A recording of Darren Naish’s talk on Tuesday 18th January is now available to view for the next 30 days. To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.
In this talk, palaeontologist, naturalist, author and researcher Darren Naish outlines the major and fascinating changes in our understanding of dinosaurs and their behaviour as discussed in detail in his book Dinopedia.
The John Wickham Lecture is held annually in memory of John Wickham who joined the Society shortly after it was founded in 1968 and undertook many roles in support of the Society including responsibility for membership and communication with members, co-ordination of the Hazeley Wood Study Group and as a Vice President of the Society until his death in 2019. John was a passionate naturalist with a particular interest in invertebrates and scientific inquiry, who was always ready to help other members and share his expertise.
Today’s Society walk was hosted at Tongwell Lake by Colin Docketty. With mild sunny spells and very little wind, it was an ideal day for a winter visit with waterfowl being the main attraction. In recent years it has been one of MK’s most reliable sites for wintering Goosanders, sometimes found in double figure flocks. It attracts many other species of waterfowl including Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Pochard. Bitterns have occasionally been spotted among the reed-beds in the past and the increasingly common Great White Egret was also recorded here for the first time in November 2019.
Our walk took us on a full lap of the lake, scanning the water, reed-beds, and the surrounding thickets. It wasn’t long before attendees were treated to excellent views of 3 Lesser Redpolls, perched and preening for a few minutes in a small thicket overlooking the lake. One of them was sporting a silver ring on its right leg, perhaps a recent catch from Kenny Cramer at Linford Lakes?
The dense belt of conifers on the north side of the lake offered brief glimpses of at least 5 Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff while a Water Rail and Cetti’s Warbler called from the reedbeds nearby. Goosander was a target species of our host and luckily at least 7 were present, including 5 males and 2 females spread across the lake. The subtle green sheen to the males’ heads was shown off well by the low winter sunshine. Other species across the lake included at least 18 Gadwall, 20 Tufted Ducks, 3 Wigeon, 3 Cormorants, Great-crested Grebe and 6 Pochard, the latter of which has sadly become a scarcer sight across the county in recent years.
Some birds perched on the island in the middle of the lake included 3 Redwings, 4 Siskins, a possible 4th Lesser Redpoll and 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers. One of the two Woodpeckers was very keen to be heard as the walk came to a close, drumming on a lamppost near the car park! A Grey Wagtail also made a passing appearance at the start of the walk and a Sparrowhawk and at least 2 Red Kites were seen throughout, circling and gliding in the distance.
Many thanks to Collin Docketty for hosting this excellent walk at one of MK’s overlooked wildlife sites.
After a lot of work on co-ordinating lists and micro identification following the event, we now have the ‘almost final’ list of moths trapped at this special mothing event.
Just one or two micros remain and await dissection to confirm their identification, the only way to be certain in these cases. This list contains 230 species, confirming the feeling at the time that it was a fantastic night. Big thanks are due to Martin Albertini, Bucks County Moth Recorder, who has pulled the records together and to everyone involved in trapping and recording on the night as well as working through all the follow-up identification.
To remind yourself about the event, read Andy Harding’s news post click here
and to see the moth list for the night, click here.
UPDATE: Round 1 voting is now open until end of 25 January. Go to the 2022 Photo Competition page for instructions.
MKNHS Annual Photographic Competition 2022
Due to the fact that we are still 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 once again 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:
All other animals, including mammals, fish, insects etc.
Plants and fungi.
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 2021 and January 2022
Domestic animals and cultivated plants are not eligible.
People must not be a major subject of any photograph.
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!
How the 2022 Photo competition will be run, and key dates:
Members’ photos will be posted in the four categories on the web site photo competition page (Photo Competition 2022) one week after the deadline (i.e. on 18 January 2022)
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 25 January 2022)
The votes are counted and the top 8 photos selected (top 2 per category). The top eight photos are posted on the website one week after the deadline for voting in round 1 (i.e. by 01 February 2022).
Members have one week to send in their votes for the top three photos. (Votes to be received by 08 February 2022)
Votes are counted and the top 3 selected.
Winners are announced at the MKNHS meeting on 15 February 2022 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.
The final 8 will be put on the website gallery page for the photo competition winners 2022.
The winner will be presented with the Ron Arnold Shield to hold for the year (if/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 11 January 2022 at the latest!
Entries will NOT be accepted after 11 January 2022.
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.
A recording of Irina’s talk about the work of The Floodplain Meadow Partnership on Tuesday 14th November is now available to view for the next 30 days. To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.
The weather was overcast and drizzling at times but it was warm without wind. Led by Colin Docketty, the walk started in the Windmill car park and began southwards, eventually completing a loop of the whole lake, north and south. Goldfinch were on Teasel by the water near Blue-Tits and Long-tailed Tits. As we progressed around the lake, we spotted gulls of various types and ages. There were some Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls along with juveniles and first- and second-year birds. Little Grebes were spotted in a large group of seven. Further around the lake in another area, three more were seen giving a total of ten. Crossing the bridge near the business park, a Cetti’s Warbler gave a partial song but, as expected, was not seen!
A flock of Goldfinch were in trees near gardens and there was a probable Siskin sighting. A Heron perched high up on a house made a good photo opportunity. A Spindle tree brightened the day with its pink splashes of colour. Under a bridge, a Little Egret stood in a stream patiently waiting for lunch. On approaching the bridge, the bird flew into a tree giving the group the perfect opportunity for viewing. The Little Egret’s yellow feet wrapped around a branch as it watched a Cormorant below.
Towards the end of the walk, two Song Thrushes were seen near the car park chasing each other around some shrubs near the water’s edge.
Many of us were shocked and saddened last week to hear of the death of Mary Sarre after a long battle with cancer. We send Phil and the family our love and sympathy.
Mary and Phil have been members of the Society for a long time now. Since Roy our President has taken a back seat as our botanical expert we came to rely increasingly on Mary’s in-depth knowledge on all things to do with plants. She has also been a valued committee member for many years (always a quiet voice of reason) and did a great job as our summer programme secretary until ill health forced her to stand down earlier this year. We are so grateful for all she did for the Society.
Mary and Phil at Stony Stratford Nature Reserve, with Joe and others.
I first met Mary, a qualified garden designer, when I had recently qualified in the same profession over 20 years ago. She was generous in her advice and support and it was good to share our passion for garden plants and our experiences when designing gardens for clients. I was keen to introduce wilder elements in my designs as Chris Baines and others were beginning to promote gardening with wildlife in mind – it was an exciting time!
We then lost touch for a few years as I changed careers to work in local schools (that is another story) but when Mary and Phil started to come along to MKNHS meetings it was lovely to see her more regularly. Phil has been the warden of Little Linford Wood for many years and I occasionally joined the work parties at the weekends creating coppiced clearings to open up the wood for the plants and insects etc. I always seemed to manage to get to the one just before Christmas where Mary would turn up along with their two lovely black labradors with hot drinks and mince pies. They always welcomed me even though I wasn’t really a regular!
I have been helping as an assistant editor on our website and Mary had sent me several articles for the website recently including a fascinating piece she had written about mistletoe.
Misteloe – Central Milton Keynes (Photo: Mary Sarre)
The day after receiving the incredibly sad news of her passing I was walking in Salcey and I looked up and saw a tall tree with several large bunches of mistletoe in its crown and there guarding one of these bunches was a mistle thrush (living up to its name). It felt like a strange coincidence as I have never seen mistletoe in Salcey before, but it is at this time of the year that the lime green bunches becomes more obvious as the trees shed their leaves. However the sight was a comfort at a sad time. Nature is a great healer and I hope it helps Phil and the rest of their family to remember the happier times with Mary. They had so many wonderful holidays in their second home up in the Pyrenees and many other beautiful parts of the world.
Julie Lane November 2021
If others in the Society would like to share their memories of Mary on our website then please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
From Jenny Mercer
Mary Sarre, July 1945-November 2021
In the natural world and in gardening, Mary worked with vigour to show the goodness and beauty of the world.
She showed us much.
She knew and taught us much.
She drew nature
landscapes with trees
still life with flowers
She made maps and drafted garden designs which she highlighted in watercolours.
She showed us all kindness and encouraged us to do more in our lives.
She will be missed by me, and by many.
We value all you gave us.
You taught us many things about life and how to live it, and now you have shown us how to die courageously.
Your voice in our hearts and our love for you remain, and your voice in our heads will keep on challenging and encouraging us to love nature and each other.
From Sue and Andrew Hetherington
The news of Mary’s death has come as a dreadful bolt out of the blue to us, we had no idea that Mary was even ill. As relative newcomers, we have no long back history of stories and anecdotes about Mary but we know she was the go-to expert for all botanical questions. I recall the mistletoe article Julie Lane has mentioned. Mary wrote about seeing more of it around Milton Keynes and wanted people to tell her about new sightings. I’ve been keeping a look out ever since and corresponded with her at the time. We confided in each other that apart from the purely botanical aspect we were fascinated with the mystery and pagan aspects of this strange plant (or should I say hemiparasite) Thus when Julie Lane “posted” her mistletoe and mistle thrush sighting in Salcey on the Society’s facebook page, it was Mary that came first to my mind. Unlike Julie, I had no idea of what had happened at that time so it feels like even more of a strange coincidence that it made me think of Mary.
We will miss Mary very much and the Society will be all the poorer for her absence. I shall keep looking out for mistletoe and whenever I see it I shall give a nod to Mary’s memory, I wish I could actually tell her about it though! We send love and sympathy to Phil, the family and all who knew and loved Mary.
Sue and Andrew Hetherington
From Mervyn Dobbin
Over many years, our pathscrossed in differentsettings. These included: during Mary’s involvement with the City Discovery Centreat Bradwell Abbey; as a consultant on garden design at the Milton Keynes Quaker Centre; and as a member of Milton Keynes Natural History Society.
At one point, I appointed her to adviseme on planting for my own garden. Together, but with her guidance, we prepared the ground and dug in the spots where the new shrubs and treeswere to be positioned. This working togetherwith heroversight,is a warm memory to reflect on.The pride–of–placein the gardenis the winterflowering cherry,which every year without fail,producesan array of pink blossoms. Thesmall flowershave recently appeared again, a colourful canopyagainst the sky, to brighten up the darker days of this 2021 winter.
Mary in her personal relationshipsalways conveyeda reassuring, non–judgemental acceptanceof others.She was a gentle presence.
Thank you Mary. Mervyn Dobbin
From Linda Murphy
My memories of Mary always take me to Society evening and weekend summer walks, in a variety of locations, especially Pilch Field. No matter where we have been, there are always plants to look at and identify, some common, some much rarer and exciting, but many of them easy to confuse with other species. Mary was never taken in by a quick glance. She knew what features to look for and quietly and patiently checked them out to ensure an accurate record of what had been found. She always had a field guide and hand lens, but more importantly, knew how to use them! As Julie says, in recent years we increasingly turned to her for help with plant identification and ‘what do you think this is, Mary?’ became a regular question. But she didn’t just ‘tell us the answer’. She would gently discuss the options using the field guide, looking at leaf shape, stems, hairiness etc. and making comparisons, asking questions of us, too, in a non-judgemental way that put people at ease and avoided anyone feeling they’d asked a silly question. Jenny has talked about how much Mary knew and showed us, and I for one will be thinking of her and remembering her as I look at plants again next season, still hearing her voice in my head and trying hard to live up to her example, to continue plant recording in her memory.
Our annual quiz hosted by Ann and Mark Strutton proved as challenging as usual (not least in getting everyone in and out of the same group/breakout room for each round)! Congratulations to Ann and Mark on pulling together such a varied set of questions once again, covering insects, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, invertebrates and ‘the killer’ general knowledge! It was a very close contest, with few points separating the teams throughout, but the eventual winners were Alan Piggott, Viola Read, Mike LeRoy, Matt Andrews and Linda Murphy.
When these competitions are held at the Cruck Barn, the winning team have gained custody of a mounted picture of a dragonfly. Does anyone know its whereabouts??
Weather sunny and cold. 6 participants.
We walked from Walton Lake to Marshalls Lane, Woolstone, following the River Ouzel and back again. With stops to look at things on the way, we were there for three hours.
We saw 10 species of passerine birds, including a Long-tailed tit which gave us super views of it, and two Red Kites. There were a Moorhen and Grey Heron on Walton Lake, which was devoid of any other water birds, being now a shadow of its former self.
We viewed the Black Poplars. Unfortunately, the interpretation board provided by the Open University has been wrecked by vandals.
Other life included a few species of mushroom, the odd dandelion and one buttercup plant in full flower. No insects were seen as, although sunny, it was too cold.
At Woolstone we saw the medieval fishponds, with an interpretation panel showing what they looked like in their heyday.
Although not a lot of natural history was seen due to the time of year, it was nevertheless a very pleasant sunny walk, enjoyed by all.
Insects: When it warmed up after midday we saw a Bee Fly, a male Common Darter dragonfly, and several Speckled Wood butterflies, one of which perched beautifully for us to admire and photograph. We also saw a hornets’ nest on a tree, found by a visitor who joined us on the walk.
The Zoom link to Justin Long’s talk on Fungi in and around Milton Keynes will expire shortly. As there is such a lot of useful information in this talk and members may still want to revisit it, we have downloaded it and stored it so that it can be used as a resource.
