Author Archives: Martin Ferns

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

.

 

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

New Dragonfly Species for MK: Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope) – Harry Appleyard

While inspecting one of the ponds in Tattenhoe yesterday (31st July) I spotted an Emperor that stood out from the rest nearby. With green eyes and a largely brown abdomen with a blue segment beneath the wings, it was almost immediately clear this was a male Lesser Emperor. Getting sharp, detailed pictures was a bit of a challenge as he spent several minutes patrolling the pond, occasionally getting into fights with the other male Emperors before disappearing over a meadow nearby. Fortunately, the few I did get, while blurry and a little distant, were clear enough to show the distinctive features.


Lesser Emperor Anax parthenope (Photos: Harry Appleyard)

After its first appearance in the UK in 1996, this species has slowly appeared throughout England and Wales, breeding across an increasing range of sites, becoming less of a vagrant and more established coloniser. They have already been present in Buckinghamshire for several years but this is the first one to have ever been recorded in Milton Keynes, verified by the British Dragonfly Society’s Bucks County Recorder Alan Nelson.

Having skimmed past them in my odonata books over the past few years, it was amazing to finally see one, out the blue and virtually on my doorstep!

Unfortunately there was no sign of him today, 1st August 2020, in the same location or around any of the other ponds nearby. There is a good chance he may have just been passing by, especially with the strong southerly breeze from yesterday afternoon onwards. Still, with recent sightings of them at Tring and Wilstone Reservoirs over multiple days recently, it is worth keeping an eye out for them around MK’s large ponds and lakes. If you find any in MK or any other part of Bucks, be sure to report them via The British Dragonfly Society: https://british-dragonflies.org.uk/recording/submit-your-records/

Harry Appleyard

 

Magpie

Magpie ready for Digesting

Our first edition of the new ‘Magpie Digest‘ is now available on the website. To minimise costs, it is only being printed and posted to members without online access.  When our new team took over the running of the website it was decided a rethink was needed on the overlap of material that existed between the Website and Magpie newsletter.  We are keen to continue to provide access to interesting publications/articles for all members so this publication is composed of a selection of the articles sent in by our members to the Society’s website over the past 4 months.

Partly thanks to Covid and also the enthusiasm and encouragement of our new team we have had a wonderful number and variety of contributions which we hope will continue to flow in our post Covid world. As editor of this Digest, I have not been able to use all the articles published on the website as the cost of printing them all would be too high but I have tried to select shortish articles which I feel translate best to the printed page and cater for a broad range of interests from plants to insects to birds etc. I have not included all photos submitted with the original articles and have very occasionally edited out some text, but I hope you feel that I have got the balance about right and apologise to anyone who is disappointed that I have not included their article. I am open to thoughts and comments about this publication. (Please send these to  webeditor@mknhs.org.uk.) Enjoy!

Julie Lane

Plans for the autumn programme, via Zoom

Reluctantly, the Committee has concluded that for the rest of this year the Society’s activities will have to be delivered virtually using Zoom technology or via the Society’s website. This decision has been taken in the light of the continuing government limitations imposed as a result of coronavirus on individuals and organisations, and advice from the City Discovery Centre that the Cruck Barn is unlikely to be available for hire earlier than the New Year. Should CDC be able to open safely earlier than this, they will let us know. You may already be aware of other local organisations which are having to make similar decisions and you may already have been using Zoom yourself with friends, family or work colleagues during the lockdown.

Zoom is a digital platform that allows multiple participants to meet together in real time with the option to be heard and seen, and to hear and see others. To access meetings you need either a PC (with camera), a laptop, a tablet, or an iPad. A smart phone can also be used, but the size of screen limits what can be seen. Before a Society meeting, members will be sent an invitation including a link to join the meeting (all these meetings are member-only events: visitors by prior arrangement may be possible for later events). If you are using a PC or laptop, simply click on this link and follow the instructions in order to join. If you are using a tablet, iPad or smart phone, you will need to download the app form the relevant app store.

More information about how to access and use Zoom features is available on the website’s new Zoom Support page.

Access to Zoom sound by telephone is still under investigation.

There will be several opportunities to try it out and get familiar with using Zoom during August.

Tuesday 11th August: Social members meeting via Zoom for familiarisation

Tuesday 18th August: A virtual tour of College Lake hosted and presented on Zoom by MKNHS member Sue Hetherington

Monday 24th August: Social members meeting via Zoom for familiarisation

Tuesday 1st September: First meeting of the autumn progamme – Welcome Back Members Evening with a focus on summer highlights.

Further details of all events are on the programme page.

 

Clearwing capers – Andy Harding

Currant Clearwing moths ….no!…but….

A few weeks ago I put in an appeal here to see if there were any extensive black or red currant bush plantings in or near MK, which I could access.  The objective was to place a synthetic lure in prospective sites to see if Currant Clearwing moths Synanthedon tipuliformis were present.  This was always a rare species, but as the growing of currant bushes in gardens has declined, it is presumed it has also decreased in numbers.

I received two very positive responses.

The first was very local to me, where Jenny Mercer obtained permission for me to place a lure in Stony Stratford, Wolverton Road, allotments, under her supervision, only for that to be withdrawn by a ‘jobsworth’ at the last minute.

