten million years ago – so why not Plesiosaurs too?

Something to ponder upon and perhaps indicative of what amazing creatures remain ‘out there’ for us yet to discover…who knows what may turn up on Rebecca or Alan’s trail cameras in Simpson Stream or elsewhere in Milton Keynes?!

Matt Andrews
September 2021

Saving our Insects – an evening with Dave Goulson. 14 October 7.00pm

Members of MKNHS may be interested in joining this online meeting, offered by BCN Wildlife Trust. Details can be found at:
https://www.wildlifebcn.org/events/2021-10-14-evening-dave-goulson-saving-our-insects

The Wildlife Trust BCN is thrilled to offer this unmissable opportunity to hear from renowned author, biologist and conservationist, Professor Dave Goulson.

In this interesting and thought-provoking talk, Dave will explain that we are in the midst of the 6th mass extinction event, with extinctions occurring faster than at any time in the last 65 million years. ‘Bioabundance’ is in decline, with recent studies showing that insects in particular seem to be disappearing fast. If it continues, this will have profound consequences for mankind and for our planet. Dave will explain why insects are declining, and suggest how we should tackle this crisis, first by turning our gardens and urban greenspaces into oases for life, and second by fundamentally changing the way we grow food.

There will be time for you to pose questions at the end of the event.

About Dave Goulson:

Dave Goulson is Professor of Biology at University of Sussex, specialising in bee ecology. He has published more than 300 scientific articles on the ecology and conservation of bumblebees and other insects.

Big Butterfly Count 2021 sees lowest ever number of butterflies recorded

The results of Butterfly Conservation’s 2021 Big Butterfly Count (which ran from 16th July – 8th August) are not good news.  Worryingly, the decline in the number of butterflies and moths across the UK is continuing, with the overall number of butterflies recorded per count at its lowest level since the Big Butterfly Count began 12 years ago.

A sujmmary of their findings can be found on their website: Big-butterfly-count-2021-sees-lowest-ever-number-of-butterflies-recorded

But what can be done about this? Also on their website, Butterfly Conservation set out their new strategy for Saving Butterflies and Moths: our 2021-2026 strategy

Glistening webs – Julie Lane

This morning was one of those mornings when you wake up to a misty fog and feel like staying tucked up in bed (a heavy cold makes this idea even more appealing!). But our dog needs to be walked so I set off to a world of magic.

The local field is cloaked in a blanket of silken spider’s web. In the past I have seen this gossamer bathed in the morning sun which sets it afire in rainbow colours – one of the most beautiful sights in nature.


(All photos by Julie Lane)

I meet a man with a dog who says ‘I don’t like spiders ugh!’ – how sad. I meet another man who says ‘yes, the webs are amazing but watch out for the false widow spider!’ Human beings have such a deep ingrained fear of these creatures.

I wander up to the Barn field above Olney where the whole place is adorned with dew-covered silken web. This phenomenon allows me to see the different structures of the webs in great clarity. There are the classic orb webs strung across gaps between the bushes with large beads of dew weighing them down. There are the hammocks of funnel web spiders nearer to the ground with their occupants hiding down the funnels waiting to pounce. But also the dew highlights the incredible cloaking of the bushes and ground with what I think are the webs of what we call money spiders.

I remember reading a beautiful article by John Lister-Kaye in which he describes these tiny beings climbing up the stalks of grasses in their billions, lifting their abdomens and releasing their silken lines from their spinnerets – when the weight of this arc of silk becomes greater then their own weight they are whisked up into the atmosphere to be dispersed by the winds to other realms.

As I walk through the field and down to the river Ouse I marvel at the sheer volume of silk and number of spiders that are revealed on this Autumn morning. How on earth does any other insect avoid being tangled and consumed?  It makes me wonder if nature has timed this glut of spiders to perfection. Spiders are most evident in the Autumn although there are many around in the summer. Is it possible that the insect world is allowed to get on with its living and reproducing in relative peace earlier on in the season but later on when they are coming to the end of their reproductive lives the spiders and other predators like wasps use this bonanza of protein to reproduce and produce their own progeny – wouldn’t that be neat!!

Some of us are not spider fans but if these predators didn’t exist in such huge numbers we might be overrun by other insects. Perhaps it’s all part of the wonderful balance that has evolved over the millennia.

Disclaimer J Any comments made in this article come from my own rather sparse knowledge and musings so may not be factually correct!

Julie Lane
Olney  9th October 2021

Postscript:

The Sneaky, Greedy Spider

The sneaky greedy spider
creeps on eight hairy legs
She spins a web of silk
and fills a sack of eggs

She catches a tired fly
and wraps him like a mummy
Dinner is served
Her feast is rather yummy

Nicolette Lennert (courtesy of theclassroomcreative.com)

Bucks Fungus Group walks update

Penny of Bucks Fungus Group has confirmed that members of MKNHS are welcome to join this walk, which is otherwise for BFG members only.  MKNHS as an organisation is a member of BFG, but you MUST BOOK IN ADVANCE mentioning that you are a member of MKNHS.

For further information and information about the booking system go to http://www.bucksfungusgroup.org.uk/events.html

This system has been put in place because of a recent large increase in attendance at BFG events, and concerns about health and safety issues. Numbers are being limited to 18 at any one walk.

The next walk already circulated by email to MKNHS members is as follows:

Bucks Fungus Group walk at Rushmere on 17th October
Leaders: Derek Schafer and Justin Long.

Meet by the visitor centre after entering the park off Linslade Road, near Heath & Reach (SP 915 278). Enter through the barrier and follow the road round and up the hill to the main car park at the top. NB There is a £6 daily parking charge but you can be exempted if you send your car registration to Justin ( fungijus@hotmail.com ) BY FRIDAY OCT 8th!

Tattenhoe Wildlife – a video talk by Harry Appleyard

Congratulations to Harry Appleyard on landing a much sought-after Conservation Traineeship at Spurn Nature Reserve, East Yorkshire.

In the run up to his departure, he gave a talk on Tattenhoe Wildlife for Bucks Bird Club and has provided a link for any MKNHS members who would like to watch it  at
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uzXebBFRBE

He describes it as “A presentation for the Buckinghamshire Bird Club all about my local patch, the Tattenhoe area in Milton Keynes, featuring seasonal highlights from the past 13 years including my rarest bird finds, new species of insects for MK, elusive suburban mammals and more.”

As you might expect, the photos are stunning!

Report of weekend walk at Waterhall Park – 25th-26th September – Colin Docketty

Saturday 25th September 2021 10.00 am; same walk repeated Sunday 26th
Location: Waterhall Park; Weather fine

Participants: Saturday 3, Sunday 5

What did we see?

Lombardy Poplar: The main focus of the walk was to see a mile-long avenue of these beautiful trees, on both sides of a made-up footpath. A wonderful sight.
Birds: A total of 22 species were seen/heard.
Grey Heron, Moorhen, Mallard
Buzzard
Green Woodpecker, Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove
Grey Wagtail (feeding on Water Eaton Brook)
Magpie, Long-tailed Tit, Goldfinch, Robin, Blackbird, Wren, Pied Wagtail
Great Tit, Blue Tit, Dunnock, Carrion Crow, Jay, Jackdaw, Chiffchaff

Other things seen:
Large White butterfly, Comma, Migrant Hawker
Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Hairy Shieldbug, White-lipped Snail
Crayfish
Grey Squirrel
Robin’s Pincushion
3 species of fungi at very large Ash tree suffering serious dieback (Type not yet known)
Plants: Large Bindweed, Indian Balsam (aka Policeman’s helmet)
Arrowhead (leaves in middle of river – visible all year)

Colin Docketty

Identifying Harvestmen – video from the Field Studies Council

Harvestman photo (courtesy Peter Hager CC0 Public Domain)

Just because something has 8 legs and is running around your house or garden, it doesn’t mean that you are necessarily looking at a spider!

Harvestmen are part of the order known as Opiliones, a sister order to the spiders (Araneae) within the class Arachnida. Unlike spiders, harvestmen have a turret on their had (an ocularium) with a single pair of eyes. They also don’t have venom glands or build webs. It’s their long legs that give them away though!

There are 30 species of Harvestmen in Britain and Ireland and they’re not too difficult to identify (for an invertebrate group). The Harvestmen Identikit is an online interactive guide to help identify species or learn about the features that can be used to separate the different taxa in the field.

Explore the Harvestmen Identikit here: https://harvestmen.fscbiodiversity.uk/

View the virtual ‘How to’ guide on our YouTube channel:

 

 

The Nightingale: Notes on a Songbird – Sam Lee at MKLitFest Thursday 7 Oct

As part of MK’s Literary Festival, MK LitFest, folk musician Sam Lee will be talking over Zoom on October 7 at 8.30pm about his recent book ‘The Nightingale’.

Tickets are available on a ‘pay what you can basis’ via the website: www.mklitfest.org

Throughout history, the sweet song of the nightingale has inspired musicians, writers and artists around the world. In his new book, The Nightingale: Notes on a Songbird [Cornerstone, 2021], Sam reveals in beautiful detail the bird’s song, habitat, characteristics and migration patterns, as well as the environmental issues that threaten its livelihood.

From Greek mythology to John Keats, to Persian poetry and ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’, he delves into the various ways we have celebrated the nightingale through traditions, folklore, music, literature, from ancient history to the present day. The Nightingale is a unique and lyrical portrait of a famed yet elusive songbird.

 

Natural History Live Webinars – Free Virtual talks (FSC)

The Field Studies Council have several Natural History Webinars coming up that explore the secrets of the underwater world and its inhabitants. All their upcoming talks are listed below – including those on a range of non-marine topics, such as rewilding; monitoring England’s upland hay meadows; grasshoppers and crickets, and more.

For Our Iconic Seal’s: Think Seal! they will be joined by Sue Sayer, who is an internationally renowned researcher and author, and founder of Cornwall Seal Group. Sue will share her thoughts and knowledge gained from years of studying and watching these fantastic animals.

The second marine-based Natural History Live in October is all about How Scotland Protects the Largest Skate of Europe. For this talk, they will be joined by Tanja Schwank, who is a PhD researcher at the University of Aberdeen. Tanja will discuss the biology and conservation of the critically endangered Flapper Skate, as well as the citizen science used to help monitor the species.

These FREE virtual talks are open to all.

2021 Natural History Live Programme

  • 29 Sep    The Tanyptera Project
  • 06 Oct     Restoring Wilder Worlds: Rewilding & Species Reintroductions
  • 13 Oct     Our Iconic Seals: Think seal!
  • 20 Oct     How Scotland Protects the Largest Skate of Europe
  • 27 Oct     Wildlife Tracking for Conservation
  • 03 Nov    Save Our Seabed by restoring, educating and reducing recreational pressure
  • 10 Nov    Knepp Wildland: Rewilding and invertebrates
  • 17 Nov    Monitoring England’s Upland Hay Meadows
  • 26 Nov    Grasshoppers and Crickets
  • 01 Dec    Protecting the Health of Britain’s Rarest Wildlife: Veterinary contributions in conservation
  • 10 Dec    Gardening for Wildlife: How To Welcome Frogs, ‘Hogs and Everything In-between!

Missed a previous Natural History Live? You can watch  them on FSC Biodiversity YouTube channel.

Click here for more information and to book:

Spotlight on… Fungi Field Skills (Field Studies Council course)

The Field Studies Council is offering a new online course, timed for the fungi season.

They say “This beginners course is a starting guide to the skills required to begin identifying fungi in the field. You will learn valuable observational field skills; what to look for, what to record and how to record it. Looking at habitat, substrate and how the fungus interacts with its surroundings, this is the perfect course for novices looking to learn more about the fungi around them and start to identify fungi groups.”

Course information:
Fungi enthusiasts and beginners will explore the techniques for identifying fungi in the field through the following topics:

  • Fungi Field Skills: Field notes, understanding habitat and field equipment
  • Field Identification Skills

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Record useful field notes and use the correct equipment to safely collect fungi
  • Make accurate habitat and substrate observations
  • Understand key morphological features to begin a fungus identification
  • Share this knowledge with friends, family, and fellow volunteers

This 2-week online course covers 2 topics, for which you will complete a variety of online resources and activities. Each topic is then concluded with an interactive Zoom workshop to complement the content.

Please note that bookings will close at 9 am on Monday 11th October to allow for all participants to be enrolled to the online platform – booking will not be taken after this time.

Each individual needs to place their own order to ensure we can sign you up to the learning platform and give you access to resources.

Find out more and book your space on Fungi Field Skills

If you are aged 18-25, you are eligible for a £25 discount thanks to the Generation Green project, click here to find out more.

 

Bucks Fungus Group: Sat 18th Sept at Stoke Common, Sun 26th Sept at Hodgemoor Woods

Herewith a last minute reminder from Bucks Fungus Group for their walk at Stoke Common this coming Saturday, September 18th:

‘As the event forms part of our funded project for the City of London, owners of both this site and Burnham Beeches, we may extend into the afternoon if there’s been enough rain to trigger good fungal action. So if you’d like to stay on please bring a packed lunch in case. If we have enough specimens to make it worthwhile we hope to hold an informal ‘show and tell’ at the end of the morning.

Please take note of parking arrangements etc online at www.bucksfungusgroup.org.uk/events.html .

The following weekend we visit Hodgemoor Woods on Sunday, September 26th.’

Unless otherwise stated, BFG walks start at 10.00 am, and finish around 1.00 pm.

National Harvest Mouse Survey 2021-22

Can YOU help Britain’s harvest mice?

The Mammal Society is conducting a National Harvest Mouse survey in 2021-22. Full details can be found here: https://www.mammal.org.uk/science-research/harvest-mouse-project/

If you are interested in being involved in the National Harvest Mouse Survey as a volunteer, trainer, or coordinator in your area, please fill out the short form here so we can add you to our list and keep you posted on the survey. You can also email the team on surveys@themammalsociety.org 

 

Audrey Prince

Many members will have heard the sad news that Audrey Prince passed away on 27th August at the age of 94. Audrey and John (our nonagenarian member and dormouse expert) were married for 73 years! She led a very full and active life over all those years and will be greatly missed by all who knew her, but especially by John and her family. John has asked me to pass on his thanks to everyone who has been in touch, or sent cards or letters. He really appreciates your thoughts, support and sympathy. He has also said that if anyone wants to make a donation in memory of Audrey, she suggested Willen Hospice. Her family have emphasised the tremendous support they received from Willen Hospice during the final months of Audrey’s life following her cancer diagnosis, enabling her to stay at home as she wished.

Donations can be made online at https://www.willen-hospice.org.uk/donate

Linda Murphy

A Moth Night at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve – Tuesday 31 August 2021 – Andy Harding

Above: Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing. Photo © Harry Appleyard.

As we all know, moths need to be attracted. So, prior to the meeting, Janice Robertson and I, with the assistance of Martin and Margaret, the residents of ‘The Holt’, organised a mercury vapour lamp over a sheet (equipment courtesy of Rachel Redford) on the lawn of ‘The Holt’ and a Robinson trap on a white sheet with a similar 125w  bulb in the overflow car park.  With no great confidence, five trees were liberally daubed with a concoction of various alcoholic drinks, molasses and other sweet substances (courtesy of Ayla Webb): a process known as ‘sugaring’.

Because the meeting was scheduled for a 7.30 pm start, which is a while before moths could be expected to be on the wing, I had brought along a small viewing net  (also courtesy of Ayla Webb) with a selection of the more striking moths I had caught the night before in my garden traps. I also had about a dozen moths in plastic pots, which I found particularly interesting and with which I made a desperate attempt to maintain the attention of the group. However, before any moths were discussed, the group were warned not to do any tree-hugging … the results would have been horrible to behold.

As the level of interest started to flag, we moved to examine the sheet below the light on the lawn, which held a small range of flying insects but no moths. To keep the circulation going we moved to the first tree, and to everyone’s surprise a Copper Underwing was feeding on the liquor. This and subsequent Copper Underwings have been recorded as Copper Underwing agg. (aggregated) because Svensson’s Copper Underwing and the equally common Copper Underwing are extremely hard tell apart without handling these extremely slippery moths.

Copper Underwing and Svensson’s Copper Underwing. Photo © Andy Harding

The other trees were not so productive, but on arrival at the Robinson trap the first couple of the beautiful Green Carpets put in an appearance as well as the other most frequently encountered species of the night, a tiny micro, almost certainly Yponomeuta yvonymella. Again caution had to be exercised because of the other very similar ‘Ermine’ moths and attempting genital dissection of the poor creatures to confirm the ID seemed inadvisable, and not something I practise. Back at the lawn a striking moth, and a clear sign of autumn, was on the sheet and was successfully identified by a couple of the group since it was a species I had brought in the display net – Centre-barred Sallow.   Several bright lemon yellow Brimstone moths also mirrored the contents of the net.

Centred-barred Sallow. Photo © Andy Harding

At this point some people were keen to get back to the tree trunks and we were all treated to up to 4 Copper Underwings on a tree, with the odd Square-Spot Rustic and Angle Shades.  Much larger was an Old Lady Moth, not in great condition, but drinking eagerly.

Old Lady Moth. Photo © Andy Harding

The last tree viewed produced the star of the night, a huge Red Underwing, quite happily opening its wings for the cameras at point blank range.

Red Underwing. Photo © Andy Harding

It was now unclear which was the best spot to stake out and a couple more circuits produced a probable total of 10 Copper Underwings, a second Old Lady, and a third superbly marked one flying in and out of the Robinson trap.  Common Wainscot, Setaceous Hebrew Character, White Wave, Large Yellow Underwing and the much scarcer Broad-Bordered Yellow Underwing were easily seen on the sheets.  An intriguing moth proved to be a very worn Dun-Bar, rather than anything more exciting.

Several of the group left around 9.30 pm and, with things changing very little and the density of midges afflicting the throat passages around the Robinson becoming unbearable, things drew to a close at 10.30 pm.

A very successful evening, with thanks to those who came along and especially to Martin and Margaret, who live at the Holt, in tolerating, nay, facilitating, our mothing evening.

Postscript

The Robinson was allowed to shine all night and at 7 am the next morning Janice, Rachel and I opened a small actinic trap, which I had left in the reserve, as well as the reserve permanent trap and the Robinson.  The result was 40 species of macro-moth, of which Common Wainscot, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Large Yellow Underwing, Common Wave and Small Square-Spot were in double figures; Square-spot Rustic and the Snout numbered over 20 and top of the pile was Green Carpet with 28 individuals.  8 micros were identified and 2 others were photographed but not yet identified … lazy me.

Andy Harding

Would you like to write an article for our website?

If there is anything you would like to share with other society members about your wild summer then please send it in to webeditor@mknhs.org.uk

It could be an interesting wildlife sighting or a special place you have visited, with a photo or two if you have them , though that’s not essential.  It doesn’t need to be a long article so please don’t be reticent. We would love to hear from you.

Thank you.
MKNHS web editors

Bucks Fungus Group – Walks and Meetings

Buckinghamshire Fungus Group (BFG) have recently announced their Autumn/Winter programme of Fungi Walks and Meetings.  These begin on Sunday August 29th with a visit to Bernwood Forest on the Bucks/Oxfordshire border, followed by Ivinghoe Common on Saturday September 4th.

