Author Archives: Martin Ferns

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

 

BMERC Annual Recorders’ Seminar: Sat 13th March

BMERC Annual Recorders’ Seminar: Home is where the Wildlife is

Saturday, 13th March 2021 – 10:00 to 16:30 and will be held online using Zoom

Great news everyone! The BMERC Seminar will go ahead in 2021 and it will be from the comfort of your home (and sofa). This year’s seminar, Home is where the wildlife is, will be held online on Saturday, 13th March.

Registration is now open, you can book your place here:
https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_D2jwYpAVQvakO4q7O8nCkg

Talks we have confirmed:

  • Identifying Important Freshwater Areas in the River Thame Catchment Dr Pascale Nicolet
  • Activity update from the Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Natural Environment Partnership Nicola Thomas
  • Monitoring the noble chafer using pheromones Dr Deborah Harvey
  • Lockdown Learning – taking field studies online Keiron Brown
  • Pond restoration and Norfolk Ponds Project   Prof Carl Sayer
  • BMERC Updates  BMERC Team
  • Saproxylic Stepping Stones – Investigating habitat connectivity for deadwood insects Stephanie Skipp
  • On the origin of species recorders – how wildlife recording is evolving Martin Harvey
  • BSBI: recording our plants Louise Marsh & Lynne Farrell
  • Tracking the Impact Nick Marriner
  • Recorders’ Updates 
  • Photo competition winners’ announcement and prize giving 

Please contact us for more information.

We look forward to seeing you in March!

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)

 

King’s Wood and Rushmere National Nature Reserve enlarged

Natural England has decided to enlarge the boundaries of the King’s Wood and Rushmere National Nature Reserve (NNR) for a second time. On 8th December 2020 they announced that they have increased the area of this NNR by a further 43 ha, from148 ha to 191 ha, some of which is in Buckinghamshire. The new areas that have been added include Bragenham Wood, Rammamere Heath and Shire Oak Heath.

King’s Wood became a NNR in 1993, with the name King’s Wood Heath & Reach. It was substantially enlarged and renamed in 2016 as King’s Wood and Rushmere NNR when large areas of Rushmere Country Park were included within it.

Many MKNHS members know Rushmere Country Park from the Society’s visits there or will have seen information about it on our website Wildlife Sites pages (number 15). The Country Park and the NNR straddle the borders of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

The NNR now includes ancient woodland, heathland, grassland and wetland. One of the distinctives of this site is native lily of the valley within the woods, but there are also purple emperor butterfly and barbastelle bats, and many other species characteristic of ancient woods and heathland. This King’s Wood is not to be confused with Kings Wood SSSI between Ampthill and Houghton Conquest, which is also close to the Greensand Ridge Walk. Nor is it to be confused with King’s Wood in Rockingham Forest Northamptonshire, and probably many other King’s Woods.

The King’s Wood and Rushmere NNR site is managed by several different owners: Central Bedfordshire Council, Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, The Greensand Trust, and Tarmac.

There are only 229 National Nature Reserves in England. These are among the most important areas protected for nature conservation

The Greensand Trust set up an appeal last year to raise funds for management of their area of King’s Wood:

    20th anniversary appeal launched to preserve King’s Wood | The Greensand Trust

The Natural England Declaration and map of the site:

        King’s Wood National Nature Reserve: change to name and site area – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

The Government press release:

        King’s Wood and Rushmere National Nature Reserve gains 43 hectares – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

 

Mike LeRoy
11 December 2020

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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Matt Andrews – the new Chairman of MKNHS tells all

What a privilege to have been selected as Chairman of the MKNHS for the forthcoming year. It is with great delight that I accept this honour and I think it is only right that you should know a little about me; with this in mind, I have put a brief resumé together in order that you may be better informed about me, my views and aspirations, warts an’ all…

I have had an abiding passion for all things natural since my earliest memories were formed.  As a little boy, I can recall my father taking me out in a rowing boat on the river Axe in Devon and being fascinated with the Herons and Cormorants lining the banks there as we were towed back by a passing motorboat, having lost both our oars overboard!  When I was eight, a distant relative left me a huge collection of birds’ eggs which he had put together prior to the second world war, some of which were from the mid eighteen-hundreds, every species which bred in this country was represented and I still have this collection housed in my study.

One would think that such a thing which is rightly so abhorred today, would have lead to me becoming a destroyer of birds but no, I was so fascinated by the myriad different patterns, colours and forms of egg that I was determined to see the birds themselves and this set me off on a lifelong journey of exhilarating exploration and wonder at the natural splendours we are surrounded by.

For my ninth birthday, a pair of 8×30 binoculars or a Flying Scotsman A3 4-6-2 locomotive for my railway set were the main gift options – binoculars won and from there on, I was hooked.  Every holiday was spent bird-watching and living in a small Hertfordshire village meant I was out every spare moment, wandering the fields and woods surrounding my home.  I can vividly remember the absolute joy of discovering my first ever Birds-nest Orchids and recording the fact in my diary (they later turned out to be Toothwort, an even rarer plant locally – they’re still there, fifty years later).

I spent my school years in Hemel Hempstead (well, someone had to…) and was fortunate enough to be at a school with a wood attached to the grounds.  Many different extra-curricular activities took place in this wood but my interests were purely ornithological and I was able to record the nesting activities of a pair of Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers who were obliging enough to make their little nest hole at about head-height in an old stump there….this was part of my biology ‘O’ Level project, how lucky I was!

I left school and went into a precision engineering company, specifically manufacturing ships’ chronometers and eventually started to work towards my chartered engineer status until redundancy forced me to rethink my career options and I became a London Policeman.  My time away from work was spent bird watching and yes, I was an avid Twitcher too but like many Twitchers, my interests broadened naturally and I veered away from purely chasing rarities to enjoying a far wider spectrum of the natural world.

I eventually specialised in Public Order policing and was able to take many tours of duty abroad where I became aware of the wider world around us and experience the sheer size of this beautiful planet and the enormous variety of fabulous flora and fauna it still contains.  In particular, South America became a favourite location and I can recall my first impressions of this amazing continent, it’s inhabitants and of course, it’s incredible diversity of wildlife.  This land, remote and magical always seemed so unattainable and yet some ten or twelve trips there later, one realises that such places as Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina are now fairly easily visited and with some forward planning, much less daunting to get to than you would imagine.  I suppose my carbon footprint is not too impressive considering all the air travel, car hires, etc., I have used so that should be a personal goal for me to reduce.

I have a real and deep concern for the wellbeing of our worlds’ wild places now with rapidly burgeoning human populations, ever increasing requirements for land development for housing, industry and food production and a blasé attitude towards destruction of the decreasing number of wild places left, there really does not seem to be a willingness for nature and humans to live in any form of symbiosis.

One only has to look at The Pantanal in Brazil during the present Covid crisis to see that once the world is distracted from conservation, precious wilderness is being taken with tacit government approval…it is estimated that nearly a fifth of this vast and unique swamp has been ruined by drainage, burning and enclosure, principally for beef production, since February this year…nine short months!  Places I visited and watched Hyacinth Macaws, Tapir, Jaguar and Giant Otter in 2017 are no longer there, it really is as stark as that!  The island of Borneo has lost over half of it’s forest in forty years to oil palm plantations;  I have seen these for myself in Sabbah, a tiny ribbon of primary jungle lining the rivers and then mile after stark mile of oil palm beyond.  I suppose the reality is that The Pantanal and Borneo will still be victims of land-grabbing for commerce despite our distant opposition.

What on earth can we really do to stop this wanton degradation of the world we all love and wish to remain healthy and vibrant?  My daughter lives in Fordingbridge in The New Forest and you’d be forgiven for thinking there were no problems with habitat loss and land abuse if you lived down there, it is such a wonderfully rural place.

But it is happening here too!  The northern outskirts of Dunstable where I live are being transformed from a farmland-based, riverine valley into a huge housing and industrial estate.  Parts of Milton Keynes are expanding so fast eastwards, I find it hard to remember it as it was a few years ago, other priceless areas such as Tattenhoe Park are earmarked for yet more housing, it is endless but I am optimistic that we do have the ability to make a difference locally.

My personal strategy for chairmanship of the society is to ‘enhance our clout’ through actively encouraging a younger society demographic, to have influence with MK’s projected expansion planning and to ensure that what wilder places we have locally should remain as they are, all things which the society is already striving to achieve through the diverse expertise and enthusiasm of our membership, so evident when we all come together.

I am looking forward to seeing you all once again – some for the first time, in the flesh in the not too distant future, let’s all hope and pray that our current situation enhances our country’s awareness and need for stunning green breathing spaces and that such tragedies as in central Brazil and Sabbah may be averted here.

Matt Andrews
November 2020

 

Our President is awarded Emeritus Recorder status by BSBI

During a recent phone call to Roy Maycock he told me that he and Andy McVeigh (another member of the Society) had recently taken the decision to step down as joint Vice County Recorders for Buckinghamshire. He also mentioned that the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) had awarded Roy the position of Emeritus Recorder for his long years of service to Botany.

I contacted the BSBI for more information and Dr Peter Stroh kindly sent me the following text:

Roy stepped down as the BSBI Vice-county Recorder for Buckinghamshire in August after an amazing 34 years in the post. During that time, he co-authored ‘A Checklist of the Plants of Buckinghamshire’ with Aaron Woods, the first modern checklist of the Buckinghamshire flora, and the first flora of any kind for the county since George Clarence Druce’s out-of-print and much sought-after work of 1926. Roy submitted tens of thousands of plant records for not one but two national plant Atlases as a VCR, and also contributed to the first plant Atlas. So he’s had a hand in all three atlases over a period of 70 years! In recognition of Roy’s dedication and contribution to plant recording and conservation, the BSBI awarded him Emeritus Status this year. 

Peter also stated that the above text “can’t hope to reflect all that Roy has done!” so I think we should be very proud of our President.