Undaunted, on Tuesday 23rd June, I decided to recce the allotments to see if the currant bushes were close enough to the fence to make it worthwhile to put up a lure outside.  I decided to try, but was taken by the proximity of some old apple trees.  So I first put up a Red-belted Clearwing Synanthedon myopaeformis lure (another nationally rare species) on a sapling outside the allotment fence, with no expectation at all.  By the time I had put up the Currant Clearwing lure on another sapling and turned round, there were two male Red-Belted Clearwings at the first lure.  Once photographed, that lure was returned to its sealed and cold container in a ‘cool bag’, so that they would not be attracted again.  They need to be attracted to real females.

 
Red-belted Clearwing Synanthedon myopaeformis, Stony Stratford 23 June 2020 (Photos: Andy Harding)

My second lead for the Currant Clearwings was provided by Julie Lane, who arranged for me to contact Mike Totton, the Chairman of the Olney allotment association.  He was perfectly happy to allow me access, but finding a mutually convenient date with the appropriate weather conditions of sunshine and a light breeze was not easy.

In the period before we actually met, I discovered two relevant things.  Firstly the Currant Clearwing ‘season’ in other areas had started early and could easily be ‘over’.  Secondly, during a Zoom meeting of the Beds moth group, I noted that Raspberry Clearwing Pennisetia hylaeformis had been found in north Bedfordshire.  This is a fairly recent colonist which appears to be spreading west from Cambridgeshire, where it was first discovered in 2007.

By now the continuing inappropriate weather was making our lack of a rendezvous embarrassing.  Therefore, despite poor conditions, I visited Mike on his allotment to explain what I wanted to do and why.  I put up lures for both aforementioned species … but not for very long as conditions worsened.  However, Mike did give me carte blanche to visit whenever I wanted. In the next week only Friday 17th July seemed at all likely. So I gave it a go, placing a Currant Clearwing lure invitingly adjacent to a nice crop of currants.  There were a few scattered raspberry bushes I could see, but placing a lure close to any of them meant watching with binoculars while attending the currant bushes.  Given this tricky situation I simply hung the Raspberry Clearwing lure on a pole close to where I was standing.  To my amazement, ten minutes later a male Raspberry Clearwing turned up, and I was able to take a few pictures.  After a couple of minutes, I took the lure down for reasons noted above.  Needless to say, no Currant Clearwings appeared in the next half an hour, but I think I got a great deal, since Raspberry Clearwing has only been formally recorded in Buckinghamshire on one occasion in 2012, with, possibly, a not yet submitted sighting in 2019.

 
Raspberry Clearwing Pennisetia hylaeformis, Olney 17 July 2020 (Photos: Andy Harding)

Currant Clearwings will have to wait until next year.

Andy Harding
July 2020

Garden Wildlife – Sue Hetherington invites nature in

I live in a 2-year-old new-build in Gawcott.  The front was a horrible desert – completely block-paved.  We ripped up the block paving, re-laying just enough to serve as a driveway, and returned the rest back to nature as far as we could. We chose to put a rowan tree in – to be honest, in the very ambitious hope that we might get waxwings in winter one day.  It flowered like mad this spring and the berries are coming on well.

I was amazed to do a bit of “washing-up time” birding from the kitchen window today and see a blackbird already setting about the berries.  It might not be my target bird but I was still very pleased to see that when you invite nature in, it will come.

(Not a great photo but not bad, given I was up to my elbows in washing up suds the minute before!)

Sue Hetherington
July 2020

Bee by Paul Lund

An opportunity for bug photographers in MKNHS

A new invertebrate photography competition has been launched.

The new annual photography awards will celebrate insects and other invertebrates in 10 categories, with judges including Buglife president Germaine Greer, naturalist and BBC Wildlife columnist Nick Baker and professional invertebrate photographers such as Levon Biss.

For further details go to the Luminar Bug Photography Awards 2020. https://www.photocrowd.com/photo-competitions/photography-awards/bpa-2020/#section-1199

The Grand Prize winner of the competition will be awarded £2,500 cash and the title of ‘Bug Photographer of the Year 2020’, as well as other prizes. There is also a title available for ‘Young Bug Photographer of the Year’ for the 13-17 age group.

Entries close 7 Sept 2020.

The featured photo of a bee in this item was taken by Paul Lund in his garden, and won first place in the 2015 MKNHS Photo Competition.

Jean Kent

In May we posted news of the death of Peter Kent, a former Chairman and active member of the Society over many years. For those MKNHS members who remember the Kents, we now pass on the news that his wife, Jean, also an active member, died just a few weeks after Peter.

Wilding plans – Bison in Kent and an ambitious proposal for East Anglia

(Photo: Kent Wildlife Trust)

With the effects of the climate crisis on the environment becoming increasingly clear, there are some interesting plans to re-wild areas with benefits for wildlife, ecosystems – and people too.
A very local project is the planned introduction of European Bison in Blean Woods near Canterbury, under the management of Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust *:

https://www.kentwildlifetrust.org.uk/wilderblean

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-53349929

Another on a much broader scale, led by a group of farmers in East Anglia, is the subject of an article by Patrick Barkham in The Guardian on 14 July:

Farmers hatch plan to return area the size of Dorset to wild nature

*Thanks to Peter Hassett for sending the links.