You can find full information on the BFG website:   www.bucksfungusgroup.org.uk/events.html.

Note that their walks are all arranged for BFG members only this year (2021), but if you’d like to go on a particular walk but are not yet a member, joining is very cheap and very easy: just click here.

All are most welcome – especially families – and no previous experience is needed.

Unless otherwise stated, walks start at 10.00 am, and finish around 1.00 pm.If weather conditions are bad (very windy, frosty or snowy) it would be wise to check with the leader before setting out.

With thanks to BFG for the information, and to Joe Clinch for drawing this to our attention.

Trip Report Summer Leys Nature Reserve Saturday 31st July 2021 – Joe Clinch

Photo montage of some of the species observed contributed by Martine Harvey

Introduction

This Saturday visit was the Society’s first to Summer Leys Nature Reserve since June 2011. The reserve was planned and developed in the latter 1980s and early 1990s and is managed by BCN Wildlife Trust. It covers 47 hectares of former gravel workings in the Nene Valley and is designated a SSSI and SPA. The site consists of several habitats: a large reed-, tree- and grass-edged lake with a scrape inlet and several islands the water level of which is managed; rough grazing adjacent to the lake; a small area of preserved meadow; two other managed meadow areas; two ponds; hedges; and strips of woodland. A Society Walk Description of the reserve undertaken in 2020 can be found at https://mknhs.org.uk/mknhs-summer-leys/). There is also a BCN leaflet ( www.wildlifebcn.org/summer-leys).

Twelve members and one visitor participated in this mid-morning walk on what proved to be an overcast but thankfully dry day. We followed the perimeter footpath anti-clockwise from the car park to take in the four bird hides, the managed and preserved meadows, and one of the ponds (the second was visited after our return to the car park). This report consists of a brief description of the habitats and wildlife observed. An annex provides a checklist of species recorded during our visit (go to: Summer Leys Species Checklists).

The walk

We were off to an excellent start with the discovery of a Red Underwing at rest on one of the wooden posts at the edge of the car park. The small area between this and the lake is a flower rich scrubby meadow. Common Fleabane, Teasel, Great Burnett, Meadow Sweet, Water Figwort, Angelica and Common Centaury were amongst the flowering plants.  Insects included Ruddy Darter, Small Copper, Essex Skipper, Gatekeeper, Tiger Hoverfly, and many not identified. Linnet was heard and Reed Bunting seen.


Red Underwing and Small Copper (Photos © Julian Lambley)

The two bird hides close to the car park offer views over the lake and one of them also the scrape. The first sighting was a Sparrowhawk flying past. Black Headed Gulls breed here and were much in evidence but Common Terns another important breeding species were absent perhaps already on their way south. The scrape had Great and Little Egret close enough together for easy size comparison. The only waders seen during the walk were Lapwing (another breeding species) and Common Sandpiper.


Great White Egret and Canada Geese in flight (Photos © Harry Appleyard)

The perimeter path then took us through a covered area of semi-mature deciduous trees of which alder, ash and willow predominated, hedges and occasional clearings. We heard Song Thrush in full voice; had brief glimpses of Blue Tits, Tree Creeper, Goldcrest; and heard the calls of Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Wren and Dunnock; and saw Red Admiral and Peacock in the clearings, and Speckled Wood in the overhung areas.

We stopped briefly at the third hide which provides another view of the scrape with semi-aquatic plants in the foreground including Flowering Rush.  The route then offered good distant views of the lake with Canada and Greylag Geese, Cormorant, and Lapwing on the islands. The fourth hide is the feeding station where birds are fed throughout the year: Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, and Collared Dove were taking advantage of this service during our visit.


Young Goldfinch (© Peter Barnes) and Scorpion Fly (© Julian Lambley)

The final stop was the preserved meadow and pond in the north-west corner of the reserve. This proved to be very rewarding. The meadow is flower-rich with Great Burnet, Lady’s Bedstraw, Yarrow, and Bird’s-foot Trefoil amongst the species. Common Blue, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Brown Argus were active. The pond was also our best stop for dragonflies with the day having warmed up a little. Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue Damselfly, and Azure Blue Damselfly were on the wing. More excitingly, Harry Appleyard spotted egg galls of the Willow Emerald Damselfly, a species he first identified in Milton Keynes in 2016. He is currently consulting on the status of this find.

We turned round at this point and the walk back offered further opportunities for wildlife exploration. The short extension to the other pond when we got back to the car park was disappointing for dragonflies but gave us a close-up view of young Reed Warblers.


Willow Emerald Damselfly egg galls (© Harry Appleyard) and Banded Demoiselle (© Jenny Mercer)

Overview

The focus of the walk was to experience the richness of the biodiversity of this important SSSI and to keep a record of what we had identified. We were a typical Society group: some expert in their field and some generalists, and all there ready to share their knowledge. The species checklists are a product of this approach and I would like to thank Harry Appleyard, Peter Barnes, and Linda Murphy for compiling them; Harry, Peter, Martine Harvey, Julian Lambley and Jenny Mercer for their excellent photographs especially Martine’s montage; and visitor Ann Plackett for further information about the planning and early development of the reserve with which she had been involved.

Joe Clinch, Walk Leader
August 2021

Report on Fairy Flax Walk, Old Wolverton – 20th July 2021

The Fairy Flax walk took place on 20th July, starting from Old Wolverton’s Holy Trinity churchyard. Our route took us down the hill passing the now just mown floodplain meadows to join the Great Ouse riverbank footpath as far as the Grand Union Iron Trunk aqueduct over the River Ouse, through the narrow tunnel under the canal, and finally returning to the churchyard by the Canal Towpath.

Two thunderstorms rather interrupted proceedings, but of over 30 members who assembled at the church, 14 of us did the walk in full.

All had the opportunity to visit the interior of the church, and many heard the outdoor talk by John Brushe on the ‘natural stones’ used to build the church between 1809 to 1815. Limestone and sandstone from quarries in Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Isle of Portland were used, with canal transportation facilitating the build.  The church is probably the earliest example of the English Norman Revival movement.   A guidebook, written by John is available from Jenny Mercer.   Our thanks go to John for a most interesting talk, and to Terry Collier for opening up the church for the Society members.

Interestingly this wet and hot summer has ensured the Fairy Flax has remained unseen at its possible location of 14 years ago (on the path between the Canalside to the south of the Iron Trunk and the Old Wolverton fields, as it is impenetrable this year!)   My first ever sighting of Fairy Flax was then, with Roy Maycock, on a Society walk.

There is a Plant List below, compiled by Mary Sarre – a short list, as the weather was not conducive to much searching.  Of note was the reed sweet-grass, which was evident in both the River Ouse and the Grand Union Canal. I recall seeing the reed sweet-grass on a very lovely evening on a Society walk at Olney some years ago where the cattle were wading into the river to eat this much-loved sweet treat.

There is also a Bird List below. Thanks to Harry Appleyard for the bird photos and the sunset…

Black-headed Gulls: just a few of the c.150 on a newly mown meadow (Photo © Harry Appleyard)

A Quiz was provided for anyone inclined to explore the churchyard, and a copy of the quiz and churchyard map is provided through this link, with answers at the end.   I am hoping to get Society members interested in making recordings of mammals (there is a badger sett nearby), insects and plants etc. For anyone willing to volunteer, contact details are on the Quiz sheets.

Jenny Mercer
July 2021


Sunset over the River Ouse (Photo © Harry Appleyard)

MKNHS Old Wolverton sightings 20.07.2021

Birds (recorded by or reported to Harry Appleyard)
Goldcrest
Carrion Crow
Little Egret
Starling
150+ Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Common Gull (Photo © Harry Appleyard)
Grey Heron
Cormorant
Sedge Warbler
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Green Woodpecker
Song Thrush
Swallow
Reed Bunting
Starlings (Photo © Harry Appleyard)

Plants (recorded by or reported to Mary Sarre)
Marsh woundwort, Stachys palustris
White deadnettle, Lamium album
Ragwort, common, Senecio jacobaea
Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna
Crab apple, Malus spp.
Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa

In the river:
Club-rush, probably the common, Scirpus lacustris
Reed sweet-grass, Glyceria maxima
Common reed, Phragmites australis
Yellow waterlily, Nuphar lutea

Canal bank:
Orange balsam, Impatiens capensis
Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria
Meadow vetchling, Lathyrus pratensis
Flowering rush, Butomus umbellatus
Water figwort, Scrophularia auriculata

Simpson Walk 13th July 2021 – Trip Report  

Photo above – Simpson Manor Field, with cattle

A walk around Simpson led by Peter Barnes and Rebecca Hiorns, looking at a variety of habitats and the parish council’s initiatives to understand and enhance them, in line with their commitment to help address climate change and the loss of biodiversity.

The evening was warm and dry when, just after 7pm, 30 members and guests set off from the Parks Trust car park off Walton Road and headed north down the path beside the River Ouzel.  It was difficult to see the river with all the ruderal growth but when a cry of ‘Greater Dodder!’ went up from Julian Lambley – the nettles entwined with the parasite suddenly became much more interesting.


Greater Dodder entwined through stinging nettles

Proceeding back towards the village Stock Dove were spotted and a pair of Mute Swans flew overhead low enough to hear their wings beat, a beautiful sight against the bright blue sky.

Our first stop was St Thomas’ churchyard, a complex habitat supporting a wide range of species, some not seen anywhere else in the parish. These include plants, fungi and invertebrates associated with the old grassland, the tall mature trees and the church walls, which provide nesting space for several species of solitary bee and a colony of wild honeybees. The older sandstone and limestone gravestones are covered in rich patterns of lichen and mosses.  The Parish Council has initiated a project to help manage and enhance the habitats, hoping that species will repopulate other areas of the parish.  A record is being made of the flowering plants and compared with the species list compiled by Roy Maycock for his survey of all the churchyards in Buckinghamshire, in the early 1980s.

This year, a revised mowing regime has enabled grassland around the older graves to grow as a meadow.  This has benefitted many pollinators and enabled plants to flower that haven’t been seen in recent years, including 24 Bee Orchids and one Pyramidal Orchid, which was a delightful surprise when it revealed itself just before our visit.


Pyramidal Orchid

During our visit Harry Appleyard spotted a Scarlet Tiger Moth, Common Blue Damselfly and Purple Hairstreak and Mike LeRoy and Justin Long reported a Waxcap Hygrocybe conica.

 
Male Emperor Dragonfly – Harry Appleyard


Male Banded Demoiselle – Harry Appleyard

We then proceeded across the stream via the small wooden bridge stopping to look at the otter footprints adjacent to the water’s edge.


Otter footprints

Walking into the Simpson Manor Field (managed by The Parks Trust as pasture) views open up to the Greensand Ridge.  We stopped and Peter was explaining the history of the manor, medieval fishponds and moat and later manor house with landscaped gardens, when the cattle, which had been grazing peacefully on the other side of the field, started galloping in our direction.  Any disquiet was momentary as Mike LeRoy stepped forward, engaged with them and instantly calmed the ‘bored and unruly class of teenagers’.

We next proceeded to the sluice to look down over the field and river from the higher ground.  Peter related the number of bird species to be seen on the lake, including Great Northern Diver, Goosander and Mandarin Duck, and the week-long visit of a pair of Cattle Egret in Simpson Manor Field in May 2020.  No Cattle Egret were seen, but views of a Little Egret fishing along the river were enjoyed by all.  It is not known how well eels are doing in this section of river, but nationally eel numbers have declined by around 95% in the last 25 years.

To avoid our ‘herd’ unsettling the cattle again, we skipped the planned route through to Lissel Road, an area where the Parish Council’s new working arrangement with SERCO (MKC land) has enabled residents to enhance habitats.  This has included, creating leaf and log piles with hedgehog nesting spaces, putting up 10 bird boxes (one hoping to encourage the frequently heard Tawny Owls), building a bug hotel and managing areas as meadow.  Projects have also started to improve the ground flora of the copse and support pollinators early in the year.


Cormorants – Harry Appleyard

We stopped briefly at Lickorish bridge to hear about the history of the area and to look down over the canal. The woodland was the first to be planted by the Development Corporation, it is now reaching early maturity and has just had its first major thinning.

We then proceeded down to the area adjacent to the ‘Cattle Creep’, a tunnel under the Grand Union Canal built to enable farmers to move their cattle across the canal.  The tunnel is now used as a bat roost.  The canal and its embankments provide a connected habitat over a hundred miles. Within the parish, its banks are particularly associated with crab apple trees.

Our final stop was at Bowler’s Bridge where Peter described how bats have been finding roosting and nesting spaces within the houses on Hanmer Road, built in 1973, including his own where, at the end of May, he counted as many as 400 Soprano Pipistrelles exiting at dusk.

Rebecca Hiorns
July 2021

Birds – 17 Species
Grey Heron
Mute Swan
2 Blackcap
Swift
Little Egret
2 Greylag Goose
Long-tailed Tit
4 Cormorants
Stock Dove
Feral Pigeon
Jackdaw
Song Thrush
Common Tern
Greenfinch
Wren
20 Black-headed Gull
Herring Gull

Invertebrates
Emperor Dragonfly (Male)
5 Banded Demoiselle
Common Blue Damselfly (Churchyard)
Southern Hawker
Scarlet Tiger Moth (Churchyard)
Purple Hairstreak (Churchyard)

Flora
Greater Dodder
Pyramidal Orchid
Bee Orchids
Hedge bedstraw

Fungi
Waxcap – Hygrocybe conica

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks

Our thanks to Harry Appleyard for his photographs and species list.

 

 

 

Visit to Shenley Wood – Tuesday 29th June 2021

Several of the 24 members who came on our visit to Shenley Wood had never been there before. Before the walk started, we held a minute’s silence in memory of Gordon Redford who knew this wood and brought so much knowledge about moths and enjoyment of wildlife to the Society, as well as his warmth and friendship.

This was not a typical time of year for a woodland visit because the glorious spring flowers had finished flowering. Mike LeRoy used the opportunity to give an introduction about the wood itself: its tree and shrub species, its history, its characteristics as Ancient Woodland, and how it had been managed or mis-managed down the centuries.

It was almost certainly part of the ‘well-wooded’ Shenley area described in the Domesday Book of 1086. The first written record of it was in 1599 as ‘Shenley Park’. After centuries of woodland management to produce underwood and timber, by the 1900s the Wood was in a poor state. In 1958 attempts were made to ‘coniferise’ it, but few of the new trees survived. The MK Development Corporation purchased the wood in in 1985 and began the long and effective process of restoring coppicing and thinning cycles, which were developed further after its transfer to The Parks Trust in 1992. This opened up the wood for public access and enjoyment while protecting its characteristic flora and other wildlife.

[Mike LeRoy’s very informative handout for the walk can be found here.]

By the time of our walk the Ancient Woodland Indicator flowers had finished flowering: the Violets, Primrose, Lesser Celandine, Greater Stitchwort, Bluebell, Wood Anemone and Early-purple Orchid; with only the tall seed-heads of Bluebell still showing. But by late June, Common-spotted Orchid were scattered alongside the paths in their hundreds. Greater Butterfly Orchid had been seen a couple of weeks earlier but remained hidden. Common Figwort and Ragged Robin were found in a few locations as well as newly-merged Enchanter’s-nightshade more widely.

We followed the western woodland path to the foot of the wood, then circled the northern end through mature woodland next to the Swan’s Way long-distance Bridleway until we reached the lower of the four ‘mini-teardrop’ ponds (flood management drainage). The water in these was clean and had plenty of floating Pond-weed. Around the ponds the flower-rich grassland was striking and included plenty of Bird’s-foot Trefoil and some Lady’s Bedstraw with bees making good use of them.

From the ponds we re-entered the woodland as far as the central glade, before winding our way back up the east side to the high point and the entrance gate.

Three butterfly species were seen: Essex Skipper, Meadow Brown and Ringlet.

Bird species and counts were (with thanks to Harry Appleyard): Goldfinch (2), Carrion Crow (2), Song Thrush (singing), Green Woodpecker, Greenfinch (5), Blackbird (singing), Blackcap (2 singing), Swift (6), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren (2), Jay, Bullfinch, Rook, Red Kite, Magpie, Wood Pigeon and Dunnock.

Mike LeRoy
July 2021

BCN Wildlife trust update – £8m award for Great Fen

Thanks to Peter Meadows for bringing to our attention this news from Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust :

Peatland Progress Heritage Horizon Award

We are delighted to announce that the National Lottery Heritage Fund has awarded the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire an £8m Heritage Horizon Award!
This funding will means that the Great Fen can expand our pioneering work of peatland preservation vital for combatting climate change and reducing carbon emissions. We will also be working closely with young people, showing them that climate change is being tackled on their doorstep and empowering them to take action.

https://www.wildlifebcn.org/news/peatland-progress-heritage-horizon-award

Gordon Redford and George Higgs memorial moth night – Saturday 17th July 2021

Gordon had organised this event annually in memory of his moth mentor, George, on the Saturday closest to George’s birthday, and was expected to do so again. Sadly that was not to be. After some deliberation, it was decided to go ahead and to remember both of these pillars of the local mothing community.

The result was so fitting. The largest number of traps ever…13;  the largest number of attendees….over 30; and almost certainly the largest number of moth species.
The most important attendees were, of course, Frances Higgs, who had travelled up from Somerset, and Rachel and Stewart Redford, Gordon’s daughter and son. The southern contingent was impressive with 5 trappers marshalled by Martin Albertini and Dave Wilton, with Peter Hall travelling from Herefordshire. So well thought of were both Gordon and George.

It was a hugely enjoyable if poignant night, but it almost didn’t happen. Car access is essential to bring traps and generators any distance into the wood. The padlock on the entry gate had been successfully opened by the key provided by the Woodland Trust a week earlier for a recce, but in addition to that padlock another combination padlock was now securing it … and we didn’t have the combination. The local farmer was contacted and he phoned his wife to obtain it! He warned us it was temperamental, but after my failure to open it, Linda Murphy’s magic hands did the trick. Phew!

The next issue was the grassy turning circle, where we have previously set up a mercury vapour lamp above a sheet, was now rocklike hardcore. So we settled for a Robinson trap around which people could gather as the moths arrived. It was a little painful on the knees, but a most effective way of catching, potting and passing round moths for all to see.  This trap and another one 50 metres away are powered by a generator which Gordon always operated. Thanks to the combined efforts of David Webb, Martin Kincaid and Martin Albertini, after a period of intermittent performance, all worked perfectly.

And so to the moths. There were clouds of them and even more small flies, which got into the throat of everyone who inspected the other traps. Among the most numerous moths were Clouded Border and, surprisingly, Coronet, an always beautiful, but also very variable species. The one here is so unusual that we considered several other possibilities before becoming satisfied with its identity.