Julie Lane

Wildlife of Pitsford Reservoir – Talk by Neil McMahon 10 November (Zoom recording)

Neil McMahon’s talk to members on the Wildlife of Pitsford Reservoir 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 10th.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/iYjBqV4zfCq7h-jK4NRQN7ifx6b6YaQXA1txPSbpXZCOt4w8qOdNmTQZ7H2oipBs.3jJpWfqbSeM82oHa Passcode:   r+W5u^^^

 

Linda Murphy

 

The Etches Collection by Di Parsons: Zoom recording Tuesday November 3rd

Di’s talk on The Etches Collection of fossils is available to view 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 3rd.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/S4riw1xbaNKaIoPLnSE2fAJ69h_BGik6pQsL921CYAStPIJgsSRlQeu3e0kUSQTt.cJtRjnLfoQfxKZId

Passcode: 2Vjt*0Y?

Di has also provided this information about other videos and websites and printed materials on the Etches Collection, fossils and the Jurassic period.

Website links about The Etches Collection

The Etches Collection is very well represented elsewhere on the web with interesting videos and websites.

If you type ‘the Etches Collection’ into the search bar of YouTube you will get connections to several official videos or video collections. Steve himself narrates about 20 videos, some of which are about the collection of fossils, but the majority are tales about the specimens themselves.

YouTube also gives links to many videos, by other people, some on the Etches collection, some on other collections and specimens, and some on fossil hunting and the Jurassic coast.

You can access the official website here, www.theetchescollection.org, or using the search bar on your web browser. It is one of the best Museum webpages around.

The museum aims to be both for the collection and conservation of specimens, for the public to visit, and for education and research. Its pièce de resistance is a photographic documentation of all the collection.

As you would expect, it has lots of information on how to visit, special events, and news etc. There are pages about Steve Etches’ history in fossil collection including his awards and the specimens named after him. There are pages about the team, the supporters and the patrons including how to contribute yourself. There are also interesting side-shoots include information about guest artists associated with the museum and painting various interpretations of the animals and the surrounding countryside.

If you are interested in a new T- shirt or postcards or the books for the collection you can find them in the shop, including a fossil collectors set of tools if you wish.

Do also type ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ into YouTube. This will give you links into the many videos of animated dinosaur re-enactments prepared by the BBC.  Hope you will find particularly interesting the ‘Sea Monsters trilogy’, ‘Sea Reptile birth’ and ‘ The Scientific Accuracy of Walking with Dinosaurs. Episode 3’.

There are also a couple of interesting websites showing comparisons of the size of marine animals, both ancient and modern.

The Scotese Paleomap site, www.scotese.com, shows maps and video animations of the paleogeography, both the movement of land mass and climate.

Books

Stories from Deep Time, about Etches collection, from the official online shop. www.theetchescollection.org

Dinosaurs and Other Animals of the Jurassic by Sunil Tanna,  Currently available through Amazon: only £2.32 Kindle, compared with £40 for the print edition.

 

Publication by MKNHS member Bob Stott

Long-standing MKNHS member Bob Stott has just produced a book, ‘Lines and Rhymes, and Signs of the Times’. It’s an anthology of poems, anecdotes and short stories, including a brief history of Howe Park Wood, and even a story written by an old Oak Tree!

The book is available from Amazon in either Kindle E-book format or as a paperback. Bob’s author name is William Stott.

Bob is also producing a selection of extracts from the book to be sold in aid of Willen Hospice.

 

Moths at Linford Lakes NR: October 2020 – Gordon Redford

(Photos © Gordon Redford. Above: Gold-spot)

October, 2020 was a very poor month indeed for moths at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR) with just 136 moths of 28 species visiting the traps there.  In recent years, when similar traps have been in use, there have been on average 450 moths of 40 species for the October counts.  The wet and windy weather will have played a part not least because they caused the level in the lake to rise and make the electricity supply to one trap inoperative.  On another trap, the 125W Mercury vapour bulb blew presumably because of contact with rain as the bulb was covered.  It was a particularly windy night so rain may have been blown onto the bulb, causing it to blow.

These things notwithstanding, 4 of the 28 species recorded were new to the October moths list for LLNR which has been compiled over the past 8 years and which now stands at 84.  None though were new to the site.

The ‘new to the month’ moths were 2 micro moths and 2 macro moths although the micro moths were far from small in size.  The micros were Palpita vitrealis and the Boxworm Moth.  P.vitrealis featured in the previous report for September where there is a photograph and some information.  The Boxworm Moth has a forewing length of 18mm!


Boxworm Moth

The Boxworm moth is an interesting one because it is a native of East Asia and is thought to have been introduced to this country on imported Box plants which the caterpillars feed on.  The moth was first recorded in Kent in 2007 and is now increasing in frequency.  I have 8 records on my data base with 4 from my garden in Newport Pagnell (2018, 2019 and 2020), 1 from Westbury Farm (2020) and 3 from LLNR (all 2020).  It is a pest species on Box.

The Macro moths new to the October list were Gold Spot and December Moth and one was making a late appearance and the other an early one.  The Gold Spot is the one turning up later than usual and was recorded on 20th October.  I do have another October record for this moth, in my garden in 2018 on 2nd October.


Gold Spot

The Gold Spot is a moth of the wetlands and has 2 broods in the south of England with the moth on the wing late May-June and late July-September.  There are a scattering of records in the new Atlas of Britain and Ireland’s Larger Moths for October.  The caterpillars also feed on sedges, Yellow Iris, Branched Bur-reed and Water-plantain.  It will be interesting to see if these occasional October records continue.

The December Moth which was recorded on 29th October.  All other records for this moth for me have been in November or December.


December Moth

The name December Moth was hinted at 300 years ago when Eleazar Albin, a painter engraver of moths and butterflies, wrote that it “came at the latter end of December”.   Perhaps then it only made appearances in December.  It is a chunky moth that does not feed in the winged state.  The caterpillars feed on a number of broadleaved trees including oak, birches, elms, hawthorns, blackthorns, poplars and sallows.  It overwinters as an egg.

Another moth that does not feed in the winged adult state and made some appearances in October is the Sprawler.


Sprawler

Although it does not feed as an adult, the pupa has a full-size proboscis case which remains empty during development.  The proboscis is used to sup nectar.  This indicates that the loss is possibly recent in evolutionary terms. It is things like this that make moths so intriguing for me.  The caterpillars feed on a number of broadleaved trees and the winter is spent as an egg.

Another immigrant that paid a visit to the trap in October was the Dark Sword-grass.  (I find I want to write Dark Sward-grass and not Dark Sword-grass).


Dark Sword-grass

As an immigrant, it has been recorded every month of the year but most numerous July-October.  Individuals that arrive in the Spring are thought to give rise to summer larvae with the resulting adults supplementing the autumn immigrants.  The caterpillars feed on the leaves and roots of low growing plants and have taken dandelion when reared in captivity.

The Red-green Carpet was recorded on 22nd October and also on 12th and 17th April.  The April records will have been females who hibernate as adults through the winter.


Red-green Carpet

The Red-green Carpet is one of three British species (Brindled Ochre and Autumn Green Carpet are the others) in which mating takes place in the Autumn after which all the males die.  No sexual equality here.  The caterpillars feed on various broadleaved trees including Oak, Blackthorn, Cherries and birches.

Another often showing some green is the Green-brindled Crescent.  16 were recorded in the month.


Green-brindled Crescent

This species, unlike the Sprawler, does feed in the adult state and sometimes can be found on Ivy blossom and blackberries this time of year.  It overwinters as an egg laid singly on twigs of the food plants which include Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Crab Apple and Dog-rose.

My final moth for October is one resplendent in Autumn colour which is the Feathered Thorn.


Feathered Thorn

There were 8 records for the month.  The Thorns are a group of moths who owe the thorn part of their name to their caterpillars because they sport a sharp projection on their backs.  The spike improves the camouflage of the stick-like caterpillars allowing them to merge better into the undergrowth. The caterpillars feed on a range of broadleaved trees.  The males, who come more frequently to light than the females, have feathery antennae as in the photograph. The feathery antennae offer a wide surface area to trap the pheromones of the female.

Gordon Redford
5 November 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long-eared Owl ringing at Linford Lakes

(Photos © Amy Jerome / The Parks Trust)

We had a super haul at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve today (4th November) with Kenny Cramer. Nets were positioned around the top half of the reserve, near the boundary walk entrance and “The Beast” which caught this beauty was raised near the barn owl boxes.

This is the first ever long-eared owl to be ringed at LLNR, and in fact Kenny’s first ever ring of an LEO. Martin Kincaid had mentioned that there used to be a healthy population at LLNR, but sightings have not been recorded for quite some time.

Amy Jerome
The Parks Trust

Ivy Bees in Milton Keynes: an update – Martin Kincaid

In late September, I wrote a piece about the discovery of the Ivy Bee Colletes hederae in our Oldbrook garden. I asked for fellow members to let me know if they had found this bee in their local patch and have since continued to look for it elsewhere in Milton Keynes.

Shortly after the article appeared on our website, Julie Lane contacted me to say that she too had found the ivy bee, at home in Olney. This is exciting news and suggests that this insect is already found widely across this area.

On 17th October, Helen and I went for a walk along the canal at Old Wolverton. I have known the towpath walk since childhood and was aware of the great masses of ivy which grow along the embankment – always a good place to look for insects in the autumn. Sure enough, not more than 50 meters from the Iron Trunk, there were several specimens of C.hederae nectaring on the ivy right next to the path. They were in the company of honey bees and it was useful to be able to compare these two species, so similar in appearance at first glance.

Better still was to come – last Tuesday (20th October) I stopped off at Stonepit Field in Great Linford in late morning. I wanted to see the scarlet wax caps that Martin Ferns had reported and was pleased to find plenty of these colourful fungi on the limestone scrape. As I crouched down to photograph one, I saw an ivy bee emerging from a small burrow. I looked closer and was pleased to see at least twenty or more ivy bees going in and out of their neat little burrows. One or two were killed by common wasps but I measured the length of the colony as around 31 meters. I was delighted to find a thriving colony of ivy bee – the first I have ever seen outside of Dorset.

Given a reasonably warm, sunny day, it should still be possible to see these bees between now and mid-November.

Martin Kincaid

(Photo © Martin Kincaid)

 

Bucks Fungus Group – Autumn 2020

Photo: Amanita muscaria with Chalciporus piperatus Turville Heath 12.09.2020 (Bucks Fungus Group)

Autumn 2020 is proving to be a very good season for fungi. We have recently received the following news from Bucks Fungus Group with information about how you can get help with identifying what you find. They are keen to add more specimens from north Bucks. Happy hunting!