Julie Lane The Seabird’s Cry: the Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers – Adam Nicholson (2018: William Collins)
[Winner of the Wainwright Prize 2018; USA title: ‘The Seabird’s Cry: the Lives and Loves of the Planet’s Great Ocean Voyagers’]
Charles Kessler English Pastoral: An Inheritance – James Reebanks
(2020: Allen Lane/Penguin Books)
Sue Weatherhead Butterflies (British Wildlife Collection, Number 10) – Martin Warren
Tim Arnold Much Ado About Mothing: A year intoxicated by Britain’s rare and remarkable moths –
Mary Sarre The Consolation of Nature: Spring in the time of the Coronavirus –Michael McCarthy,
Jeremy Mynott and Peter Marren
(2020: Hodder) A Claxton Diary: Further Field Notes from a Small Planet – Mark Cocker
(2019: Jonathan Cape)
Ian Saunders Beasts Before Us: The untold story of mammal origins and evolution – Elsa Panciroli
(2021: Bloomsbury Sigma publishing) Ghosts of Gondwana: The history of life in New Zealand – George Gibbs
(Fully revised edition, 2016: Potton and Burton)
Colin Docketty A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies: a celebration of Britain’s 59 species – Jonathan Bradley
(2020: Merlin Unwin Books, Ludlow)
Mike LeRoy Swifts and Us: The Life of the Bird that Sleeps in the Sky – Sarah Gibson
(2021: William Collins)
The Society will be producing a calendar for 2022 following the great success of our first calendar in 2021 which enabled us to make our usual Christmas donation to Willen Hospice, despite not being able to hold our Christmas raffle .
The format of the calendar will be similar to last year, with 12 more stunning photographs taken by Society members.
The price remains £10 per calendar.
To order your calendars, please send an email to email@example.com with the title MKNHS Calendar and give your name, address and the number of calendars you want to order.
Calendars should be ready for distribution in early December with payment by bank transfer or cheque made out to Milton Keynes Natural History Society. Full payment details will be provided at the time of distribution.
The focus of the presentation was on the loss of biodiversity globally and in the UK and linked to Climate Change causes and effects. Mervyn asked the question ‘What can we do?’ The Climate Change Summits will take place in Glasgow, COP26 31 October – 12 November and COP15 Kunming, China, from 25 April-8 May 2022.1 Both Summits include goals related to biodiversity, especially the Summit to be held in China next year which is billed as the ‘Biodiversity Summit’.
Other reports mentioned during the talk and which might be of interest to members are the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report and the UN Global Assessment Report. Summaries can be found at:
Mervyn has written a supportive and encouraging letter to Sir David Attenborough who is the ‘People’s Advocate’ for the COP26 Summit. Should any member wish to write a similar letter to Sir David, his address is: Sir David Attenborough, People’s Advocate COP26, David Attenborough Productions Ltd, 5 Park Road, Richmond, Surrey TW10 6NS. Mervyn is also writing to his MP and Alok Sharma, President, COP26.
Mervyn gave an example of one unusual way to highlight the importance of the COP26 Summit: a pilgrimage. Right now, groups of walkers (pilgrims) are making their way to Glasgow from cities and towns throughout Europe. On 12 September, one such group walking from London to Glasgow had an overnight stay in Milton Keynes. As they were leaving on the next stage of their pilgrimage walk, the group gave a card to their hosts which stated:
‘…..and we make our way in kinship with the peoples and the creatures of the earth who are suffering and displaced by climate change and ecological breakdown. We do so peacefully and lawfully, ready to engage and learn, because we care and we have hope.’
Members might be interested in keeping in touch with progress at the Summits in Glasgow in November and in China April-May 2022.
He describes it as “A presentation for the Buckinghamshire Bird Club all about my local patch, the Tattenhoe area in Milton Keynes, featuring seasonal highlights from the past 13 years including my rarest bird finds, new species of insects for MK, elusive suburban mammals and more.”
Saturday 25th September 2021 10.00 am; same walk repeated Sunday 26th Location: Waterhall Park; Weather fine Participants: Saturday 3, Sunday 5
What did we see?
Lombardy Poplar: The main focus of the walk was to see a mile-long avenue of these beautiful trees, on both sides of a made-up footpath. A wonderful sight. Birds: A total of 22 species were seen/heard.
Grey Heron, Moorhen, Mallard
Green Woodpecker, Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove
Grey Wagtail (feeding on Water Eaton Brook)
Magpie, Long-tailed Tit, Goldfinch, Robin, Blackbird, Wren, Pied Wagtail
Great Tit, Blue Tit, Dunnock, Carrion Crow, Jay, Jackdaw, Chiffchaff
Other things seen: Large White butterfly, Comma, Migrant Hawker
Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Hairy Shieldbug, White-lipped Snail
3 species of fungi at very large Ash tree suffering serious dieback (Type not yet known)
Plants: Large Bindweed, Indian Balsam (aka Policeman’s helmet)
Arrowhead (leaves in middle of river – visible all year)
As we all know, moths need to be attracted. So, prior to the meeting, Janice Robertson and I, with the assistance of Martin and Margaret, the residents of ‘The Holt’, organised a mercury vapour lamp over a sheet (equipment courtesy of Rachel Redford) on the lawn of ‘The Holt’ and a Robinson trap on a white sheet with a similar 125w bulb in the overflow car park. With no great confidence, five trees were liberally daubed with a concoction of various alcoholic drinks, molasses and other sweet substances (courtesy of Ayla Webb): a process known as ‘sugaring’.
Because the meeting was scheduled for a 7.30 pm start, which is a while before moths could be expected to be on the wing, I had brought along a small viewing net (also courtesy of Ayla Webb) with a selection of the more striking moths I had caught the night before in my garden traps. I also had about a dozen moths in plastic pots, which I found particularly interesting and with which I made a desperate attempt to maintain the attention of the group. However, before any moths were discussed, the group were warned not to do any tree-hugging … the results would have been horrible to behold.
As the level of interest started to flag, we moved to examine the sheet below the light on the lawn, which held a small range of flying insects but no moths. To keep the circulation going we moved to the first tree, and to everyone’s surprise a Copper Underwing was feeding on the liquor. This and subsequent Copper Underwings have been recorded as Copper Underwing agg. (aggregated) because Svensson’s Copper Underwing and the equally common Copper Underwing are extremely hard tell apart without handling these extremely slippery moths.
The other trees were not so productive, but on arrival at the Robinson trap the first couple of the beautiful Green Carpets put in an appearance as well as the other most frequently encountered species of the night, a tiny micro, almost certainly Yponomeuta yvonymella. Again caution had to be exercised because of the other very similar ‘Ermine’ moths and attempting genital dissection of the poor creatures to confirm the ID seemed inadvisable, and not something I practise. Back at the lawn a striking moth, and a clear sign of autumn, was on the sheet and was successfully identified by a couple of the group since it was a species I had brought in the display net – Centre-barred Sallow. Several bright lemon yellow Brimstone moths also mirrored the contents of the net.
At this point some people were keen to get back to the tree trunks and we were all treated to up to 4 Copper Underwings on a tree, with the odd Square-Spot Rustic and Angle Shades. Much larger was an Old Lady Moth, not in great condition, but drinking eagerly.
It was now unclear which was the best spot to stake out and a couple more circuits produced a probable total of 10 Copper Underwings, a second Old Lady, and a third superbly marked one flying in and out of the Robinson trap. Common Wainscot, Setaceous Hebrew Character, White Wave, Large Yellow Underwing and the much scarcer Broad-Bordered Yellow Underwing were easily seen on the sheets. An intriguing moth proved to be a very worn Dun-Bar, rather than anything more exciting.
Several of the group left around 9.30 pm and, with things changing very little and the density of midges afflicting the throat passages around the Robinson becoming unbearable, things drew to a close at 10.30 pm.
A very successful evening, with thanks to those who came along and especially to Martin and Margaret, who live at the Holt, in tolerating, nay, facilitating, our mothing evening.
The Robinson was allowed to shine all night and at 7 am the next morning Janice, Rachel and I opened a small actinic trap, which I had left in the reserve, as well as the reserve permanent trap and the Robinson. The result was 40 species of macro-moth, of which Common Wainscot, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Large Yellow Underwing, Common Wave and Small Square-Spot were in double figures; Square-spot Rustic and the Snout numbered over 20 and top of the pile was Green Carpet with 28 individuals. 8 micros were identified and 2 others were photographed but not yet identified … lazy me.
If there is anything you would like to share with other society members about your wild summer then please send it in to firstname.lastname@example.org
It could be an interesting wildlife sighting or a special place you have visited, with a photo or two if you have them , though that’s not essential. It doesn’t need to be a long article so please don’t be reticent. We would love to hear from you.
Photo montage of some of the species observed contributed by Martine Harvey
This Saturday visit was the Society’s first to Summer Leys Nature Reserve since June 2011. The reserve was planned and developed in the latter 1980s and early 1990s and is managed by BCN Wildlife Trust. It covers 47 hectares of former gravel workings in the Nene Valley and is designated a SSSI and SPA. The site consists of several habitats: a large reed-, tree- and grass-edged lake with a scrape inlet and several islands the water level of which is managed; rough grazing adjacent to the lake; a small area of preserved meadow; two other managed meadow areas; two ponds; hedges; and strips of woodland. A Society Walk Description of the reserve undertaken in 2020 can be found at https://mknhs.org.uk/mknhs-summer-leys/). There is also a BCN leaflet ( www.wildlifebcn.org/summer-leys).
Twelve members and one visitor participated in this mid-morning walk on what proved to be an overcast but thankfully dry day. We followed the perimeter footpath anti-clockwise from the car park to take in the four bird hides, the managed and preserved meadows, and one of the ponds (the second was visited after our return to the car park). This report consists of a brief description of the habitats and wildlife observed. An annex provides a checklist of species recorded during our visit (go to: Summer Leys Species Checklists).
We were off to an excellent start with the discovery of a Red Underwing at rest on one of the wooden posts at the edge of the car park. The small area between this and the lake is a flower rich scrubby meadow. Common Fleabane, Teasel, Great Burnett, Meadow Sweet, Water Figwort, Angelica and Common Centaury were amongst the flowering plants. Insects included Ruddy Darter, Small Copper, Essex Skipper, Gatekeeper, Tiger Hoverfly, and many not identified. Linnet was heard and Reed Bunting seen.
The two bird hides close to the car park offer views over the lake and one of them also the scrape. The first sighting was a Sparrowhawk flying past. Black Headed Gulls breed here and were much in evidence but Common Terns another important breeding species were absent perhaps already on their way south. The scrape had Great and Little Egret close enough together for easy size comparison. The only waders seen during the walk were Lapwing (another breeding species) and Common Sandpiper.
The perimeter path then took us through a covered area of semi-mature deciduous trees of which alder, ash and willow predominated, hedges and occasional clearings. We heard Song Thrush in full voice; had brief glimpses of Blue Tits, Tree Creeper, Goldcrest; and heard the calls of Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Wren and Dunnock; and saw Red Admiral and Peacock in the clearings, and Speckled Wood in the overhung areas.
We stopped briefly at the third hide which provides another view of the scrape with semi-aquatic plants in the foreground including Flowering Rush. The route then offered good distant views of the lake with Canada and Greylag Geese, Cormorant, and Lapwing on the islands. The fourth hide is the feeding station where birds are fed throughout the year: Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, and Collared Dove were taking advantage of this service during our visit.
The final stop was the preserved meadow and pond in the north-west corner of the reserve. This proved to be very rewarding. The meadow is flower-rich with Great Burnet, Lady’s Bedstraw, Yarrow, and Bird’s-foot Trefoil amongst the species. Common Blue, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Brown Argus were active. The pond was also our best stop for dragonflies with the day having warmed up a little. Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue Damselfly, and Azure Blue Damselfly were on the wing. More excitingly, Harry Appleyard spotted egg galls of the Willow Emerald Damselfly, a species he first identified in Milton Keynes in 2016. He is currently consulting on the status of this find.
We turned round at this point and the walk back offered further opportunities for wildlife exploration. The short extension to the other pond when we got back to the car park was disappointing for dragonflies but gave us a close-up view of young Reed Warblers.
The focus of the walk was to experience the richness of the biodiversity of this important SSSI and to keep a record of what we had identified. We were a typical Society group: some expert in their field and some generalists, and all there ready to share their knowledge. The species checklists are a product of this approach and I would like to thank Harry Appleyard, Peter Barnes, and Linda Murphy for compiling them; Harry, Peter, Martine Harvey, Julian Lambley and Jenny Mercer for their excellent photographs especially Martine’s montage; and visitor Ann Plackett for further information about the planning and early development of the reserve with which she had been involved.
The Fairy Flax walk took place on 20th July, starting from Old Wolverton’s Holy Trinity churchyard. Our route took us down the hill passing the now just mown floodplain meadows to join the Great Ouse riverbank footpath as far as the Grand Union Iron Trunk aqueduct over the River Ouse, through the narrow tunnel under the canal, and finally returning to the churchyard by the Canal Towpath.
Two thunderstorms rather interrupted proceedings, but of over 30 members who assembled at the church, 14 of us did the walk in full.
All had the opportunity to visit the interior of the church, and many heard the outdoor talk by John Brushe on the ‘natural stones’ used to build the church between 1809 to 1815. Limestone and sandstone from quarries in Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Isle of Portland were used, with canal transportation facilitating the build. The church is probably the earliest example of the English Norman Revival movement. A guidebook, written by John is available from Jenny Mercer. Our thanks go to John for a most interesting talk, and to Terry Collier for opening up the church for the Society members.