Coronet

The superb Peach Blossom is not rare, but has a known disdain for light traps, so several in perfect condition were a delight. Black Arches is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser at this time of year, as is July Highflyer. Elephant Hawk-moths are having a wonderful year, so a few of those were guaranteed, but Pine Hawk-moth is much less reliable, so one in the central trap was a bonus.
Peach Blossom
Black Arches
Pine Hawk-moth

The list of species is going to be a very long one, and the majority will be micro-moths, some of which are very beautiful such as this Batia lunaris.
Batia lunaris

There will be much poring over many photos of micros and a few dissections before the final list can be validated. That may be a few weeks, so that is not attached here. I will make it available when it is complete, and, of course, a copy will also go to the Woodland Trust, who have always kindly given us access to the wood for this event, which this year, by a combination of excellent weather and many motivated individuals, was something of a very fitting triumph. And, of course, somebody must have sent that huge quantity of moths.

Postscript
It is also so nice to see these beautiful insects in daylight, so very early the next morning Ayla Webb and I opened up the central trap and a small actinic with just 6 egg boxes inside. Given the number of moths and their activity levels, all hope of accurate counting soon vanished and we simply concentrated on new species to add to the event total. Among these was an Oak Nycteoline. This species is probably the most variable on the British list and since Ayla and I had only seen 3 between us previously it was no surprise that we hadn’t seen one resembling this one: its unusual shape gave it away. Not the most exciting moth for the non-afficionado!
Oak Nycteoline

Having packed away the last of the equipment we were just about to get into the car when a Purple Emperor decided to inspect us, flashing purple in the sunlight as it did so. A first for Ayla. Not a moth, but what could be a more stunning present from her moth mentor, Gordon.

Andy Harding
22nd July 2021

All photos © Andy Harding

Moth Night 8-10 July 2021 – A tribute to Gordon Redford

As we know, Gordon Redford was a passionate moth-er. The following is a request from his daughter Rachel, with her personal tribute to her father available through this link.

Moth Night 2021 runs through 8th, 9th and 10th July, this year (see https://www.mothnight.info/). In Gordon’s memory, and so he can appreciate all those moth lights up in the heaven-sent sky, if you do moth, have mothed with him, or want to give it a go, please set up your moth traps over these dates (one or all three dates) and light them in his memory.

Raise a glass and take a few photos of your lit moth trap, of you, along with a few photos (maybe 3-5 photos) of your favourite most beautiful of moths that you get in the traps that night or the next morning … you know the ones, that you just know have been sent to you by Dad/Gordon/Nodrog/Gordon the Warden to make you marvel and smile … then, please send your photos over to me. (Please send any you have of him or with you together from past ventures.)

I’d like to collect them all and arrange a collage or mosaic using all the photos that is both mothical and mythical and magical in his honour and as part of our follow-on tribute to an absolute moth legend and green guardian angel!

*** We will be arranging a gathering in his memory (a true celebration of his life, to show love and respect, and a send off and goodbye) and can let you know more in time – date and place and time to be arranged in the future … ***

Thank you
Rachel Redford
rachelredford007@gmail.com

 

 

Milton Keynes Festival of Nature

Photo: Newton Blossomville Church looking beautiful with our walk participants enjoying the bats and the wildflower meadow (in the dark)

Milton Keynes Festival of Nature week took place last week and for the fourth year running it was a great success. It is run mainly by the Parks Trust and the Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) but MKNHS is the third partner in the mix and we have always contributed to the events during the week and in particular to Nature Day which is a big family wildlife day based at Howe Park Wood.

We were there again this year with our MKNHS display boards and a feather display. We were sharing our stall with Ayla Webb and Andy Harding who had both brought their previous nights moth catch with them. This was a great success as they had caught lots of beautiful moths including some hawk moths (small elephant, poplar, privet and eyed) which are always a big hit with the crowd. The pleasure on little children’s faces when they get to hold one of these amazing creatures is wonderful! Kenny Cramer was also there with his bird ringing and I think they caught quite a good selection of birds including blackcaps, treecreepers, a robin and a bevy of blue tits.

Thank you to Sue and Andy Hetherington and Linda for helping on the day.

We also ran a public bat/glow worm walk in Newton Blossomville as part of our MKNHS summer walks programme and we had 15 members of the public attending, quite a few villagers as well as society members (although I suspect some stayed at home to watch the footie!). The weather was a bit cold and windy and this meant there weren’t that many bats flying but we were treated to a couple of pipistrelles flying around inside the church and the porch which was magical.  (Perhaps they were reluctant to leave their cosy roost and go out into the cold.)  Diana Spencer from Bats in Churches very kindly came along with her little dog Millie and talked to us all about the work they are involved with, helping church congregations cope with sharing their church with these lovely but sometimes maligned and rather mucky creatures.

We then wandered up the lane and were lucky enough to spot four glow worms much to the delight of all present.

So it was a good evening and thank you again to Sue and Andy Hetherington for helping me to run the evening.

Julie Lane

(Photo © Julie Lane)

MKNHS Publicity: Facebook and Instagram

This is to announce that Milton Keynes Natural History Society has taken a small step into the world of Social Media, through the establishment of Facebook and Instagram accounts.

The Facebook and Instagram icons will shortly be added to the website’s sidebar. But for more information about how the Society will be using these social media tools, and how to access them,  please follow this link:

MKNHS Publicity – Facebook and Instagram

Sue Hetherington, MKNHS Publicity Coordinator
July 2021

The best bits of Bucks geology – a talk by Jill Eyres

Please see below information on the next up-and-coming Bucks Geology Group free Zoom talk on Thursday 1st July from 5-6pm

Dr Jill Eyers will be talking about “The best bits of Bucks geology “.  A lively virtual field trip from top to toe of Buckinghamshire showing the best locations to see geology. The tour travels from tropical Jurassic seas to the freezing tundra of the Ice Age, and the tour bus stops at all your favourite places.

The details of the Zoom talk are copied below, please keep these somewhere safe as you will need them to log in!

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85395374055?pwd=blVyanA5em5qemtCcjFmZDRxMWlwdz09
Meeting ID: 853 9537 4055
Passcode: 693313

Regards

Julia Carey
Senior Environmental Records Officer
on Behalf of Bucks Geology Group

Lestes sponsa

News from the Forest of Marston Vale

Peter Meadows has suggested that the following news items from the Forest of Marston Vale (drawn from their monthly e-newsletter) may be of particular interest to members:

There is a list of their May wildlife sightings. 

This should perhaps be more accurately titled ‘May bird sightings’, but there is clearly much more than birds to be seen in the park, as the second item reveals:

Dazzling dragons and damsels – a guide to these wetland wonders
A total of 11 species of dragonfly and eight damselfly species have been recorded at the park in recent years, and this article gives some information about their lifecycle, and the differences between them.

Featured photo of an Emerald Damselfly in Tattenhoe Park 21.06.16 © Harry Appleyard, from the MKNHS archive

Gordon Redford – tributes from members

For those of you who haven’t heard we are very very sad to break the news of the death of Gordon Redford, following a heart attack.

He was a friend to so many of us in the Society and whether you knew him well or had met him just briefly, talking to him was like being given a big hug. He was a kind gentle man with a lovely sense of humour, always caring and always keen to pass on his considerable knowledge to others.

He did so much for the Society along the way. He was on our committee and organised our summer programme for many years, he set up our health and safety and risk assessment policy and he ran his moth trap for us at every opportunity.

His passion for moths was legendary and his knowledge was immense and he shared this knowledge so generously with us all over the years but especially with youngsters at Nature Day and school’s events etc.

We send our very best wishes and love to his family who are going through such a difficult time at the moment.

I invite any of you who knew Gordon to send in your memories of him to share with us all on this website. Photos also welcome.

If you want to send cards etc to the family and don’t have the address then please get in touch with me (Julie Lane) at silverteasel@icloud.com

We are talking to his family and thinking about ways in which we can honour his memory in some way in the future but it may take a while to decide on exactly how we want to remember this lovely remarkable man.

Gordon running his moth trap for us after our annual Society BBQ at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve. It was a chilly evening!

(Lead photo collage courtesy of Kenny Cramer; photo above courtesy of Julie Lane)

Memories of Gordon

From Mary and Phil Sarre:

We were truly shocked to hear about Gordon….
Phil and I will remember him particularly in relation to the organisation of the summer programme: he generously spent some time explaining and handing over his well-thought-out system. From the lead-in and Society meeting in February with contributions to the ‘Dates to fill sheet’, his 10-year record of sites visited, and the subsequent collection of visit details from Leaders are all very clear.  We found his communications invariably warm and friendly.

Also of course he has always come forward with at least two mothing sessions, notably the Higgs Memorial evening at College Wood, and latterly at Linford Lakes.

We didn’t know Kate and the family well, but wish them well at this traumatic and difficult time,

From Joe Clinch:

I have many fond and appreciative memories of Gordon and his legacy to the Society. He was above all a most generous, kind, good humoured, and knowledgeable naturalist and colleague. His mothing expertise and his willingness to share this through reports, mothing evenings and talks was legendary (including at a personal level my many requests for help with identification). He was also a most effective organiser of the Summer Walks Programme (my first attendance at a Tuesday evening planning meeting led by Gordon was a revelation: a highly participative meeting of about 30 members with the majority of the slots filled in little over an hour and what’s more he codified this approach for his successors!). And as a member of the Committee before my time he put together model Risk Assessments of all the Society’s main activities, drawing on his experience at the Parks Trust (and again codified and updated for future generations in the Guidance Handbook). I know that I will be one of many members who miss his friendly smile, knowledge, enthusiasm, and contribution.

From Linda Murphy:

Gordon’s sudden passing is a tragic loss for everyone who knew him. I remember him as a warm, kind and gentle man with a keen sense of humour and a great passion for moths. His knowledge was extensive, but usually understated. We exchanged news about our respective catches when we met and he occasionally posted special news on the Upper Thames Moth Blog. I was always keen to hear what he’d seen as I found that whatever turned up in Gordon’s traps, a week or so later the same might appear in mine.  The first time I trapped the fabulous Clifden Nonpareil , or Blue Underwing, was one such example. Here’s Gordon’s post which alerted me and illustrates his style…..

“My son had bought me a tour of Stamford Bridge for my 70th birthday and was coming to pick me up at 0900hrs this morning.  I decided not to set traps at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve on Saturday night as is my usual practice but would at home in the garden in Newport Pagnell.  I stepped out this morning and confess to thinking it would be the usual LYU, Set Herb Char, Vines R dominated catch when there on my shed was this little beauty.  I rushed back for my Johnsons Cotton Buds container and when I returned it was gone.  However, it had fallen to the ground and was captured. We were a little late for Stamford Bridge but blue certainly is the colour for me.”


Clifton non-pareil (Photo © Linda Murphy)

 Sadly, due to Covid, and the fact that I’m based in Oxfordshire, we had not met in person since last August, when I went over to Linford Lakes one morning.  Gordon had agreed to be videoed emptying the moth traps and recording the night’s catch, assisted as usual by Ayla Webb. The aim was to bring a bit of mothing to the Society as our outdoor meetings had been cancelled. Gordon explained the process and he and Ayla showed off the moths at a couple of traps including a large purpose built one…definitely a source of ‘moth envy’ for me! Gordon had been trapping and recording moths at Linford lakes for 10 years by then so certainly deserved it! However, he told me his ambition was actually a ‘moth shed’ as used by noted Victorian ‘moth-ers’, where the light and funnel would be on the roof and you could walk in and check out the walls covered in moths. I’m sad that he couldn’t realise this ambition, but if there’s a ‘moth heaven’, I’m sure that will be it, and Gordon will be in his element! Meanwhile, I’ll be remembering Gordon whenever I empty my trap…..

From Mervyn Dobbin:

I miss you Gordon.  I know almost nothing about moths, but I recognise their importance to our ecosystem and I am amazed by the beauty in the variety of their colours and patterns.

When I came across an attractive specimen, especially one that arrived inside my house and that seemed to be content to be still, with wings flat to a wall, I thought of Gordon. Sometimes I took a photo and showed it to Gordon when we were in the Cruck Barn in Bradwell Abbey. Gordon had such enthusiasm for these creatures that a question and a photo from me in my ignorance, were responded to with such positivity. Gordon connected intimately with the moth-world.  His ability to connect to these small creatures was mirrored in the feeling of kinship that he was able to engender with others, when they encountered him. Thank you Gordon.

‘If you stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.’ Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

From Andy Harding:

A couple of weeks ago I lost my great mothing pal, Gordon, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.

I first met Gordon many moons ago, but it is only in the last decade that we started mothing together: regularly at Linford Lakes and more recently in Little Linford Wood.  There was also a smattering of public events each year, where Gordon could share his great expertise and, perhaps more importantly, his infectious enthusiasm. Nothing was too much trouble for Gordon if he thought he could help enthuse anyone, young or old, about moths. He encouraged beginners to send him photos if they needed help with moth identification; he lent books and equipment to help people to get started on the road which had given him so much pleasure.

We never had a mothing session without loads of laughs. Gordon had lots of silly wordplays with the names of moths, some of which he actually used in his notebook.  So Single Dotted Wave became ‘Single Wotted Dave’. So a very small or apparently humdrum catch was never really a disappointment: it was always worthwhile: both because simply meeting up was fun and also because we loved all the moths – marvelling at their beauty and almost infinite variety.  Gordon always likened it to opening Christmas presents – ‘You never know what you are going to get’.  So occasionally we would find something really special.  A couple of years ago I was a bit late getting to Linford Lakes and when I got there I was surprised that Gordon invited me to unlock the trap.  Immediately inside in a large container was a Clifden Nonpareil, the first Ayla Webb had ever seen, which they had captured before I arrived.  Gordon had set me up beautifully!  This and other excitements like the virtually wingless female Dotted Border in Little Linford Wood (again spotted by Ayla!) were often harkened back to during our time together, as was the poor quality of our eyesight compared to hers!  


Gordon and Ayla at the Magic Tree, Little Linford Wood

In and around the moth traps we saw many other invertebrate creatures, which we also wondered at, but often had little clue to their identity.  Gordon used to say ‘We’ll need five lifetimes to get to grips with this lot properly’.  Sadly that is not what we are allowed.

A very strange thing happened a few days after Gordon’s death.  On the Thursday, I spoke to Rachel, his daughter, and also happened to speak to my own daughter-in-law.  Both, in different ways, said Gordon would send me something special in my trap.  Next morning there was a Peacock Moth in my trap.  The first of this species I had ever seen. Thank you Gordon: it was simply superb.

I’ll miss you, Gordon, especially at the Lakes and in the Wood.


Peacock Moth at Old Stratford, 18th June 2021


From Mike LeRoy:

Gordon enjoyed sharing his enjoyment of wildlife with others. He was an all-round naturalist from a lifetime of working as a ranger and warden at country parks and wildlife sites across England, and many years of running moth-trapping as education events for all ages. He came to Milton Keynes in 1994 to lead the team of rangers at The Parks Trust, where his team had the dual task of caring for the parkland and communicating about its wildlife.

He carried his knowledge lightly so was encouraging to those who wanted to find out more about wildlife. He shared his knowledge readily, never showing off but keen for others to find out what he enjoyed knowing. It was moths that lit his flame.

The last time I chatted with Gordon was at one of his early morning moth sessions a few weeks before his final heart attack. As ever, he shared the task and trusted me to gently lift out each egg-box one-by-one from the moth trap to see what had been attracted overnight. He stood by with his notebook and pencil, ready to write down the name of each moth species from memory then pencil a neat row of lines and five-bar gates to count them. If there was a species he was not sure of he would photograph it to check it later in the books he had accumulated for that purpose. On his face was the joy and glee and rapid recognition of almost every moth. His identification of them was a joy he shared as he pointed out their distinctive features, but also their beauty, such as a ruff behind the head or hidden colours of underwings. One time he told me that opening his moth-trap each morning was like opening a Christmas present every day.

He developed his moth identification skills over many years. After moving to Milton Keynes he was able to hone these skills with the advice of George Higgs to whom he would turn when he was not sure of a particular species. After George’s death at the end of 2012 Gordon was determined that his mentor’s memory should be celebrated through a mothing night so we went to College Wood to talk through how to run one there every year.

Gordon later remembered how valuable George’s mentoring had been to him. Ayla Webb, then a relatively new member of the Society, wanted to learn more about moths so Gordon readily invited her to his mothing sessions to share his knowledge with her. Later this led to three of them meeting to do moth-trapping together: Gordon, Ayla and Andy Harding.

Gordon and I were both fortunate to finish our working careers only a few weeks apart, in 2012. We decided to explore many of the wildlife sites in Milton Keynes and the wider area together. Some of these sites we later turned into summer programme visits for the Society. Others, such as Oakhill Wood or a meadow at Tattenhoe became new sites for his moth-trapping. In the Ouzel Valley we tried out pupa digging, a Victorian method for finding moths, and Gordon kept these until their emergence so he could identify them before releasing them to their habitat.

Gordon realised that he could become more proficient at mothing, so tried different places and moth-traps and set about learning about more moth species. He Joined the British Entomological & Natural History Society (BENHS) and enjoyed field meetings with Paul Waring, the co-author of the leading book on moth ID (‘Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain & Ireland’) and writer of a regular column on moths in ‘British Wildlife’ magazine. There were BENHS field meetings with Paul at Sydlings Copse and Finemere Wood. He learned from Paul’s systematic methods of recording by watching his methods carefully. There were other BENHS visits such as one led by Ian Sims to Wytham Wood in Oxfordshire.

Gordon’s original Skinner-type moth-trap was eventually joined by another, and later by a Robinson trap. Gradually he worked out the benefits of different traps, bulbs, batteries and mothing locations.

One site we visited was Pitsford Reservoir wildlife area where the team from the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire has a permanent moth-trap set in a large box on legs and connected to mains electricity with a timer switch. He was so delighted by this that he was determined to persuade The Parks Trust to install one at Linford Lakes, which was achieved some years later, thanks to his careful photos and detailed measurements of the installation.

One method that Gordon pursued was to use pheromones to attract specific moth species not found readily by other methods. On one occasion he tried this at Stonepit Field to see if a particular clearwing moth was in the area. He tied a small mesh bag to a plant and within a few minutes one appeared, to his quiet delight.

A significant step forward came after the ‘Field Guide to the Micro moths of Great Britain and Ireland’ by Phil Sterling & Mark Parsons was published. Gordon decided to have a go at identifying these smaller and more complicated micro-moths, some of which require use of a microscope.

He also built up his collection of entomology books, with the larger and more expensive ones paid for by sorting the Christmas post at a Royal Mail depot. One year he was delighted to find that he was working alongside Lewis Dickinson who he encouraged to join the Society.

Towards year end Gordon’s aim was to gather the year’s moth records into good shape on MapMate and send them to the Bucks Recorder for Moths so these could be checked and become Records for Butterfly Conservation nationally and the Bucks & MK Environmental Records Centre (BMERC). His moth trapping was not just weekly but night after night at more than one location whenever moths were about. In recent years he wrote up interesting summaries of his moth finds in well-illustrated articles for ‘Magpie’ and the MKNHS website.

Gordon was also a member of Bucks Invertebrate Group and joined a number of their field meetings, such as one on leaf-miners at Burnham Beeches. As well as attending their indoor meetings twice a year until recent years, he led their field meetings at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve.