“Bucks Fungus Group has cancelled all activities for the rest of 2020 due to Covid 19 restrictions. However, we have a new project up and running on our website at www.bucksfungusgroup.org.uk/finds.htm which may be of interest. BFG Members are sending in fungi photos taken in the county to Penny Cullington for naming (where possible) and if suitable these are then uploaded to the web page Readers Finds Autumn 2020 with helpful notes on recognition etc. As we have very few photos taken from the north of the county, do join in and send to Penny at bucksfungusgroup@gmail.com . Photos must show all features needed for identification including gills, stem, etc. with information about the date found, the site, the habitat and substrate. “

The photo at the beginning of this item is a good example of what they require.

Alfalfa Leafcutter Bees in Wolverton

Here’s a picture of a bee seen in early September at the Urb Farm in Wolverton, which we have identified as a non-British species, the Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee (Megachile rotundata)


Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee (Megachile rotundata) (Photos © Florie Bryant)

While honeybees get much of the fame, Alfalfa Leafcutter Bees are actually 15-20 times better at pollinating than honeybees. The female leafcutter bee carries pollen on the underside of her hairy abdomen, scraping it off upon returning to her nesting hole to create a pollen loaf (food) for her egg. Using her large jaws she will cut a perfectly circular hole from nearby leaves (generally only up to 300 feet from her nesting hole) to create a cocoon of leaves for her egg to develop. A solitary bee, the Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee is often found nesting alongside its neighbours in bee hotels and these fascinating creatures are well worth having in your garden!

We have plenty of habitat just perfect for leafcutter bees, so we have been pleased to welcome them. We have seen a fair few different types of leafcutter/solitary/bumble bee at the farm over the years, and particularly this year.

Florie Bryant
Urb Farm, Wolverton

Linford Lakes Nature Reserve Moth Report, September 2020 – Gordon Redford

Autumn colours frequently feature in September moths as this Sallow above shows. (All photos © Gordon Redford)

Moths were recorded at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR) every evening during the month of September using 2 Robinson traps, each with a 125W Mercury Vapour bulb.  2,367 moths visited the traps which was slightly less than the best September there (2,429 in 2019).  81 species were recorded which is down on the previous 2 years (94 species in 2018, 86 species in 2019).  11 species were new to the September list compiled over the period 2011-present) and 4 species were new to the site.  The total number of species recorded in the month of September now stands at 163.

The 4 new species to the site were all to be found in the Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland although, as mentioned in previous reports, being a micro moth does not necessarily mean being small as the photographs below showing 2 of the new species will testify.

Lyonetia clerkella, the Apple Leaf Miner, is a very smart moth indeed with a forewing length of 4.0mm-4.5mm.


Lyonetia clerkella

The food plants of the caterpillars, that live inside the upper and lower surfaces of leaves, includes Hawthorns, Birches, Pears, Plums, Cherries, Sallows and Blackthorn as well as Apple.  They may have 3 generations in a year and the adults of the autumn brood hibernate until Spring.

The second new species is Palpita vitrealis  and it has a forewing length of 13mm-15mm.  It is an immigrant from Southern Europe.


Palpita vitrealis

Egg-laying of Palpita vitrealis has been observed on Garden Privet but the moth is not known to have bred in the wild in this country.

2 species of moth recorded accounted for 41% of the monthly total and these were the 520 Square-spot Rustics and 466 Lunar Underwings.  There are various forms of Square-spot Rustic but most have a rather square kidney mark.


Square-spot rustic

The foodplants of the caterpillars are mostly grasses but they have been seen on Cleavers and Plantains.  They overwinter as larvae and the adults fly in late July to early October.

Lunar Underwings are so named because of a blurred central crescent moon marking on the pale underwing.


Lunar Underwing

Their caterpillars feed on grasses and overwinter as small larvae. The adults are on the wing from Late August to mid October.

Other species that fared well in September this year Light Emerald, Snout, Brimstone Moth and Bordered Beauty.

Light Emeralds have 2 generations in the south of England, late May to early August and early August to late October.  The second generation are often smaller than the first.  64 were counted in September, some 20 more than the previous high September number of 43 in 2019.


Light Emerald

Their caterpillars feed on a wide range trees and shrubs including Pedunculate Oak, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Birches, Sallows to name but a few.

Snouts are a group of 6 moths that have long palps that rather stick out like noses and thus the vernacular name.  87 were counted in September.


Snout

Snout has a very long up turned palps.  It too has 2 generations in a year, June to early August and late August to October.  The foodplant of the caterpillars is Common Nettle.

Brimstone Moth has 2 or 3 generations between April to October.  They often settle outside the trap on the underside of a leaf and show just a little of the wing so always worth a good search outside the trap before opening up.


Brimstone Moth

The Bordered Beauty also fared well this September with 7 counted.  The moth is never seen in large numbers at LLNR and often not at all.


Bordered Beauty

The colours of Bordered Beauty seem just right for Autumn although the moth is on the wing from July.   The foodplants of the caterpillars are Sallow, Grey Willow, Black Poplar and Hazel.

Gordon Redford

 

Members’ Book Evening booklist 13 October 2020

At the Members’ Book Evening on 13 October, a wide range of books were presented and recommended by members and are listed below. They include recent publications and old favourites that people return to year after year. Some examine current environmental issues, some provide useful advice and guidance, others were chosen for their writing style, or artwork. There’s something for everyone! A big “Thank You” to all the contributors. Enjoy!

For books currently out of print, companies such as ABE Books (https://www.abebooks.co.uk/ )  were recommended for second hand copies; NHBS ( https://www.nhbs.com/ ) supplies a huge range of books on Wildlife, Ecology and Conservation as well as the ubiquitous Amazon…

The Orchid Hunter by Lief Bersweden (2018: Short Books Ltd)

A Natural History of the Hedgerow and ditches, dykes, and dry stone walls by John Wright, (2016: Profile Books Ltd)

Woodland Plants by Heather and Robin Tanner (1987: Impact Books)

Four Hedges: A Gardener’s Chronicle by Clare Leighton (2010: Little Toller Books)

Rebirding by Benedict Macdonald (2019: Pelagic Publishing)

The Wildlife Pond Book by Jules Howard (2019: Bloomsbury Publishing)

Wilding – the return of nature to a British Farm by Isabella Tree (2018: Picador)

There is No Planet B: A handbook for the make or break years by Mike Berners-Lee (2019: Cambridge University Press)

How bad are bananas? The carbon footprint of everything by Mike Berners-Lee (Profile Books: 2010/ revised updated & expanded edition 2020)

The Burning Question: We Can’t Burn Half the World’s Oil, Coal and Gas. So How Do We Quit? by Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark (2013: Profile Books )

Wonderland, a year of Britain’s wildlife by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss (2017: John Murray Press)

The Invention of Nature – The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt: The Lost Hero of Science by Andrea Wulf (2015: John Murray press)

Curlew Moon by Mary Colwell (illustrated by Jessica Holm) (2018: HarperCollins) Reviewed by Jenny Mercer in the April 2020 edition of the Magpie

The Wood For The Trees: The long view of nature from a small wood  by Richard Fortey (2016: William Collins)

The Secret Life of Birds by Colin Tudge (2009: Penguin)

The New Where to Photograph Wildlife in Britain by Mike Lane (2005: Mike Lane, FRPS )

Great White Shark by Richard Ellis and John E. McCosker  (1991: Stanford University Press and HarperCollins)

The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks (2015: Penguin)

Deep Country:  Five Years in the Welsh Hills  by Neil Ansell  (2012:  Penguin)

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty (2020: Little Toller Press

 

Linda Murphy

Lesser Night Gecko

Mauritius Reptile Rescue – Sue Hetherington

I’m a life member of Durrell (aka Jersey Zoo) – inspired many years ago by Gerald Durrell’s books.  Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (DWCT) reacted to the recent oil spill close to the coast of Mauritius by rescuing a few little reptiles back to Jersey to act as an insurance policy to prevent species extinction (that’s actually the whole raison d’etre of DWCT) . I thought members might like to share a mini doc from Jersey – a bit of good news for once, something actually being done rather than just telling us how bad things are and making us feel helpless.

YouTube video: Mauritian Reptile Rescue

or you can read about it on Durrell’s website: Rescue mission for Mauritian reptiles

This is a passionate reminder of why we need to look after the only home we have, Planet Earth!  I probably don’t need to remind you that Mauritius is where our species made the dodo extinct.  The dodo was chosen as DWCT’s emblem to emphasise what they are about.

Sue Hetherington

Bats in Churches:  news from Newton Blossomville – Julie Lane

I recently attended a meeting at Newton Blossomville’s St Nicholas Church with two ladies from the Bats in Churches organisation. The church does not have a major problem with bats but there are some droppings and evidence of staining from urine on some of the brass plaques in the church. The main problem seems to be the bad PR that bats have and people in the village are rather negative towards them.

The Bats in Churches people have therefore offered to organise a post-Covid bat walk from the church and down to the river nearby, which we think would be well received by the locals and schoolchildren in particular. They are going to provide some bat boxes for us to put up in the churchyard as there are some nice mature trees (although apparently they don’t like yew trees as they don’t provide an easy flight way into the box). Also they have offered to source some hay rattle seed for the new wild flower patch in the church yard which has been left unmown this year – this should improve the meadow flowers and  attract the all-important insects for the bats to eat.

All in all a very positive meeting and hopefully a brighter future for the local bats!

The following link takes you to the Newton Blossomville entry on the Bats in Churches website www.batsinchurches.org.uk/projects/newton-blossomville-st-nicholas/

The Bats in Churches team are also running a couple of free online training workshops on the 13th and 20th October at 7pm. You can sign up to these at https://batsinchurches.org.uk/get-involved/events/

The first is for anyone looking to create public facing interpretation materials for their church (or any other organisations you may be involved with); examples include information boards, posters and leaflets. The second session will cover running and planning a successful event for your community including pricing, paperwork and practicalities

Julie Lane

Global Bird Weekend 17-18 October 2020

Thanks to Sue Hetherington for this item about the Global Bird Weekend, over 2 days on 17-18 October – which is organised by Tim Appleton of Global Birding In association with BirdLife International, eBird and Swarovski Optik.