Interestingly this wet and hot summer has ensured the Fairy Flax has remained unseen at its possible location of 14 years ago (on the path between the Canalside to the south of the Iron Trunk and the Old Wolverton fields, as it is impenetrable this year!) My first ever sighting of Fairy Flax was then, with Roy Maycock, on a Society walk.
There is a Plant List below, compiled by Mary Sarre – a short list, as the weather was not conducive to much searching. Of note was the reed sweet-grass, which was evident in both the River Ouse and the Grand Union Canal. I recall seeing the reed sweet-grass on a very lovely evening on a Society walk at Olney some years ago where the cattle were wading into the river to eat this much-loved sweet treat.
A Quiz was provided for anyone inclined to explore the churchyard, and a copy of the quiz and churchyard map is provided through this link, with answers at the end. I am hoping to get Society members interested in making recordings of mammals (there is a badger sett nearby), insects and plants etc. For anyone willing to volunteer, contact details are on the Quiz sheets.
Plants (recorded by or reported to Mary Sarre)
Marsh woundwort, Stachys palustris
White deadnettle, Lamium album
Ragwort, common, Senecio jacobaea
Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna
Crab apple, Malus spp.
In the river:
Club-rush, probably the common, Scirpus lacustris
Reed sweet-grass, Glyceria maxima
Common reed, Phragmites australis
Yellow waterlily, Nuphar lutea
A walk around Simpson led by Peter Barnes and Rebecca Hiorns, looking at a variety of habitats and the parish council’s initiatives to understand and enhance them, in line with their commitment to help address climate change and the loss of biodiversity.
The evening was warm and dry when, just after 7pm, 30 members and guests set off from the Parks Trust car park off Walton Road and headed north down the path beside the River Ouzel. It was difficult to see the river with all the ruderal growth but when a cry of ‘Greater Dodder!’ went up from Julian Lambley – the nettles entwined with the parasite suddenly became much more interesting.
Greater Dodder entwined through stinging nettles
Proceeding back towards the village Stock Dove were spotted and a pair of Mute Swans flew overhead low enough to hear their wings beat, a beautiful sight against the bright blue sky.
Our first stop was St Thomas’ churchyard, a complex habitat supporting a wide range of species, some not seen anywhere else in the parish. These include plants, fungi and invertebrates associated with the old grassland, the tall mature trees and the church walls, which provide nesting space for several species of solitary bee and a colony of wild honeybees. The older sandstone and limestone gravestones are covered in rich patterns of lichen and mosses. The Parish Council has initiated a project to help manage and enhance the habitats, hoping that species will repopulate other areas of the parish. A record is being made of the flowering plants and compared with the species list compiled by Roy Maycock for his survey of all the churchyards in Buckinghamshire, in the early 1980s.
This year, a revised mowing regime has enabled grassland around the older graves to grow as a meadow. This has benefitted many pollinators and enabled plants to flower that haven’t been seen in recent years, including 24 Bee Orchids and one Pyramidal Orchid, which was a delightful surprise when it revealed itself just before our visit.
During our visit Harry Appleyard spotted a Scarlet Tiger Moth, Common Blue Damselfly and Purple Hairstreak and Mike LeRoy and Justin Long reported a Waxcap Hygrocybe conica.
Male Emperor Dragonfly – Harry Appleyard
Male Banded Demoiselle – Harry Appleyard
We then proceeded across the stream via the small wooden bridge stopping to look at the otter footprints adjacent to the water’s edge.
Walking into the Simpson Manor Field (managed by The Parks Trust as pasture) views open up to the Greensand Ridge. We stopped and Peter was explaining the history of the manor, medieval fishponds and moat and later manor house with landscaped gardens, when the cattle, which had been grazing peacefully on the other side of the field, started galloping in our direction. Any disquiet was momentary as Mike LeRoy stepped forward, engaged with them and instantly calmed the ‘bored and unruly class of teenagers’.
We next proceeded to the sluice to look down over the field and river from the higher ground. Peter related the number of bird species to be seen on the lake, including Great Northern Diver, Goosander and Mandarin Duck, and the week-long visit of a pair of Cattle Egret in Simpson Manor Field in May 2020. No Cattle Egret were seen, but views of a Little Egret fishing along the river were enjoyed by all. It is not known how well eels are doing in this section of river, but nationally eel numbers have declined by around 95% in the last 25 years.
To avoid our ‘herd’ unsettling the cattle again, we skipped the planned route through to Lissel Road, an area where the Parish Council’s new working arrangement with SERCO (MKC land) has enabled residents to enhance habitats. This has included, creating leaf and log piles with hedgehog nesting spaces, putting up 10 bird boxes (one hoping to encourage the frequently heard Tawny Owls), building a bug hotel and managing areas as meadow. Projects have also started to improve the ground flora of the copse and support pollinators early in the year.
Cormorants – Harry Appleyard
We stopped briefly at Lickorish bridge to hear about the history of the area and to look down over the canal. The woodland was the first to be planted by the Development Corporation, it is now reaching early maturity and has just had its first major thinning.
We then proceeded down to the area adjacent to the ‘Cattle Creep’, a tunnel under the Grand Union Canal built to enable farmers to move their cattle across the canal. The tunnel is now used as a bat roost. The canal and its embankments provide a connected habitat over a hundred miles. Within the parish, its banks are particularly associated with crab apple trees.
Our final stop was at Bowler’s Bridge where Peter described how bats have been finding roosting and nesting spaces within the houses on Hanmer Road, built in 1973, including his own where, at the end of May, he counted as many as 400 Soprano Pipistrelles exiting at dusk.
Rebecca Hiorns July 2021
Birds – 17 Species Grey Heron
2 Greylag Goose
20 Black-headed Gull
Invertebrates Emperor Dragonfly (Male)
5 Banded Demoiselle
Common Blue Damselfly (Churchyard)
Scarlet Tiger Moth (Churchyard)
Purple Hairstreak (Churchyard)
Several of the 24 members who came on our visit to Shenley Wood had never been there before. Before the walk started, we held a minute’s silence in memory of Gordon Redford who knew this wood and brought so much knowledge about moths and enjoyment of wildlife to the Society, as well as his warmth and friendship.
This was not a typical time of year for a woodland visit because the glorious spring flowers had finished flowering. Mike LeRoy used the opportunity to give an introduction about the wood itself: its tree and shrub species, its history, its characteristics as Ancient Woodland, and how it had been managed or mis-managed down the centuries.
It was almost certainly part of the ‘well-wooded’ Shenley area described in the Domesday Book of 1086. The first written record of it was in 1599 as ‘Shenley Park’. After centuries of woodland management to produce underwood and timber, by the 1900s the Wood was in a poor state. In 1958 attempts were made to ‘coniferise’ it, but few of the new trees survived. The MK Development Corporation purchased the wood in in 1985 and began the long and effective process of restoring coppicing and thinning cycles, which were developed further after its transfer to The Parks Trust in 1992. This opened up the wood for public access and enjoyment while protecting its characteristic flora and other wildlife.
[Mike LeRoy’s very informative handout for the walk can be found here.]
By the time of our walk the Ancient Woodland Indicator flowers had finished flowering: the Violets, Primrose, Lesser Celandine, Greater Stitchwort, Bluebell, Wood Anemone and Early-purple Orchid; with only the tall seed-heads of Bluebell still showing. But by late June, Common-spotted Orchid were scattered alongside the paths in their hundreds. Greater Butterfly Orchid had been seen a couple of weeks earlier but remained hidden. Common Figwort and Ragged Robin were found in a few locations as well as newly-merged Enchanter’s-nightshade more widely.
We followed the western woodland path to the foot of the wood, then circled the northern end through mature woodland next to the Swan’s Way long-distance Bridleway until we reached the lower of the four ‘mini-teardrop’ ponds (flood management drainage). The water in these was clean and had plenty of floating Pond-weed. Around the ponds the flower-rich grassland was striking and included plenty of Bird’s-foot Trefoil and some Lady’s Bedstraw with bees making good use of them.
From the ponds we re-entered the woodland as far as the central glade, before winding our way back up the east side to the high point and the entrance gate.
Three butterfly species were seen: Essex Skipper, Meadow Brown and Ringlet.
Bird species and counts were (with thanks to Harry Appleyard): Goldfinch (2), Carrion Crow (2), Song Thrush (singing), Green Woodpecker, Greenfinch (5), Blackbird (singing), Blackcap (2 singing), Swift (6), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren (2), Jay, Bullfinch, Rook, Red Kite, Magpie, Wood Pigeon and Dunnock.
Gordon had organised this event annually in memory of his moth mentor, George, on the Saturday closest to George’s birthday, and was expected to do so again. Sadly that was not to be. After some deliberation, it was decided to go ahead and to remember both of these pillars of the local mothing community.
The result was so fitting. The largest number of traps ever…13; the largest number of attendees….over 30; and almost certainly the largest number of moth species.
The most important attendees were, of course, Frances Higgs, who had travelled up from Somerset, and Rachel and Stewart Redford, Gordon’s daughter and son. The southern contingent was impressive with 5 trappers marshalled by Martin Albertini and Dave Wilton, with Peter Hall travelling from Herefordshire. So well thought of were both Gordon and George.
It was a hugely enjoyable if poignant night, but it almost didn’t happen. Car access is essential to bring traps and generators any distance into the wood. The padlock on the entry gate had been successfully opened by the key provided by the Woodland Trust a week earlier for a recce, but in addition to that padlock another combination padlock was now securing it … and we didn’t have the combination. The local farmer was contacted and he phoned his wife to obtain it! He warned us it was temperamental, but after my failure to open it, Linda Murphy’s magic hands did the trick. Phew!
The next issue was the grassy turning circle, where we have previously set up a mercury vapour lamp above a sheet, was now rocklike hardcore. So we settled for a Robinson trap around which people could gather as the moths arrived. It was a little painful on the knees, but a most effective way of catching, potting and passing round moths for all to see. This trap and another one 50 metres away are powered by a generator which Gordon always operated. Thanks to the combined efforts of David Webb, Martin Kincaid and Martin Albertini, after a period of intermittent performance, all worked perfectly.
And so to the moths. There were clouds of them and even more small flies, which got into the throat of everyone who inspected the other traps. Among the most numerous moths were Clouded Border and, surprisingly, Coronet, an always beautiful, but also very variable species. The one here is so unusual that we considered several other possibilities before becoming satisfied with its identity. Coronet
The superb Peach Blossom is not rare, but has a known disdain for light traps, so several in perfect condition were a delight. Black Arches is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser at this time of year, as is July Highflyer. Elephant Hawk-moths are having a wonderful year, so a few of those were guaranteed, but Pine Hawk-moth is much less reliable, so one in the central trap was a bonus. Peach Blossom Black Arches Pine Hawk-moth
The list of species is going to be a very long one, and the majority will be micro-moths, some of which are very beautiful such as this Batia lunaris. Batia lunaris
There will be much poring over many photos of micros and a few dissections before the final list can be validated. That may be a few weeks, so that is not attached here. I will make it available when it is complete, and, of course, a copy will also go to the Woodland Trust, who have always kindly given us access to the wood for this event, which this year, by a combination of excellent weather and many motivated individuals, was something of a very fitting triumph. And, of course, somebody must have sent that huge quantity of moths.
It is also so nice to see these beautiful insects in daylight, so very early the next morning Ayla Webb and I opened up the central trap and a small actinic with just 6 egg boxes inside. Given the number of moths and their activity levels, all hope of accurate counting soon vanished and we simply concentrated on new species to add to the event total. Among these was an Oak Nycteoline. This species is probably the most variable on the British list and since Ayla and I had only seen 3 between us previously it was no surprise that we hadn’t seen one resembling this one: its unusual shape gave it away. Not the most exciting moth for the non-afficionado! Oak Nycteoline
Having packed away the last of the equipment we were just about to get into the car when a Purple Emperor decided to inspect us, flashing purple in the sunlight as it did so. A first for Ayla. Not a moth, but what could be a more stunning present from her moth mentor, Gordon.
Photo: Newton Blossomville Church looking beautiful with our walk participants enjoying the bats and the wildflower meadow (in the dark)
Milton Keynes Festival of Nature week took place last week and for the fourth year running it was a great success. It is run mainly by the Parks Trust and the Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) but MKNHS is the third partner in the mix and we have always contributed to the events during the week and in particular to Nature Day which is a big family wildlife day based at Howe Park Wood.
We were there again this year with our MKNHS display boards and a feather display. We were sharing our stall with Ayla Webb and Andy Harding who had both brought their previous nights moth catch with them. This was a great success as they had caught lots of beautiful moths including some hawk moths (small elephant, poplar, privet and eyed) which are always a big hit with the crowd. The pleasure on little children’s faces when they get to hold one of these amazing creatures is wonderful! Kenny Cramer was also there with his bird ringing and I think they caught quite a good selection of birds including blackcaps, treecreepers, a robin and a bevy of blue tits.
Thank you to Sue and Andy Hetherington and Linda for helping on the day.
We also ran a public bat/glow worm walk in Newton Blossomville as part of our MKNHS summer walks programme and we had 15 members of the public attending, quite a few villagers as well as society members (although I suspect some stayed at home to watch the footie!). The weather was a bit cold and windy and this meant there weren’t that many bats flying but we were treated to a couple of pipistrelles flying around inside the church and the porch which was magical. (Perhaps they were reluctant to leave their cosy roost and go out into the cold.) Diana Spencer from Bats in Churches very kindly came along with her little dog Millie and talked to us all about the work they are involved with, helping church congregations cope with sharing their church with these lovely but sometimes maligned and rather mucky creatures.
We then wandered up the lane and were lucky enough to spot four glow worms much to the delight of all present.