A joy he looked forward to was his visits to annual meetings of Butterfly Conservation and he also attended several day conferences on neglected insects, run by Bedfordshire Natural History Society, as well as the annual BMERC Recorders Seminars. A particular pleasure was visits to the Amateur Entomologist Society’s annual exhibition and trade fair at Kempton Park, where Gordon could replenish his entomology equipment and meet old friends from around the country. Similarly, Gordon sometimes travelled with me to the annual Bird Fair at Rutland Water and met old friends such as one from his years in Northumberland.

Gordon served the Natural History Society in many ways: not only coordinating and planning outdoor meetings and moth nights over many years, but on the committee and in many practical and unseen activities. More than that he was one of those people who simply got on with those around him and shared his enthusiasm for wildlife with anyone who was interested.

 

Trip Report North Loughton Valley Park and area, 1st June 2021 – Joe Clinch

Above: Bee Orchid (All photos © Peter Barnes)

Welcome back!

The Society’s last outdoor event was on Sunday afternoon 2nd February 2020 at the Floodplain Forest Nature Reserve some 16 months earlier, so the summer walk on Tuesday evening 1st June 2021 had a particular importance in our calendar. On a glorious summer evening 28 members and 1 visitor (just within the Covid rules maximum allowed) met at Bancroft Park Parks Trust car park to enjoy the wildlife of Milton Keynes, to view some historic landmarks, and to renew face-to-face contact with fellow members.  Paul Lund was on hand to act as co-leader should it have proved necessary to divide participants into two groups but that was not necessary. Covid and other risks were rehearsed before the start of the walk.

Introduction

North Loughton Valley Park is managed by the Parks Trust and forms one of many parks along the green corridor that stretches from Tattenhoe in the south west to New Bradwell in the north where the Loughton Brook joins the Great Ouse. This section of the valley consists of five main habitats all heavily influenced by the development of Milton Keynes: the Brook itself and its surrounding wetlands; thickets of Blackthorn, Wild Plum, Hawthorn, and Elder; mown grass and managed meadows lined by trees and bushes; and an area of rough grass, damp land with scrub above, which makes up the wet/dry balancing lakes which control the run-off to manage the risk of flooding in New Bradwell. The fifth habitat was outside the Park on the east bank of Grafton Street where it cuts through the Boulder Clay and Jurassic Cornbrash (limestone) sub strata and is an important habitat for wildlife in its own right. There is no evidence of habitats that predate the development of Milton Keynes other than Loughton Brook itself.

We walked through each of these areas, stopping occasionally. The focus of the walk was the observation, identification, and recording of flowering plants, birds, and invertebrate species.

The Habitats

The route started from the Bancroft Park car park. Our first stop was to note Marsh Marigold still in flower in a boggy area near the edge of the Brook and to hear Chiffchaff, Blackcap, and Song Thrush in full song in the surrounding thicket and trees. Crossing the Brook took us to the mown and managed meadow grass of the eastern slope of the valley with its backing of trees and bushes. The managed meadows of grasses, Meadow Buttercup, Red Clover, and the semi- parasitic Yellow Rattle were in flower – a wonderful display of colour and flowing contours. There appear to be no pre-Milton Keynes tree species in the Park: those planted are mainly of willows, alder, and ash.

The wet/dry balancing lakes are divided by a substantial broad earth dam. The middle of this was a good stopping place to look across the enclosed area. Some of us had a glimpse of Common Whitethroat in the scrub area below the dam, and Crows, Magpies and Wood Pigeon were flying back and forth. Goatsbeard and Birdsfoot Trefoil were just coming into flower on the slopes of the dam.

A Redway bridge took us over Grafton Street with good views of the Grand Union Canal aqueduct to one side and looking down on the cutting bank that we were to visit on the other. A brief detour gave us views of the magnificent Bradwell Windmill which opened in 1803, closed in 1876, and is now restored and run by volunteers.


Bradwell Windmill
The bank of the cutting next to the Redway was our longest stop. It looks roughly west and was still in partial sun for our visit. A stretch of about 100 metres has been planted as a flower-rich habitat to attract pollinators and includes Birdsfoot Trefoil, Common Vetch, Grass Vetchling, Germander Speedwell, Ribwort Plantain, Cut-leaved Cranesbill and Bee Orchid. Flowering was 2 to 3 weeks later than in 2020 when I prepared a virtual walk of this route during lockdown. Only five Bee Orchids were found in flower for our visit and the impression is that overall numbers will be down greatly from even last year. The mown rough grass area on the other side of the Redway added one further Bee Orchid about to flower and the leaf rosettes of a few more. Several Burnet Companion moths were flying, and Two- and Seven-spot Ladybird, Red-tailed Bumblebee, and Solitary Wasp were identified.


Burnet’s Companion moth

Our return route followed that of the outward one. It concluded with a short stop at the stone outline of the Bancroft Roman Villa. This was built in the late Third Century AD replacing an earlier Iron Age farm settlement and demolished in the Fifth Century. Interpretation Boards explain the history of the site. A passing Kestrel which paused briefly to hover ahead of us over the site was a fitting finale to the walk.


Evening sky over Bancroft Roman Villa

Thanks

My thanks to Mary Sarre and Linda Murphy for putting together the plant list; to Paul Lund for providing back up for me as leader and participating in two reconnaissance visits; to Simon Bunker for contributing the invertebrate species list; to Matt Andrews for his additions to the bird list; and to Peter Barnes for his photographs.

Joe Clinch, Walk Leader 

Annex to Trip Report North Loughton Valley Park 1st June 2021

Species List

Flowering Plants (not all yet in flower)
Common Sorrel Nettle
Bulbous Buttercup Marsh Marigold
Creeping Buttercup Meadow ButterCup
Cuckoo Flower Garlic Mustard
Silverweed Shepherd’s Purse
Herb Bennet Meadowsweet
Common Vetch Hawthorn
Birdsfoot Trefoil Hairy Tare
Red Clover Grass Vetchling
White Clover Zigzag Clover
Herb Robert Black Meddick
Cut-Leaved Cranesbill Dovesfoot Cranesbill
Cow Parsley Dogwood
Common Cleavers Great Willowherb
Common Field Speedwell Wall Speedwell
Woodruff Germander Speedwell
Field forget me not Hedge Bedstraw
White Dead Nettle Ground Ivy
Yellow Rattle Common Figwort
Guelder Rose Ribwort Plantain
Ox-eye Daisy Daisy
Groundsel Ragwort
Goatsbeard Yarrow
Beaked Hawksbeard Orange Hawkweed
Bee Orchid Bristly Ox Tongue
Birds (seen or heard)
Lesser Black Backed Gull Little Egret
Kestrel Mallard
Magpie Crow
Green Woodpecker Wood Pigeon
Song Thrush Blackbird
Dunnock Robin
Swift Starling
Chaffinch Wren
Blackcap Greenfinch
Chiffchaff Common Whitethroat
Insects
Common Blue (butterfly) Earwig
Burnet Companion (moth) Rousel’s Bush Cricket (first nymph stage)
Two Spot Ladybird Grasshopper (sp.) (first nymph stage)
Seven Spot Ladybird Common Blue (?) Damselfly
Solitary Wasp Red Tailed Bumblebee
Other invertebrates
Common Rough Woodlouse Pill Woodlouse

 

 

Churches Count on Nature 5-13th June 2021

St Lawrence’s, Church Stretton, Shropshire (Photo: CfGA)

Jenny Mercer has drawn our attention to the following event which will take place from Saturday 5th to Sunday 13th June.

 

This is a citizen-science event covering churchyards across the England and Wales. The project will see communities and visitors making a note of the animals, birds, insects, or fungi in their local churchyard. Their data will then be collated on the National Biodiversity Network.

More information about the event can be found here:
http://bit.ly/ChurchesCountOnNature.

Do you have a local churchyard that you could survey as part of this event?

We are hoping that Jenny will be able to lead a Society walk on 20th July to record the diversity of Holy Trinity Churchyard in Old Wolverton as a follow up to this week (a bit late but this shouldn’t be a problem). Our President Roy Maycock surveyed the flora of the best 10% of all the churchyards in Buckinghamshire quite a few years ago now (see recent article on our website: Roy’s Reminiscences). We have also held walks in Olney churchyard to look at lichens and had a recent talk on bats in churches by Sue Hetherington so our Society has a history of involvement in our county’s church flora and fauna.

Otmoor in Spring: a virtual tour – A talk by Linda Murphy (Zoom recording)

Linda Murphy’s talk to members – Otmoor in Spring: a virtual tour – is now available to view by clicking on the link below (No passcode is required.)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-KxK5hMBYSj-G8_hWJd698LiUor3Vp1X/view?usp=sharing

During the talk, the Otmoor Birding Blog was mentioned as a source of information about what has been seen.

You can access the blog at http://otmoorbirding.blogspot.com/

 

Spring 2021: Wildlife in the local area – Tony Wood

Hairy-footed Bee seen in April (Photo © Rebecca Hiorns)

During the first three months of this year we, and of course our wildlife, have experienced a vast change in weather conditions. In January there was another “Beast from the East” causing floods locally and just a sprinkle of snow. In February “Storm Darcy” was followed by warm weather; March gave us clear blue skies and long periods of frosty nights; ending with April being recorded the driest and frostiest for 50 years.

Mammals – Otters were reported at Shenley Brook End, Linford Lakes Reserve and Simpson and in March three Roe Deer were observed near Little Linford Wood. There was also a report from a non-member that whilst travelling around the local country roads in April she counted over 20 roadkill Badgers. The Mammal Survey Group, under the direction of Carla Boswell from the Parks Trust, installed over 50 footprint tunnels around Linford Lakes Reserve to investigate the possibility of Dormice on the site. Carla took a walk around Furzton Lake and Tattenhoe Brook mid-May in the evening and recorded four species of bat; Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Noctule and Daubenton`s. Whilst checking mammal nest boxes at Little Linford Wood at the end of March, I found a single Brown Long-eared Bat. Normally they are not discovered in the boxes at that wood until May. Finally, a mink was observed at Caldecotte in April.

Butterflies and Moths- Whilst the warm, sunny days were ideal for butterflies, with Brimstone as early as February, the cold nights deterred the moths, although a Red-green Carpet Moth was reported by Andy Harding in February, a species not usually recorded until March. Owing to the continuous stretch of frosty nights in April, for the first time for many years I did not record any moths in my garden during that month.

Birds- During the first four months of this year there was a multitude of observations locally submitted to the Society`s website. Migrants such as warblers, hirundinidae and waders. For that reason, I will restrict this account to the more unusual species reported locally.

During January Great White Egrets and an Iceland Gull visited the Forest Floodplain, Caspian Gull and a Peregrine at Willen Lake, a Dartford Warbler at Hazeley Wood, a Black Redstart at Newport Pagnell, Common Crossbill and an Iceland Gull in flight over Tattenhoe, and a Great Northern Diver and Pink-footed Goose at Caldecotte.

February species included a Mandarin Duck at Willen, a possible juvenile Marsh Harrier at Linford Lakes Reserve, two Whooper Swans in flight at Gayhurst, a Caspian Gull at Caldecotte, and two Ring-necked Parakeets at Wolverton.

Unusual birds recorded locally in March included a Mediterranean Gull at the Forest Floodplain and Willen, an Osprey also at Willen, and a Brent Goose at Linford Lakes Reserve.

April produced a Siberian Chiffchaff and a Kittiwake in flight at Tattenhoe, a Hoopoe near Willen Lake, another Marsh Harrier at Linford Lakes Reserve, and a surprising Spoonbill seen in flight over Wymbush Industrial Site in Milton Keynes.

During 2019 six White-tailed Sea Eagles were released on the Isle of Wight, three remained around that area, one hit overhead cables and died, one disappeared, and one took flight. This last one was monitored with a tracking device and in 17 months covered 4900 kms. It was confirmed that during March this year that it visited Linford Lakes Reserve. Now that is a major tick!!!!!

Summer will soon be with us and I have a task for you. It would appear there are 240 species of dandelion in the UK – how many can you find?

Tony Wood
21st May 2021

Wildlife from Home – A talk by Sue Hetherington on Tuesday 11th May (Zoom recording)

Sue Hetherington’s talk to members – Wildlife from Home (urban birding and more….) – is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from May 11th.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/HdMFWs62gVvVH8Wlf9ssokK_1_48h2MBgrVGKwYMDErKiYTZauVM-e1ALGA6c4-w.aE1k8VFcx-3JFloL

#Passcode: 7.BEJ+z=

Introduction to Invertebrates with Brian Eversham 12 May (BCN online event)

Discover the diversity and importance of invertebrates and learn how to identify them

BCN Wildlife Trust are offering an online event to both members and non-members on Wednesday 12 May 19.00-20.30 (with optional outdoor event on Saturday 16 May). Full details through the link below.

https://www.wildlifebcn.org/events/2021-05-12-introduction-invertebrates-brian-eversham-online-and-optional-outdoor

This workshop will introduce the diversity of invertebrates, and demonstrate how important they are for conservation and ecology. We will explore which kinds of invertebrate are most important in which habitats, and how their lifestyles make the different groups useful for understanding and monitoring nature reserves. You will see the sorts of features used in identifying species in different groups, and point the way to studying any chosen group in more detail. There will be a summary of the range of books, keys and websites which are available, in addition to the basics of photography for identification purposes.

There is the opportunity of a visit to Old Sulehay nature reserve, Northants, on Sun 16 May. in a small group(s). See ticket options.

 

Seldom-seen Little Linford Wood – a talk by Phil Sarre on Tuesday 4th May (Zoom Recording)

Phil Sarre’s talk to members – Seldom-seen Little Linford Wood – is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from May 4th.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/JlAA5SGgWVDikW-xNUspSUyXU8L2SSuLZ4p2GG96IJSU9DErk9c4_0uG18Dr3_3_.pwooquf4UVwGHlPe

Passcode: fY?gB9j=

Art competition launched to highlight the plight of the nation’s floodplain meadows

A floodplain meadow in bloom

Budding artists of all ages are being asked to take part in a national arts and crafts competition to help raise awareness of the UK’s diminishing floodplain meadows.

The OU and the Floodplain Meadows Partnership have launched the competition encouraging people to visit a local floodplain and create a piece of art that represents the importance and beauty of these natural habitats.

Anyone can enter the competition and judges are hoping artists will use a wide variety of art and crafts to capture the floodplain meadows, from sketches and paintings through to sculptures, ceramics and even video.

Artists are encouraged to be as creative as possible whilst also thinking about the role of floodplain meadows in managing climate change, their role in nature, and the contribution of floodplain meadows in a sustainable agricultural system.

For more information and how to get involved go to:
https://ounews.co/around-ou/art-competition-launched-to-highlight-the-plight-of-the-nations-floodplain-meadows/

The Willow Tit: Britain’s fastest declining bird – A talk by Paul Bellamy on Tuesday 13th April (Zoom recording)

Paul Bellamy’s talk to members – The Willow Tit: Britain’s fastest declining bird – is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from April 13th.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/sYYLuJ_y8m13jq7dUKqWp7__isLxxawr4wSyVZiB2I02dQFkF345T5CxMltbr175.T-in_GPCFWuS8VLb

Passcode: K8Acw=Az

Roy’s Reminiscences – Roy Maycock, MKNHS President

I have been asked by several committee members if I would write an article for the website about the paths my life has taken and the people I met along the way who influenced me to become such a keen botanist. I hope that you will find it interesting.

Privet was the first plant whose name I remembered. I was in a pushchair at the time on the way to visit my Grandma and had to pass a privet hedge. My father was there and was able to break a twig for her. Next I remember daisies and it was, as before, my father who picked several and made a daisy chain – again for my Grandma!

Then there is a long gap before I remember the name of another plant. In my teens I attended a youth club with a brilliant leader. In the summer he occasionally set us a ‘scavenger hunt’ which meant going outside to find various items and one year this included the plant Oxford Ragwort. At the time I was in the sixth form at school doing Biology as an A-level so not knowing a plant was unacceptable. I was told what it was and still remember it!

I kept in touch with my Biology teacher and she became a close friend until she died. She too was keen on the native flora and that set me going – I learnt the names of flowering plants and their latin names from her. There was a small pond in the school grounds which we sometimes visited and one plant that grew there was Cardamine pratensis (cuckoo flower). I was told ‘learn the latin name and that will never change’ – how untrue! – but that one has not changed. More recently there have been huge changes as DNA has uncovered true relationships between plants, but that was not the case when I started at Durham university in 1952 – not so long ago!

Going to Durham was the biggest change in my life so far, especially taking Botany with a professor who was a taxonomist who encouraged me greatly. One day in my first term, in the Science library, one journal took my eye, published by the BSBI (now the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland). I joined the society and am still a member 68 years later with 34 of those years as the Bucks County Recorder.

In the last term of my third year at Durham I was lucky to be introduced to a person studying for a doctorate. I offered to help and spent many hours sat in grassy fields in Upper Teesdale acting as a scribe – I learnt a lot.

Then national service for the next two years in the RAF. Looking back they were probably the most different and ‘sort of’ enjoyable years of my life. After ‘square-bashing’ came a course to be a nursing attendant and then for a few months I working in a ‘sick quarters’ before returning to the camp where I had done my course. This was brilliant as it was here that I learnt how to teach ’RAF fashion’ and this skill I used for all my following years spent teaching in schools (my actual university teacher training course was hardly any use!). De-mob from the RAF was on August bank holiday which meant I had the rest of the month to get used to ‘civvy street’ before, in early September, I started as a teacher of Biology at the Royal Latin School, Buckingham which became my ‘proper’ job for the next 30 years including time spent as Head of Science.

Having retired early I spent the next year looking for another job before finding one with the local Wildlife Trust (BBOWT). The job involved teaching new graduates how to do field work as part of a new government scheme. The scheme came to an end a year later but the Trust kept me on for a few more years – but then what next?

At this point the BSBI thought up a national project which involved selecting and surveying 10% of the best churchyards for each county. But how to select the best 10%? Buckinghamshire had 260 churchyards and all of these had to be visited at least twice to find the best 10%!!

The Natural History Society summer outings were ideal for this project and I suggested visiting a few, including one at Wing. We visited on the same evening as the bell ringers’ practice and one ringer was sent down from the tower to find out what we were doing. Satisfied he went back up and ringing resumed!

The next problem was what to do with all the lists of plants I had made? I knew one of the members of staff at Buckingham University and having mentioned my dilemma to him, we got together and drew up a plan for using the data. After lots of writing and producing graphs etc. it finally morphed into a dissertation worth a Master of Science Degree at Durham University. Since then I have been asked to supply lists of plants in Buckinghamshire churchyards on several occasions, but one day in 2020 I had two requests in a single day!

In 1989 I met a 13-year-old lad called Aaron Woods who was already a competent botanist. We became good friends and for the next ten years we surveyed lots of sites together in Buckinghamshire and elsewhere especially Oxfordshire churchyards. We had holidays together in the UK and with other botanists abroad. In 1999 he moved to London and later Herefordshire but we still keep in close contact.