Tim Appleton was the first warden of Rutland Water and the “inventor” of Birdfair which he organised for many years until “retiring” recently.  Global Birding is his “baby”.  The Weekend is the biggest ever low carbon birdwatching event.  It’s all, of course and as per usual, on its own website https://globalbirding.org/.

In essence, Covid-19 made people more aware of their local natural surroundings.  The event aims to encourage everyone to show their love for nature and birds worldwide in their own local patch.

The October Big Day is aiming at a world record for the largest number of birds seen (over 6,000 species) by the greatest number of people globally.

We hope that at least 25,000 participants will go out Birdwatching on Saturday 17 October 2020 and tell us what they see on this peak migration weekend. To date there have been registrations from over 70 countries.

The aim is to record as many different species of bird as possible, with a target of more than 6,000 bird species. Let us know by recording your sightings on eBird:  https://ebird.org/home

Then on Sunday 18 October take your camera, phone, friends and/or sketch pad to your favourite birdwatching area and share those places with your new Global friends on our social media pages using
#GLOBALBIRDWEEKEND
#GLOBALBIRDING
and upload your images to eBird’s dedicated Global Bird Weekend page. You can still upload your bird sightings to eBird that day too!

The final aim is to raise funds for the birdlife conservation project:  to help stop the illegal trade in birds.

You can click here to register for the world record event.

Birdlife “Magic of Migration” Webinar – 14 October

Members may like to join Birdlife International’s zoom webinar about bird migration on Wednesday 14th October, 13.30-15.30 .   There’s no catch or anything to pay – you just have to register to get the zoom link.

Webinar Registration link

As a taster, there are some awesome facts about bird migrations.
Did you know?

  • The longest recorded non-stop flight of a migratory birds was 11,600 KILOMETRES.  A satellite-tagged Bar-tailed godwit travelled from Alaska to New Zealand in a single, 9-day flight.
  • Arctic terns see more daylight than any other creature on the planet. They breed during the Arctic summer in the North and then migrate to enjoy the Antarctic summer in the South.
  • Bar-headed geese are one of the highest-flying migrants, crossing the Himalayas at an altitude of 9,000 – 10,000 meters.
  • Red knots reduce their gizzards and grow their flight muscles just before migration. After their arrival on the wintering grounds birds are famished but need to wait till their gizzards have grown enough to accommodate food again.

Join us and be inspired by our experts from across the flyways, on Wednesday 14th October, from 13:30 BST (London), by registering at the link below. The magic of migration is worth it.

There is also a recording of a recent webinar on Vultures which you might find interesting.   You can find it on Birdlife International’s YouTube channel by clicking here.

Sue Hetherington

MKNHS Members evening 22 September – The State of Nature 2019: notes of follow-up discussion

Eleven members attended this evening. First of all, we reviewed the list of suggestions for action put forward at the meeting on March 10th 2020, before considering a few of these in small groups and then pooling our thoughts.

The March meeting had been a discussion based around a presentation about the findings of the National Biodiversity Network’s 2019 report on the State of Nature (https://nbn.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/State-of-Nature-2019-UK-full-report.pdf)

Two groups spent most of the time on the Theme ‘Communicating our Message’. They agreed that Facebook was a key way of communicating information about the Society particularly to younger people to increase their interest in, and knowledge of, nature. It was felt to be  important to widen our range of methods of communication to reach different audiences, rather than attracting ‘more people like us’.  One member indicated willingness to help set up a Society Facebook presence. The local press has been a useful avenue for publicising the Society in the past but it was note noted that the Citizen carried less news than hitherto and distribution within Milton Keynes was patchy.

The theme ‘Conservation Organisations/Projects’ was explored. This could also form another line of communication and opportunity to engage a wider audience by publicising opportunities to get involved in a variety of organisations and projects locally, related to the protection and enhancement of wildlife and wider conservation issues. For example, the ‘Bats in Churches’ project, highlighted at a previous members’ evening, needs volunteers to survey churches in Milton Keynes in 2021; and the Global Bird Weekend on 17/18 October 2020 is looking to sign up as many people as possible to record bird species seen on those days in aid of Birdlife International’s Campaign to ‘STOP ILLEGAL BIRD TRADE’.

We can also publicise relevant reports and campaigns on our website such as:
– the WWF living planet report (see Living Planet Report 2020).
– the Wildlife Trusts’ initial response to the Government’s White Paper on Planning, which proposes fundamental changes to planning and would limit opportunities for public responses (see Preliminary Analysis of the Planning White Paper).
– the Wildlife Trust’s proposals for ‘Wild-belts’ to ‘Rewild the planning system’ (see Rewild the Planning System). This was covered in The Guardian 17 September 2020: see Wild Belts.
– the new RSPB report: ‘A Lost Decade for Nature: How the UK has missed its targets for nature.  Why we must act now to revive our world’ (see A Lost Decade for Nature).

The theme of ‘Plans and planning’ was picked up in the third group which examined the theme of ‘Recording’. All participants in that group regularly record and discussed how records can be ‘made to count’. Many recording schemes are run by organisations devoted to specific groups of species, and they take records via specific apps or iRecord and are fed into County Records Offices such as BMERC. For example, birders are urged to submit records to Bucks Bird Club as these are regularly passed to BMERC. Those who live outside Bucks can check out their local Bird Clubs or use BTO Birdtrack. The latter can be used for records made on holiday in the UK and in Europe. The recording advice available on the Society website was noted. It was agreed that ‘common’ species such as moles or hedgehogs or house sparrows often don’t get recorded and we should make an effort to include them. The case for the importance of local recording is the fact that local records have to be consulted for planning applications, hence the relationship between these two themes.

Further general discussion touched on how to discourage littering and reduce use of single use/’disposable’ plastics, and palm oil.

We concluded by following Ann Lambley’s suggestion to cheer ourselves up by focussing on a beautiful wildlife image such as a wood in autumn!

Notes by Linda Murphy

The Bats in Churches project – get involved!

Sue Hetherington recently posted an item about her involvement with the Bats in Churches project: https://mknhs.org.uk/bats-in-churches-sue-hetherington/. She writes now with more information, and a new video link about the project.

The Bats in Churches survey season is closed for this year but it will open up again next summer and I am keen to encourage Society members to survey a church or two themselves.  The project team has been very proactive during the Covid-19 blighted 2020 season and has kept in touch with lots of zoom sessions.  There was a particularly useful one on 11th September of Bats in Churches’ first ever ‘virtual bat night’ from Heydon’s Holy Trinity Church in Cambridgeshire with talks from expert bat ecologist Phil Parker, Bats in Churches heritage advisor Rachel Arnold, and the clerk at Holy Trinity, Angela Bucksey.

The session was recorded, and can be accessed free (on YouTube) from Bats in Churches’ web page https://batsinchurches.org.uk/events/virtual-bat-nights/  – just scroll down to the box labelled “Watch it Here” and click on it.  The video is quite long at an hour and a quarter but you can fast forward over bits that you don’t find interesting.  The zoom covers a lot of ground:

  • Some basics about bats
  • An explanation of what the project is all about
  • A look at the church itself which is Holy Trinity located in Heydon, Cambridgeshire
  • Input from an ecologist (Phil Parker’s presentation begins 13 minutes in.)
  • Input from the churchwarden

The video explains about the project really clearly and why it would be such a good thing to sign up.  To emphasise, volunteers don’t need to be experts or have any special equipment.  It’s quite easy to do.  The project needs lots of people to help as there are 16,000 churches in England to survey – including some little gems of churches in Milton Keynes which would be great to monitor.

The season won’t open again until June 2021 so everyone has a few months to think about it.

Sue Hetherington
September 2020

Ivy Bee in Oldbrook – Martin Kincaid

Many of us have been enjoying wildlife in our own gardens this year with the restrictions that have been imposed on us. Perhaps you have found something unusual or uncommon in your garden that you were not aware of until now. We have been blessed with fantastic, settled weather in spring at the height of the Covid lockdown and again recently in September. For me, it was a sighting on 22nd September which has really caught my imagination.

We have a generous covering of ivy along our garden fence, and when it is in flower, as now, it attracts a wealth of bees, hoverflies, moths and other insects. Whilst having a tea break in the garden, once again in glorious autumn sunshine, a bee caught my eye as it busied itself on ivy flowers. A closer look allowed me to confirm it was the Ivy Bee (or Ivy Plasterer Bee) Colletes hederae a species which has colonised the UK in the past few years. A second one soon appeared which I netted, and chilled in the fridge to allow closer inspection! I quickly added my sightings to the database of BWARS (Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society).

C. hederae was first recorded in this country in 2001 in the Dorset village of Langton Matravers. Since then it has spread, initially along the coast but in the past 4-5 years it has colonised many inland counties, as far north as Merseyside. I first saw these attractive bees, in good numbers, at Durlston Country Park, Swanage in October 2016. For those of you who know Durlston, the clifftop ivy thickets beneath the Globe sculpture are the best place to look. It has just about the latest flight season of any British bee species, flying between September and early November. Superficially, this species and others in the genus Colletes do resemble the Honey Bee Apis mellifera and they are similar in size. However, a close look shows that it is brighter than a honey bee and the yellow and black bands are cleaner and more defined. Honey bees generally have darker bodies and the bands are somewhat indistinct. Fresh specimens of C. hederae show a bright orange, furry thorax. If you can distinguish this species from honey bee you can be fairly confident it is hederae as the other species in this genus are much smaller and generally confined to heathland and sandy habitats.

This mining bee can live in huge colonies of many tens of thousands and their mating behaviour can be quite alarming to behold, with many males mobbing unmated females in a frenzied attempt to mate with her. I have witnessed this in Dorset and it is quite a sight – and sound.

The specimens I found in our garden are the first I have seen in Milton Keynes and it is good to know that this species in now in our area. It may already be common. If you have flowering ivy in your garden or your local patch, do have a closer look at any honey bee sized insects buzzing around. They are not aggressive and are a welcome addition to any garden. Do let me know if you find it in our area.

Martin Kincaid

Identification Guides: We need your help!

I hope you have been enjoying our website during these strange times – I think it has helped to hold our Society together and has provided a means of communicating that has been very useful and enjoyable. We have had some wonderful articles sent in by members and very much hope that this flow of interesting articles will continue, especially if our lives are restricted yet again by one of the tiniest organisms in the world!