So it was a good evening and thank you again to Sue and Andy Hetherington for helping me to run the evening.
This is to announce that Milton Keynes Natural History Society has taken a small step into the world of Social Media, through the establishment of Facebook and Instagram accounts.
The Facebook and Instagram icons will shortly be added to the website’s sidebar. But for more information about how the Society will be using these social media tools, and how to access them, please follow this link:
For those of you who haven’t heard we are very very sad to break the news of the death of Gordon Redford, following a heart attack.
He was a friend to so many of us in the Society and whether you knew him well or had met him just briefly, talking to him was like being given a big hug. He was a kind gentle man with a lovely sense of humour, always caring and always keen to pass on his considerable knowledge to others.
He did so much for the Society along the way. He was on our committee and organised our summer programme for many years, he set up our health and safety and risk assessment policy and he ran his moth trap for us at every opportunity.
His passion for moths was legendary and his knowledge was immense and he shared this knowledge so generously with us all over the years but especially with youngsters at Nature Day and school’s events etc.
We send our very best wishes and love to his family who are going through such a difficult time at the moment.
I invite any of you who knew Gordon to send in your memories of him to share with us all on this website. Photos also welcome.
If you want to send cards etc to the family and don’t have the address then please get in touch with me (Julie Lane) at email@example.com
We are talking to his family and thinking about ways in which we can honour his memory in some way in the future but it may take a while to decide on exactly how we want to remember this lovely remarkable man.
Gordon running his moth trap for us after our annual Society BBQ at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve. It was a chilly evening!
(Lead photo collage courtesy of Kenny Cramer; photo above courtesy of Julie Lane)
Memories of Gordon
From Mary and Phil Sarre:
We were truly shocked to hear about Gordon….
Phil and I will remember him particularly in relation to the organisation of the summer programme: he generously spent some time explaining and handing over his well-thought-out system. From the lead-in and Society meeting in February with contributions to the ‘Dates to fill sheet’, his 10-year record of sites visited, and the subsequent collection of visit details from Leaders are all very clear. We found his communications invariably warm and friendly.
Also of course he has always come forward with at least two mothing sessions, notably the Higgs Memorial evening at College Wood, and latterly at Linford Lakes.
We didn’t know Kate and the family well, but wish them well at this traumatic and difficult time,
From Joe Clinch:
I have many fond and appreciative memories of Gordon and his legacy to the Society. He was above all a most generous, kind, good humoured, and knowledgeable naturalist and colleague. His mothing expertise and his willingness to share this through reports, mothing evenings and talks was legendary (including at a personal level my many requests for help with identification). He was also a most effective organiser of the Summer Walks Programme (my first attendance at a Tuesday evening planning meeting led by Gordon was a revelation: a highly participative meeting of about 30 members with the majority of the slots filled in little over an hour and what’s more he codified this approach for his successors!). And as a member of the Committee before my time he put together model Risk Assessments of all the Society’s main activities, drawing on his experience at the Parks Trust (and again codified and updated for future generations in the Guidance Handbook). I know that I will be one of many members who miss his friendly smile, knowledge, enthusiasm, and contribution.
From Linda Murphy:
Gordon’s sudden passing is a tragic loss for everyone who knew him. I remember him as a warm, kind and gentle man with a keen sense of humour and a great passion for moths. His knowledge was extensive, but usually understated. We exchanged news about our respective catches when we met and he occasionally posted special news on the Upper Thames Moth Blog. I was always keen to hear what he’d seen as I found that whatever turned up in Gordon’s traps, a week or so later the same might appear in mine. The first time I trapped the fabulous Clifden Nonpareil , or Blue Underwing, was one such example. Here’s Gordon’s post which alerted me and illustrates his style…..
“My son had bought me a tour of Stamford Bridge for my 70th birthday and was coming to pick me up at 0900hrs this morning. I decided not to set traps at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve on Saturday night as is my usual practice but would at home in the garden in Newport Pagnell. I stepped out this morning and confess to thinking it would be the usual LYU, Set Herb Char, Vines R dominated catch when there on my shed was this little beauty. I rushed back for my Johnsons Cotton Buds container and when I returned it was gone. However, it had fallen to the ground and was captured. We were a little late for Stamford Bridge but blue certainly is the colour for me.”
Sadly, due to Covid, and the fact that I’m based in Oxfordshire, we had not met in person since last August, when I went over to Linford Lakes one morning. Gordon had agreed to be videoed emptying the moth traps and recording the night’s catch, assisted as usual by Ayla Webb. The aim was to bring a bit of mothing to the Society as our outdoor meetings had been cancelled. Gordon explained the process and he and Ayla showed off the moths at a couple of traps including a large purpose built one…definitely a source of ‘moth envy’ for me! Gordon had been trapping and recording moths at Linford lakes for 10 years by then so certainly deserved it! However, he told me his ambition was actually a ‘moth shed’ as used by noted Victorian ‘moth-ers’, where the light and funnel would be on the roof and you could walk in and check out the walls covered in moths. I’m sad that he couldn’t realise this ambition, but if there’s a ‘moth heaven’, I’m sure that will be it, and Gordon will be in his element! Meanwhile, I’ll be remembering Gordon whenever I empty my trap…..
From Mervyn Dobbin:
I miss you Gordon. I know almost nothing about moths, but I recognise their importance to our ecosystem and I am amazed by the beauty in the variety of their colours and patterns.
When I came across an attractive specimen, especially one that arrived inside my house and that seemed to be content to be still, with wings flat to a wall, I thought of Gordon. Sometimes I took a photo and showed it to Gordon when we were in the Cruck Barn in Bradwell Abbey. Gordon had such enthusiasm for these creatures that a question and a photo from me in my ignorance, were responded to with such positivity. Gordon connected intimately with the moth-world. His ability to connect to these small creatures was mirrored in the feeling of kinship that he was able to engender with others, when they encountered him. Thank you Gordon.
‘If you stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.’ Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
From Andy Harding:
A couple of weeks ago I lost my great mothing pal, Gordon, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
I first met Gordon many moons ago, but it is only in the last decade that we started mothing together: regularly at Linford Lakes and more recently in Little Linford Wood. There was also a smattering of public events each year, where Gordon could share his great expertise and, perhaps more importantly, his infectious enthusiasm. Nothing was too much trouble for Gordon if he thought he could help enthuse anyone, young or old, about moths. He encouraged beginners to send him photos if they needed help with moth identification; he lent books and equipment to help people to get started on the road which had given him so much pleasure.
We never had a mothing session without loads of laughs. Gordon had lots of silly wordplays with the names of moths, some of which he actually used in his notebook. So Single Dotted Wave became ‘Single Wotted Dave’. So a very small or apparently humdrum catch was never really a disappointment: it was always worthwhile: both because simply meeting up was fun and also because we loved all the moths – marvelling at their beauty and almost infinite variety. Gordon always likened it to opening Christmas presents – ‘You never know what you are going to get’. So occasionally we would find something really special. A couple of years ago I was a bit late getting to Linford Lakes and when I got there I was surprised that Gordon invited me to unlock the trap. Immediately inside in a large container was a Clifden Nonpareil, the first Ayla Webb had ever seen, which they had captured before I arrived. Gordon had set me up beautifully! This and other excitements like the virtually wingless female Dotted Border in Little Linford Wood (again spotted by Ayla!) were often harkened back to during our time together, as was the poor quality of our eyesight compared to hers!
Gordon and Ayla at the Magic Tree, Little Linford Wood
In and around the moth traps we saw many other invertebrate creatures, which we also wondered at, but often had little clue to their identity. Gordon used to say ‘We’ll need five lifetimes to get to grips with this lot properly’. Sadly that is not what we are allowed.
A very strange thing happened a few days after Gordon’s death. On the Thursday, I spoke to Rachel, his daughter, and also happened to speak to my own daughter-in-law. Both, in different ways, said Gordon would send me something special in my trap. Next morning there was a Peacock Moth in my trap. The first of this species I had ever seen. Thank you Gordon: it was simply superb.
I’ll miss you, Gordon, especially at the Lakes and in the Wood.
Peacock Moth at Old Stratford, 18th June 2021
From Mike LeRoy:
Gordon enjoyed sharing his enjoyment of wildlife with others. He was an all-round naturalist from a lifetime of working as a ranger and warden at country parks and wildlife sites across England, and many years of running moth-trapping as education events for all ages. He came to Milton Keynes in 1994 to lead the team of rangers at The Parks Trust, where his team had the dual task of caring for the parkland and communicating about its wildlife.
He carried his knowledge lightly so was encouraging to those who wanted to find out more about wildlife. He shared his knowledge readily, never showing off but keen for others to find out what he enjoyed knowing. It was moths that lit his flame.
The last time I chatted with Gordon was at one of his early morning moth sessions a few weeks before his final heart attack. As ever, he shared the task and trusted me to gently lift out each egg-box one-by-one from the moth trap to see what had been attracted overnight. He stood by with his notebook and pencil, ready to write down the name of each moth species from memory then pencil a neat row of lines and five-bar gates to count them. If there was a species he was not sure of he would photograph it to check it later in the books he had accumulated for that purpose. On his face was the joy and glee and rapid recognition of almost every moth. His identification of them was a joy he shared as he pointed out their distinctive features, but also their beauty, such as a ruff behind the head or hidden colours of underwings. One time he told me that opening his moth-trap each morning was like opening a Christmas present every day.
He developed his moth identification skills over many years. After moving to Milton Keynes he was able to hone these skills with the advice of George Higgs to whom he would turn when he was not sure of a particular species. After George’s death at the end of 2012 Gordon was determined that his mentor’s memory should be celebrated through a mothing night so we went to College Wood to talk through how to run one there every year.
Gordon later remembered how valuable George’s mentoring had been to him. Ayla Webb, then a relatively new member of the Society, wanted to learn more about moths so Gordon readily invited her to his mothing sessions to share his knowledge with her. Later this led to three of them meeting to do moth-trapping together: Gordon, Ayla and Andy Harding.
Gordon and I were both fortunate to finish our working careers only a few weeks apart, in 2012. We decided to explore many of the wildlife sites in Milton Keynes and the wider area together. Some of these sites we later turned into summer programme visits for the Society. Others, such as Oakhill Wood or a meadow at Tattenhoe became new sites for his moth-trapping. In the Ouzel Valley we tried out pupa digging, a Victorian method for finding moths, and Gordon kept these until their emergence so he could identify them before releasing them to their habitat.
Gordon realised that he could become more proficient at mothing, so tried different places and moth-traps and set about learning about more moth species. He Joined the British Entomological & Natural History Society (BENHS) and enjoyed field meetings with Paul Waring, the co-author of the leading book on moth ID (‘Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain & Ireland’) and writer of a regular column on moths in ‘British Wildlife’ magazine. There were BENHS field meetings with Paul at Sydlings Copse and Finemere Wood. He learned from Paul’s systematic methods of recording by watching his methods carefully. There were other BENHS visits such as one led by Ian Sims to Wytham Wood in Oxfordshire.
Gordon’s original Skinner-type moth-trap was eventually joined by another, and later by a Robinson trap. Gradually he worked out the benefits of different traps, bulbs, batteries and mothing locations.
One site we visited was Pitsford Reservoir wildlife area where the team from the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire has a permanent moth-trap set in a large box on legs and connected to mains electricity with a timer switch. He was so delighted by this that he was determined to persuade The Parks Trust to install one at Linford Lakes, which was achieved some years later, thanks to his careful photos and detailed measurements of the installation.
One method that Gordon pursued was to use pheromones to attract specific moth species not found readily by other methods. On one occasion he tried this at Stonepit Field to see if a particular clearwing moth was in the area. He tied a small mesh bag to a plant and within a few minutes one appeared, to his quiet delight.
A significant step forward came after the ‘Field Guide to the Micro moths of Great Britain and Ireland’ by Phil Sterling & Mark Parsons was published. Gordon decided to have a go at identifying these smaller and more complicated micro-moths, some of which require use of a microscope.
He also built up his collection of entomology books, with the larger and more expensive ones paid for by sorting the Christmas post at a Royal Mail depot. One year he was delighted to find that he was working alongside Lewis Dickinson who he encouraged to join the Society.
Towards year end Gordon’s aim was to gather the year’s moth records into good shape on MapMate and send them to the Bucks Recorder for Moths so these could be checked and become Records for Butterfly Conservation nationally and the Bucks & MK Environmental Records Centre (BMERC). His moth trapping was not just weekly but night after night at more than one location whenever moths were about. In recent years he wrote up interesting summaries of his moth finds in well-illustrated articles for ‘Magpie’ and the MKNHS website.
Gordon was also a member of Bucks Invertebrate Group and joined a number of their field meetings, such as one on leaf-miners at Burnham Beeches. As well as attending their indoor meetings twice a year until recent years, he led their field meetings at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve.
A joy he looked forward to was his visits to annual meetings of Butterfly Conservation and he also attended several day conferences on neglected insects, run by Bedfordshire Natural History Society, as well as the annual BMERC Recorders Seminars. A particular pleasure was visits to the Amateur Entomologist Society’s annual exhibition and trade fair at Kempton Park, where Gordon could replenish his entomology equipment and meet old friends from around the country. Similarly, Gordon sometimes travelled with me to the annual Bird Fair at Rutland Water and met old friends such as one from his years in Northumberland.
Gordon served the Natural History Society in many ways: not only coordinating and planning outdoor meetings and moth nights over many years, but on the committee and in many practical and unseen activities. More than that he was one of those people who simply got on with those around him and shared his enthusiasm for wildlife with anyone who was interested.