Up until that date the only published ‘Flora of Buckinghamshire’ was by G.C. Druce in 1926! To fill this gap we decided we could produce not a complete flora but ‘A checklist of all the plants of Buckinghamshire’ including Milton Keynes and Slough. The Society published it for us in 2005.

What have I done for the Society over the years? – quite a lot, I like to think! At the start there were only four of us and numbers increased slowly at first with every single member on the committee! As the membership expanded we had to move our meeting place several times to locations that could accommodate us but now our numbers are more stable the Cruck Barn at the City Discovery Centre is ideal.


Cutting from the local MK Press in 1989, about the 21st anniversary of MKNHS

Over time I had many roles within the committee starting as Secretary, then Chairman for 2 years, Treasurer for 8 years and now President since 1992. I was most pleased to accept the office but I know I don’t do as much as I used to. One of my duties as President is to say something at the end of the indoor talks and I am always waiting in slight trepidation for inspiration from the speaker which nearly always has been provided! The tables were turned at our 50th Anniversary event when I was so pleased to be presented with the badger picture, a reminder of all the time I spent writing up Bernard Frewin’s reports of his hours spent monitoring translocated badgers in the field. I was also delighted to become an honorary member of the Society.

I hope that now my active botanising days are behind me there will be other botanists and much recording of flora within the Society in the years to come.

Roy Maycock
April 2021

“Your Forest”

The following information may be of interest about a new project about urban forests, woodlands and parks, which an organisation called Wild Rumpus has just launched in Milton Keynes (and eslewhere), in association with local radio stations – here, Secklow Radio 105.5. There are short talks by naturalists, as well as an opportunity to contribute sound recordings.

“We’ve brought together a network of community radio stations throughout England to broadcast a special series about urban forests and trees – looking at how important these green areas to communities living in and around towns and cities.

You can listen to the series as it goes out, via our website or tune into your local radio station, Secklow 105.5, for more info.

As part of the project, we’re creating a unique sound map of recordings from local parks, woods or forests. We’re inviting people to go to their local area of trees, record a minute of sounds on their phone and then submit it to be part of the map. It’s really easy to do and explained on the ‘Your Forest’ website https://wildrumpus.org.uk/yourforest/

Kiran Chittazhathu
kiran.chittazhathu@wildrumpus.org.uk

A book recommendation from Bucks Fungus Club

The following notice was sent recently to Bucks Fungus Club members, forwarded here in case it’s of interest to MNHS members:
“As I know quite a few of you have copies of the first two volumes of Geoffrey Kibby’s Mushrooms and Toadstools, I thought you might like to know that vol 3 is now complete and will be available in May. However, you can order it from Summerfield Books now at a slightly reduced price (£37 instead of £42) at

This volume covers those Agarics having darker spores including Agaricus, Psathyrella, Stropharia, Cortinarius and more, though volume 4 is planned to complete the coverage.
If you’ve not yet come across this series it is one well worth investing in. The volumes are probably just too big to fit in a pocket as a field guide but contain many useful field tips, are simple and easy to understand and Geoffrey’s excellent paintings show salient features really well. Basic microscopic details are included in his descriptions and he uses the up-to-date names but with synonyms given – all in all they provide an extremely useful general reference guide for use at home.”
Penny

Earth Optimism: 26 March – 4 April 2021

An online event aimed at those of you who’d like some positive news, which comprises a number of public events available through the Earth Optimism website – linked with Cambridge Conservation:  https://www.earthoptimism.cambridgeconservation.org/

The event organisers say “In these unprecedented and difficult times, we need optimism more than ever – to uplift us, inspire us, and help us build a new path forward. The #EarthOptimism movement brings people together to talk about what’s working to protect the future of our planet. Through Earth Optimism, we invite you to learn what is working in conservation and why. Discover how every one of us can become more involved in the fight to protect the natural world.”

 

 

 

Books recommended during the Members’ Book Evening on March 16th 2021

Another bumper crop for your ‘birthday’ lists from our latest book evening. Happy reading!

Flight Identification of European Passerines and Selected Landbirds by Tomasz Cofta (Wildguides), Princeton University Press (2021)

A Bird a Day by Dominic Couzens , Batsford Press (2020)

Urban Peregrines by Ed Drewitt,  Pelagic Publishing  (2014)

The Parakeeting of London by Nick Hunt and Tim Mitchell, Paradise Road (2019)

The Otters Tale by Simon Cooper, William Collins (2017)

The Accidental Countryside: hidden havens for Britain’s Wildlife by Stephen Moss, Guardian Faber (2020, paperback due April 2021).

An Ocean of Air:  A natural history of the atmosphere by Gabrielle Walker,  Bloomsbury (2007, paperback 2008)

Meadows by George Peterken, Bloomsbury Wildlife (re-issued 2018)

Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald, Random House (2020, paperback due July 2021)

52 Wildlife Weekends by James Lowen, Bradt Travel Guides (2018)

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake, Random House (2020)

Online Events from BCN Wildlife Trust

Below are brief details of two potentially interesting online events coming up, both available through the BCN website: BCN Events and Experiences

A view across Rymes Reedbed on World Wetlands Day - Great Fen

The Climate: The Landscape: The Future – The Great Fen response to a changing climate

7.00-8.30pm

Join Brian Eversham, CEO Wildlife Trust BCN, and Kate Carver, Great Fen Project Manager, for an informative evening discussing climate change and how the Great Fen is responding.

Bechstein's bat

Online talk: Calling in the dark- developing tools and infrastructure for large-scale acoustic monitoring of wildlife, by Dr Stuart Newson

7 – 8.30pm

In this talk, Dr Stuart Newson explains how his pioneering bat work is improving our understanding of bats, bush-crickets and more.

A moth in the porch: Part 2 – Andy Harding

(Photo above of a – but not the – Red-Green Carpet. © Andy Harding)

In early March 2018 I ‘penned’ a short note to Magpie1 about a moth, a Pale Brindled Beauty Phigalia pilosaria, which stayed in and around our porch from February 16th to March 3rd, sometimes exposed to inclement weather, but ignoring better days to fly off, until a definite thaw precipitated its departure.

This interesting (to me at least!) sequence of events has been paralleled in recent days by a different species, which stayed for 15 nights.  The specific identity of this moth may give a clue to the reason for apparent inactivity, even if conditions seemed conducive to night time flight.

This year’s moth was first seen on the morning of February 21st: a Red-green Carpet Chloroclysta siterata, again adjacent to the outside porch light at around head height.  Despite its strikingly vibrant green colour, I didn’t photograph it, since I have plenty of photos of the species.  Had I known I was going to write this note, I would have done so!!

This individual, we can be sure, was a female.  Males of this species do not survive beyond autumn, but females hibernate and expect to mate with males emerging from mid-March onwards.  However this one was three weeks earlier than any I have encountered in Old Stratford in the last 12 years.  So early, in fact, that when I entered the record in the 2020/2021 winter Garden Moth Survey spreadsheet, it gave me a warning that it was outside the normal flight period and the record should be checked again before confirmation.

The moth seemed not to have moved at all from night 1 to night 2, but for the next 4 nights moved a few centimetres in different directions and ended up in different attitudes on the same area of brickwork.  A bright sunny afternoon then was presumed to force it inside the small porch, where it again moved nightly to different pieces of the brickwork and then to the glass on the front door.  Then on March 2nd it moved to the solid (PVC) part of the front door and as far as I could tell it remained in precisely the same spot for 4 nights.  After a single night back on the brickwork inside the porch, it disappeared.  A check of the porch confirmed it had not simply succumbed in the porch.

The inside of the porch has a light on all night to accompany the exterior light to which it was first attracted.  Maximum daytime temperatures varied from 9C to 13C and night-time minima from 5C to 0C, with frosts on three nights.  During the period a very modest number of moths visited the two moth traps in the back garden (max of 4) so conditions were not entirely inimical to night-time moth flight.

So why didn’t she move any real distance.  Of course, I don’t know, but here is my sixpennyworth, and this may be rubbish.  Well, there are two lights very close to her position, so these might be so attractive as to ensure she did not go very far.  However moths frequently pitch up adjacent to the lights in and around the porch but usually stay for just one or two nights.  So I prefer the idea that this female moth instinctively ‘felt’ she had to move very little.  Flight takes up energy which can be better used for egg production, so she may have been pumping our pheromones waiting to attract males, which sadly this early in the year were not likely to have emerged, or so I assume.  As I complete this on March 12th we are not quite at mid-month, but soon male Red-green Carpets will be emerging.  I like to think she can hang on somewhere for a few more days!

If anyone has more sensible ideas about what was going on here, please send those ideas in to webeditor@mknhs.org.uk.

Footnote: you may wonder why, although I did not photograph this moth when it first arrived, I didn’t do so when putting this little note together.  While a brilliant bright green on arrival, it had lost much of its lustre in latter days, as is the way with all green moths!

Andy Harding

1 Andy’s earlier article about the Pale Brindled Beauty can be found in The Magpie April 2018

Sharks in British Waters – A talk by Paul Cox on Tuesday 9th March (Zoom recording)

Paul Cox’s talk to members – Sharks in British Waters –  is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from March 9th.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/ULqDG6AnwvgQKPfgwOIM0VEHG5QWjxTWhQzVqtBnu23g-SP9wjs-Pwmp3HlahpLl.cHppNpt8_cp9Lmzr

Passcode: z7Mh$Ym3

If you would like more information about the work of the Shark Trust, go to www.sharktrust.org

 

A new grant for Bucks Fungus Group

Bucks Fungus Group have just announced that they have been awarded a three year grant of £9700 by the City of London Corporation to apply DNA sequencing to the study of fungal diversity at their two Buckinghamshire sites, Burnham Beeches and Stoke Common.

The State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2021

The report on The State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2021 is now available from Butterfly Conservation (link below). It  summarises current knowledge of the state of Britain’s c.900 species of larger moths, presenting analyses of long-term change based on millions of records gathered through the Rothamsted Insect Survey (RIS) and National Moth Recording Scheme (NMRS).

https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/the-state-of-britains-moths

 

 

 

HS2 – an item of better news


Architect’s impression of how the HS2 rail tunnel will be integrated with the Colne Valley Western Slopes. (Photograph: Courtesy of Grimshaw Architects)

The Guardian reports (in an article by Patrick Barkham) on the plan announced this week to rewild 127 hectares around its 10-mile tunnel through the Chilterns:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/mar/03/hs2-to-rewild-127-hectares-around-its-10-mile-chilterns-tunnel”

The area is to be seeded with 70 grass and flower species and planted with native trees to create wood pasture,

More free online talks! London NHS and ZSL

A couple of opportunities for those who are interested:

London Natural History Society is offering a free, online series of talks on Thursday evenings at 18.30.  To view the programme and register for any of them, follow the link.
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/london-natural-history-society-30790245484

Also, the Zoological Society of London is offering a series of lunchtime talks in February and March which you can either join, or watch on YouTube after the event. Go to:
https://www.zsl.org/science/whats-on/wild-lunch-wednesdays

A Brief Introduction to British Woodlice – a talk by Graham Bellamy on Tuesday 16th February (Zoom Recording)

Graham Bellamy’s talk to members – A Brief Introduction to British Woodlice–  is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from February 16th

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/WAInEQh1RL-UIHNSNWk-XrUdOmoPrJpk91pjOJiKQlctw0qrfw44ybIwzkacRpbM.29gKIt-VRs2DWmQx

Passcode: 4zRtR@Ka

Name these Tracks – Julie Lane

The 4 photos in this post were taken at RSPB Haweswater in Cumbria in the snowy conditions last week.

I thought people might enjoy trying to identify them. {If you click on a photo, you should be able to enlarge it.)

We can have a discussion at one of our zoom meetings in a few weeks’ time.

Tracks 1 (above) and 2 (below) were made by medium-sized creatures and we think we know who made them.

Track 2

Tracks 3 and 4 are smaller and although we have ideas we are not sure who left them in the snow.

Track 3

Track 4

Julie Lane
15 April 2021

Bucks Urban Peregrines – an update

Here’s a note taken from a Bucksbirding googlegroup posting from our County Bird Recorder about BUCKS URBAN PEREGRINE PROJECTS.  This is such great news for us all, especially peregrine fans! So, we have two MK sites for people near enough to keep an eye on during local exercise walks and a webcam hopefully coming on stream at Aylesbury again that we’ll all be able to watch from the comfort of home. [Sue Hetherington]

I thought I’d bring you up to speed with our breeding/ territorial Peregrines as I’m sure we could all do with some positive news during these tough times.

StadiumMK
Pair in residence and little doubt they’ll utilise the platform inside.

Old Wolverton
On-going project to erect a platform on the chimney, currently at the meetings and planning stage, hopefully progress soon.

Aylesbury
New cameras are being purchased, one with sound and both with night vision. With the kind assistance of a local ‘internet’ firm we hope to have these up and running and a nice clean platform within a couple of weeks. I’ll update when there’s developments.

Marlow (Church)
Project being run by ‘Wild Marlow’, a platform is currently being constructed and the plan is to have camera’s on that too.You will not be able to see the platform from the outside.

High Wycombe (Church)
Project with Dave Parmenter, we added some gravel to a hoped for nest site last year, and have plans to improve the site but Church currently closed due to the pandemic.

There are Peregrines, including pairs at other sites in the county. A favoured nest site in rural areas is pylons (old crows nests), so please be careful when submitting records to GoingBirding database at times when the species is not ‘blocked’.
Putting a record in for the site/ area can be really useful, but if there’s a pair around then please leave out- Pylon.

Good Birding

Mike Wallen
County Bird Recorder

BMERC’s Photo Competition 2021

For those who have been fired up by this year’s MKNHS Photo Competition, and wondering where else to submit your photos, BMERC’s Photo Competition 2021may be just the opportunity for you – see the details below extracted from their email to Recorders. Submission deadline is Monday 1st March.

You might also like to view the winners of the Natural History Museum’s People’s Choice Award 2021, for which the public can vote among 25 photos selected from the 49,000 entries to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition:  peoples-choice

BMERC wrote:

Dear Recorders
As we quite rapidly approach this year’s Recorders Seminar the whole BMERC Team are focussed on all manner of preparations, a key one currently is this year’s Photo Competition.  We are keen to encourage entries be they from total beginners dabbling in the visual arts to those of you who have been keen on the media for many years in a non-professional way; all are welcome.  Its free to enter; there are prizes!

So, as they days start to lengthen and all our thoughts turn to looking for spring, how about we dig out those hidden gems and give them a gentle airing. The deadline for submissions is March 1st. This year we have gone for a broader theme to give everyone more flexibility – “The Beauty and Magnificence of Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes: 2020 and beyond”.

To enter please fill in the attached form, rules and  conditions are explained on the second page. The form along with your photos should be  sent to erc@buckinghamshire.gov.uk   Please clearly mark the email as a Photo Competition Entry.

Both the guidance and the entry form are attached to this email, but can also be downloaded from the BMERC website at https://www.bucksmkerc.org.uk/seminar-2021

[The last link contains all the details for the BMERC Recorders Seminar, scheduled for Saturday 13th March, 2021.]

Best wishes
Julia Carey and The BMERC Team.
Environment Team, Planning, Growth and Sustainability Directorate
Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Environmental Records Centre (BMERC)
Buckinghamshire Council, 6th Floor, Walton Street Offices, Walton Street, Aylesbury HP20 1UY
Tel:            01296 382431
E-mail:      erc@buckinghamshire.gov.uk

The joy of allotments and how I make mine wildlife friendly – Jenny Mercer

(All photos © Jenny Mercer)

I have loved having my allotment over the past 10 years or so since I retired at 60, and during lockdown it’s been my space for respite and recovery.  It’s a place for me to get away from the dreariness and despondency of lockdown, long days with long patches of thinking “how can I fill my time?”. Actually I’ve always used my allotment to boost my mood; the only thing that changed during lockdown was that I decided not to plant up my greenhouse in 2020, just in case we were required to abandon visiting our plots (by government edict).

Also in my retirement I have always used my plot for ongoing exercise, in preference to housework, and in addition it has the advantage of being more productive! It’s also an opportunity to be sociable and to be as creative as I can to help wildflowers and wild animals. For me that includes wildlife-friendly veg and flower growing – I mix them together.

When I visit my allotment I generally take a book or magazine with me and a flask of tea. If I need to go shopping in Stony I often buy a newspaper and walk home to my house, by a slightly longer route … visiting my allotment on the way, pausing to read the paper whilst I am there. So as you can see, I’ve used my plot for recreation for a long time before the Coronavirus pandemic.

Usually I have a designated allotment bag by my front door with stuff to take to the plot on my next visit, e.g. vegetable waste for the compost bin, seedlings or seeds and sometimes a tool or two that’s usually kept at home. I frequently push a full wheelbarrow to and fro with potting compost, seedtrays and pots!

I operate a ‘no chemicals’ plot and have developed my own ‘no dig’ allotment project using green manure (especially phacelia) all the year round, and generally after clearing a crop. It stops the weeds and the insects love it. Some would say that the way I treat self-sown Swiss chard and Lambs lettuce are just like a green manure … but hey! they are deliciously edible and free too.

I always have a ‘fallow area’ for wildlife around raspberry canes and/or my strawberry bed with its mulch of straw from last year. I also generally leave just the last few of last year’s un-harvested parsnips and onions which have lovely flower heads and enhance insect life in spring.

Couch grass is a nuisance but I treat it as my rotation task each year; there is always a newly established area that it has invaded. I might put down cardboard to suppress it a bit and then I do have to dig or find a friend to help, as my back can’t stand the strain.

I usually put early potatoes in the former couch grass/newly dug over areas. Then I choose an area for legumes and plant climbing French beans, a few runners and token peas (usually sugar snap, as my grandsons love them for eating on plot). I try sowing roots – just a few carrots and parsnips, plus a few salad crops and most years I grow maize/sweet corn and buy in tomato plants and aubergines if I’m using the greenhouse.  In mid-summer I search for brassicas and plant-out purple sprouting broccoli and most years I plant broad beans in the autumn for an early spring crop.

Flowers that I grow on the allotment to attract in the pollinators are self-sown chamomile and feverfew, borage (which grows like the plague but is wonderful for insects), sweet peas, dahlias, gladioli, verbena bonariensis, California poppy and nasturtiums. Oh and cardoons, a giant thistle-like plant that I grow in a dust bin!

I aim to dead head the ‘weed’ flowers before they set seed to keep my neighbours happy. I use hedge clippers and sometimes a high cut with my strimmer to do this but I am very careful if I use the strimmer and often use a rake to clear a bit first to give any small mammals due warning.

Last summer Andy Harding used pheromone traps in amongst the fruit bushes to lure in male clearwings with some good success (see previous article on this website). He says he will be back next year to hunt for more moths in the area of our old apple trees.

I often come across toads when I am working on the allotment and a young hedgehog was found on the site last year. Overhead we often see red kites and buzzards riding the thermals and we had a sighting of two ring-necked parakeets flying across the allotments this January.

During the first lockdown I donated quite a few plants to the Freebies table, near the Orchard. As my plot is so close to the table I often get first pick when other plot holders come over to donate and often they have a socially-distanced chat with me.