There is one section on the website that we now feel needs updating and we can do this most easily and efficiently by tapping into the knowledge of our members.   It is the section called Identification guides under Reference (https://mknhs.org.uk/identification-guides/) where the best guides for the various groups in the animal and plant kingdom are recommended, with the aim of helping those interested in a particular specialisation to access the best sources of information, be that by book, app or website. We feel that in the five or so years since this was set up it may well have become out of date and we would be very grateful for input from you all.

We would therefore like you to look at the sources recommended in your specialism or interest area and let us know if there are any new books or apps or websites that are now useful and if there are any sources that have been superseded and need to be removed (it would also be helpful if you could let us know if you think that nothing needs changing). In fact, we would be interested to hear from anyone who has found a reference source useful as it is often relative novices in a subject that are the best judge of well laid out reference material. Obviously, this process is all rather subjective but we can only do our best and we feel that it is wrong to offer information without updating it occasionally.

For books, we need to know Title, Author and Publisher plus whether in your opinion it is useful for beginners or those more advanced in their knowledge.

For websites, please let us have the full url reference, and for apps, please give as much detail as is needed to help others find it.

Thank you very much for your help.

Julie Lane

A dormouse in the garden

Anne Baker from Henley on Thames (to whom thanks) has sent in this photo of a dormouse in her garden.  She writes:

“We have seen a Hazel Dormouse quite a few times in Middle Assendon *, Henley on Thames. The first time my husband spotted him walking to the bird food outside our kitchen window. We have filmed him/her a few times as well at night and in the daytime. We also found a dead one about a year ago in an old bird box so they are obviously around here quite a lot.

We have a wild garden with a lot of hazelnut trees and honeysuckle which I believe they like too. Maybe that is why they are here. They seem to be nesting close to the house by the look of it and don’t seem to be frightened. ”

Sightings like this are worth submitting to the local county environmental records office (see https://mknhs.org.uk/recording/).

*Middle Assendon is close to BBOWT’s huge Warburg Nature Reserve (106 ha) which has a known population of dormice.

Summer wildlife around the area – Tony Wood

(Photo above: Black Hairstreak, LIttle Linford Wood 14th June, Julian Lambley)

The weather conditions this summer have been unpredictable, varying with spring being the sunniest for 100 years, the end of July and beginning of August presenting temperatures in excess of 30 degrees centigrade, and the month ending with strong winds from Storm Francis. But it did not deter our Society’s members recording highlights of the local wildlife.

Mammals Paul Lund was fortunate in May to find a vixen fox and 2 cubs in his Bancroft garden, and a few days later photographed one inquisitive cub that had entered his house. In June John Prince created a box type platform with a trail camera installed and, with the help of two volunteers, this was lifted high into an oak tree in Little Linford Wood to see if it would attract any dormice. In June it was a success, with several images of a dormouse seeking the food provided. This is the first recording of a dormouse in the wood since 2015. During the May box survey beside the M1 Motorway near Gayhurst one dormouse was recorded and, to our surprise, a weasel inside a box with a nest of Great Tit chicks, sadly dead and partly eaten.

A species that tends to stay under the radar is the Harvest Mouse. Volunteers managed to find several old nests at Linford Lakes Reserve in 2018 -19. and this year Harvest Mice have been found on the nature reserve. Nests have also been found while clearing reeds at Stony Stratford Nature Reserve and Walton Lake this year, and it appears that the species remains widespread, if elusive, in Milton Keynes.

Other records of mammals include a Water Deer at Magna Park, a Roe Deer at Little Linford Wood and a possible sighting of a Polecat in Bury Field, Newport Pagnell (?)

ButterfliesIn May a Duke of Burgundy was seen at Blue Lagoon for the third year running. How it arrived there remains a mystery. Harry Appleyard found a Black Hairstreak near the bottle dump, Tattenhoe – a new location for this very rare butterfly, so it is encouraging to hear of two other records at Little Linford Wood and the North Bucks Way. The hairstreaks did well this year with both Purple and White-letter Hairstreak being recorded locally. A Chalkhill Blue was seen at Stonepit Field in late July and later on the same day a Clouded Yellow {variety helice, a pale form of the female} was discovered.

Moths If you have been following Gordon Redford’s monthly reports on the Society’s website you will discover information on a variety of species caught in his two light traps at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve. In one month nearly 6700 moths were recorded and 236 species identified. Other members reported their findings and included unusual species such as the Blackneck, Jersey Tiger, Tree-lichen Beauty, Clifden Nonpareil, and a Raspberry Clearwing at Olney, only the 2nd or 3rd sighting in Bucks.

One new species I had this year was the Lobster Moth which when released was caught in mid-flight by a House Sparrow – I felt very guilty!!

After several years of recording hoverflies in my garden, I have found a paucity of both species and numbers the past two years. Have you experienced the same?

BirdsIt has been a very good year for breeding birds at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve. During lockdown, a nest of Teal was found on the bund. This species was last recorded as breeding in Bucks in 1989 {although it did breed regularly at the Linford Reserve in the 1970s/80s}. As if this wasn’t exciting enough, a pair of Great White Egrets also nested in the heronry this spring with at least one young fledged. Three adult birds had been present during the winter and courtship was observed in March. This makes Linford Reserve only the third known location for nesting Great White Egrets in the UK.

More recently, 2 juvenile Yellow Wagtails have been ringed on the bund and it is likely that this declining species has also bred. Cuckoos have had a fantastic year at the Linford Reserve with 11 birds ringed. Country-wide, over 100 calling cuckoos were recorded – an exceptional year for this species.

Over the local area the following birds were recorded. In June a Nightingale and a Goosander with 5 chicks were seen at Olney, and a pair of Peregrines reared three chicks at the MK Stadium. During July a female Mandarin Duck was recorded at Willen Lakes, a Redstart and 9 Crossbills seen at Tattenhoe, and in August a Black-tailed Godwit and Peregrine at the Forest Floodplain Reserve, and the month finished off with an Osprey seen and photographed at Linford Reserve.

Can I thank Martin Kincaid and Gordon Redford for their contribution to this article.

I’d also like to congratulate Harry Appleyard on his discovery of a Lesser Emperor dragonfly in Tattenhoe Park, a first sighting in Milton Keynes, although present in other areas of Bucks for several years.

Autumn is upon us soon so please get outside, binoculars and cameras at the ready to watch, record, but most of all, enjoy our local wildlife.

Tony Wood
9 Sept 2020

Committee member vacancies

The Society AGM meeting on 6th October will be appointing members of the Committee. There will be a number of vacancies to fill and this announcement invites expressions of interest from members or suggestions of others that might be interested (but check with them first!).

The Committee is responsible for the running of the Society. It normally meets 4 times a year in the evenings (but under recent conditions more frequently via Zoom). The work of the Committee is interesting and varied – from administering the finances of the society through to the planning of future activities. Members participate in meeting discussions and decisions, and usually take on wider roles within the Society.

If you are interested or have other suggestions please contact the Acting Chair, Joe Clinch (joeclinch@btinternet.com  or telephone 01908 562475 or write to 39 Tudor Gardens, Stony Stratford, MK11 1HX).

Bats in Churches – Sue Hetherington

I’ve been working as a Bats in Churches volunteer, monitoring bat activity in 4 churches: – Gawcott, Hillesden, Tingewick and Wotton Underwood.  Bats in Churches exists in large part “to address issues that bats can cause in churches while continuing to protect their roosts.” See https://batsinchurches.org.uk/

I gave a short presentation about this by Zoom at the Members’ evening on 1st September, and have since recorded a 15-minute version of this, which you can access through the following link:

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/AilVFluXePGZr9iN4UgNfN_t4pWjPVCIHuR65zZ6FQjPC0_sh8VM1pyCWDxF1ihL.1eC9hL4m5BM94TqB

You will need to enter the Passcode: j0?AW8Y?

It’s too late for anyone to get involved as a volunteer now (the project was HUGELY disrupted by Covid-19 as you’d expect plus this year’s surveys end on 31st August.  BUT the project continues in 2021 and 2022 – something to think about for next year.

Sue Hetherington
September 2020

Low water levels at Willen Lake good for waders!

Thanks to Mike Wallen of Bucks Bird Club for this news, written on 6th September:

For those not already aware there are significant developments at Willen and we are going to get some waders !!

The North lake has a problem with a valve on the sluice; to repair it they’ve had to dig down a way and have created a large breach to the lake. They have tried to dam it but the dam has collapsed.

So far the South lake has dropped by about half a metre and mud is developing around the edge! This is because the south lake is draining into the North lake in the south-east corner.  However the water is leaving the North lake much quicker than it’s coming in, and 30% at least of the North lake area is now mud!! I’d estimate the water level there to be down well over a metre already.

This morning (6th) it has already attracted a Dunlin, then 2 x Black-tailed Godwit flew in, shortly afterwards another 2 x Black-tailed Godwit flew in.
Over the next week (and hopefully longer) this could be seriously good for waders.

Mike Wallen

(Photo of Willen Lake North, taken from W, midday on 7th Sept. Photo: Martin Ferns)

Autumn Trees – Alan Birkett

What’s the most striking thing about trees in autumn? It is not that they shed their leaves. It’s the fact that the leaves on some trees change their colour before they fall. Why does this happen – the leaves have been green all spring and summer? Why don’t the green leaves just drop off without changing colour and why on some trees do the leaves turn red.

After reading recently published papers on the subject it became clear that, although it has been discussed for many years, it is still a source of debate. At least 10 hypotheses were reported in a paper published in 2009. Eventually I found that there are now two main evolutionary explanations – autumn colours could have evolved in plants to protect them against the physical damage induced by intense light at low temperatures (photoprotection hypothesis) or to avoid parasites by signalling the defensive commitment of the tree (coevolution hypothesis).

A leaf is the main photosynthetic organ of a tree.  Photosynthesis a process in which carbon dioxide from the air is combined with water in the presence of light to produce sugars and oxygen. The molecule that carries this out is called chlorophyll. It absorbs red and blue wavelengths of light and reflects green so that the leaf appears green to us. It is a complex molecule with a ring of nitrogen at its centre surrounding an atom of magnesium. Shorter days and lower temperatures trigger leaf fall but this is a multi-step controlled shutdown process. Instead of the green leaves just being discarded, the chlorophyll and proteins in the leaf are broken down and essential nutrients, such as nitrogen, re-absorbed and stored in the shoots and roots until spring. Plants generally re-absorb half their total leaf nitrogen.