The Society’s last outdoor event was on Sunday afternoon 2nd February 2020 at the Floodplain Forest Nature Reserve some 16 months earlier, so the summer walk on Tuesday evening 1st June 2021 had a particular importance in our calendar. On a glorious summer evening 28 members and 1 visitor (just within the Covid rules maximum allowed) met at Bancroft Park Parks Trust car park to enjoy the wildlife of Milton Keynes, to view some historic landmarks, and to renew face-to-face contact with fellow members. Paul Lund was on hand to act as co-leader should it have proved necessary to divide participants into two groups but that was not necessary. Covid and other risks were rehearsed before the start of the walk.
North Loughton Valley Park is managed by the Parks Trust and forms one of many parks along the green corridor that stretches from Tattenhoe in the south west to New Bradwell in the north where the Loughton Brook joins the Great Ouse. This section of the valley consists of five main habitats all heavily influenced by the development of Milton Keynes: the Brook itself and its surrounding wetlands; thickets of Blackthorn, Wild Plum, Hawthorn, and Elder; mown grass and managed meadows lined by trees and bushes; and an area of rough grass, damp land with scrub above, which makes up the wet/dry balancing lakes which control the run-off to manage the risk of flooding in New Bradwell. The fifth habitat was outside the Park on the east bank of Grafton Street where it cuts through the Boulder Clay and Jurassic Cornbrash (limestone) sub strata and is an important habitat for wildlife in its own right. There is no evidence of habitats that predate the development of Milton Keynes other than Loughton Brook itself.
We walked through each of these areas, stopping occasionally. The focus of the walk was the observation, identification, and recording of flowering plants, birds, and invertebrate species.
The route started from the Bancroft Park car park. Our first stop was to note Marsh Marigold still in flower in a boggy area near the edge of the Brook and to hear Chiffchaff, Blackcap, and Song Thrush in full song in the surrounding thicket and trees. Crossing the Brook took us to the mown and managed meadow grass of the eastern slope of the valley with its backing of trees and bushes. The managed meadows of grasses, Meadow Buttercup, Red Clover, and the semi- parasitic Yellow Rattle were in flower – a wonderful display of colour and flowing contours. There appear to be no pre-Milton Keynes tree species in the Park: those planted are mainly of willows, alder, and ash.
The wet/dry balancing lakes are divided by a substantial broad earth dam. The middle of this was a good stopping place to look across the enclosed area. Some of us had a glimpse of Common Whitethroat in the scrub area below the dam, and Crows, Magpies and Wood Pigeon were flying back and forth. Goatsbeard and Birdsfoot Trefoil were just coming into flower on the slopes of the dam.
A Redway bridge took us over Grafton Street with good views of the Grand Union Canal aqueduct to one side and looking down on the cutting bank that we were to visit on the other. A brief detour gave us views of the magnificent Bradwell Windmill which opened in 1803, closed in 1876, and is now restored and run by volunteers.
Bradwell Windmill The bank of the cutting next to the Redway was our longest stop. It looks roughly west and was still in partial sun for our visit. A stretch of about 100 metres has been planted as a flower-rich habitat to attract pollinators and includes Birdsfoot Trefoil, Common Vetch, Grass Vetchling, Germander Speedwell, Ribwort Plantain, Cut-leaved Cranesbill and Bee Orchid. Flowering was 2 to 3 weeks later than in 2020 when I prepared a virtual walk of this route during lockdown. Only five Bee Orchids were found in flower for our visit and the impression is that overall numbers will be down greatly from even last year. The mown rough grass area on the other side of the Redway added one further Bee Orchid about to flower and the leaf rosettes of a few more. Several Burnet Companion moths were flying, and Two- and Seven-spot Ladybird, Red-tailed Bumblebee, and Solitary Wasp were identified.
Burnet’s Companion moth
Our return route followed that of the outward one. It concluded with a short stop at the stone outline of the Bancroft Roman Villa. This was built in the late Third Century AD replacing an earlier Iron Age farm settlement and demolished in the Fifth Century. Interpretation Boards explain the history of the site. A passing Kestrel which paused briefly to hover ahead of us over the site was a fitting finale to the walk.
Evening sky over Bancroft Roman Villa
My thanks to Mary Sarre and Linda Murphy for putting together the plant list; to Paul Lund for providing back up for me as leader and participating in two reconnaissance visits; to Simon Bunker for contributing the invertebrate species list; to Matt Andrews for his additions to the bird list; and to Peter Barnes for his photographs.
Joe Clinch, Walk Leader
Annex to Trip Report North Loughton Valley Park 1st June 2021
This is a citizen-science event covering churchyards across the England and Wales. The project will see communities and visitors making a note of the animals, birds, insects, or fungi in their local churchyard. Their data will then be collated on the National Biodiversity Network.
Do you have a local churchyard that you could survey as part of this event?
We are hoping that Jenny will be able to lead a Society walk on 20th July to record the diversity of Holy Trinity Churchyard in Old Wolverton as a follow up to this week (a bit late but this shouldn’t be a problem). Our President Roy Maycock surveyed the flora of the best 10% of all the churchyards in Buckinghamshire quite a few years ago now (see recent article on our website: Roy’s Reminiscences). We have also held walks in Olney churchyard to look at lichens and had a recent talk on bats in churches by Sue Hetherington so our Society has a history of involvement in our county’s church flora and fauna.
Sue Hetherington’s talk to members – Wildlife from Home (urban birding and more….) – is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from May 11th.
Phil Sarre’s talk to members – Seldom-seen Little Linford Wood – is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from May 4th.
Paul Bellamy’s talk to members – The Willow Tit: Britain’s fastest declining bird – is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from April 13th.
Paul Cox’s talk to members – Sharks in British Waters– is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from March 9th.
Graham Bellamy’s talk to members – A Brief Introduction to British Woodlice– is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from February 16th
The past twelve months have seen us living alongside a dreadful illness so severe and restrictive to our normal way of life, no other living person has seen the like in this country for well over a century!
One of the many consequences of this has been a reduction in the number of local wildlife-related projects carried out by skilled and enthusiastic people throughout the United Kingdom. You will not be surprised to learn our own MKNHS has no shortage of such talented individuals but finding the funds for these projects can be challenging.
A former member of our society, Gordon Osborn, generously bequeathed funds to us specifically for use by members of the MKNHS who need support for new or ongoing projects such as recording local wildlife, survey work in local areas, educational programmes, research and so on, in any field of natural history deemed as representative of our society’s aims and objectives.
The enhancement of knowledge of our local flora and fauna in such difficult times could be a daunting prospect; perhaps a little help from this unique fund can be the boost which is needed to transform a worthy project into a truly important and valuable contribution to our understanding of a particular patch’s importance or aspect of natural history or spreading ‘the word’ to others such that the future of our wild countryside and its inhabitants might be better assured.
Last year, understandably, no applications were received for help from this fund and so I am asking those of you who are interested in carrying out this vital work in your own time or as an extension to your normal working lives and who feel such financial assistance would benefit your particular project, to apply for some funding outlining the details of your work and what you would be using any grant for.
Generally, this would be in the region of a few hundred pounds but this is enough to purchase trail cameras, recording equipment, specialist books, computer programs, etc., which might otherwise be proving too much to fund from your own pockets.
So, please do apply for help from the Gordon Osborn Fund. That is what it is there for.
Further information can also be found in the MKNHS Guidance Handbook (page 11) found as a link in the Home section of this website or contact myself or Linda Murphy who are administrators of the fund.
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.
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.
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:
All other animals, including mammals, fish, insects etc.
Plants and fungi.
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.
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!
How the 2021 Photo competition will be run, and key dates:
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)
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)
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)
Members have one week to send in their votes for the top three photos. (Votes to be received by 23 February 2021)
Votes are counted and the top 3 selected.
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.
The final 8 will be put on the website gallery page for the photo competition winners 2021.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
Crab apple variety golden hornet
Rowan for flowers and berries
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.
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:
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
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
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
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
Types of meadow – spring (containing spring flowers and bulbs), summer (late summer flowering plants) and flowery lawns.
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.
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.
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
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.
Homes – trees, climbers and shrubs for nests, ponds, log piles, messy quiet corners, bird boxes,
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Hedgerowand ditches, dykes, and dry stone walls by John Wright, (2016: Profile Books Ltd)
Woodland Plantsby 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 yearsby 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)
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.
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!
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.
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 (email@example.com or telephone 01908 562475 or write to 39 Tudor Gardens, Stony Stratford, MK11 1HX).
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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 (email@example.com) and Martin Kincaid (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.
Our first edition of the new ‘Magpie Digest‘ is now available on the website. To minimise costs, it is only being printed and posted to members without online access. When our new team took over the running of the website it was decided a rethink was needed on the overlap of material that existed between the Website and Magpie newsletter. We are keen to continue to provide access to interesting publications/articles for all members so this publication is composed of a selection of the articles sent in by our members to the Society’s website over the past 4 months.
Partly thanks to Covid and also the enthusiasm and encouragement of our new team we have had a wonderful number and variety of contributions which we hope will continue to flow in our post Covid world. As editor of this Digest, I have not been able to use all the articles published on the website as the cost of printing them all would be too high but I have tried to select shortish articles which I feel translate best to the printed page and cater for a broad range of interests from plants to insects to birds etc. I have not included all photos submitted with the original articles and have very occasionally edited out some text, but I hope you feel that I have got the balance about right and apologise to anyone who is disappointed that I have not included their article. I am open to thoughts and comments about this publication. (Please send these to email@example.com.) Enjoy!
Reluctantly, the Committee has concluded that for the rest of this year the Society’s activities will have to be delivered virtually using Zoom technology or via the Society’s website. This decision has been taken in the light of the continuing government limitations imposed as a result of coronavirus on individuals and organisations, and advice from the City Discovery Centre that the Cruck Barn is unlikely to be available for hire earlier than the New Year. Should CDC be able to open safely earlier than this, they will let us know. You may already be aware of other local organisations which are having to make similar decisions and you may already have been using Zoom yourself with friends, family or work colleagues during the lockdown.
Zoom is a digital platform that allows multiple participants to meet together in real time with the option to be heard and seen, and to hear and see others. To access meetings you need either a PC (with camera), a laptop, a tablet, or an iPad. A smart phone can also be used, but the size of screen limits what can be seen. Before a Society meeting, members will be sent an invitation including a link to join the meeting (all these meetings are member-only events: visitors by prior arrangement may be possible for later events). If you are using a PC or laptop, simply click on this link and follow the instructions in order to join. If you are using a tablet, iPad or smart phone, you will need to download the app form the relevant app store.
More information about how to access and use Zoom features is available on the website’s new Zoom Support page.
Access to Zoom sound by telephone is still under investigation.
There will be several opportunities to try it out and get familiar with using Zoom during August.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Early this year BMERC held the first Wildlife Photography Competition 2020, with two categories ‘Wildlife’ and ‘Landscape’. The judges independently voted for two winning photos belonging to the same author – MKNHS member, Harry Appleyard, to whom go our congratulations. More details can be found in the BMERC newsletter, linked below, which includes both photos: ‘Shepherd’s Delight’ and ‘Waxwing in Tattenhoe, December 2010’.
The judges commented that some that some of the entrants ‘showed amazing level of passion and skills. The variety and beauty of some shots revealed incredible expertise and patience.’ The report notes that the judges had a tough job, before choosing the work of ‘an extremely talented young photographer’.
Peter Meadows reminds us that there is plenty of wildlife interest in Marston Vale Forest. The Forest Centre remains closed, but the park itself and the car park is now open from 9am-5pm. You can see what’s about by following this link to the weekly blog on Nature news (https://www.marstonvale.org/blog/nature-news-11th-may) from the Forest, with updates on plants coming into flower, bird activity video recordings and insect sightings.
We received news recently that Peter Kent, a former member of the Society, former Chairman and long-serving committee member, died on Easter Sunday. There may not be many members now who remember Peter and his wife Jean, who were very active in the Society during the 1980s and 90s. Apart from being Chairman for 4 years from 1989-1993, Peter will be particularly remembered for planning and organising a number of successful trips for Society members, which saw groups travelling to Crete, Turkey, Israel, Texas and South Africa. He also arranged trips in the UK, both long weekends, such as to Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire, and day trips to places like Westonbirt Arboretum. Due to the lockdown restrictions, a small funeral has been held, but a memorial service will be held later. His wife Jean, now 90, continues to live in Stoke Hammond, where they moved from Bletchley a couple of years ago.
The latest issue of our society newsletter ‘The Magpie’ can be viewed in the Publications section of the website or by clicking here.
Over the past few years it has become apparent to those of us involved with the website and our newsletter the Magpie that there is quite a bit of overlap and also some muddying of the waters as to what content should be sent to which of the two forms of communication. Combine this with the work involved in collecting and collating the articles for both and it has been decided that we need to look at integrating the two forms of communication to maximise the quality of our output.
To meet this end the Spring edition of the Magpie that has just been circulated will be the last in its current form. In future we (the communications/editorial team) will concentrate on encouraging people to submit content for the website eg. interesting articles, local wildlife news and recent sightings of local wildlife. Then this will be posted on the website as before on a regular basis.
However we are also aware that there are quite a few of our members who do not have easy access to the internet and we of course must continue to cater for them. To this end we will also produce a twice-yearly set of printed articles or ‘digest’ of interesting content taken from the website that will continue to be called the Magpie (quite apt as Magpies do love a good collection of interesting objects!) This will be sent out to the members who are on our mailing list for printed communications.