So my allotment helps me to keep positive at this difficult time, provides me with physical exercise, lovely organic food, company and the joy of knowing that it benefits wildlife as well.

Jenny Mercer

North Bucks Bat Group – Winter meetings offer for MKNHS members

Our friends at North Bucks Bat Group have very generously offered free admittance to any of the remaining talks from their winter programme to MKNHS members.   Their programme can be found here. The final meeting, on 21st April 2021 might be of particular interest as it is about the “Bats in Churches” project that I have mentioned several times.

If any member is interested, please email Rhona Bate at chairman@northbucksbatgroup.org.uk stating which talk(s) are of interest.  Rhona will then add you to the mailing list for when she sends out the invite for that particular talk or talks.

Sue Hetherington

 

BCN Wildlife Trust online events in February

Peter Meadows has kindly drawn to our attention the latest Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust eNewsletter which includes information about two online talks in February;

Wednesday 10 February 2021, 7.30pm – 9.30pm
KBAs for Conservation: Lessons from Africa and Applications to Britain (Online Talk)   Identifying key biodiversity areas for conservation from Africa & applying them to Britain by Andy Plumptre.

Wednesday 17 February 2021, 7.00pm – 8.30pm
Flies: The good, the bad and the ugly
with John Showers (online and optional outdoor).  Come and join John Showers online as he shares some interesting facts about flies and their ecology.

You can book through the link above, or by going to the events page on the BCN website www.wildlifebcn.org

Duke of Burgundy Butterfly and Blue Lagoon LNR – Martin Kincaid

(Photo: Duke of Burgundy at Blue Lagoon Local Nature Reserve © Martin Kincaid)

The Duke of Burgundy Hamearis Lucina is the only European member of a large family of butterflies known as metalmarks – the Riodininae. In South America, these butterflies can be found in great diversity and numbers and species typically have iridescent, metallic colouring or patches on their upper wings. By contrast, the Duke of Burgundy is a rather modest insect with its chequered brown and black wings.

In England, this is an insect of sheltered, sunny hillsides and woodland clearings with abundant primrose or cowslip, which are its two larval foodplants. It has suffered a serious decline in Britain and is now considered a very rare species thinly distributed across southern England. However, a strong population is present at Totternhoe Knolls and Totternhoe Quarry and there are several populations in the Chiltern Hills. The species was lost at BBOWT’s Dancersend reserve but a re-introduction project, led by Mick Jones, is underway.

In early Summer 2018, a local naturalist told me that he had seen several Dukes (the popular shorthand) at Blue Lagoon LNR. Although I know Kevin to be knowledgeable about butterflies, I was sceptical at first and failed to find any when I visited Blue Lagoon in good weather. I did find the Latticed Heath moth, which is quite similar in appearance from a distance. I didn’t forget though and was delighted to find 3 Duke of Burgundy here on 26th May 2019 (rather late in their short flight season). One of these was clearly a male, typically aggressive towards any other passing butterflies and insects. They are pugnacious little creatures and will defend their favourite perch from anything that flies past. I was able to photograph both male and female Duke of Burgundy on this visit. The flight season in 2020 coincided with the first national Covid lockdown and although the weather was good throughout April I did not visit. Eventually, I did get to Blue Lagoon on 21st May. I did wonder if I might be too late given the high temperatures last spring, but fortunately I was able to locate two butterflies quite quickly. The area favoured by the Dukes seems to be the scrubby grassland to the south-east of the main pit.

Sadly, much of the habitat at Blue Lagoon has suffered in recent years from a lack of management. Several plant species have declined or been lost and with them some of the butterflies for which the site was known. The Green Hairstreak is still present but hard to find, the Small Blue much less frequent than in the past and the Grizzled Skipper has possibly disappeared. The discovery of the rare Duke of Burgundy is at least some compensation for these declines but it is crucial that management of the scrub resumes in the near future if one of Milton Keynes’ best spots for Lepidtoptera is to recover.

There are no records for Duke of Burgundy for Milton Keynes before 2018. It is possible that the species found its way here naturally from Totterhoe but we can’t rule out an unlicensed release.

Martin Kincaid
February 1st 2021

Mistletoe – a Seasonal Favourite?

(Photo above: Mistletoe in Central Milton Keynes © Mary Sarre)

My interest in this curious plant has been stimulated in the last couple of years, by coming across several occurrences locally, in Milton Keynes. This seemed to me quite odd, as I associate mistletoe with the apple orchards of the south-west, the orchards of Normandy, and poplar trees festooned with it in France (seen from the Autoroute).

So here is a little contribution to the botany of mistletoe, its distribution and association with certain birds, traditional beliefs and folklore, and some sightings here in MK.

Viscum album, to give it its Latin name, is a good indicator of its characteristics – it has the well-known white berries, which are viscous (sticky), in winter, giving rise to its traditional association with mid-winter festivities.  White-berried plants are unusual except in MK where the ‘snowberry’ (symphoricarpus) is used massively in grid-road plantings. Whether the snowberries are consumed by birds I don’t know, but the flowers do attract pollinating insects. Mistletoe is dioecious, i.e. having male and female parts on different plants. The leaves and stems are light green, typically branched at each node, producing a new ‘fork’ each year.


Viscum album by Stella Ross-Craig, 1969 (see references below)

Mistletoe is semi-parasitic on a range of trees, but the main ones are Apple (Malus), Lime (Tilia), Pear (Pyrus), Hawthorn (Crataegus) and Poplar (Populus), occurring in orchards, hedgerows, parks and gardens. It is not generally found in dense woodland (Simon Harrap, 2013).

Mistletoe occurs chiefly in the south of England and Wales, in lowland areas. It is spreading from the old orchards of its Herefordshire heartland to different species of trees in parks and gardens in Hereford, Ledbury, Bridgnorth and Westbury-on-Trym (Mabey, Flora Britannica). South Bucks and Hampshire are also ‘hot spots’.

Dispersal

In medieval times mistletoe seemed ‘magical’ in its appearance high in the host trees, evergreen and of a curious growth habit, appearing to spontaneously sprout from the tree. For centuries, mistletoe retained its magical, folkloric associations (see Richard Mabey for a wide-ranging account), and today its medicinal properties are still under investigation.

It was Philip Miller, curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden, who discovered that mistletoe could be established by smearing the sticky seed onto a suitable branch.

However, it is famously resistant to propagation by human hands (“none of the seeds placed on 14 different apple species in Kew Gardens in 1996 ‘took’ but one grew on an adjacent Hawthorn”. (Dr Ken Thompson, Gardening Which?, December 2020).

For long it has been assumed that the Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) was the primary disperser of the berries, as it attempts to remove the mucilaginous outer coat of the berry, raking its beak along a branch of the tree, and leaving its droppings in the tree.


Mistle Thrush ‘guarding’ his patch (Photo courtesy of The Woodland Trust)

To quote Dr Ken Thompson again, it appears that the Blackcap may now be a more effective distributor of mistletoe. He notes that the mistle thrush swallows the berries whole, and ejects the seeds randomly in its droppings. The Blackcap however eats only the skin and pulp of the seeds, wiping the sticky seeds off their beaks onto a branch. Once the seed is attached to a suitable branch, it sends out a ‘root’, a ’haustorium’ which penetrates the xylem of its host. The seeds are photosynthetic, so they need to be in the light.

Blackcaps, formerly mostly a summer visitor, are now frequently spotted in UK in winter (MKNHS sightings, November 2020). According to an article by Helen MacDonald, in Vesper Flights, German Blackcaps that have started spending winters here rather than in Africa may be directly responsible for spreading mistletoe to new areas of the British Isles. Which brings us back to our local area.

Local distribution

My notes cannot claim to be exclusive, and I would welcome any sightings from members. The first time I saw any mistletoe was in Great Linford Manor Park, a couple of years ago, in the venerable old lime tree near the canal. There are two balls/orbs high in the tree, obviously more visible in winter time (the park is open all year round). Julian Lambley drew my attention to another occurrence – in Simpson village – several orbs in two old Lime trees.  This made me wonder if the canal and the Ouzel valley could be the ‘corridor’ for extending the range of the Blackcap or Mistle Thrush.

A last sighting, in Central Milton Keynes, possibly on a young lime tree gave me pause – perhaps the mistletoe was ‘injected’ on a limb before planting, or a human hand was involved?

Mary Sarre
January 2021

Sources
Dr Ken Thompson, Plant ecologist, (Gardening Which?, Dec 2020 / Jan 2021)
Richard Mabey, Flora Britannica (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996)
Stella Ross-Craig, Drawings of British Plants, Vol XXVI (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1969)
Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights  (Jonathan Cape, 2020)
Simon Harrap, Harrap’s Wild Flowers (Bloomsbury, 2013)

Linford Lakes NR Moth Report for December, 2020 and Year End Summary – Gordon Redford

Above: December Moth. All photos © Gordon Redford

During the 10 years that I have been recording moths at Linford Lake Nature Reserve (LLNR), I have usually not run traps in November and December because the effort in setting traps up on late afternoons, transportation on foot of 12V batteries, then checking traps daily early mornings during the wet and windy months of the year when fewer moths are around anyway was not really worth it.  The installation on site of the permanent moth trap running off the mains electricity in August 2019 though has changed the efforts in/returns out balance.  December 2019 records of 52 moths counted and 10 species recorded was a good start and had me thinking that perhaps I should have made more effort in the previous 8 years.  December 2020, with the trap running 30 of the 31 days, was a disappointment with just 14 moths and 5 species recorded and has had me thinking that maybe I was right in the first place.

The 5 were December Moth, Winter Moth, Pale Brindled Beauty, Mottled Umber and Dark Chestnut.  Interestingly, all were singletons except the December Moth for whom 10 were counted.  Last year, December Moth numbered just 6.  The weather was pretty dire in December with more water on the site than I have ever seen in the 25 years that I have been visiting the site.  The photographs below taken on Christmas Eve shows the boardwalk from the car park on to the field at the back of the visitor centre and the field behind the centre.


Boardwalk from car park on to field at back of Centre


Field at back of Centre

It will be interesting to see what effect this extensive flooding will have on moth numbers next year.

Summary Of The Moths Recorded At Linford Lakes Nature Reserve 2020

Moth traps were run at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve on almost all of the 366 nights of 2020.  The traps were the large box on legs with a 125W Mercury Vapour bulb powered by mains electricity, a Robinson trap with a 125W Mercury vapour Bulb powered by a generator and three Skinner type traps, 2 with 40W actinic tubes and one with 2 x 2W LED lights powered by batteries.  The large box on legs was used almost consistently, the Robinson for about half of the year and the Skinners occasionally.

The total number of moths counted in 2020 was 18,059 and is the highest number recorded there in the ten years that I have been keeping regular records.  387 species were recorded which is just 2 less than the highest number of species recorded which was in 2019 from a total moth count of 17, 935.

The 387 species recorded in 2020 comprised 133 micro moths and 254 macro moths.  33 species were new to the site so that the total number of species now recorded at LLNR is now 560.  Excluding Acentria ephemerella, a micro moth which swarms on warm nights and are often too numerous to count, the most common species recorded were Common Wainscot with 1,703 moths counted followed by Large Yellow Underwing with 927.


Common Wainscot

The Common Wainscot numbers were a great surprise.  Moth numbers are known to have peaks and troughs, good years and poor years, but this number, some 5 times more than the previous best year,  had me checking to make sure that I had not double- or treble-pressed a number when entering the records but no, there were no errors on my part.  188 recorded on 18th August was the most in one night.  The caterpillars feed on grasses including Common Couch and Cock’s-foot which are abundant at LLNR.

Poplar Hawk-moths had their best year ever with 321 counted.  The previous best was 235 in 2017.  Elephant Hawk-moths too had their best year ever with 50 being counted between 23rd May to 29th July.


Poplar Hawk-moth

The Poplar Hawk-moth season in 2020 began on 3rd May and the last was caught on 11th September.  At LLNR over the ten years of recording, the species has consistently produced 2 generations of moths during the summer.

At the other end of the scale, species whose numbers had dropped significantly this year were July Highflier and Old Lady.


July Highflier

The July Highflier is one of three moths with the name highflier.  The others are the May Highflier and the Ruddy Highflier and, yes, they fly high around trees and bushes.  The July Highflier is very variable and often catches me out.  It is also quite skittish, taking off readily.  Caterpillars feed on sallows and willows amongst others so LLNR is well suited to their needs. 12 were recorded in 2020 whereas in the previous 6 years their numbers have been in the 30’s and 40’s.


Old Lady

The Old Lady was absent in 2020 having been present in the previous 6 years.  Her numbers have never been high, mostly in single figures.  The moth is known to come to sugar more readily than to light.  Sugaring is when a sweet concoction is prepared and painted on to tree trunks, wooden gates,  posts and was used in the past before light traps to attract moths.  I have sugared at LLNR in previous years but did not do so last year.

Of the 33 new moths recorded at LLNR in 2020, 20 were micro moths and 13 macro moths. There is  evidence that due to climate change some species are expanding their ranges and three of the macro moths could be among that group.  Dotted Fan-foot, Dark Crimson Underwing and Dewick’s Plusia form  the trio.

Dotted Fan-foot has been restricted to the wetlands of East Anglia, Essex and the Thames Estuary but 3 turned up, 2 on the 8th July and another on the 17th.


Dotted Fan-foot

The caterpillars feed on rushes and sedges and the habitat at LLNR is just right for this moth. My hopes are high that it might find a (6) foothold there.

The Dark Crimson Underwing is described in The Atlas of Britain and Ireland’s Larger Moths as “a resident and scarce immigrant confined to the New Forest and a few woods in Hampshire and south Wiltshire with signs of a recent increase in range”.  It appeared on 24th July and the photograph below, taken on the day, shows a rather worn and travelled specimen,


Dark Crimson Underwing

Its preferred habitat is large tracts of mature Oak woodland but nonetheless a good moth to have called in.

The third newcomer was Dewick’s Plusia.  I recorded 2 of these at home for the first time in September 2019.  The Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland lists the moth as an immigrant and possible recent colonist.


Dewick’s Plusia

It goes on to say the moth has been recorded in May and July-October and the flight season in mainland Europe, April-November.  My records for LLNR in 2020 are 26th April and 29th July and I have wondered whether the earlier record may be evidence of breeding locally.  It will be interesting to see if and when they turn up in 2021.

2020 was a good year for moths at LLNR.  If anyone would like a list of the moths recorded last year or, indeed, all my records for LLNR or would like to join me in opening up the traps early morning in 2021 (Covid permitting) , please contact me on gordonredford@hotmail.com.

Gordon Redford
20 January 2021

Identifying a mystery fungus – Julie Lane

On 11th December whilst walking in Salcey Forest I saw a toadstool that was a bit different to others I had seen around the place. On closer inspection I realised that it was attracting large numbers of gnats (probably a type of fungus gnat). I took some photos and sent them to a very helpful lady at Bucks Fungus Group.

Penny Cullington very kindly had a go at identifying several fungi that I have photographed but she always makes it clear that she cannot identify a fungus from a photo and would need the actual specimen to make a definite identification. I am always rather loath to uproot anything as even a toadstool, which is only the fruiting body of the fungal mycelia underground, is still providing a habitat for something even if it’s only a tiny gnat!

Penny was interested in the darker spots around the rim of the cap and thought that it might be something rather rare, as there have been quite a few unusual fungi around this year, but she needed to know when the photo was taken, what trees were nearby, did it have gills or spores and if gills what colour they were, etc. After providing her with this information, she was still only guessing so on our next visit to Salcey I finally relented, uprooted it and took it home.

Once I had harvested the toadstool you could see the white spores actually tucked inside the gills of the cap (see below).  Interestingly, I also noticed two little parasitic wasps on the cap which I assume were parasites of the gnat larvae (?) – another link in the chain of woodland life.

On Penny’s advice I carried out the following two procedures.

Sporeprint: Cut off the cap from the stem at the top. Set the cap gills-down on a piece of dark paper and cover it with a pot / bowl/ whatever to keep air currents out and leave it overnight somewhere cool (not in the fridge!). Next day, check to see if you have a thick deposit (we’re guessing it’s going to be pale cream to white, hence putting it on dark paper otherwise you won’t be able to see it!)

Drying: Now cut the cap into quarters and, together with the stem, put it spread out a bit gills up in the airing cupboard over the top of the hot water tank is ideal. The air needs to circulate around it so it’s best put on wire mesh – something like a cake-cooling rack as long as it’s not going to fall through! Then forget about it till after Christmas!

I managed to get a lovely sporeprint. I then cut it all up and dried it as requested and sent it to Penny.

Disappointingly, on receiving the sporeprint with its white spores and the dried material Penny now thinks it is most likely to be Clitocybe geotropa, the very common Trooping Funnel, and not the Clitocybe alexandri (now Clitopaxillus alexandri) which has only been recorded a few times in the country. She still says that she might send it off for DNA sequencing which is the next step for a definite diagnosis but I doubt that will change anything.

To be honest, it was what I suspected all along so I wasn’t surprised but I did find the whole process fascinating, from seeing the gnats swarming round the toadstool, to the process of getting a sporeprint and the final drying of the toadstool in my partner’s airing cupboard!! I will definitely try the sporeprints again in the future but still baulk at harvesting too many toadstools as they look so fabulous nestled amongst the leaf litter where they should be.

With many thanks for the help and advice from Penny Cullington of the Bucks Fungus Group. She’s the Secretary of the group and also the county recorder for fungi, so if you’d like more information about the group and its activities visit their website at www.bucksfungusgroup.org.uk/index.html.

Julie Lane
January 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gordon Osborn Fund – financial assistance for MKNHS naturalists

Friends,

The past twelve months have seen us living alongside a dreadful illness so severe and restrictive to our normal way of life, no other living person has seen the like in this country for well over a century!

One of the many consequences of this has been a reduction in the number of local wildlife-related projects carried out by skilled and enthusiastic people throughout the United Kingdom. You will not be surprised to learn our own MKNHS has no shortage of such talented individuals but finding the funds for these projects can be challenging.

A former member of our society, Gordon Osborn, generously bequeathed funds to us specifically for use by members of the MKNHS who need support for new or ongoing projects such as recording local wildlife, survey work in local areas, educational programmes, research and so on, in any field of natural history deemed as representative of our society’s aims and objectives.

The enhancement of knowledge of our local flora and fauna in such difficult times could be a daunting prospect; perhaps a little help from this unique fund can be the boost which is needed to transform a worthy project into a truly important and valuable contribution to our understanding of a particular patch’s importance or aspect of natural history or spreading ‘the word’ to others such that the future of our wild countryside and its inhabitants might be better assured.

Last year, understandably, no applications were received for help from this fund and so I am asking those of you who are interested in carrying out this vital work in your own time or as an extension to your normal working lives and who feel such financial assistance would benefit your particular project, to apply for some funding outlining the details of your work and what you would be using any grant for.

Generally, this would be in the region of a few hundred pounds but this is enough to purchase trail cameras, recording equipment, specialist books, computer programs, etc., which might otherwise be proving too much to fund from your own pockets.

So, please do apply for help from the Gordon Osborn Fund. That is what it is there for.