As the chlorophyll breaks down, the leaf loses its green colour and other pigments can be seen. Carotenoids are yellow and orange and are already present. Anthocyanins, which give the leaf a red colour, are newly made. Carotenoids are needed to keep the cells going during the re-absorption stage so most trees have yellow leaves in autumn but 14% have red leaves. Why then do some trees go to the expense of making Anthocyanins before the leaves fall? This is where the 2 main hypotheses compete.

Anthocyanins protect the leaf from light damage during the period of re-absorption. This is the basis for the photoprotection hypothesis – it extends the leaf life during shut-down and enables it to send more nutrients back to the tree before the leaf drops. If this is true, trees with yellow leaves should drop their leaves earlier.

Another idea is that the red coloration may be a signal to parasites, such as aphids, that have a strong preference for green leaves, to not lay their eggs on red leaves in autumn. This avoids future damage and is the basis for the co-evolution hypothesis. Red colour may be correlated with the level of herbivore defence in the tree, and therefore plants investing more in defences show more autumn colours. If insects adapt to avoid red leaves in autumn, this will lead to a co-evolutionary process in which both preference for green in aphids and intensity (or duration) of red in trees increase.

I have no idea which theory is correct but when you go out this autumn look out for yellow leaves and red leaves, admire their beauty and think how complicated life can be!

Here are some trees to watch out for in Milton Keynes.

First, two species that go yellow in autumn


1: Norway Maple (photo Alan Birkett)

Photo 1 The Norway Maple Acer platanoides is native to Europe, from Scandinavia to the Caucasus. It was introduced to Britain in 1683 and is now commonly found in gardens, streets and parks. It is one of the first trees to look green in spring, when its green flowers open before the leaves. It has the 5-lobed leaf typical of the Maple family but differs from the Field Maple and Sycamore in that its lobes and teeth have finely pointed tips. It has a winged fruit like all maples but the wings hang down at an angle whereas on the Field Maple they are flat. This tree is at the south end of Furzton Lake in Milton Keynes


2: Aspen (photo Alan Birkett)

Photo 2 The Aspen Populus tremula is a Poplar that tolerates cold conditions. It is a smaller tree than most Poplars. It is a species that grows in cool regions across the whole of Europe and west Asia. (The American Aspen is a different species). It is more likely to be found in the north and west of Britain and is common in the Scottish Highlands. It is typically found in oak or birch woodland. It can spread by sending suckers up from its roots. Male and female flowers are on separate trees. Flowers are in the form of catkins. Aspens are quite common in Milton Keynes; these are on the east side of Furzton Lake.

Here are 2 trees with red leaves in autumn


3: Persian Ironwood (photo Alan Birkett)

Photo 3 The Persian Ironwood Parrotia persica is a small deciduous tree native to northern Iran. It was introduced to Britain in 1841. It is related to the Witch-Hazel. Its wood is extremely hard, hence the name ironwood. It has red flowers which appear before the leaves in late winter and the leaves turn bright red in autumn. There is a huge tree in the Cambridge Botanical Garden and a small tree on the east side of Furzton Lake in Milton Keynes.


4: Sweet Gum (photo Alan Birkett)

Photo 4 The Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is a deciduous tree native to south-eastern USA and the cloud-forest mountains of Mexico and Central America. It was introduced to Britain in 1681. It is an ornamental tree planted in many parks and gardens in warmer areas. It has red autumn foliage and unusual fruit, similar to that of the London Plane. In its native habitat the tree was grown commercially for its aromatic gum, originally known as ‘liquid amber’, hence its scientific name. This tree is in the Emerson Valley of Milton Keynes.

Other trees you may come across, that have red leaves in autumn, include the Sugar Maple, Red Maple and Red Oak from Eastern North America and the Japanese Maple variety ‘Osakazuki’ which is spectacular in autumn in the Cambridge Botanic Garden.

To find out more about trees and how to identify them go to my website: https://www.treeguideuk.co.uk/
and if you have any comments or observations about trees my e-mail is alan@treeguideuk.co.uk.

Alan Birkett
4 September 2020

MKNHS Chair Vacancy

The much delayed 51st AGM is now scheduled for 7.30 pm on Tuesday 6th October via Zoom. The Agenda and papers for it will be circulated by the Secretary in due course.

This is to give advance notice about one important item of business for that meeting – the appointment of the Chair of the Society.

The Committee has agreed that the process for appointing the Chair should be coordinated by the Officers of the Society led by Martin Kincaid so that a nomination can then be put to the AGM.  This email seeks expressions of interest from members in filling this role or in suggesting someone else that you think might be interested. If you are interested or if you are able suggest someone please communicate your thoughts to me in confidence either by telephone (01908 562475), email (joeclinch@btinternet.com) or by post to my home address: 39 Tudor Gardens, Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes MK11 1HX. I will share responses with fellow Officers but not beyond.

Information about the role of the Chair can be found in the MKNHS Guidance Handbook(https://mknhs.org.uk/mknhs-guidance-handbook).  In brief it is to lead the work of the Committee. Two of the current Officers and previous holders of the position, Linda Murphy (lindamurphy49@btinternet.com) and Martin Kincaid (mkincaid1971@outlook.com) have indicated their willingness to discuss the role informally on the telephone if you would find that helpful – again in confidence. Please email them to fix a time for doing this.

Thank you

Joe Clinch, Acting Chair

Linford Lakes Nature Reserve Moth Report, August 2020 – Gordon Redford

Recording moths is never a lonely business.  This little feller in his red jacket (above) joins me most mornings and is the reason that I now have to net all the moths in the trap before he/she has them for breakfast.
(All photos: Gordon Redford)

What a strange month this has been for weather conditions and consequent moth turnout.  The catches, which are all released unharmed, began with around 250 or so each evening rising to 450 when the temperatures soared and then the wind and rain which sent numbers visiting the traps plummeting so that on the 30th August just 27 moths dared to show their faces.  It was just our bad luck that we had arranged for 25th to be the day for the Society to video the opening of some traps at the Reserve. (See separate news item: Emptying the moth traps at LLNR.)
I think 58 moths and 19 species was our haul for that evening. Nationally it was not too good either as 27th-29th August was designated this year’s National Moth Night.  All 3 nights were wet, cold and windy.

That said all the records for the month of August have been entered in the data base and the numbers show that 6,695 moths visited the traps and that is the best August total ever at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR).  This is almost 1,000 moths more than the previous high total for August which was in 2019.  The number of species recorded was 178 and curiously that number is 12 less than the 190 species that were recorded last year.  12 species were added to August list for LLNR of which 1 was new to the site.  The other 11 species had been recorded on site before.  The new one for the site was a micro moth named Golden Argent.


Golden Argent

There are 25 species in the Argent genus with the largest having a forewing of 6.5mm.  Most rest in a declining posture with head close to the surface and abdomen raised.  The caterpillars feed on Birches and Alders of which there are many at LLNR.

The macro/micro division among moths can be confusing because some micro moths are very large indeed and some macro moths are very tiny.  One such tiny macro is the Pinion-streaked Snout.


Pinion-streaked Snout

The forewing is between 9 and 11mm and 13 were recorded during August this year.  It has 2 generations in the south and this, the second generation, was good to see because only 1 was recorded in the first generation.  It overwinters as a caterpillar and remarkably, its food plant in the wild is unknown.

The most abundant moth in the month of August this year was the Common Wainscot with 1,394 appearances.


Common Wainscot

Michael McCarthy in his very readable The Moth Snowstorm describes how 60-70 years ago driving at night in summer sometimes was just like driving through a snowstorm because of the large numbers of moths.  The Common Wainscot would almost certainly have been a major constituent.  They have 2 overlapping generations in a year and their caterpillars are grass feeders.

There are around 40 species of wainscot moths arranged in 2 groups and their colours help to conceal them in their marshy habitats and, if I have done my sums right, 19 have been recorded at LLNR.  Webb’s Wainscot has been recorded every August in each of the past 10 years and the 145 counted this year is the best ever.


Webb’s Wainscot

The Twin-spotted Wainscot was recorded in August, 2016 for the first time and then not again till this year when 9 were recorded.


Twin-spotted Wainscot

The caterpillars feed on Common Reed and the moth overwinters in the egg state.  The adults do not feed.

August, 2020 was a good one for the Blood-vein with 29 being counted.  The previous highest number was 16.  The moth is well named.


Blood-vein

The Blood-vein enjoys 2 generations usually and the caterpillars feed on Docks, Orache, Sorrel and Knotgrass.

It was good on the 11th August to record a Jersey Tiger.  This is the 3rd year in a row that this moth has been recorded at LLNR.


Jersey Tiger

It has undergone/is undergoing a huge increase in range and has been seen regularly in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire in recent years.  The food plants of the caterpillars include Nettles, Plantains, Ground-ivy and Brambles and are abundant at LLNR so who knows.

My final August moth is the magnificent Clifden Nonpareil which made an appearance on the 24th .  This is the third record for LLNR, the other 2 being last year.


Clifden Nonpareil

The Clifden part of the name is in recognition of the moth’s discovery at what is now Cliveden House by the Thames near Maidenhead in the 1740s.  It became extinct in the UK in 1964 but recolonised southern England from about 2007.  Evidence suggests that it is slowly spreading north from that coastal base.

Gordon Redford

Emptying the moth traps at Linford Lakes NR, 26th August 2020

Above: The purpose-built trap at LLNR (Photo: Gordon Redford)

The evening of Tuesday 25th August was originally scheduled for a Society BBQ and Moth Night at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve. This was cancelled along with the rest of the summer walks due to Covid 19, but in turns out that it would have been cancelled anyway as 25th August saw the arrival of heavy rain followed by strong gales as storm Francis swept through.

Gordon Redford nevertheless ran the two traps there as usual and as a better forecast was scheduled for 26th, I joined Gordon and Ayla Webb in the early morning to video them emptying the traps and recording the night’s catch. Weather conditions meant this was not very large, but represents a selection of what is flying at this time of year at Linford Lakes. Any deficiencies in the videos are down to me!