This change will allow the editor of the Magpie (Julie Lane at present) to spend more time providing support/back up to the website editors when and where it is required.
We hope you agree that these changes are the right way to go forwards ensuring that the Society remains up-to-date in its methods of communication and continues to inspire its members to value and celebrate local wildlife.
PS Please note a mistake was made in the emailed Spring edition of the Magpie newsletter saying that there would be one more edition of the Magpie. Apologies for the confusion but this is not the case – this Spring edition is the last in its current form!
Two events have prompted a re-think about the way the Society website is used and the focus of its content.
The first of these is the resignation of Peter Hassett from the role of webmaster resulting in the establishment of a new, but less experienced, editorial team. [See ‘Changes afoot on our website’]
The second is the recent survey completed by a substantial number of members of the Society. This survey indicated that certain parts of the website were highly valued and very well-used, but some pages were visited much less frequently. With regard to news items, the pages presenting Society News were visited far more frequently than ‘Other News’. We know (and very are grateful) that Peter spent a considerable amount of time and energy researching the amazing variety of natural history related stories that appeared in the Other News section every week. Unfortunately, we are not able to sustain that degree of effort, and plan to give this lower priority, particularly now we know that the pages are not viewed as often as this effort deserves! We also feel that the website should focus on news about wildlife and environmental issues in the Milton Keynes area in keeping with the aims of our constitution:
To promote and improve the knowledge and status of Natural History in Milton Keynes and the surrounding district.
To co-operate with other organisations, and to do such other things as are conducive to further the above objects as the occasion may arise.
As a result, the website team and Society Committee have agreed that from now on, we will concentrate on Society and Local News. Of course there will be national or international developments and reports that impact on us all in Milton Keynes, such as the recent ‘The State of Nature’ Report. We will retain the ‘Other News’ page for such items.
This change means that the website will very much rely on YOU, the Society members, to send in news items/experiences/thoughts/sightings/photos and observations you’d like to share with others.
The Sightings page is one of the most popular pages on the Society’s website. We think we can add to its interest, but it is changing and we need your help to do this.
The Sightings page is not only for experts to add their amazing sightings but for any MKNHS member, whether experienced naturalist or new member of the Society to submit their ordinary sightings.
Please look at the Sightings page every week to see what’s about. From time to time we will be adding new information about what to look for.
What we want to see on the sightings page
Up to now our website editor has laboriously transferred many individual bird records every day to the MKNHS Sightings page from the Bucks Bird Club website. To these he added any other sightings submitted direct to the MKNHS website, but there have been fewer of those. This has meant that those of you more interested in flowers, mammals or insects have seen less of interest on the Sightings page.
Bird sightings remain important and we would like you to submit those for the Milton Keynes area direct to the MKNHS website, as we will transfer very few from the Bucks Bird Club website ourselves. We explain later how you can find those elsewhere.
What to look for
Some of you may feel that what you see is hardly special enough to send in as an MKNHS website Sighting. But we want to widen what we all see on our Sightings page, so here are the kinds of sightings we will welcome:
Your local wildlife around where you live
Birds and insects in your garden
The first of the season (first bluebell seen, first swallow to arrive, first butterflies of the year, which tree leaves are opening first)
Birds, insects, flowers & fungi (wherever you see them in MK area)
Indoor sightings (which house spiders? Oak bush-crickets in late summer)
Plants or animals in unexpected places
Animals not often seen (such as an Otter or a Weasel, or simply a Hedgehog in your garden)
Road kill (such as badger, fox, hedgehog, owl)
Animals or plants that especially interest you (but local sightings please)
Sightings are enhanced when they come with a photo. It doesn’t need to be competition standard, just clear and in focus. So send these in, but sightings without a photo are equally welcome.
How to be sure of the identification of what you have seen
We don’t offer an online species identification service, but there are other ways you can check. When MKNHS meetings are running it is worth asking other members to find out who can help. If you have a few natural history field guides you may be able to work out possible options. Why not submit your sighting with what you think the species is but saying you aren’t sure or with two alternatives? But there is an online way of finding out through citizen science. Register for free with iSpot:
https://www.ispotnature.org/. You can then put a photo on the iSpot website and there’s a good chance other people will respond with the right identification. You can then submit your sighting to our website.
What information is needed for a sighting?
The basic information we need is: what, where, when, by whom. To which you can add a photo and a brief observation about what you have seen:
Where did you see it? Name of location, preferably with a grid reference.
When did you see it? Simply the date.
By whom? Your name
A photo (format?)
A brief observation. Such as how many you saw or what it was doing.
It is easy for you to view any bird sightings for Buckinghamshire simply by searching on Bucks Bird Club website. The quick route to the day’s sightings is: https://bucksbirdclub.co.uk/ then click on the drop-down in the top bar for Latest Sightings which is headed Buckinghamshire Bird News. Some of our MKNHS members are also signed up members of Bucks Bird Club and have registered to submit sightings to it. For example, on 1st April 2020 Harry Appleyard submitted 37 different sightings. Several other MKNHS members add their bird sightings to the Bucks Bird Club website. Joining fee for Bucks Bird Club is excellent value, as little as £15 a year.
After six years setting up and running our website from scratch Peter Hassett our webmaster finally stood down in March. We would like to thank him for the enormous amount of skill and effort he has put in to running such a great website and for his support during this changeover period.
To try and find a new team to carry this forward has been quite a challenge, but we are delighted to say that we now have two brave new volunteers who are prepared to give it a go. Both have little expertise in the running of websites so they will need a period of grace and understanding from Society members whilst they work their way into their new roles.
Firstly we have a new Administrator Rebecca Hiorns. Rebecca is a landscape architect, a profession she chose because of her love of the natural environment. She has recently joined the Society as she is keen to spend more time exploring and learning about our local wildlife. Rebecca will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the site making sure that it functions smoothly. She will also be responsible for implementing any structural changes that we have agreed are required to simplify the running and improve the layout of the site. We are hoping that these changes will enable our new team to run the site without having to be on-the-case every single day.
Then we have a team of three editors at present. However we are still keen to recruit one member more to join the editorial team.
Firstly a new editor Martin Ferns. Martin retired in 2018 from his post at the Open University where his roles included that of editor back in the 1980s – although not of websites. He has been resident in MK for much of the past 40 years interspersed with periods living and working in Malawi, Zambia (which he says is a wonderful country for wildlife/nature in general) and Cambodia. His interest in wildlife is general across the board.
Martin has agreed to take on the general editing of the site which will include postings of society announcements, society news, updating the Summer and Winter programme where/when necessary etc. The Recent Sightings page of the website is being re-focused with the help of Mike LeRoy to make it more relevant to MKNHS members by encouraging the reporting of more local sightings of a greater diversity of wildlife.
Linda Murphy our Treasurer has offered to lead on commissioning of articles and other contributions to the website in the short-term (until another editor has been recruited) and Jenny Mercer has offered to support her in this role.
Julie Lane who is at present editing the Magpie, our twice-yearly newsletter, is looking at ways to integrate the newsletter more effectively with the website. More about this later and in the Magpie itself due out at the end of the month.
As mentioned above the changes involved with getting our new team up and running as well as the changes in the actual website will take some time, so we ask for your patience and understanding at this time. We will be in touch in various ways letting you know more about our plans but obviously the first go-to place for information will be the website itself.
Following the closure of the Cruck Barn until further notice, all planned indoor meetings were cancelled, including the AGM, which was scheduled for 17 March 2020. Since then, the Committee has taken the inevitable decision to suspend all outdoor meetings planned as part of the Summer Programme. As and when the lockdown is lifted and it is again possible to get together, the Summer Programme will be resumed.
Milton Keynes Natural History Society has registered with #easyfundraising, a website which supports fundraising for hundreds of charities and good causes.
The Society Committee decided to take this step as it offers a way for members to make small donations to MKNHS when they shop online without actually having to pay anything more than the price of their purchase, because the donation is made by the retailers who have signed up to the scheme.
The donations received will help the Society to build up the fund set up in 2018 to replace, or upgrade, as necessary the essential equipment and promotional display items purchased in previous years.
Currently there are over 4,000 participating shops and sites which will donate to us when you use #easyfundraising to shop with them. These include well-known names such as eBay, Argos, Amazon, John Lewis, ASOS, Booking.com, Tesco, Sainsbury, M&S and Expedia, covering most retail sectors, from grocery shopping to holiday and travel bookings.
So if you buy anything online, do consider signing up to easyfundraising to support MKNHS. Donations may be small, but mount up over time, the more people participate.
If you don’t shop on line but would like to make a small donation you can do this via the Voluntary Donations scheme, launched last year, which gives members the option of adding a voluntary donation to the annual subscription (currently £25 payable from 1st April). Amounts suggested were £5, £10 or £20 but any amount however small (or large!) is welcome It is your decision to make a donation and you can cancel it at any time. Speak to the Treasurer if you want more information.
Of course there are other ways to support the Society, not just financial. If you would like to take on a more active, practical role in running weekly meetings, or in running the Society, the committee would love the hear from you!
Peter our webmaster is standing down in March and we are keen to retain and further develop our wonderful website which is proving such an asset to the Society.
If you have some technical or editorial skills already or are interested in acquiring these skills then we are looking to set up a small team of people to be involved in taking this forward.
Ideally we are looking for a couple of people to run the technical side of the website as Administrators and 2-3 to act as Editors providing content.
We very much hope that members of the Society will want to become involved but if you know of anyone outside of the society who might enjoy the challenge please let us know. We can be contacted either at a meeting by talking to Linda Murphy, Mike LeRoy, or Julie Lane or by emailing Julie Lane at email@example.com
The evening started from the Medieval Thornborough Bridge (pictured above) constructed from the local Blisworth Limestone which we were to see in the quarry. The route took us under the busy A421 upstream along the bank of the Padbury Brook (a few members took advantage of much nearer car parking courtesy of the local farmer so missed the walk but had time to set out the demonstration table above the quarry).
The Padbury Brook was a green corridor of reeds and rushes through the parched meadows. Late flowering summer flowers on its banks were still showing well including Great Willow Herb, Marsh Woundwort, Water Forgetmenot, Water Figwort, Angelica and Teasel.
Two Brown Hares on an arable field opposite offered early excitement. Unfortunately there were few insects in evidence and birds were few and far between but did include Grey Wagtail, Reed Bunting, Swallows, and a large flock of Rooks feeding on stubble.
Joe gave a brief introduction to the rock exposure in the quarry as observed from the viewing platform above it. Mainly drawing on the excellent Bucks Geological Society website and Interpretation Boards he explained that deposition was about 170 million years ago in the Middle Jurassic Period. The area was then at a latitude of about 40 degrees North. He explained that the Blisworth Limestone was deposited in low energy shallow warm marine conditions (as currently found in the Florida Keys). The Blisworth Clay above the limestone was deposited in lagoonal, mud flat and brackish marsh environments. There are fewer fossils but a dinosaur(Theropod) footprint had been found near-by at Thornborough Mill.
Of particular interest was a fault line (subsequent to deposition) which had displaced the younger rubbly Cornbrash seen to the east of the quarry downwards relative to the Blisworth Limestone. This could be clearly seen despite slumping of much later material.
Jenny then demonstrated how this had happened with a specially baked ‘strata’ cake! (Subsequently the cake was rapidly eroded by participants!)
Most of the group then spent about an hour examining the structural features of the quarry and some Blisworth Limestone samples. We noted that the latter are made up of accumulated fossil shell fragments bound together with a carbonate cement. The fossils that can be found here are of Bivalves, Gastropods, Corals, Ecinoids and Brachiopods. Members identified with some confidence Bivalves and Gastropods including a small number with complete shells. A worm like trace fossil was also found. Others proved more challenging to identify. Calcite crystals (precipitated after deposition) were also in evidence especially with the aid of hand lens.
During the time in the quarry area several members explored the wooded area adjacent to it: a Jay and Tree Creeper were seen and a Green Woodpecker heard. Some also found the ruins of the two 19thcentury lime kilns which operated on the site until 1890 and are now marked by an information board.
This outing was rather different from our normal living wildlife focus but apart from its attractive setting the geology observed was a useful reminder of a past habitat and some of the animals that lived in it.
Sherington now has an active and growing Biodiversity Group who are doing all they can to make the village more attractive to wildlife. The churchyard of St.Laud’s Church is managed with a light touch – large areas of the churchyard are left unmown to allow grasses and wildflowers to flourish and some areas have been enhanced with sown and planted wildflowers. ‘Bug hotels’ have been installed on the walls and hedgehogs are encouraged throughout the village.
On the evening that we visited the omens were not good. After a wet day, the skies were leaden and it was drizzling at 6.45pm. Nevertheless, twenty members turned up. Parking at the village hall, we made the short walk along Church End towards the church. As luck would have it, we had just reached the church when there was an almighty downpour. Luckily, we had shelter in the church porch which was quite cosy with 20 people in it! A good place, this, for the Harvestman enthusiast. However, the rain soon passed and we had a very enjoyable hour.
Speckled Bush Cricket by Peter Hassett
Martin Kincaid led the group from the church into the adjacent fields. One of these former arable fields has now been turned over to nature by the owner who has planted a nectar rich garden which is full of butterflies, bees and hoverflies. On the previous day Martin and Carol Allen had counted 13 species of butterfly here for the Big Butterfly Count. In the damp conditions, we did not see any butterflies flying about but before long people started to find roosting butterflies on grass stems – at first just Meadow Browns and Ringlets, and later a wider range including Common Blue, Brown Argus and Small Copper. Everywhere, Meadow Grasshoppers were leaping about and we managed to identify six species of Orthoptera. Probably most impressive were a number of adult Speckled Bush-crickets who were settled on the leaves of a Buddleia. Julie Lane found these and before long several of us had them crawling over our hands.