Stag-gered! – Matt Andrews

In late May and then throughout June and into the first few weeks of July, we are privileged to enjoy the emergence and spectacular appearance of male Stag Beetles (Lucanus Cervus). Happily for us, one of the best places in the UK to see these wonderful insects is Totternhoe in Bedfordshire, just a few miles south of Milton Keynes, the topography of which means one can see them both flying and settled without too much difficulty.

Totternhoe Knolls  is located on the north-east side of Totternhoe village, and the woodland spilling down from the Knolls meets the beetles’ requirements with undisturbed dells and hollows full of dead trees and rotted oak stumps, home to the inch-and-a-half long, curved beetle larvae.  Emergence into the adult state takes between four and seven years. Dependent upon available nourishment for the larval stage, the adult male beetle may be anything from one to three inches long, possessing ‘antlers’ (the male beetle’s jaw appendages) upwards of half-an-inch to over an inch long. And yes, they can pinch unwary fingers to draw blood, which I can attest to from my first ever Stag Beetle encounter in southern France, despite literature assuring you to the contrary. So, best not to touch!

(Photos: Matt Andrews)

With their wing cases stuck outwards and upwards at ninety degrees to their body line, sepia wings frantically buzzing and legs akimbo with those spectacular jaws jutting out to the front, these insects present a unique sight and sound on balmy June evenings.  The Elm hedge lining the opposite side of the road makes ideal landing spots and with care, you can hear the male beetles rustling about in the crisp bunches of Elm leaves.

Female beetles are difficult to find but by wandering – carefully! – with a good torch, along the rather busy Castle Hill Road from the ideal starting point of the Cross Keys pub, a great refreshment spot in better times, from around 9.45pm through until 10.30pm, you should both see (and hear) male Stag Beetles flying like miniature lunar-landers above you along the tree-line right down to head-height!

Enjoying the sight and sound of Europe’s largest beetle has become a much looked-forward to experience every summer and really is to be recommended as something not to be missed.

Matt Andrews
July 2020

New Wildflower Habitats at Stanton Low – Martin Kincaid

For those of you who know and enjoy Stonepit Field at Great Linford, in particular the species-rich limestone scrape which gives the site its name, you may also like to visit Stanton Low this summer.

Two new scrapes have been created at Stanton Low using a similar seed mix to that used at Stonepit over 20 years ago – and already wildlife is flourishing. There are several hollows near the canal which are the relics of the nineteenth century limestone quarrying which took place here. Early in 2019, the topsoil was removed and subsequently Parks Trust staff and volunteers sowed the seed mix. Dominant in the seed mix is kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria which is the larval foodplant of Small Blue butterfly. The butterfly should be able to make the short hop across from Stonepit and colonise this new habitat. You will also find Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus, Salad Burnet Sanguisorba minor, Field Poppy Papaver rhoeas and Sainfoin Onobrychis viciifolia in these hollows. Also of note is Viper’s Bugloss Echium vulgare, a plant which is cropping up more and more in Milton Keynes of late.


Wildflowers at one of the Stanton Low scrapes, June 2020 (Photo: Martin Kincaid)

When Helen and I visited one evening recently, we saw plenty of Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Ringlet and Marbled White butterflies and a fantastic number of bumblebees enjoying these nectar rich plants. Spoil from the two scrapes was mounded up close by and these mounds are now covered in thistles and teasels, which are another great resource for pollinating insects. The scrubby grassland surrounding the scrapes now regularly hosts breeding Grasshopper Warblers as well as the more abundant Common Whitethroat. Lesser Whitethroat has also been present.

I thoroughly recommend a visit to this new habitat. If visiting by car, park in the large car park off Wolverton Road near Asda (SP837417). From here, follow the mown path alongside the canal until you reach the two scrapes. There are seats and picnic tables right next to the scrapes.

Martin Kincaid

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

Main photo: Burnished Brass. All photos taken by Gordon Redford

At the beginning of June 2020, the number of species recorded in June at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR) stood at 293 accumulated over the 9 years that records have been consistently collected there.  By the end of June 2020, the number of species recorded in that month now stands at 310, an increase of 17 species. Of those 17 newly recorded June species, 3 were new records for the site and the remainder were all species that had made early appearances as they have been recorded in July up till now.  This appearance of some moths earlier than previously recorded continues the trend noted in the report for the month of May.

The month began with the appearance of the Beautiful China-mark some 10 days earlier than previous earliest date.  The moth is very well named as the photograph below shows.  There are 4 species of china-mark moth which remarkably have aquatic or subaquatic caterpillars.  The china-marks are named from the resemblance of their wing patterns to makers’ marks pressed into Chinese porcelain.


Beautiful China-mark 

The first week of June, the 4th to be precise, saw the appearance in the trap of the Burnished Brass.  21 were recorded during the month which is bettered only once in the 10 years of records.  The caterpillars feed most often on Common Nettle of which there is plenty at LLNR.  The adults, when fresh, are a delight to move when the sun is shining as the “brass” really comes into play.