Further information can also be found in the MKNHS Guidance Handbook (page 11) found as a link in the Home section of this website or contact myself or Linda Murphy who are administrators of the fund.

Thank you and good luck.

Matt Andrews

Local wildlife summary – Autumn 2020

(Photo above: Goosander at Wolverton Mill © Julian Lambley)

Autumn has been generally mild locally but with heavy rain and floods in October and December. However, this has not discouraged members of our Society from exploring the local countryside and enjoying and recording the local wildlife.

This is a summary of members` observations noted mainly on the Society`s website from September to December.

Insects:  Autumn is not normally associated with an abundance of insects, particularly bees, but in September Martin Kincaid observed the Ivy Bee feeding, appropriately, on ivy flowers in his garden at Oldbrook. This bee was only first recorded in the south of the country in 2001, and since then has spread further north. This encouraged members to search around this area and we had further reports from Olney and Stony Stratford. In October, Martin discovered a nest of the Ivy bee in the ground at Stonepit Field.

It is not uncommon to find 7-spot Ladybirds in groups in winter but a cluster of over 150 16-spot ladybirds was recorded at Wolverton Mill in December. Gordon Redford regularly provides monthly reports of the moths found at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve and even in November he still recorded a total of130 moths of 21 species.

Mammals:  Otters have been regularly observed in local lakes this autumn, particularly Willen Lake, Linford Lakes Nature Reserve and in the River Ouzel in the Ouzel Valley Park, During October there was a report of an otter beside the canal at New Bradwell, then heading towards the balancing lake at Blue Bridge. In the middle of November there was also a report of a dead otter beside Childs Way, which passes beside Willen South Lake. During September there was a mink observed by Willen North Lake and 10 Chinese Water Deer seen at Magna Park.

Earlier in the year the group that record different species of mammal at Linford Lakes NR installed some more mammal nest boxes {the hole at the back not at the front as with bird nest boxes}. During late September there was a suspected dormouse nest in one of the newly installed boxes. In October Martin Kincaid inspected the box only to record what was believed to be a dormouse escaping.

Reptiles:  There have been several reports of grassnake found this autumn and a young slow-worm was recorded in September at Linford Lakes NR. Whilst we are still waiting for the adder to be confirmed in the Milton Keynes boundaries, they were recorded last October in Stockwell Park.

Fungi:  Autumn is a great time of the year for recording fungi and the Bucks Fungus Group (BFG) undertook a species count project during this period. It was encouraging to learn that they recorded 500 species, 32 species new to the county and at least 2 new to the UK {see the BFG’s article on the Society`s website}.

Birds:  Autumn is also the time of the year for observing an abundance of bird species; and this was no exception. Several special birds such as goosander, short-eared owls, large white egrets {4 seen at once at Linford Lakes Reserve in November}, a cattle egret and even a pair of ring-necked parakeet have been observed in several areas during this time around Milton Keynes.

During September wood sandpiper, ruff and a redstart were recorded at Willen together with hawfinch and common crossbill at Tattenhoe. October attracted a ruddy duck at the Floodplain Forest NR, Old Wolverton; a mandarin duck and Egyptian goose at Linford Lakes NR, and a lesser spotted woodpecker and a yellow-browed warbler at Tattenhoe.

Highlights during November also included two ravens at Newport Pagnell, a common scoter at the Blackhorse Lake (next to the Linford Lakes reserve), and a great northern diver and an escapee Ross`s goose at Caldecotte Lake. The lesser spotted woodpecker was again recorded at Little Linford Wood. During this month Kenny Cramer, whilst bird ringing at Linford Lakes, recorded a long-eared owl. Records in December included a bittern at Linford Lakes, white-fronted geese and a possible Bewick’s swan at the Floodplain Forest reserve, and bearded tit at both Willen and Walton Lakes.

These records, collected mostly by members of the Society, are proof that during these present restrictions there is plenty of wildlife to enjoy. So, wrap up, exercise those legs, and enjoy the abundance of wildlife locally. Spring is not far away.

Tony Wood

Hazel Dormice in Northamptonshire – A talk by Dr Gwen Hitchcock on Tuesday 12th January (Zoom Recording)

Gwen Hitchcock’s talk to members  on ‘Hazel Dormice in Northamptonshire’  is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from January 12th.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/MW8SbIwG_M1lnOt2cTUC66ntKX9XdHxzRwvpvZvFiTL5u0D5RwvYIMmBxHpoTY0M.1Qt56AN5aLq8veCw

Passcode: s9Rg#!5Y

 If you would like to contact Gwen about volunteering to help with Dormouse checking or habitat management in Northants or in Bucks, you can contact her at Gwen.Hitchcock@wildlifebcn.org.  She will forward messages to the relevant people in either Northants or Bucks.

Camera Icon

MKNHS Annual Photographic Competition 2021

Due to the fact that we are unable to meet in person at the moment and the date for a return to the Cruck Barn is not yet certain, we have decided to run the competition via the Society’s website with voting by email. The process and timetable are explained below.

The competition is for the Ron Arnold Shield. Ron Arnold was an early member of the Society and a keen photographer. The competition was set up in his memory.

The competition is open to all members of the Society. Any non-members who would like to participate are welcome to join in order to take part (https://mknhs.org.uk/membership-2/ )

There are four categories:

  1. Birds
  2. All other animals, including mammals, fish, insects etc.
  3. Plants and fungi.
  4. Habitats, geological, astronomical.

The following rules apply:

  • This year, as foreign travel has been so restricted, images for all categories should have been taken in the UK between January 2020 and January 2021
  • Domestic animals and cultivated plants are not eligible.
  • People must not be a major subject of any photograph.

Format guidelines:

  • Digital images only can be entered, by email to Photos2021@mknhs.org.uk
  • Please use jpg files. Maximum file size 4MB
  • They can be horizontal (landscape) or vertical (portrait).
  • Each member may enter a maximum of 2 images per category. (That’s 8 images in total). If you are submitting more than 4 images, please split between 2 emails, or use WeTransfer.
  • Please state the category of entry for each image and provide a brief caption for each photo stating when and where taken and species if known/relevant. If you submit more than one photo, make sure it is clear which caption goes with each photo!

May the best photograph win! It could be yours!

Paul Lund

 

How the 2021 Photo competition will be run, and key dates:

  1. Send your entries to the mailbox (Photos2021@mknhs.org.uk) by 11pm on 26 January 2021
  2. Members’ photos will be posted in the four categories on the web site photo competition page (Photo Competition 2021) one week after the deadline (i.e. on 02 February 2021)
  3. Members have a week to decide their choice of top two per category for Round 1. Members send in their choices by email to the same mailbox. (Votes to be received by 09 February 2021)
  4. The votes are counted and the top 8 photos selected. The top eight photos are posted on the website one week after the deadline for voting in round 1. (i.e. by 16 February 2021)
  5. Members have one week to send in their votes for the top three photos. (Votes to be received by 23 February 2021)
  6. Votes are counted and the top 3 selected.
  7. Winners are announced at the MKNHS Zoom meeting on 02 March 2021 one week after the deadline for voting for round 2.
    Winning photos will be shown at this meeting and winners will be asked to say something about their photos.
  8. The final 8 will be put on the website gallery page for the photo competition winners 2021.
  9. The winner will be presented with the Ron Arnold Shield* to hold for the year (when conditions allow). Their name will be engraved on the shield and they will receive a miniature shield to keep.

Please Note! Photos MUST be sent in by 11pm on 26 January 2021 at the latest!

Entries will NOT be accepted after 26 January 2021.

Votes cast after the deadlines for Round 1 and Round 2 will not be counted….

Please note that by submitting photos you are agreeing to your images being displayed on the Society website. Images displayed in the Society gallery after the competition will show attributed copyright.

Nature 365 – daily wildlife videos

A photographer friend has also recommended the Nature 365 website to me. When you sign up you will receive one email a day for the whole of 2021 showing a video clip of wildlife in Minnesota and elsewhere around the world.

https://www.nature365.tv/project

The following link gives a flavour of what to expect:
https://www.nature365.tv/video/2021-01-14-hokkaido
Alternatively, go to the Nature 365 website, and select ‘Archives’, where you will find the video clips so far posted this year.

I am looking forward to it and think it is something that others might enjoy as well. We all need uplifting moments in nature at present and as we can’t travel far from our local patch this is a way of escaping into the wild without actually leaving our homes.

Julie Lane

(Photo © Jim Branderburg)

 

Winter Tree Identification – Talk by Dr Alan Birkett on 5th January 2021 (Zoom recording)

Alan Birkett’s talk to members  on ‘Winter Tree Identification’  is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from January 5th.

Link: Alan Birkett’s Zoom recording

Passcode: SyepT8&&

The website which Alan referred to is www.treeguideuk.co.uk

The email address to contact him with photos and requests for help with Tree ID is alan@treeguideuk.co.uk

New Year Plant Hunt: what and when it is, how to take part, and which species to look out for

The New Year Plant Hunt is an annual event run by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland when people – whether absolute beginners or experienced naturalists – across Britain and Ireland head out to see how many wild or naturalised plants (not garden plants) they can find in bloom in their local area at midwinter.

Take part to find out how our wild flowers are responding to changes in autumn and winter weather patterns. But be quick as it ends on 4th January…

More information can be found here: New Year Plant Hunt

(Photo by Roger Bradshaw on Unsplash)

Evolving your garden for wildlife – Joe Clinch

Some 41 years ago my wife Hilary and I had the opportunity to plan our garden from scratch: the area was an arable field growing barley immediately before development took place in the south west quadrant of Stony Stratford. The soil is a heavy loam over clay and is slightly alkaline. The original plan was not strongly influenced by the needs of wildlife but fortuitously it did include flower- and fruit-producing shrubs and trees (cotoneaster, pyracanthus, crab apple, holly, bird cherry, apple and plum) as well as buddleia and sycamores on one boundary (the last courtesy of MK Development Corporation). For the rest, it was planned as a conventional lawn with small flower beds and vegetable plot. The shrubs and trees are mostly still extant and have proven to be a good investment for wildlife providing cover and attracting winter bird species such as resident and winter visiting thrushes, tits, sparrows, finches, an occasional redpoll, and for one memorable period in spring 2017 a small flock of Waxwings. In spring and early summer, the blossom is also good for insects of all sorts particularly bees and bumble bees: the trees are visited by other common woodland garden birds all year round.


Waxwings (Photo © John Clinch)

Gardens evolve over time and ivy has established itself as an important additional species for wildlife. Planned changes have seen the vegetable plot added to the lawn and the flower beds reduce in area as the shrubs and trees become dominant. It is the lawn itself which has taken my main garden attention over the past 20 years.

From lawn to mini ‘meadow’

Garden lawns grown from seed are usually made up of a limited range of the coarser grass species. My aim in converting to a meadow ecosystem was to increase the biodiversity of the area with more species of flowering plants, which in turn would attract more invertebrates (butterflies, moths, bees, beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, snails, slugs, and more), and again in turn more vertebrates (frogs, toads, and newts), and their predators (I do not have a pond so I must thank two of my neighbours for the semi-aquatic species). The main top predators to date have been birds, bats, Grass Snake (just once), and the occasional Hedgehog – a mini food chain.  ‘Meadow’ is not a precise term but mine now provides some succession of flowering plants alongside the grasses over the early spring to September period: one area is in semi shade under fruit trees and the other in full sun with a mown lawn path between them.


Grass Snake (Photo © Joe Clinch)

Which new plants to introduce and how?

It is an option to just let nature take its course and see what happens once you stop mowing and fertilising the lawn.  My first venture into creating a meadow area was driven by a wish to include Snakeshead Lily (Fritillaries) which were purchased in flower and put into the ground during April. Some ten plants in flower were dug into the lawn in semi shade and these have multiplied very successfully from their seed since then. I have had similar successes with planting flowering Cowslips and Primrose; less so with Ragged Robin and Meadow Cranesbill,  but I keep trying. In other cases. I have introduced wild seed either in the autumn or early spring having first scraped the lawn with a rake. The one ‘must have’ species is Yellow Rattle which will help to control the dominance of the existing grasses on which it is semi-parasitic.


Snakeshead Fritillaries (Photo © Joe Clinch)

I have been surprised by the variety of what appears on its own account. For example, Ox-eye Daisy, Sweet Violet, Germander Speedwell, Bulbous Buttercup, Self-Heal, Black Meddick, Cut-Leaved Cranesbill, Common Vetch, Marjoram, Knapweed and Wild Carrot have all established themselves without intervention. Others have appeared and, disappointingly so far, then disappeared including Bee Orchid, Pyramidal Orchid, Twayblade and Lady’s Bedstraw.

The succession with overlaps between them starts in early spring with Sweet Violet and Primrose; April, Snakeshead Fritillary; Cowslip in May; Ox Eye Daisy, Bulbous Buttercup, Yellow Rattle, Self-Heal and grasses through late May, June to early July; and finally, Wild Carrot and Knapweed through to September.

Pyramidal Orchid (Photo © Joe Clinch)

Management

Depending on the weather I usually mow over the meadow areas not later than early March on a high setting.  During the growing season I try to balance the need for ‘weeds’ to be controlled while at the same time avoiding trampling on the species I am trying to encourage! So, what is a ‘weed’ in a garden meadow?  Since the primary objective is biodiversity I consider as a weed any species that will dominate if not controlled. This includes some of the coarse grasses even with Yellow Rattle well established (e.g. Rye Grass and Cocksfoot), Ragwort, Common Cleavers, Dandelion, and tree seedlings. In fact the plant which has proved most difficult to control is a highly invasive garden geranium species!

I cut the meadow after the seeds have set. For early flowering plants like the fritillaries this may be mid-July but for others it will be from mid-August to early September. Before cutting I collect the seed of those plants which I want to spread elsewhere. As to cutting, my preferred method is with shears on hands and knees. This has a number of advantages: you can control the height at which you cut; there is less ‘collateral’ damage to wildlife in the meadow (e.g. resident frogs); and it also allows selective removal of the ‘weeds’ that I have been unable deal with during the growing period. I let the cut material dry off for further seed fall and then compost. I do a high cut mow over the area during September and October before winter sets in.

Find out more and give it a try

Julie Lane offered some very helpful generic advice on Gardening for Wildlife on the website as a follow up to the 17th November Members’ evening on this topic. There is also much published material about gardening for wildlife and if you are interested in creating your own mini meadow you may want to follow one of these up (e.g. https://rspb.org.uk/get-involved/startawildlfowermeadow or just put ‘RSPB start a wildflower meadow’ in your search engine). It really can make a difference to your garden’s biodiversity and whilst it is not maintenance-free, it is for no better cause!

Joe Clinch
January 2021

Occupation in my swift box! – Sue Hetherington

Obviously not a swift (they will be somewhere over central African airspace) but a blue tit! We have a nestcam fitted which in the swift season we monitor constantly but have never had a sniff of a swift. However, this little fella comes at dusk and leaves at daybreak. Pay no attention to the timestamp on the picture, it isn’t right but we can’t figure how to change it. This pic was grabbed a couple of mornings ago at daybreak, just before it flew.

Sue Hetherington

Two links from Sue Hetherington: BMERC newsletters and E-W Rail link

BMERC Newsletters

Sue has suggested that the BMERC newsletters may be of interest to members – these are a relatively new development, since the first lockdown.  For example, the latest issue (Autumn 2020) includes a great write up about the activities of the North Bucks Dormouse Group, among others of interest (not least one written by Sue.)

https://www.bucksmkerc.org.uk/news-and-events/

You can sign up to receive these newsletters on a regular basis, contacting BMERC.

East-West Rail: Environmental surveys underway

For those who are interested in, or concerned about, the potential environmental impact of the East-West Rail link between Oxford, MK, Bedford and on to Cambridge, their website is very informative about plans and progress. https://eastwestrail.co.uk/

Of particular interest may be the environmental surveys they are conducting, which can be found here: https://eastwestrail.co.uk/the-project/land-and-property

“As we develop the project we need to undertake surveys in and around the area, to learn as much as we can about the land and local environmental features. Understanding these important characteristics at this early stage of the project will help us identify the potential benefits and impacts of the project and get the right design for the communities we’re serving and the environment.”

There is also a potentially useful interactive map, which you can access through the Community Hub part of the site.

Latest from BCN Trust and Forest of Marston Vale

Peter Meadows has suggested the following may be of interest to members:

The latest newsletter from the Forest of Marston Vale contains news of their tree planting plans, including two new sites adjacent to Houghton House (between Ampthill and Houghton Conquest), as part of the government’s Trees for Climate progamme. These will comprise a total of 54 hectares, the first 16ha site being planted with native trees and shrubs by March 2021. See:  https://www.marstonvale.org/news/trees-for-climate-launch

And Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northants Wildlife Trust latest news contains news of ‘an exciting new landscape project’: Bedfordshire Chalkscapes.  “The Chilterns Conservation Board has been awarded £232,600 of development funding by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to design Chalkscapes. This exciting new landscape project looks to inspire a wide range of communities in Central Beds, Luton and Herts to take action for nature and wildlife. You can read more at: https://www.wildlifebcn.org/news/bedfordshire-chalkscapes

 

 

 

 

A message from our Chairman

As we have reached the end of our autumn programme it seems a good moment to thank everyone who has participated in our Zoom sessions and helped to make them a success. Your contributions to members’ evenings and engagement with speakers has been brilliant.  I can vouch for the fact that whilst giving a presentation over the medium of Zoom works, it is very difficult to gauge an audience’s response, even one I know so well so I was grateful for your comments and appreciation after my own effort.  In the same way, it has been wonderful to see so many contributions to the news and sightings pages on the website which has doubled its number of ‘page views’ or visitors to the site over this time last year. It looks as if there may be some light at the end of the COVID tunnel now and the fact that one or two Society members have already had their first vaccination is a great Christmas present.  We will nevertheless have to continue to be careful for some time yet, and as you’ll have seen, our spring programme will resume on Zoom from January 5th with another varied and interesting programme which hopefully has something for everybody.

May I wish each and every one of us a warm, peaceful and happy Christmas and a 2021 with a different and better outcome to the past twelve months.

I look forward to seeing you in what we all hope will be a better New Year, filled with amazing wildlife.

Matt

(Photo by zhan zhang on Unsplash)

Bucks Fungus Group update – Members’ Finds Autumn 2020

Extract from a recent email sent by Penny Cullington to members of Bucks Fungus Group, of which MKNHS is one:

Though the group’s activities have been somewhat curtailed this year I just wanted to alert everyone to the amazing achievement of those members who’ve been contributing to our Members’ Finds Autumn 2020 project, ongoing since the beginning of September online. We seem to have reached the staggering total of 500 different species all photographed across the county!

Contributions have been sent in by 34 members, mostly requiring identification by me (with Derek’s advice at times), sometimes named by the sender either with or without the use of a scope and then confirmed by me, a few collections have even required molecular sequencing and have proved to be exciting finds. May I thank all of you who’ve sent me photos – it’s been a fascinating exercise which I’ve much enjoyed. On our lengthy list we have many species previously recorded only once or twice in Bucks, 32 species entirely new to the overall county list, two of which are now molecularly proven to be new to the UK and several more awaiting testing may prove to be equally significant. Wow, what an autumn season!