This garden is privately owned but signs dotted around make it clear that anyone is welcome to wander through and enjoy it – provided they clean up after their dogs. In a second clearing there was a large compost heap and around here impressive stands of Purple Loosestrife and Water Figwort.
Returning to the churchyard, we concentrated on plants. Roy Maycock had listed plants here in the 1980s as part of his county-wide churchyard survey. Mary Sarre, assisted by others, amassed quite a list this evening and will be interesting to compare this with Roy’s 30+ year old list.
Among the birds heard and seen were Swifts, Swallows and House Martins – which were foraging over the village – Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chiffchaff and Green Woodpecker.
A most enjoyable walk despite less than summery conditions and one worth repeating. We will provide Sherington Biodiversity Group with our records and observations.
Text by Martin Kincaid.
Photo at top of page is a Chiffchaff by Peter Hassett
Since I last wrote moth notes over a month has passed and that time has taken us in to the busiest part of the mothing season. I have spent some of that time on the Suffolk Coast in search of moths that do not venture inland. There has been plenty of mothing going on here though with visits to Goosey Bank and Barn Field, both near Olney, a night out at Howe Park Wood helping with the Bioblitz there on 1-2 July, a late night/early morning at the Woodland Trust owned College Wood, near Nash as well as the usual traps left at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve and in my garden here at Newport Pagnell.
The wet and cooler weather of the past few days has provided a little respite and has permitted time to check records, enter them on the data base and to write some mothing notes.
One of the moths I enjoy seeing in Suffolk is the Rosy Footman. I have never seen it in North Bucks so you can imagine my surprise when it was found in a trap at Linford Lakes on 13th July. I returned from Suffolk on the 12th and the trap it was found in was one that I had taken away with me so I suspect that I may have brought it back with me. I will include it in my records for Linford with an explanatory note but who knows, the moth may have found its way there on its own accord.
One that took the eye at Howe Park Wood on 2nd July was a Green Arches. There are a number of moths with Arches in their names and all have markings with a curved or pointed arch above a pair of columns. The caterpillars feed on Dock, Bramble, Primrose and Honeysuckle at the wood and they overwinter as caterpillars and pupate underground.
At Barn Field, near Olney on 17th July a lovely specimen of Yellow Shell was recorded. These are disturbed during the day and are on the wing between June and August. The caterpillars feed on Cleavers, Bedstraws, Dandelions and Docks and they too overwinter as larvae and pupate underground.
Found outside one of the traps on the same day at Barn Field was this Leopard Moth. The caterpillars of this moth feed on wood and stem tissue of many trees and because there is not much nutrition in wood they remain in the caterpillar state for between 2-3 years. The adult moth, like the one in the photograph, is incapable of feeding.
On the 25th June, a welcome visitor to the garden trap in Newport Pagnell was the very colourful Scarlet Tiger. The Tiger moths are as colourful as butterflies and their caterpillars are the “woolly bears”. The Scarlet Tiger seems to have been extending its range in recent years from a base in the south west of England. The caterpillars feed on Common Comfrey and Hemp-agrimony and when larger disperse on to Common Nettle, Bramble and Sallow. The micro-moth beneath the Tiger is known as the Yellow-spot Tortrix.
Text and photos kindly supplied by Gordon Redford. Click here to read the previous edition of Moth Notes
Looking back over the urban birding scene since edition 1, it is swifts that have dominated, more on them below. I have no more news about our urban peregrine falcons. I have seen from the numerous webcams and twitter feeds that the very numerous other sites nationwide have done extremely well. It is very disappointing that we in Bucks have been deprived of the webcam from County Hall that we had grown to know and love. I am not exactly sure of all the reasons but know a major difficulty is that the Aylesbury pigeon racing fraternity are doing their utmost to have the County Hall birds and their platform removed and are seeking to litigate to achieve this. In my opinion, it would help the peregrines if all who care about them could take the time to write to Bucks County Council to register their support of the project. Meanwhile, I am going to have to consider enduring another football match and making a visit to the MK Dons to see if I can what’s going on there!
Turning to the swifts, over the last 2 or 3 weeks they seem to have become very active – definitely in the north Bucks village where I live at least. Parties of what I take to be non-breeders have been zooming around in devil-may-care groups screaming their heads off. Younger non-breeding birds appear to be checking out potential breeding sites for next year by flying up to places and briefly clinging on – if this happens at wooden nesting boxes, it can make quite a bang, leading to some people calling such birds “bangers”. For the last few years, I have been attempting to supply BMERC with a list of exact nesting sites in Bucks. This is something that Bucks Bird Club reporting system does not lend itself to – nest sites can be difficult to see for sure and knowing how many are in a particular building is similarly tricky. Most difficult of all, I have been reporting exact addresses e.g. “43 Acacia Avenue” which is something that would be inappropriate on Bucks Bird Club’s systems, even if marked as confidential. My purpose in recording these details is not to make life difficult for householders but to try to help swifts. If a planning application came in at a property with known swift nests, it would help to make sure that work is carried out in the off season and also would give an opportunity to have a conversation with the property owner to see if they could do anything to mitigate any potential negative impact on swifts. If anyone is able to supply any data about breeding swifts, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
The last week of June also saw the second annual “Swift Awareness Week” with over 100 events taking place nationwide. They were an eclectic assortment – from walks and talks to garden parties and pop-up mini displays of information. Princes Risborough was fortunate to have a talk by Andrew Lack, son of the David Lack, the eminent ornithologist from Oxford.
As I write in mid July, it will not be long before our swifts depart, so if you are lucky enough to have any near where you live, don’t forget to appreciate them while you can.
Good Urban Birding until next month, Sue Hetherington
One of the UK’s largest and most spectacular butterflies is now on the wing in the city’s woods.
The Purple Emperor, a much-sought after insect by naturalists and photographers, has been seen in Howe Park Wood, Shenley Wood and along the North Bucks Way in the past week. The male emperor with a wingspan of 8-9cm, has an iridescent purple sheen on his wings which give him his name whilst the slightly larger female is black and white.
Whilst carrying out a butterfly survey at Shenley Wood on 5th July 2019, The Parks TrustThe Parks Trust’s Biodiversity Officer Martin Kincaid was amazed when this magnificent butterfly landed just a few metres away from him. These insects spend most of their life soaring around the tree canopy and only rarely visit the woodland floor where they feed on salts and minerals which they obtain from woodchip, puddles, carrion and even animal faeces! They rarely visit flowers.
Martin says “we have known that these butterflies are in our woodlands for the past five years or so but usually I just get a fleeting glimpse as one flies through the trees. To see one feeding on the ground like this, and with both wings showing vivid purple, is a rare treat. I was lucky that it stayed on the ground for 20-30 minutes and His Majesty permitted me to take lots of photographs with my phone and show him to some passing dog walkers”.
As well as this close encounter in Shenley Wood, flying Purple Emperors have been seen at Howe Park Wood and along the North Bucks Way near Oakhill Wood in the past few days. July is the peak season for this noble insect, so why not get out to one of our woodlands and see if you can spot one for yourself….?
If you fancy getting up close and personal with dragons and damsels there is no better place than the Business Park ornamental ponds at Caldecotte. Today there were a dozen emperors and four-spotteds mating and ovipositing. Also red-eyed, blue-tailed and common blue damsels. (And reed warblers).
Later there will be hawkers. Footpaths around half a dozen ponds, seating areas, odos buzzing around your head. Best to go at a weekend when you can park nearby in Monellan Grove or the small car park there at Caldecotte Lake (otherwise it is chockabloc with workers’ cars).
Text and pictures kindly supplied by Janice Robertson
What is Hen Harrier Day? Hen Harrier Day celebrates the beauty of this wonderful bird and highlights its threatened status which is almost entirely due to wildlife crime. Hen Harriers are illegally killed because they eat Red Grouse (among other things) which people want to shoot for fun. There have been Hen Harrier Day rallies since 10th August 2014 when four events took place, the largest of which was held in the Peak District in torrential rain and was attended by the ‘Sodden 570’ and hosted by Mark Avery and Chris Packham. It is an annual event timed around the “Glorious” 12th (ie the start of the grouse shooting season)
It started in 2014, at the Derwent Dam, my image attached (I was one of the “Sodden 570 ” in the aftermath of Hurricane Bertha). In 2015, it moved to the Goyt Valley, Derbyshire (my image attached) then to RSPB Rainham Marshes in 2017 (my image attached) It was in various locations in 2017 and 2018 (I was unable to attend these so have no images) As noted above, it is consolidating down to the one location in 2019 for the 6th HH Day. I am planning to attend. Not everyone is aware that these even happen and even if not wishing to attend may just like the information.
Twitter followers should use the hash tag ##HHDay19
I’m Sue Hetherington. I’ve been a member of Bucks Bird Club since 2009 when I decided that it was about time I joined given that I was then living next door to where the club was holding its indoor meetings at the time (we have both moved since then). I remember my first field trip with Bucks Bird Club (to Wendover Woods) with shame – I didn’t even have a pair of binoculars, let alone a telescope! Oh yes, I fitted into what Simon Barnes has termed “a bad birdwatcher”. I’ve always been “into” all natural history but birds seem to have particularly invited themselves in to my consciousness and have tried to take over. I like all sorts of birds in all sorts of habitats but I have a particular interest in urban birds. To see what I mean by the term “urban birds” take a look at David Lindo’s eponymous book. And yes, David is my friend and hero.
I love seeing birds in unexpected urban settings, I admire their enterprise in finding homes with us especially when we seem to be constantly shrinking their natural environment. It also makes it easy to birdwatch if it can be combined with a trip to town. I’ve loved seeing waxwings in Aylesbury in those special winters they grace us with their presence. I’ve also some seen some amazing starling murmerations there. Come the summer, what could be better than to see (and hear) those most urban of birds, swifts. My absolute favourites though are urban peregrines and particularly those from my home county.
I know many others share my Bucks and MK interest in our urban peregrines and would like to know the results from this year. But first to summarise past years’ outcomes
– peregrines first bred on County Hall Tower Block in Aylesbury in 2011 using a provided nesting platform
– peregrines first bred in the MK Dons Stadium MK in 2015. At first they used an old crows’ nest but a nesting platform was provided which they eventually used for the first time in 2018
There is no central news outlet for these peregrines so it was not until Mike Wallen, the County Bird Recorder, placed some notes on the Yahoo discussion board called bucksbirders that this years picture emerged. This is the news that Mike gave on bucksbirders on 7/6/19
Bucks Peregrines- update
Aylesbury County Hall Tower Block.
Bad news complete breeding failure, no eggs, no chicks and it looks like the female has been lost, either before any eggs, or at some stage after. Whatever was there has been predated. There is a male present. A webcam which has been available in past years was unfortunately unavailable this year.
Much better news. The birds went straight to the platform this spring and laid 4 eggs, 3 of which hatched and have done extremely well.
The first one fledged on June 3rd, but something wasn’t quite right and it had to be rescued, fortunately a member of staff there has a partner who is a vet, it was found to be dehydrated. It spent a couple of days with the vet where she (it was sexed) recovered well. This fortunately coincided with Rod Stewart performing so we didn’t have any trouble with Peregrine chicks causing havoc in the crowd. [although several birders who attended the concert reported how much they had enjoyed seeing the peregrines as an added bonus – Sue]
Yesterday (6th) the other two chicks were still on the platform, but exercising vigorously, one nearly came off, but hung on, fledging imminent.
At lunchtime the rescued bird was released at a high point in the stadium and after sitting still for a few minutes it then took off extremely strongly and went straight out of the stadium ! It was expected to return as peregrine fledglings do. There has never been a webcam on this platform.
I for one have missed being able to follow the fortunes of the Aylesbury project on webcams, as have many others I am sure. If anyone feels similarly deprived, I recommend the Derby Peregrine Project which has the entry point to almost everything you could wish to know about urban peregrines here http://derbyperegrines.blogspot.com/ Ordinarily, they too would have a webcam but this too has been jinxed this year (building developments have got in the way of line of sight wireless transmission from the camera on the cathedral to a wireless base station – work is in progress to find a fix) The Derby website has a list of some of the other peregrine projects that exist around the county (there are lots)
That’s all the Bucks and MK Urban Peregrine news I have.
Turning to another iconic urban bird, swifts, they are back in our towns and villages but many people think they were very late and have arrived in lower numbers than normal. When they made their 6000 mile journey to us from their winter airspace in Africa, it is thought that they hit severe storms in Italy, France and Spain. It is believed they were badly hit, with many dying through starvation or hypothermia. We’ve just had a prolonged bad weather spell here which can’t have helped breeding swifts. We hope for the best for these fantastic little birds. Hopefully we won’t get a problem with grounded swifts (eg fledglings jumping before they are ready) but if you do, there is advice here https://www.swift-conservation.org/SwiftFirstAid.htm
I would add Tiggywinkes Wildlife Hospital, Haddenham to the list of carers, it’s where I would take a swift casualty. If anyone needs a swift “ambulance driver” I am happy to be contacted on 07972 833 408
I have no news yet on various swift projects around the county, but I can confirm that my swift box (in its second season) has no occupants. This would seem to bear out the “low numbers” theory as my village normally has a good population of swifts and interest was shown in my box last year.