Burnished Brass

One of the 3 moths recorded as new to the site in June was the Burnet Companion.  It is a day-flying moth and has probably been there all the time that this recording programme has been in place and before that too. Why it is so named is a bit of a mystery: although they occur in the same habitat as other Burnet moths they are seldom seen together, as the Burnet Companion flight season is over by the time the Six-spot Burnet appears.


Burnet Companion

The number of moths to visit the trap in June was 1,851 with 149 species recorded.  This compares with 2,824 moths and 170 species last year.  A Hornet was found on an egg box in the trap in mid-June so it may be that the Hornets are affecting numbers.  The Heart and Dart was the most numerous of the moths in June numbering 239.  Often the most abundant moths are also the most variable and the Heart and Dart is no exception.  However, all show the pair of pegs or darts on the top of the wing and the rough heart shape mark about half way down.


Heart and Dart

At the other end of the scale, it was good to report records for Iron Prominent and Leopard Moth, just one for each.  Neither appear in large numbers nor every year.  There are 9  Prominents in the UK and all have a tuft of scales which sticks up like a little pyramid.  The Iron Prominent is so named because the dark grey wings are edged with flecks of red-brown or rusty iron. Leopard Moths spend at least 3 years as caterpillars as they feed inside the trunks, stems and branches of trees where large volumes of wood have to be eaten to provide enough food for the caterpillar to develop.

                 
(l) Iron Prominent; (r) Leopard Moth

It is very good to report that 9 Scarlet Tigers were recorded during the month of June 2020.  I can recall the great excitement caused about 10 years ago when a couple were found at Shenley Brook End so for 9 to be counted is something special.


Scarlet Tiger

On the last day of the month it was lovely to see a Maple Prominent on an egg box in the trap.  Only the third time to be recorded there in the 10 year period and a very fine moth too.


Maple Prominent

Gordon Redford, June 2020

A glowing Covid story

A friend of mine, Michele Pudsey, who lives in Newton Blossomville has regularly seen glow worms (Lampyris noctiluca) along a local country road;  this year she recorded 12 on one evening including two mating glow worms. This road is very quiet and the verge is wonderful for all sorts of wild flowers but as Michele says the fact that the council haven’t been out cutting the verges this year has probably been to the advantage of the glow worms (and all the other wildlife that live there). She has submitted this sighting and the attached photos to The UK Glow Worm Survey www.glowworms.org.uk which is a site dedicated to all things to do with glow worms.

Mating glow worms, Newton Blossomville (Photos: Michele Pudsey)
Now is the time to look out for these fascinating insects so if you are out in the evenings in the countryside keep an eye out for that telltale green glow. If you want to find out more about them check out the site mentioned above and don’t forget to submit your sightings.  (Records can also be submitted via iRecord.)
 
Julie Lane

Nominations for NBN Awards for Wildlife Recording 2020

The National Biodiversity Network Trust (NBN Trust) is accepting nominations for the NBN Awards for Wildlife Recording 2020.

The National Biodiversity Network are once again accepting nominations for their Wildlife Recording awards.

All being well, the ceremony is to take place in Milton Keynes this year…could be a good omen for any recorders in the Society who would like to enter for one of the awards. What are you waiting for?? Nominations close 26 July.

https://nbn.org.uk/news-events-publications/nbn-awards-for-wildlife-recording/nbn-awards-wildlife-recording-2020/

 

Development, Planning and Growth – Pressures on wildlife

Brian Eversham, Chief Executive of Beds, Cambs and Northants (BCN) Wildlife Trust, outlines their stance on the Ox-Cam Arc, and sets out the principles by which this, and any other development, should abide if the biodiversity crisis is to avoided. Brian has given talks to MKNHS on a number of occasions. BCN Wildlife trust works closely with BBOWT through the Nature Recovery Network and their campaign to strengthen the Environment Bill.

https://www.wildlifebcn.org/blog/brian-eversham/development-planning-and-growth-pressures-wildlife-where-we-stand

https://www.wildlifebcn.org/what-we-do/nature-recovery-network

Both trusts together with the RSPB have set out a set of principles For ‘Nature’s Arc’ which can be found in full on the RSPB website. They are encouraging members to contact their MPs to express the importance of strengthening the Environment Bill

https://www.wildlifebcn.org/oxford-cambridge-arc

https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/campaigning/OxCam-Arc/

You may also be interested in the following critical perspective from George Monbiot:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/24/how-did-wildlife-groups-start-collaborating-in-the-destruction-of-nature-?CMP=share_btn_link

Perhaps he has a point if it is the case that there is still a chance that the whole project might be dropped. However, given that the same organisations have been campaigning vigorously on this issue for some years with only minor successes, maybe the new approach is more pragmatic.   The same debate applies to new development in and around MK – is it better to resist the building of new homes, or accept that it is inevitable (‘people have to live somewhere…’) and work to ensure that the planning of new housing developments both conserves as much wildlife as possible, and where possible provides new opportunities?

‘In conservation’ with David Lindo, The Urban Birder

You may recall the name David Lindo – he’s The Urban Birder, author, naturalist, media personality etc. – and he generously wrote a piece for The Magpie 50.  During the pandemic disruption he is hosting quite a few free hour-long zoom webinars, which you can book to join in live, or you can access a recording later.  You just need to go to web address https://theurbanbirderworld.com/live-webinars/ and scroll down to ‘Join In the Conservation’ (yes, that’s a pun – conservation/conversation).