The first trap is situated between a reedbed and the lake; the second is a fixed, purpose-built trap against the wall adjacent to the main building at the reserve.

The video of the emptying of the first trap is in two parts:

Video 1:  Emptying of first moth trap, Part 1

Video 2:  Emptying of first moth trap, Part 2

The video of the emptying of the second trap is here:

Video 3: Linford Lakes Moth Trapping

At the start of this third video, where we look at the contents of the fixed, purpose-built trap at LLNR, there is mention of the shed that Gordon would like – but somehow we never came back to explain …  This refers to the moth trapping arrangements of Mr Plusia (who gave his name to the moth called Dewick’s Plusia) in the 1950s on the Essex coast. He had a shed with a similar style moth trap built into the roof. Photos show him in the shed, with the shed’s walls covered in moths. He could examine them at leisure without any danger of them flying away, or any problems with wind and rain! Maybe one day, Gordon …

Linda Murphy

A British record day for Common Swift passage

The Birdguides website (www.birdguides.com) reported, in a blog by Ben Ward on 4th July, that 46,026 swifts were seen passing Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire on 29th June 2020.  This is considered to be the highest single-site count made in Britain, surpassing the previous highest of 31,350, which was also made at Gibraltar Point, on 31 July 2019. For the full story, including short videos, go to a-british-record-day-for-common-swift-passage

Elephant hawk moth Caterpillar, Deilephilia Elpenor by Julian Lambley, Old Wolverton Mill, 11 September 2016

A Lakeside Reflection – Chris Coppock

Yesterday my partner and I were sitting by Caldecotte Lake, when she pointed out a “huge caterpillar” on willow-herb a few feet away over tangled waterside vegetation.  With close-focused bins I quickly confirmed it as an Elephant hawkmoth, and was pleased she’d spotted it as she’d been wowed finding an adult in her garden a few years ago.  Though dark, it was lighter and more strikingly marked than the typical velvety black – sadly an exact match for tarmac – seen by most who encounter these larvae when roving pre-pupation.

I then launched into some “mansplaining”: eyespots, head, mandibles, horned tail – that sort of thing.  However, her responses – in particular her efforts to describe its markings – made little sense to me.  If there is a goddess of effective communication she was clearly struggling, but disagreement would only have spoiled the moment.  I wanted to share the pleasure – my sense that in some small corner all’s well with the world – which I have always had seeing a caterpillar peaceably munching its food-plant.  A Kingfisher shot past, a Heron settled in a dead tree.

Eventually:
She:  “What’s that dark thing a bit above it?  Is it a dead leaf or something?”
Me:   “What dark thing?  The only dark thing is the caterpillar.”
She:  “My caterpillar’s not dark at all”.

Her caterpillar was in fact about six inches lower, bright apple-green and equally large, though I’d entirely failed to see it (I plead intervening foliage and a slightly different sightline).  It was of course a second Elephant hawk.  Though the adult is pretty constant, the larvae have a wide spectrum of colour variation, and this was clearly “extreme green”—more like an Emperor or Privet hawk, in fact.

Yet it’s likely both larvae were from eggs laid by one female, and mated by a single male.  A genetic conundrum almost as interesting as how two people can spend twenty minutes thinking they are discussing the same object when they’re not.

Chris Coppock, 27 August 2020

[Photo of Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar, Deilephilia Elpenor, by Julian Lambley, Old Wolverton Mill, 11 September 2016]

Pipistrelle Bat Linford Lakes NR 17th October 2016 Martin Kincaid

International Bat Night 29-30 August 2020

This annual celebration of bats sees bat events for the public taking place across the country. This year (2020) International Bat Night is 29-30th August! https://www.bats.org.uk/support-bats/international-bat-night

This celebration of bats is held by bat groups and the Bat Conservation Trust, to coincide with International Bat Night (formerly European Bat Night) which is organised by Eurobats. We aim to encourage thousands of people across the country to see and hear bats in their natural environment by taking part in a range of events organised by local bat groups, wildlife trusts, countryside rangers and other organisations across the country.

Through the website you can download a free International Bat Night Pack  Inside you will find ideas on how to celebrate bats, help bat conservation, further resources and more! You will find lots of useful hyperlinks throughout the document too so you or you can print the packs or bits of it.

The photo is of a Pipistrelle Bat Pipistrellus pipistrellus, photographed at Linford Lakes NR on 17th October 2016, by Martin Kincaid.

National Moth Night – 27-29 August 2020

This year’s National Moth Night takes place over three nights: Thursday 27th-Saturday 29th August.  Information about activities can be found at www.mothnight.info

“Organised by Atropos, Butterfly Conservation and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Moth Night is the annual celebration of moth recording throughout Britain and Ireland by moth recording enthusiasts.

Each year a theme is chosen with one or more target species to look out for. [Moth Night 2020 coincides with the flight periods of four of the Red Underwing moths recorded in the British Isles – and this is a theme this year.] But Moth Night is about all moths and participants are encouraged to find and record as many different species as they can. If you are new to moth recording, then go to our Taking Part page for information on how to get started.

In previous years public events have been a feature of Moth Night. In 2020 however, due to the ongoing situation with Covid 19 we are not encouraging or promoting public events as part of Moth Night. We hope to be back with a public event element in 2021. Moth Night is the perfect event for garden participation, however, and we hope that people will make the most of the opportunity to look at what moths occur in their gardens.”

(Photo of Dark Crimson Underwing © Gordon Redford.)

Bird Photographer of the Year 2020

“From diving cormorants and gannets, to delicate hummingbirds and petrels, you can view the winning and shortlisted images from this year’s Bird Photographer of the Year here.

Bird Photographer of the Year is an annual international photography competition which celebrates birds.owned by conservation charity Birds on the Brink, and the money generated from the competition will used to award grants to conservation projects that benefit birds.”

(Based on an item in the BBC’s latest online newsletter, Discover Wildlife.)

MK Festival of Nature, 31 August- 6 September 2020

Press release from The Parks Trust

MK Festival of Nature is a special programme of activities to celebrate the beautiful and inspiring nature found in Milton Keynes’ green space.

To find out more about the events or to book follow the link here:
https://www.theparkstrust.com/events/mk-festival-of-nature-2020

This year’s MK Festival of Nature was due to take place in June but due to the situation around COVID-19 we’ve postponed this until August. The festival will now run from 31st August – 6 September 2020. We’ve also adapted the activities that were due to take place to comply with the current government.

So now over this week-long festival, you can join us at one of our ticketed events or can get involved with some of the online activities that we will be sharing via our social channels throughout the week. All of these are designed for you to either do at home or in your local park.

If you fancy getting out and about then why not take part in one of our walks. We have a variety to choose from including; evening Bat walks, where you’ll join our bat enthusiasts for a walk around Walton Lake to discover these nocturnal animals that fly through our parks. Or maybe try a Wellbeing Walk for Families, where you’ll connect with nature, use your senses to take in your surroundings as well as taking part in relaxing activities.

Grown-ups will also be able to join in the fun of the festival in our Foraging Walk for Adults which is being held at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve. This session is designed to give you an introduction to locating and harvesting food for free in our parkland spaces. But not only that it will also help to increase your confidence in identifying wild plants, berries and nuts.

For those budding star gazers why not enjoy our event, Explore the skies with UK Astronomy. In this virtual event you’ll find out more about our solar system and beyond in this fascinating talk by the team.

If you’re looking for something more creative, then you could join local artist Kate Wyatt for a morning of artistic discovery at Great Linford Manor Park. In this session for adults you’ll learn how to record the natural environment through sketching and other artistic techniques. Kate Wyatt is a professional artist based in Milton Keynes and her speciality is British wildlife, flora and fauna. You will be drawing outdoors from life using different media and beginning a journal of ideas and observations of your surroundings.

 

Birds by Night: Recording Nocturnal Migration in South MK – Harry Appleyard

Above: Carrion Crow, Tattenhoe, April 2017 (All photos, images and recordings © Harry Appleyard)

Getting Started

One of my long-term missions in my local birding has been to record as many species as possible from within the Tattenhoe area in the south of Milton Keynes. While there are many places I could visit across the rest of the city to generate a much longer species list, I prefer to base mine on a lower-carbon approach, through what I see and or hear close to home. Currently, my list of species for Tattenhoe and the surrounding areas since 2008 sits at 128.

Having already listed the resident species, as well as frequent annual migrants, new additions come at a much slower pace now, but an increasingly talked-about area of birding that I’m hoping will help me, is ‘nocmig’, the recording of nocturnal bird migration. After some research with the aid of other birders on Twitter, I invested in the Tascam DR-05 last year. While I can’t say it has added anything new to the list yet, it has been well worth getting into, having recorded several species I’ve never previously observed from my garden before, some of which have been rare or only occasional on my walks in this corner of MK in the past.


Tascam DR-05 recorder and tripod

The recorder is placed into a bucket coated in bubble-wrap, to suppress background noise. The AA batteries for the recorder usually just about make it through a 6-7 hour recording, however they will run out of power much sooner on cold or windy nights. Its minimum operating temperature according to the product manual is 6 degrees Celsius, so ideally not one to leave out in the open in winter. WAV format is usually one of the better formats to choose for recording, as MP3 audio may not be quite as clear for distant sounds and more vulnerable to compression.

After I’ve finished the recording, I scan through the audio using Audacity. Amplifying the audio by around 20-24 decibels has been key in picking out the bird vocals, as unless they are perched close to the bucket or calling as they fly directly over the garden, not only are they harder to hear, but also harder to see in the spectrogram, where visual signatures of their vocalizations can be found among the other sounds of the night.

Once the audio is amplified, the next stage is scrolling through the spectrogram, which can be expanded and magnified to make finding the often-fleeting calls of nocturnal migrants much easier. Most vocals from passing birds on the audio are thin dots and streaks, though the louder they are and the more they are magnified, the more unique and recognisable they become. Sudden knocks or movements of objects nearby and typical urban sounds like car horns or distant alarms, may look like vocals on first inspection.

Below: Spectogram and recording of Little Ringed Plover, 15th July 2020.
Photo taken Forest Floodplain NR, April 2015


 

The dawn chorus is often a mess of streaks and lines all over the spectrogram from typical garden visitors like the Wren, Robin and Crow, even more so earlier in the summer when warblers and other birds are in the mix. When the display starts to get crowded, it’s worth listening closely for early morning flyovers, or birds you might not usually see in your garden, like the Bullfinch.