Photos and information about the finds can be found on the BFG website:
http://www.bucksfungusgroup.org.uk/finds.htm

 

Wildlife locations – notes from Members Evening, 8.12.20

Linford Wood (Photo © The Parks Trust)

Dreaming of a holiday next year or perhaps just a nice day out? A selection of wildlife venues recommended by our members at the members evening on Tuesday 8th December is available to download through the following link:

Wildlife Venues MKNHS 8 Dec 2020

They include:

  • Our favorite wildlife sites in Buckinghamshire – Mary and Phil Sarre
  • Lochgarten and the surrounding area – Linda Murphy
  • Linford Wood – Joe Clinch
  • Ashland Lakes – Peter Barnes
  • Tattenhoe – Harry Appleyard
  • Aigas Field Centre – Julie Lane
  • Near and far – Sue Hetherington (including the Farne Isles and Bempton Cliffs, among many other suggestions)

 

Quiz Night – Winners!

Our annual Quiz Night was held on Tuesday 1st December. This year things were a bit different due to meeting on Zoom, so instead of deciding who to sit with and sharing our refreshments, teams were put together randomly using Zoom Breakout Rooms and we had to provide our own refreshments.

As usual Ann and Mark put together a very varied and challenging selection of questions that not only tested natural history knowledge but also our memory of recent stories from the news and managed to sneak in a bit of Greek at the last minute, just when we thought we’d got away with it this year! The winning team of Julie, Martin, Helen, Kenny and Mike romped home ahead of the field. Well done to them and to everyone who took part, and thanks again to our quiz hosts, Ann and Mark.

We look forward to next year’s quiz and hope that we’ll be back in the Cruck Barn as usual by then!

Linford Lakes NR Moth Report: November 2020 – Gordon Redford

Above: Angle Shades (All photos © Gordon Redford)

It is only in the past 2 years that I have continued recording moths regularly in November because there is much less moth activity in the winter months and the weather is often not that good for those that are on the wing.  130 moths of 21 species, were attracted to lights and there were 4 of the 30 evenings  when none were recorded.  I do have some records going back to 2014 though, so that at the beginning of November 2020, the November list for LLNR stood at 23 species.  By the end of November that number had increased by 4.  The additions were not new to the site and were a Diamond-back Moth, Rusty-dot Pearl, Turnip Moth and a Large Yellow Underwing.  The first 2 are micro-moths and immigrants.  The Turnip may also have been an immigrant and the Large Yellow Underwing likely to have been a resident making a rather late showing in November.

The Diamond-back moth is one of a group of seven moths from the Plutellidae family who rest with the wings held roof-like at a steep angle with the antennae pointing forward as in the photograph.  The moth has world-wide distribution and has even been recorded in numbers within the Arctic Circle.  The caterpillars feed on Cabbage and are a pest in some parts of the world.


Diamond-back Moth

The Rusty-dot Pearl has been recorded in Great Britain in every month of the year and migrates from Central and Southern Europe.  It has a wingspan of 18-22mm and is thought to raise 3 broods per year.  The caterpillars feed on a variety of plants including Burdocks and Mints.


Rusty-dot Pearl

Exactly half of the 130 moths counted were from 2 species, the December Moth with 45 appearances and the Feathered Thorn with 20.  Both of these species were featured in the report for October.  9 of the species recorded in October were also recorded in November.  These were December Moth, Feathered Thorn, Red-green Carpet, Angle Shades, Large Wainscot, Red-line Quaker, Yellow Line Quaker, Brick and Lesser Yellow Underwing.  Curiously, there were no Epirrita species recorded during the month.  These include the November Moth, the Pale November Moth and Autumnal Moth.

The Mottled and Scarce Umbers made their first appearances of the year. The Umbers are interesting because their females are flightless. The Latin name for the Mottled Umber is  Erannis defoliaria  which translates as a ‘Lovely to behold defoliator’.  The defoliator part is reference to the caterpillars that can be so numerous as to strip trees bare of foliage.  The males can be very variable.

Mottled Umber

The Scarce Umber is not really a scarce moth and there were more of them than Mottled Umbers in November at LLNR this year.  Like the Mottled Umber, the caterpillars feed on a wide variety of broadleaved trees and shrubs and overwinter as eggs.


Scarce Umber

The Satellite was recorded on 3 occasions. The 2 small dots, the satellites, either side of the small kidney mark, are diagnostic.  It overwinters as an adult becoming active in mild weather.  The caterpillars unusually are omnivorous, feeding on plants initially and later, when larger, preying on other moth larvae.

Satellite

The Angle Shades turned up for the second year in a row in November at LLNR.  The crinkle in the wing gives the moth a look of a withered leaf.  It has been recorded nationally in every month of the year but mainly April to early July and late July to November in 2 generations with the second bolstered by immigrants.

Angle Shades

Gordon Redford
4th December 2020

Autumn Jewels: Salcey Forest – Julie Lane

Over the past few years we have developed the routine of walking the 4.6 mile circuit around Salcey Forest twice a week. This has been great for our fitness but has also meant that we get to see the forest in all its seasons.

Last winter was a bit devastating as they took 4000 tonnes of timber (a lot of it oak) out of the forest. The huge machines they use for this operation create so much damage and destruction and it was heart-breaking to witness.  However, nature is so good at recovering and the extra light allowed into the canopy seemed to have provided opportunities for quite a lot of insects, especially butterflies, to thrive this summer. There were good numbers of silver-washed fritillaries, skippers, whites and speckled woods around and I saw a clouded yellow down one of the rides at the same time as a veritable swarm of hornets!

But I thought I would share with you a few of the autumn highlights in picture format as follows:

  • the trooping funnel toadstool which get its name as it tends to pop up in lines around the wood
  • a very large pumpkin dumped in the wood to feed the wild creatures 🙂
  • the red necklace beads of black bryony
  • the stunning pink berries of spindle with their bright orange seeds
  • a fallen oak leaf with its droplets of water
  • and finally, a harbinger of the Spring and happier times to come – the first hazel catkins

 

Julie Lane
December 2020

MKNHS Calendar 2021 – Now available

Dear members.

For the very first time, MKNHS has produced its own A4 calendar for 2021. The calendar features twelve beautiful images of wildlife taken in and around Milton Keynes, by twelve different Society members. Harry Appleyard and myself  have selected images and designed the calendar. We are fortunate to have many talented wildlife photographers in our ranks so this is a fitting way to celebrate that. Many of the shots were taken during the first lockdown in Spring/Summer 2020. An image of the front cover can be seen above.

We are selling the calendars at the very reasonable price of £10.00 each – excellent value for money. To order calendars, simply email Martin Kincaid: mkincaid1971@outlook.com stating how many calendars you would like, and your postal address. The calendars – with envelopes –  will be hand delivered in December. We would prefer payment by cheque, payable to MKNHS, otherwise by cash.

If there is enough interest this year, we hope to repeat this next year…and include pictures taken by other members.

Marin Kincaid

My Octopus Teacher – a recommendation

A note from Julie Lane:

I would like to strongly recommend the following film to anyone who has access to Netflix. It’s called My Octopus Teacher and is an amazing documentary about a diver and photographer in South Africa who forms a relationship with a wild common octopus. It was filmed over the period of a year in a cold underwater kelp forest at a remote location in False Bay, near Cape Town.

The photography is stunning and it gives a wonderful insight into the life of the octopus and the effect it has on the man himself. Very moving and beautiful!

Treezilla – Talk by Dr Phil Wheeler on 24th November (Zoom recording)

Phil Wheeler’s talk to members  “Treezilla – the monster map of trees”  is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from November 24th.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/Gu9E6WSIkdqJABvUArGzovkF72Mqn5VwPTwjst59hzxytExeKkRMg0vhjalaekLz.LLdYLvhybkochbik

Passcode: &N=v3I+%

Gardening for Wildlife: Notes from Members Evening, 17.11.20 – Julie Lane

Above: Bugingham Palace – Sue Hetherington’s Bug Hotel (Photo © Sue Hetherington)

Following Tuesday’s members evening exploring how to make our gardens even better for wildlife I have put together a summary of our discussion, some ideas of my own and a few useful links and recommendations of books. Thank you to all the people who contributed and sent me information and thoughts afterwards. Please feel free to write in (via the Contact us link) and tell us about your own personal gardens and what you are doing to make them more wildlife friendly and include some photos. It will be a way of bringing a taste of spring and summer into our lockdown lives.

One of our members suggested that we could put together a list of ‘Star’ plants for wildlife so I would be very interested to hear about your favourite plant. Ann suggested ivy and comfrey and mine would be pulmonaria officinalis (common lungwort).

Jenny sent me the following link which talks about allotments and their mental health benefits.
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/nov/08/its-official-allotments-are-good-for-you-and-for-your-mental-health

Martin K told me about a course run by the Field Studies Council on ‘Garden wildlife health, and what citizen science can tell us about the importance of gardens for biodiversity’. Here is the webpage: https://www.field-studies-council.org/biolinks-courses/

Sue sent me the following book recommendations:

  1. The Royal Horticultural Society Companion to Wildlife Gardening by Chris Baines which is a revised edition of How to Make a Wildlife Garden.  Published 2016, Frances Lincoln Publishers Ltd. (Currently out of print.)
  2. Wild your Garden by “The Butterfly Brothers” (Jim and Joel Ashton). Published 2020, Dorling Kindersley.

Members Garden visits

It was mentioned that Joe Clinch has a lovely meadow in his garden in Stony Stratford and as I also know that there are others living in Stony with lovely gardens I wondered if it might be possible for us to have a day next summer when we can organise a visit to a few of these gardens. Joe has kindly offered for us to come and have a wander around his garden.

A summary of our thoughts during Tuesday’s discussion

Thanks to Mervyn and Martin F for taking notes.

Hedgehogs

It is especially important to set up hedgehog highways – small holes under fence. They don’t need to be big – 13cm x 13cm is recommended.

Hedgehogs love fallen fruit from fruit trees

Purpose-built homes for wildlife

Mixed success with swift boxes and artificial house martin nests. Swift boxes are often not occupied but they might take a few years to move in. They are often used by other birds such as starlings and sparrows. It was suggested that one could block the access until later on in the year when the swifts arrive. Artificial martin nests can be useful to attract martins into the eaves even if they don’t actually use the nests but build a nest alongside – they are communal nesters so are attracted to eaves with nests already present.

We also talked about bat boxes and it seemed that these too have limited use by bats.

Meadows

It was suggested that you can simply add seed to existing grass sward (this is not always particularly successful as the ranker grasses can out compete the resulting small seedlings)

Can provide useful cover for frogs, newts and grass snakes.

Ponds

Best times to clear out a pond is the autumn.
One member had obtained a good pond kit from the RSPB

Plants to grow

  • Ivy for pollen and berries and cover.
  • Holly for berries
  • Comfrey for nectar – it is also the food plant for the scarlet tiger moth
  • Pyracantha,
  • Cotoneaster,
  • Crab apple variety golden hornet
  • Fruit trees
  • Rowan for flowers and berries

General tips

  • Climbers are good for birds’ nests.
  • You can work with your neighbours in providing a range of habitats and sharing your interests
  • Sheds without windows can provide very good nest sites.
  • Can leave out chicken bones etc for foxes (this might cause a problem with rats!)
  • Wood mice love runner beans.
  • When tidying up for winter don’t overdo it: especially in green houses and sheds, there may be nooks and crannies which are hibernating places so be careful not to disturb.
  • Avoiding everything harmful to wildlife: one member stressed the need to avoid the use of chemicals in gardens. Also take care with netting.
  • Seeing wildlife: One member has recently used a wildlife camera to identify which animals are using his garden and was disappointed with the result – Identifying a rat, a cat and a wood pigeon J  Although one member regularly saw foxes and badgers in his garden.
  • Birds such as robins and blackbirds can become very tame if fed – they love mealworms.
  • Rotted wood chip provides a good home for newts and frogs.
  • Nest boxes – pros and cons of different heights. Safety from cats and other ground predators.

Challenges

  • Corvids taking bird food and predating on birds’ nests
  • Several people are finding that they have fewer or no frogs in their gardens but more newts.
  • The right location for bug hotels is important – sunny is best?

Below are a selection of notes that I prepared for Tuesday. I thought they might be useful for others to read:

Introduction

So can we really make a difference to the fortunes of wildlife in our gardens?

Dr Jennifer Owen systematically recorded every living thing in her suburban Leicester garden from 1972 over a thirty year period and found 2,673 species including 7 insects new to the UK, 4 of which were new to science.

The presence of this huge diversity has been backed up by an increasing body of work and as the nation’s gardens cover about 4300square kilometres we can actually provide homes for a whole host of wildlife if we so choose.

This past year has demonstrated to many of us how much we need our outside spaces and how much healing and joy they provide in a restricted world.
There does not need to be a conflict between our personal requirements in a garden and those of wildlife – a well-designed and planned garden can cater for both. Diversity is important in terms of different habitats, having flowers and berries available for as long a season as possible and providing nooks and crannies for a wide variety of creatures to inhabit.
If you don’t have a garden then allotments are another option offering you the chance to manage a bit of space for your own personal produce but also for wildlife.

Gardens can be complex habitats and as we have designed them to provide shelter from the elements for ourselves so they provide shelter to many creatures. Many bird species now find refuge in gardens as the wider countryside is no longer so hospitable for them. Amphibians such as frogs, newts and grass snakes also often use garden ponds as these habitats are rapidly disappearing in the countryside.

Diversity and Design

  1. Different features we could have for wildlife in a garden.
    Ponds, bog gardens, water and drinking baths, spring and summer meadows, flowery lawns, beds for arable weeds, hedges, trees, shrubs, fences and walls covered in climbers, piles of stones or stone walls etc., log piles, compost heaps, leaf bins, homes for wildlife (hedgehog houses, bee and bug hotels, bird and bat boxes ) bird feeders, vegetable plots or allotments
  2. If you were starting from scratch how could you create a strong design with wildlife in mind (what to put where, different garden shapes and sizes)?
    Try to create a strong design on paper first so that the garden is pleasing on the eye and covers all the requirements you have for a garden as well as the wildlife (make a list first). Think about shapes, sightlines and divide the garden into rooms if you have the space. Try to have the wilder areas away from the house and at the edges of the garden but try to link up these habitats so that there are corridors between them. Think about the animals you are trying to attract and consider what they need for food, drink, shelter from weather and predators, safe places to have their young etc.

Meadows and flowery lawns

  1. What are the different ways in which meadows and flowery lawns are important for wildlife? Pollen and nectar for insects, food for insect larvae etc, cover and food for small mammals, amphibians, they improve the soil therefore good for soil invertebrates
  2. Types of meadow – spring (containing spring flowers and bulbs), summer (late summer flowering plants) and flowery lawns.
  3. Establishment (soil fertility, seeding versus plugs plants or leaving to colonise naturally). Meadows establish better on poorer soils but if you have a fertile soil you can still have a meadow but you need to establish strong growing plants and introduce yellow rattle. Plug plants work best on rich soils but seed works on poor soils. Flowery lawns tend to be colonised naturally by flowering plants.
  4. Management (when to cut, how much and what to cut with) Spring cut in June, summer cut in September. And remove all cuttings to reduce fertility – into a heap for grass snakes. Leave some areas long each year for butterfly larvae and cover. Use shears, a hand scythe or a reciprocating mower depending on area to be cut.
  5. Plants to include for spring and summer – primroses, snakes-head fritillaries, cowslips, bugle, for spring.  scabious, oxeye daisies, knapweed, meadow cranesbill for summer

Providing for wildlife all year round

  1. Food – Bird seed especially important in winter and spring, hedgehog food especially important in spring, in dry spells and in autumn, plants for nectar and pollen for as long as possible throughout the year, berries for hungry winter birds. Lawns are good for worms and cranefly grubs etc. Do not use herbicides or pesticides as the balance will be upset and pests will become a problem.
  2. Homes – trees, climbers and shrubs for nests, ponds, log piles, messy quiet corners, bird boxes,
  3. Plants to grow for nectar pollen and berries – ivy is one of the best but it has to be left to fruit, wild flowers generally better for nectar and pollen but single flowers better than compound (some ornamental varieties don’t have any nectar or pollen).

Ponds and other water features

  1. What are the different uses that wildlife has for water? Why is water so important. To drink, to live in either permanently or for some of the time, to bathe in, for catching prey.
  2. List of possible ways to bring water into a garden. Ponds, bog gardens, water baths, moving water. The greater the number and variety the better.
  3. Management of ponds (algae, invasive or alien plants). Only fill up and top up with rain water or algae becomes a problem, floating plants cut out the light to algae and oxygenating plants in the water reduce the nutrients. Lists of invasive plants online.
  4. How to make the best wildlife ponds (location, profile of pond, plants). Best in the sun and away from shade and leaves falling in, but near cover, profile best with a big shallow end and a smaller deep end. Plants depend on size of pond – list online.

Finally, here’s a photo of Jenny’s allotment, for inspiration!


(Photo © Jenny Mercer)

Julie Lane
November 2020

A Praying Mantis in Freiburg – Corinna Spellerberg

Dear all
I was quite surprised to find this insect on the pavement of my street in Freiburg. It’s a Praying Mantis! My son Chris (who kept one as a pet a while ago) declares it an “adult, because it has wings”. Unfortunately it’s dead, but then I know they only live one short season anyway.
Freiburg is in southern Germany, and we are close to the vineyards at  Baden-Württemberg where these insects are quite common. But I had never seen one here before. Will definitely look out for them next summer!
Corinna Spellerberg

Oxford/Cambridge Arc Plans

If you want to keep up to date on this issue, and haven’t already done so, you might like to sign up to receive news up-dates by email from the No Expressway Group (noexpresswaygroup@gmail.com) or check out their website( https://www.noexpressway.org/).

The latest news forwarded by Mary Sarre includes details of the Group’s activity between March and October and of up-coming virtual meetings which are open to the public.

There are two free webinars with opportunity for Q/A:

On Tuesday, 17th November from 1200 to 1330hrs the Arc Leadership Group (ALG, under the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government, MHCLG) will hold a virtual meeting on “The Oxford-Cambridge Arc: A global asset and national investment priority”
For a few more details, and to register, please use this link:  https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/3626036926728955916

Before the meeting, you may like to read the ALG’s “The Oxford-Cambridge Arc: Economic Prospectus” document that you can find here:  https://www.semlep.com/modules/downloads/download.php?file_name=2132

On Friday 20th November from 1330 to 1430hrs the Arc Universities Group (AUG) will hold a virtual meeting on “Building a green economic region: the environmental ambitions of the AUG”
For a few more details, and to register, please use this link:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/building-a-green-economic-region-the-environmental-ambitions-of-the-aug-tickets-126964055909

The Arc Universities’ Group home page is here:  http://arcuniversities.co.uk/

Linda Murphy / Mary Sarre

The map shows the “preferred corridor” announced by Highways England in September 2018. No final decision on the route has yet been taken.

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