There are upcoming ones which can be booked – mostly these are totally free.  You just click on the link and check out as you’d do with any online purchase, except this one has a charge of £0.00.  In due course you get an email confirming your order, which gives you a link to click on at the scheduled start time.  Easy as that!

Of particular interest is that Edward Meyer was ‘in conservation’ with David on the theme of Save our Swifts on Tuesday 23rd June. This and other past sessions are listed under the upcoming ones, by date.  You just click on the one you want to see and it starts there and then.

The ‘In Conservation’ series is in association with Leica Nature and Birding, and is part of the Nature Unwrapped season at London’s Kings Place – in which there a lot of other interesting events, past and planned (moved online until further notice). See https://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on/nature-unwrapped/

Sue Hetherington

A peregrine in Aylesbury – Sue Hetherington

On Sunday 21/6/20 afternoon and I very cautiously ventured out from pandemic purdah!
I wanted to see what was happening with the County Hall peregrines and I saw this juvenile two sets of windows down from the breeding platform.  It was very vocal, occasionally flying in pursuit of the adult.  I only have patchy information about this year’s Aylesbury story – essential building work enabled the County bird recorder a sneak peek in early May when one tiny chick and 3 eggs were briefly glimpsed (a longer look of course being prohibited by law because peregrines are category 1 protected) There was a recent report of a faller being found by the nearby railway yard, taken to Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital at Haddenham, then placed back on the roof of County Hall.  I don’t know if that’s the one in the photograph nor do I know what happened about the rest of the clutch of eggs.   A piece of information did pop up on Twitter a while back to say that an Aylesbury ringed bird from 4 years ago (identified from the lettering on the orange darvic ring on its leg) was paired but non-breeding on a building in Kettering.

In case there are any more ‘urban peregrine’ fans out there, I have a little more Buckinghamshire news.  There are now FOUR such sites in Bucks – Aylesbury and the MK Dons stadium and also the parish churches at each of High Wycombe and Marlow.  The latter two are also young pairs and not believed to be breeding yet.  Now the pandemic infection rates are falling a little, I may cautiously attempt to venture out to see if I can observe anything at these sites.

Sue Hetherington

Cuckoo ringing at Linford Lakes – June 2020

2020 has been a fabulous year for European Cuckoo in Milton Keynes and Bucks. At the time of writing, the number of calling cuckoos in our county is well over one hundred, and no doubt other records will come to light. Quite why the cuckoo has had such a successful year, set against many years of decline, is as yet unknown.

Local bird ringer and friend of MKNHS, Kenny Cramer, was aware that there were a number of male birds calling at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve this year and was determined to try and get some of them ringed. Even he could not have anticipated how successful he would be! What follows is Kenny’s own entertaining account of trapping and ringing cuckoos in early June:

“After successfully catching and ringing two new cuckoos in mid-May (our first since 2017), we decided to try our luck with a few sessions specifically aimed at cuckoos.

On Monday evening, a single 60′ net was set in the same position on the bund which had proved successful in the past. For this I chose to use a 45mm gauge net to reduce the chances of these larger birds bouncing out as they frequently do with standard 16mm nets used for catching small passerines. With Colin the decoy (a stuffed cuckoo!) in position, I retreated to the edge of the bund where I set up camp. I was joined by Martin Kincaid on this occasion (at an appropriate social distance of course..) and it wasn’t long before we were being treated to incredible sights and sounds of as many as four cuckoos singing and occasionally squabbling in the tree tops above us.

The first net round produced nothing but the frustratingly familiar sight of a cuckoo perched on top of one of the net poles and another flying overhead. We waited patiently for another few minutes, enjoying the strange grunting and chuckling sounds the male cuckoos make between songs. I spotted one bird flying low towards the net and went to investigate. This time we were successful and our third cuckoo of 2020 was in the bag! Despite at least 3 other birds being present, the only other captures were two blackbirds and eventually we decided we had had enough mozzie bites for one evening and furled the net.

I returned early Tuesday morning and quickly had the net open. There seemed to be less activity in general but it wasn’t too long before another new cuckoo was being ringed. This was followed by a re-trap of the first cuckoo we had ringed back in May.

I packed up the net and headed back to the car with various schemes and plans drifting in my head. I decided that it was time to dust off “the beast” (this is a rig consisting of 8m poles with nets being raised/lowered on a system of pulleys) and enlisted Sarah’s help to get it set up on Tuesday evening. I chose a position on the boundary path near which had been successful in the past and this time used two nets facing each other with Colin in the middle, one net on standard poles, and one net raised up on the beast. Once everything was set, we switched on the magical mix of cuckoo noises and hid by the car.

We hadn’t heard much cuckoo song while setting up, so I was utterly gobsmacked to return to the nets to find not one but *three* cuckoos in the nets (2 in the standard net, and 1 in the beast). I got them safely extracted and into bags while still in somewhat of a state of shock and disbelief. One of the birds turned out to be a re-trap of the same bird we had caught in May, and another posed an interesting aging challenge.