Findings from 2019 to Present

Since I started the recordings, the Moorhen has been one of the more frequent night-time flyovers, interestingly regarded as a common nocturnal migrant across the UK but it’s hard to be sure whether I have caught true migrants travelling long distances or resident birds disturbed from their territories nearby, perhaps flushed from their roosts by foxes or cats in the early hours of the morning.


Above: Moorhen, Tattenhoe Valley Park, March 2016
Below: Recording of Moorhen, 11th April 2020

 

Having seen them only once in the garden before, Tawny Owls have also been a pleasant surprise, occasionally perched and calling nearby. From the night of 23rd October and into the morning of 24th October 2019, the recording picked up at least a dozen flight calls from Redwings and a Blackbird. 2020 has been much more productive in variety of species so far, largely thanks to already having the recorder ready for use through the peak migration period in spring.

Recording of Tawny Owl, 10th September 2019

Of the 59 bird species I’ve recorded from the garden so far this year, 5 of them have been picked up exclusively on the overnight recordings. 26th March produced a Coot at around 2.54am, an infrequent visitor to Tattenhoe’s waterways rather than established resident like its close relative the Moorhen. 5th April produced my first garden record of Oystercatcher, an occasional flyover here in recent years, calling as it passed over at 00.50 am, with another a few weeks later at around 1.13 am on 15th June.

By far the most exciting bird I’ve recorded since starting this and the least expected one for my suburban garden was a male Nightjar, churring for a few minutes somewhere nearby at 3.55am on 31st May, just as the dawn chorus was starting to kick off. Surrounded by houses with a few deciduous thickets nearby, this isn’t the sort of place where I would have actively been looking out for them initially, however in research and speaking to other birders online, I found out that they have been known to travel several kilometres away from their heathland- and woodland-based breeding grounds while hunting. He could have also been a passing migrant, albeit a late arrival, like the one I found hawking around an oak tree further along the Tattenhoe valley on 2nd October last year.

Below: Spectogram and recording of Nightjar churring among Robin song, 31st May 2020

 

Two other firsts for my garden since the Nightjar have been the Little Grebe, calling at around 1.16 am on 11th June and 3 am on 21st July and another rare flyover for the Tattenhoe area, the Little Ringed Plover, making two calls at 1.34am on 15th July. Small passerines have also made brief callouts in the dead of night, with single bursts of song from a Blackcap at 23.49 on 14th April and a Lesser Whitethroat just after midnight on 21st May.

Below: LIttle Grebe, recorded 11th June 2020

 

Below: Blackcap, photographed Howe Park Wood, April 2017; Recording of male Blackcap, Tattenhoe, 14th May 2020


Conclusions

A typical night usually starts with traffic noise, with the last two hours ending with a gradual build-up of garden birds. The fleeting flight calls of passing migrants have been few and far between so far but nonetheless, it’s a small project that has proven well worthwhile, helping to record several species I’ve rarely come across within this locality in the daytime, plus more locally common species that I haven’t previously heard at night.

This is a field of birding I would love to hear about more people in Milton Keynes getting into. With such a diverse range of habitats across the city, there are near countless possibilities for what might get recorded along the way. It has proven to be a great way of picking up rarities and local scarcities across the UK, such as the Ortolan Bunting, Bittern and Quail.

Do not feel pressured into having to know all the vocalizations of British birds before you get started. There are plenty of guides online that can help you along the way, plus websites such as Xeno-canta which are packed with thousands of bird songs and calls, many of which are labelled as nocturnal recordings. Searching ‘#nocmig’ on Twitter has usually been my way of keeping an eye on what other people have found on their recordings across the country, which has been useful for finding out about unprecedented night-time movements of species like the Common Scoters, plus positively identifying flight calls during the height of migration through spring. With Autumn migration starting to kick off, now is a great time to get started, the sooner the better!

I am still a beginner with this and have much to learn about the technicalities of audio enhancement and recording, but I am pleased with the results so far. A website I would highly recommend checking out, should you wish to get stuck in is: https://nocmig.com/.

Harry Appleyard
August 2020

Bumblebee

BCN Wildlife Trust events on Bumblebees and other Pollinators

You may be interested in two upcoming online events which are being run by Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust on 20th and 26th August:

1. Introduction to British Bumblebee Ecology and Identification with Ryan Clark (20 August, 7-8.30pm)

Join Ryan Clark, Northamptonshire’s Bees, Wasps and Ants County Recorder, as he introduces participants to the fascinating ecology of bumblebees and guides participants through the identification of the most common species found in Britain.

For booking information, click here

2. Introduction to Pollinators and Pollination with Professor Jeff Ollerton
(26 August, 7-8.30pm)

Join Jeff Ollerton, Professor of Biodiversity in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Northampton, for an introduction to the natural history of pollinators and how they interact with the flowers that they pollinate.

For booking information, click here

Hen Harrier Day online, 8 August 2020 – Sue Hetherington

As a postscript to the item below, Sue Hetherington adds:
I’ve just called on my local MP to urge for our governments to protect the wildlife and habitats of our uplands, for nature and for people.  Join me and contact your local politicians at http://www.wildjustice.org.uk/sos.

Saturday 8th August was “Hen Harrier Day 7”, an annual event which started in 2014 with “the sodden 570” at the Derwent Dam. It is the day when people stand up and be counted to say they protest at the threatened extinction of the Hen Harrier as a breeding bird in our country.  This year, events were planned at 7 locations – Snowdonia, Arne, Rainham, Cairngorms, Sheffield, Aberdeen and Kirriemuir.  Wild Justice (Chris Packham, Mark Avery and Ruth Tingay) said in March this year “These events are sufficiently far away that it would be premature to fear they won’t happen but it would be a brave person who was sure that they would”.  Well, none of us need reminding about the devastation SARS-CoV-2 has wreaked!

Last year, in Derbyshire, Wild Justice organised the largest ever Hen Harrier Day event with at least 1500 attendees.  This year we’ve been part of the gang but a new charity, Hen Harrier Action, has organised Hen Harrier Day. When they started they thought that they would be helping lots of local organisers set up their own events, big and small, across the UK but coronavirus put paid to that.  Instead we had Hen Harrier Day online going right through from 10am until 4pm. A flavour of the event can be seen from the video of the event’s evening final here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwNB8MCN_qA

The image above is from Hen Harrier Day 6, in Derbyshire.  Andrew and I were both there and we are in the photo.

Sue Hetherington

 

Linford Lakes NR Moth Report for July 2020 – Gordon Redford

Photos by Gordon Redford. Above: a Crescent moth

If someone had asked me on the 31st July how I thought the past month had been for mothing at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR) I would have replied by saying that, apart from a couple of highlights, it had not been especially great.  It did not feel to me that it had been a good month. Now, having fed all the records into Mapmate, it is clear that my answer would have been incorrect.  The facts are that July, 2020 has been the best July since recording regularly at LLNR began in 2011.  The best not only in the numbers of moths attracted to the moth traps there but also in the numbers of species recorded.

4,746 moths was the July, 2020 total and this exceeded by some 400 moths the previous highest July figure of 4,339 in 2017.  The 236 moth species recorded in 2020 also exceeded the previous highest July figure, also in 2017, of 200 species. 36 of the 236 species recorded in July, 2020 were new to July records and 15 species were new to the site.  The other 21 new species to July but not new to the site had been recorded in other months. Good quality biological records are vital so that effective nature conservation decisions can be made and they can also confirm, and in my case, disprove a “feeling” that the month had not been that good. As alluded to above, there were some highlights and probably the brightest of these was the appearance on the 24th July of a Dark Crimson Underwing.


Dark Crimson Underwing (Photo: Gordon Redford)

This is a moth on the move.  The Atlas of Britain and Ireland’s Larger Moths states that it is ”A rare moth confined to the New Forest and a few woods in north Hampshire and south Wiltshire with signs of a recent increase in range”.  The Buckinghamshire County Moth Recorder told me that it was only the 3rd record for Bucks in modern times with the other 2 being in the last 2 years.  The caterpillars feed on Oak.

Highlights numbers 2 and 3 are also moths on the move. On 8th July 2 Dotted Fan-foots (or should it be feet?) were found in the trap.


Dotted Fan-foot (Photo: Gordon Redford)

The Atlas again has this moth expanding its range from the wetlands of East Anglia, Essex and the Thames Estuary westwards. The County Moth Recorder has this record as 25 km further north than any of the 40 or so records he has for the county.  Let us hope that the moth takes to the wetlands of Milton Keynes.

Highlight number 3 is a Tree Lichen Beauty which appeared on 27th July.  I have to say that I do so like those moths wearing green and it is good to have this one join the list.  The green seems to wear pretty quickly so it is especially good to see a freshly emerged specimen.


Tree Lichen Beauty (Photo: Gordon Redford)

After three 19th century records, there were no sightings in Britain until 1991.  Immigration became more frequent and by the early 2000s, the moth was established in south-east England and it is now steadily spreading.  The moth was not in the trap but on the wall behind it which is covered in lichen.

Having owned up to liking my greens, there now follow 2 moths that made appearances in July sporting some green.  On 17th of the month on the last egg box to be checked I found this Large Emerald.


Large Emerald (Photo: Gordon Redford)

It was the third record for LLNR and was last seen in 2015.  Caterpillars feed on Birches and some other trees too.  Its legs are tucked away in the photograph but they are brown and white in colour.

The final “green” moth is one of a group of LLNR specialists in that their favoured habitat is wetland.  It is the Cream-bordered Green Pea.  It is about 10mm in length and rests with its wings at a steep angle.


Cream-bordered Green Pea (Photo: Gordon Redford)

It is resident at LLNR and 3 were recorded in July on 12th, 29th and 30th.  Its caterpillars feed on the terminal shoots of sallows and willows.  A good friend of mine once remarked that a name like Cream-bordered Green Pea sounds like something that should be on a menu rather than be that of a moth.

Another wetland specialist is the Crescent and there were 9 records for this month in July. The food plant of the caterpillars is Yellow Iris and Great Fen and other sedges and Bulrushes.   It overwinters as an egg.


Crescent (Photo: Gordon Redford)

Gordon Redford