(Photo: Kenny Cramer)

This bird had retained one of its juvenile chestnut barred primary coverts on each wing (see attached pics.)  This would normally suggest it was a second year bird (or a 5 in ringing terminology), however within the wing there were multiple generations of adult type feathers and the iris was a striking bright yellow rather than a dull yellow, so in the end we aged it as a 6 (meaning a bird hatched 2 or more years ago.) Thinking that there was no way we could top that, we closed the nets and I returned on Wednesday morning for a final flourish.


(Photo: Kenny Cramer)

The final flourish turned out to be more of a damp squib with intermittent showers forcing me to stop catching for a time. One cuckoo did hit the net but didn’t stick (this first time I have seen one get out of the 45mm netting.)

So while it might seem like a lot of effort to go to for a relatively small number of birds, the privilege of getting to see these beautiful and secretive birds up close more than made up for it. I also learned a lot, proved that 2017 was not a fluke, and made the possibility of looking into starting a tracking project a more realistic proposition.”

Since writing this Kenny has caught and ringed a further three cuckoos bringing the total for this year to nine!

Martin Kincaid and Kenny Cramer
June 2020

 

The George Higgs Willen Collection – Postscript from Frances Higgs

Sue Hetherington’s article in the Magpie April 2020, mentioning her interest in seeing George’s moth collection, has prompted me to add more information.

Years ago it was known that George was making a collection of Lepidoptera solely from the Parish of Willen. He was asked if he would consider leaving it to Aylesbury Museum in his Will as a One Parish Collection would be a unique acquisition. This was duly granted and carried out after his death in 2012.

Our County Recorder for Moths, Martin Albertini, undertook the transfer of specimens from the original cabinet to the stackable Hill’s Units required for the Museum. As the transfer was made an Acquisition Number had to be added to the data on each pin. Entomological pins become very fine for tiny specimens, so it was specialised and delicate work. Martin carried it out with great dexterity and just one micro moth crumbled. In all, 1889 specimens were handled.

It was not a job that I could have done. My sole input was cutting up sheets of numbers and handing over the correct ones for the specimens as they were transferred. Two brass plates were suitably inscribed to be fixed to each cabinet.

Nothing stands still in the natural world and already several new species are in our county. George made his collection between 1967 and 2012. It remains a snapshot of Lepidoptera in Willen at that time.

Frances Higgs
June 2020

Dormice in Little Linford Wood – an update

Joyce Taylor Moore writes: With great perseverance (or, in his own words, being an awkward old ***) John Prince has rediscovered dormice in Little Linford Wood after an absence of over four years. The 300+ nest boxes and more recent footprint tunnels have yielded nothing but John, with great energy and technical expertise from https://www.ramblingsalamander.co.uk/, has found a dormouse high in the oak canopy on the first outing of his infrared camera trap. This has great implications for other projects where dormice appear to have dwindled away. John may have rewritten what we know about dormice – again!

Julie Lane adds an appeal on John’s behalf:  I have spoken to John Prince at length and he is going to write a longer article for us on his findings and plans for the future of the Dormouse project. He has been working on this project for over 20 years with the support of others along the way, but he is struggling to get out and about these days and yet he is still full of enthusiasm to find out more about these beautiful and fascinating creatures. He has asked if there is anyone within the society who would be happy to join the team and volunteer with some of the work involved so that the project can carry forward into the future. If you are interested please get in touch with me, Julie Lane or Martin Ferns at webeditor@mknhs.org.uk and we will put you in touch with John.

A moth with stickability: the Buff-tip – Andy Harding

During the fairly recent spell of unseasonably warm weather with clear blue sunny skies every day, a Buff-tip moth was with us for a few days exhibiting what I think is very odd behaviour.

Around 10pm on May 24th, my wife Mairi and I went outside to look for a couple of hedgehogs which had recently appeared in our garden and to check the walls and fence next to my moth trap.

Mairi noticed a large moth fly in and alight on the unopened bud of an ornamental Poppy about 3m from the light of the moth trap.  I was surprised it had not flown to the trap so photographed it with flash.

I was even more surprised to see it still on the bud at around 5.30 am the next morning.  The sun was continuously on the bud and moth for at least the next seven hours.  Thereafter it was in shade until the last couple of hours of sunshine on that day.

The night time temperature was ideal for moths to take flight, and the attractions of the moth trap were still available, but the next morning (May 26th) it was still there!  So I took a photo showing its exposed position and another of the bud starting to open.

 

I took the following photo later that day as the bud continued to open.

With only a very small adjustment of position it remained on the Poppy head until it was fully in flower:

and still remained when the petals started to fall.  When all petals had disappeared, it finally left the seed head…

…on the night of May  28th/29th to the fence adjacent to the moth trap!

It then never moved until the night of May 30th/ 31st when it finally disappeared.

The Buff-tip is an exclusively nocturnal species and generally such species abhor direct sunlight, but this moth was in direct sunlight for much of several days.  That, and its unwillingness to fly on a series of warm nights seems extremely peculiar.

My knowledge of moth behaviour is very weak, so I have no likely explanation, but Buff-tip is notable for its confidence in the effectiveness of its well- camouflaged appearance, so that it does tend sit in very exposed situations around moth traps, rather than hiding away…..but for four days on the Poppy head and two days on the fence!!!

Moths are so great!  Get a moth trap, or put out a sheet with a light behind it on a warm sultry evening, while enjoying a glass of vino.

Andy Harding

Linford Lakes NR Moth Report, May 2020 – Gordon Redford

All photos: Gordon Redford. Above: May Highflyer

May 2020 is my tenth year of recording moths at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (LLNR). A variety of moth traps have been used over that time but over the past 3 years access to mains electricity has allowed the use of stronger light sources. Prior to that, lower strength bulbs were used and they were powered by 12V car batteries. From August, 2019 a purpose built moth trap fed from the mains electricity has been in use and has provided most of the May records this year. The moths are attracted to the light source overnight which is over a box which readily permits access and less so egress. The moths settle in the box which is lined with cardboard egg boxes and there they stay until the trap is opened early in the morning when the moths are identified and released unharmed.

   
Trap built and provided by the Parks Trust for use at LLNR

In May 2020 the trap attracted 1255 moths of 101 species. This is the highest species number ever recorded there in May over the ten years of recording. 99 was the previous highest number of species recorded in May,  in 2017 when 1597 were attracted to the light. To confuse matters further, last year 2,917 moths were attracted to the light in May, more than doubling this year’s total, yet the total number of species recorded then was just 82.

A comparison of the species recorded over the years is interesting too. Of the 101 species recorded this year, 21 were new to the month of May and of these two, Shark and Least Black Arches were new to the site too. Most of the other new ones recorded for May were making early appearances as they have been recorded in June up till now. These records are confirmation of a trend towards earlier emergence by some species due to climate change.


2 new moths to LLNR recorded in May 2020. (L) Shark (R) Least Black Arches

It is well known that the numbers of individual moth species fluctuate over time with peaks and troughs. The May 2020 records have produced the highest May numbers at LLNR for Common Swift (162 – previous recorded high 112 in 2019), Poplar Hawk-moth (87 – previous recorded high 68 in 2017), White Ermine (179 – previous recorded high 92 in 2017), Treble Lines (87 – previous recorded high 52 in 2019) and Common Wainscot (82 – previous recorded high 8 in 2019).

Below: Moths recording their best May numbers this year

 
(L) Common Swift;  (R) Poplar Hawk-moth

 
(L) White Ermine;  (R) Common Wainscot

At the other end of the scale, the 2020 May records have produced low numbers for some species such as Small Square-spot (3 – from a high of 216 in 2017) and Green Carpet (59 – from a high of 300 in 2017).

Moths recording significant low numbers this year
 
(L) Green Carpet; (R)  Small Square-spot

In summary then, May 2020 at LLNR has been good for species recorded despite the numbers of moths attracted to the light being lower than in some previous years. It appears that some species are appearing noticeably earlier than in the past. Some species are clearly enjoying a very good May while some others not so.

Gordon Redford

Hedgehog ©Julie Lane, Olney 19 June 2019

Record your garden hedgehog sightings! Martin Kincaid

The enforced confinement most of us have been living under in the wake of Coronavirus has at least meant that we have all spent more time in our gardens or local patch. Fortunately, we have been blessed with consistently warm sunny weather for most of the spring and so I am sure many of us have been delighted to find new species of plant and animal – or perhaps familiar species in greater abundance – than in previous years. And of course, the much reduced human footprint in March and April has seen wildlife thrive across the UK.

Of particular note has been an increase in reports of hedgehogs. I have tried keeping in touch with many society members and other friends with an interest in wildlife and nearly everyone I have spoken to has seen a hedgehog in their garden or very nearby. I have heard a few comments such as “first time I have seen a hedgehog in the garden for at least five years” or “we normally just see one, but there were four feeding together last night”. You know who you are! So why should this be?

A high proportion of my hog sightings every year come in the form of road casualties. In April 2019, a work colleague and myself decided to count all of the roadkill hogs we could find around MK in one month. We counted 24. I repeated this in April 2020 (admittedly alone) and found just two. We were put into lockdown on 23rd March and although some of us were still driving for work, there were very few cars on the road for the remainder of March and much of April and crucially, almost no cars late at night when hedgehogs are most active. This is a very basic hypothesis but my feeling is that far more hedgehogs survived that vital post hibernation period, when they have to fatten up into breeding condition, than is the case in a typical year. In our Oldbrook garden, the hogs have been feeding very well and we are finding more and more droppings every week!

I would be very interested to hear from all and any of you about hedgehogs you see, specifically in your back or front gardens. I have a database which I can update with your sightings – just one record per garden is fine. What I need to know is:

  • Who – your name
  • When – date and time of sighting
  • Where – your postcode or 6 figure grid reference if you know it

You can either email me on mkincaid1971@outlook.com or phone me on 07765 010655. At the end of the year I will send all the collated sightings to BMKERC.

Finally, whilst we have all enjoyed the sunshine this year, as you may be aware hedgehogs are struggling to find enough to eat and especially to drink. If you think you have hedgehogs in your area, please leave out a shallow dish of water as often as you can, as well as any food you might put out. Tiggywinkles and other wildlife rescue centres report a huge increase in hogs with dehydration recently and this is something we could easily help to avoid. Remember also that we are now at the peak breeding season for these charming animals, so you may heard their noisy mating or, if you’re really lucky, find some hoglets in your own gardens.

Martin Kincaid
June 2020

(Photo: Julie Lane)

 

MKNHS member Harry Appleyard wins BMERC photo competition

Early this year BMERC held the first Wildlife Photography Competition 2020, with two categories ‘Wildlife’ and ‘Landscape’. The judges independently voted for two winning photos belonging to the same author – MKNHS member, Harry Appleyard, to whom go our congratulations.  More details can be found in the BMERC newsletter, linked below, which includes both photos: ‘Shepherd’s Delight’ and ‘Waxwing in Tattenhoe, December 2010’.

BMERC Newsletter 1 14-05-2020

The judges commented that some that some of the entrants ‘showed amazing level of passion and skills. The variety and beauty of some shots revealed incredible expertise and patience.’ The report notes that the judges had a tough job, before choosing the work of ‘an extremely talented young photographer’.

A new pond – Simon Bunker

We did the garden last year and we installed a pond, so I have been staking it out, looking carefully and pond dipping.  At first I thought it was devoid of life, but after being told to be patient things started to appear.

First up were pond skaters, so had a play taking their photo while they were skating on the pond.

Above: (l) Pond Skater; (r) Young Pond Skater

While pond dipping found back swimmers, water boatman, Mayfly nymphs, damselfly larva possibly common blue. Later confirmed when a green form emerged from the pond. Darter larva, plus 2 different diving beetles.

 

Above: (l) Back Swimmer; (r) Mayfly Nymph

Above: (l) Lesser Water Boatman; (r) Diving Beetle

Also we saw our first frog last week, but no frog spawn, hopefully next year.

While watching the pond I found the exuvia of the dragonfly and damselfly which I have collected and put onto microscope slides.

 

Above: (l) Common Blue damselfly larva; (r) Darter larva, poss. Common

   

Above: (l and r) Common Blue damselfly – green form

In between pond watching and working I also have been taking pictures of Myriapods and Isopods. Plus anything else that stayed still long enough!

 

Above: (l) Millipede; (r) Millipede – Polydesmus species

 

Above: (l and r) Woodlice-Philoscia-muscorum

Simon Bunker
(who took all the photos)

Access to Wildlife Trust Reserves – update

Government advice now allows travel to other places in England so you may be thinking of visiting nature reserves further afield. If you are a member of either the BBOWT or BCN Wildlife Trusts you will have received an up-date on the current situation on reserves access. If not, do check out the advice on their websites: https://www.bbowt.org.uk/covid-19-update and https://www.wildlifebcn.org/news/how-we-are-responding-covid-19.

In both cases most reserves are open, but car parks, visitor centres and bird hides remain closed.

The Secret Bee Bush – Ann and Mark Strutton

News of a busy Cotoneaster in Willen

One of the joys of late spring in our garden is the blooming of the Cotoneaster horizontalis.  This plant produces small pink flowers which, unless you inspect closely just seem to be buds that never open.

Even on a day like today, when the air temperature is around 10 C, the plant is alive with bees.  On a hot day, their humming is almost louder than the traffic on the M1.  All cotoneasters are good for nectar but this species is the best.  This plant is not more than 2 feet in height but about 5 feet across and, in a quick count today, there were at least two dozen bees on it.  The majority were the workers of the tree bumble bee, Bombus hypnorum and the spring bumble bee, Bombus pratorem.  Also present, a single honey bee – well it is a cold day.

The small flowers of the plant are well suited to the short tongued bumble bees.  It is well known that bees do not bother to visit a flower that has been recently visited by another individual bee. I read in Dave Goulson’s book, A Sting in the Tail, that it has been shown, by clever research which involved washing the feet of bees, that each bee leaves a smelly footprint on the flower which can be detected by another bee.  The smell declines over time so the insect can determine when the flower was last visited.  Different plants refill their nectaries at different rates, borage being a notable plant that refills very quickly, in about two minutes, compared with comfrey which takes upwards of forty minutes.  So out I go with my stopwatch and observe a single flower.  I took three readings all under ten minutes, the average time between visits being 6 minutes.  Considering that this single plant must be covered in thousands of flowers, it explains why it is such a good nectar source.

Our plant is one of a large family of cotoneasters which originate in India, Tibet or China. Horizontalis is the one that is most recognisable and has acquired a common name, the Fishbone or Herringbone cotoneaster.  Originally found in China, it was brought to the west in the 19th century by that saviour of deer, Pere David.  Considered by some to be too invasive, our plant arrived by chance about 20 years ago and established itself on the edge of our north-facing patio where, apart from when we trip over it, it has become most welcome.

As the year progresses, other species make the most of this shrub.  This week, when the song thrush chicks fledged, their parent took them right under the branches into its heart to hunt for snails.  Throughout the rest of the year, the wren is most active in it and the dunnock uses it as a hidey hole to escape from the aggressive robin.  We often see glimpses of bank voles rushing into cover under it and frogs and toads live under it as well.  Occasionally, a grass snake makes an appearance.  On one memorable occasion, many years ago, a mink appeared from under it.

Once the berries form in the autumn, it becomes of great interest to other species.  In the past, this would have been blackbirds, thrushes, sometimes redwings in the depths of winter but these days, the resident wood pigeon gobbles them up quite early in the autumn, a bird so fat it seems to waddle.

Ann and Mark Strutton
May 2020