The month of June began with the appearance of some old moth friends showing their faces for the first time this year. It is always reassuring to see them, to see that they have survived the rigours of the past year and are in good shape to continue. Things have rather slowed down over the past week with the heavy rain, winds and sometimes cool temperatures. My mothing has been confined to the garden in Newport Pagnell and Linford Lakes Nature Reserve using Robinson Moth Traps (See previous notes of for information about traps).
On the night of June 1st, 294 moths of 76 species visited the trap at Linford Lakes and amongst the catch was a lovely Oak-Hook-tip. It is one of seven Hook-tip moths to be found in Britain and as the name suggests its caterpillars feed on the foliage of oak trees and the Hook part refers to the wing shape. It is able to complete its life cycle twice in the year and will be on the wing again in late July to mid September.
Another on the 1st at Linford Lakes was one of the carpet moths, a Green Carpet. There are 54 species of Carpet moths and none of them eat carpets. They are named so because of the delicate patterns on their wings. It too has 2 generations in a year and the caterpillars feed on Bedstraws and Cleavers.
June 3rd was not quite as busy as the June 1st with some 221 moths of 50 species at Linford Lakes. One that took the eye though was the Cream-bordered Green Pea. A friend of mine observed that it sounded more like something that should be on a restaurant menu rather than the name fora moth. It is a nationally scarce moth whose caterpillars feed on Willows and Sallows and seems well established at Linford Lakes.
The China-mark moths are emerging and have been visiting the trap too. There are 4 species: Small China-mark, Brown China-mark, Beautiful China-mark and photographed here, the Ringed China-mark. They have aquatic or sub-aquatic caterpillars. The Ringed China-mark caterpillar feeds on Pondweeds, Canadian Waterweed and other plants and spins leaves together and lives in an open web.
In the garden this week it was good to see the return of the Orange Pine Tortrix. It is a micro-moth whose caterpillar feeds on Scots Pine where it makes a silk tube along a twig. The moth was first recorded in Britain in Surrey in 1945 so it has been here just 3 more years than me.
Text and photos kindly supplied by Gordon Redford. Click here to read the previous edition of Moth Notes
The birds went straight to the platform this spring and laid 4 eggs, 3 of which hatched and have done extremely well.
The first one fledged on June 3rd, but something wasn’t quite right and it had to be rescued, fortunately a member of staff there has a partner who is a VET, it was found to be dehydrated. It spent a couple of days with the VET where she (it was sexed) recovered well. This fortunately coincided with Rod Stewart performing so we didn’t have any trouble with Peregrine chicks causing havoc in the crowd.
Yesterday (6th) the other two chicks were still on the platform, but exercising vigorously, one nearly came off, but hung on, fledging imminent. At lunchtime the rescued bird was released at a high point in the stadium and after sitting still for a few minutes it then took off extremely strongly and went straight out of the stadium ! I expect it will return.
A grey damp afternoon and threatening dark clouds set the scene leading up to our visit to Stonepit Field (SP 84489 42160) on Tuesday 4th June 2019, but by the time we gathered the clouds had just begun to clear so the evening ended with bright sun and clear blue skies. Surprisingly, with such unappealing weather in the lead up, around 20 members had assembled to enjoy the visit.
Mike LeRoy gave a brief explanation of the site’s geology and its history since the 1960s. The woodland flanking the Railway Walk dates from the end of the 1970s, part of the New Town ‘advance tree planting’ by Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC). In the early 1990s a MKDC project was implemented to convert a former barley field into flower-rich limestone grassland. A ‘scrape’ of exposed limestone was formed at the same time. More recently, around 2007, two flood-management ponds were inserted into the lower slopes for the nearby housing at Oakridge Park.
Our walkabout started by the ‘scrape’ with Gordon Redford demonstrating use of a pheromone lure to attract Six-belted Clearwing moths Bembecia ichneumoniformis; a demonstration because these day-fliers are known to be present at the site but don’t turn out readily on a cool evening. The next centre of attention was Bee Orchids, which had come into flower on the scrape over the previous couple of days.
We then formed several smaller groups. One led by Harry Appleyard circled the more wooded parts of the site and the ponds in search of birds, and found a surprisingly wide range as this is not known as a bird site. 30 species were seen or heard, including Grey Heron and Little Egret on the east pond, at least two Bullfinch and over 16 Wood Pigeon, as well as two Song Thrush, with one singing beautifully.
An invertebrate search group was led by Gordon Redford. The wide range of plants and dense grassland at the site attract many insects and other invertebrates, but far more of them on a sunny daytime than on a cool evening after rain. Over 20 butterfly species are seen in the grassland and on hedges and trees, but not on this evening. Day-flying moths are also seen here and the Burnet-companion moth Euclidia glyphicais seen widely at present. The search group found five other moth species including the micro-moth Agapeta hamana. Several other insects were found including a whole group of Bishop’s mitre shieldbugs Aelia acuminata. A Common malachite beetle Malachius bipustulatuswas found as well as a Swollen-thighed beetle Oedemera nobilis.Several of the common Bumblebees were still flying low in the vegetation.
A tree and shrubs group was led by Alan Birkett. 15 tree species were found and nine shrubs. These included Alder Buckthorn Frangula alnus, which is a foodplant of the Brimstone butterfly. A few exotic tree species were not identified, but these were not generally thriving.
Most opted to identify flora, led by Roy Maycock and by searches with Mary Sarre and Jenny Mercer. Although this is largely a created grassland from seeds sown over 25 years ago, other plants have found their way there. Only a few meadow grass species had been sown: these had been selected as ‘low competition’ species, together with a semi-parasitic plant, Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor. This has enabled other flowering plants to flourish. The group found another semi-parasitic plant in small numbers: Common Broomrape Orobanche minor. The remnants of plenteous Cowslip were widely across the grassland and the Buttercups were past their best, but the group found a wide range of meadow flowers including: vetches & trefoils, bedstraws, three plantain species, cranesbills, scabious, white and red campion, and numerous other plants. One of particular interest was the small bright crimson flower on a grass-like stem of the Grass Vetchling Linifolius nissolia. Other plants such as Yarrow Achillea millefoliumwere just emerging.
We had a surprisingly productive evening and found much more than might have been expected so soon after rain. The delight was a site full of flowering plants and alive with small creatures in a fine evening sunlight.
I was very interested to read all about the activities of MK Swifts in the Summer 2019 “Magpie”. Living at Gawcott, near Buckingham, I am a little too far outside MK Swifts’ catchment area to make a meaningful contribution so I operate as Buckingham Swifts. I find that the most productive study is that carried out on one’s home patch and thus I am getting to know Gawcott’s swifts really well. Gawcott has an unusual “problem” with swifts – we have a huge main colony and at least one secondary colony BUT the big colony is in a horribly dilapidated property. This property is occupied by an elderly couple who have lifetime rights of occupation but there is a messy legal tangle to come when they pass away. The property is falling down around their ears and the assumption is that when they do pass on, the property will be sold for millions to a developer and torn down and redeveloped (yes, it has been reported to BMERC but at best this could only mitigate, not stop, redevelopment). Gawcott swifts thus have plenty of nest sites, they don’t really need my nestbox and accordingly I have not yet succeeded in getting it occupied.
I network with other swift enthusiasts nationwide and use the website Swift Conservation a lot. This is a not for profit organisation run by Edward Meyer. The site is packed with useful information and has a section for “local experts and groups”. You will see that both Milton Keynes Swifts and Buckingham Swifts are listed here.
Back in summer 2018, I was surprised to be contacted by a lady who asked me “in your capacity as Secretary of Buckinghamshire Swifts” could I design her some swift boxes to install in her church tower. This came as rather a surprise, particularly since there is no such thing as “Buckinghamshire Swift Group” and I would not even be able to put a shelf up! However, through a Swift Conservation affiliate group called Action for Swifts (AfS), I knew of a genius designer called Dick Newell who I put the enquirer in touch with. I did very little else than “signpost” (and organise a crowdfunding appeal to fund the materials) but off they all went and produced a fantastic result at Dinton (near Aylesbury) church.
I have included the text of the report that was eventually posted on the AfS webpage.
Thursday, 28 March 2019
This is a job particularly well done, so should be an inspiration to others. Back in August 2018 Sue Hetherington got in touch about swift boxes in the belfry of Saints Peter & Paul in Dinton, Bucks. The belfry has large louvres, more widely spaced than normal, meaning that 2 levels of entrances could fit between each pair of louvres. (We did something like this in St Mary’s, St Neots).
After batting photos and measurements back and forth we, AfS, suggested a configuration (see below) which has been very competently adapted and implemented by carpenter Nick Deschamps, resulting in 16 new nest boxes in the belfry. Rosemary Jackson takes up the story:
The Church of SS Peter & Paul, Dinton
“The idea for installing swift nest boxes in our village church was triggered by three incidents in 2017.
We went to the Rutland Bird fair in August 2017 and there we saw the Action for Swifts display. An enthusiastic carpenter had brought the front of a bank of nest boxes which he told us fitted in his church tower and had attracted a new colony of swifts to his village.
Also, in 2017 there was a study group amongst the churches in my area about the idea of the Eco Church and how we could make our churches more environmentally friendly.
The next summer I found out that the only nest site for swifts in my area had been blocked up and we were then very concerned that we would not get swifts back in the village. Happily, one pair nested somewhere because we had five swifts screaming around the village in August and giving us such great pleasure as they always do.
I decided that I would act to promote swifts somehow. I wrote a book about a family of swifts for young children and an artist friend illustrated it. By amazing serendipity her husband had just retired and was looking for a project to pursue and the challenge of making swift nest boxes and installing them in the church tower fired his imagination.
The Church of SS Peter & Paul, Dinton – 16 boxes installed
We realized very quickly that this was no straightforward project. After examining the Action for Swifts website and contacting a Bucks Bird Club friend we were put in touch with Dick Newell who developed a plan of 16 nest boxes to fit our very ancient church louvres inside the bell chamber. Nick set to work on the carpentry and all the winter of 2018/2019 worked on 4 banks of 4 nest boxes. Eventually when the weather got warmer, we were able to try a model in the bell chamber, and eventually mid-March fitted the real things, even putting chicken feathers in the nesting cups to get the swifts started on the soft furnishings.
At the beginning of May we plan to start playing the screaming swift family calls to alert swifts coming back from Africa that there are nest boxes here inviting occupancy.
We also plan that, should we be fortunate enough to attract out own family of swifts we will fit a camera into the nesting box and arrange a CCTV so that we can have a birdwatching day with the local school children, setting up telescopes and a laptop with live pictures and information on this amazing miracle bird.
British wildlife is truly wonderful!
Rosemary Jackson, Church warden
Funnily enough, this project did have an effect on MK Swifts. Martin Kincaid had been approached by Newport Pagnell church where they also wanted to put swift nestboxes in the tower. Martin came along and looked at the Dinton project and was suitably impressed (the carpenter had done an incredible job) He tried to contact Newport Pagnell again but the interest seemed to have withered on the vine. However, he knew that the school opposite The Cock at Stony Stratford wanted to put boxes up so he took up this project instead. He asked Andrew Hetherington to construct 4 boxes which he was pleased to do (and to kindly donate). These boxes, plus, I believe some purchased ones are now installed at the school, as reported in the MK Swifts report.
To date, I am not aware of any take up by swifts of any of the new boxes but this is to be expected. It would normally take a minimum of 2 years before swifts will take to new boxes – even with a calling system in operation.
Speaking of AfS, the group have organised the second annual Swift Awareness Week (SAW). This is taking place from 22nd to 30th June 2019. An eclectic series of events will be taking place nationwide and some national publicity will hopefully begin soon – maybe even Chris Packham will be kind enough to mention it again on “Springwatch”! Click here for the Swift Conservation events map
There will be a small pop up display at the Bucks County Museum in Aylesbury which some of you may care to have a look at if you find yourself in the town during the period.
I’ve not listed “The Crown” at Gawcott as a SAW event but I’d be pleased to meet anyone there during the swift season for a “swift half”. The big colony at the next door building can be observed from there. Late evening on a fine summer’s evening is a recommended time, leading up to around 9pm.
Text by Sue Hetherington 6 June 2019
Click here to read Sue’s article on Swift Awareness Week 2019
A (long) week of SWIFT AWARENESS events is taking place nationwide from Saturday 22nd June 2019 to Sunday 30th June 2019 and everyone is invited! It has been organised by the amateur enthusiasts who are known as Action for Swifts with the support of Swift Conservation.
The full list of events listed so far can be found from the swift conservation homepage at www.swift-conservation.org Scroll down that page a little until you see a box labelled “Swift Awareness Week”. Click on this box to get a map and associated events. There is a real eclectic mix of events but the main thing is all are welcome, come and join in and celebrate our wonderful swifts and learn what can be done to help them. I have listed the Cock at Stony Stratford as a DIY visit.
One event that is part of SAW which may or may not get listed on the AfS website is happening at Bucks County Museum in Aylesbury. It is a small pop up display all about swifts and ways to help them. It will be on throughout the SAW week during museum open hours (check museum website for times) The museum entry charge is “by donation”.
I will be providing some nice leaflets produced by AfS at both Stony Stratford and Aylesbury as handouts for visitors to take away – they are super little leaflets, absolutely packed with information in a surprisingly small space.
Incidentally, Swift Conservation and Action for Swifts will once again be exhibiting at Birdfair but they will be twice as good as previous years as they are doubling their stand size! There will be masses of information and advice – it is after all how the seed of the Dinton church project was germinated!
I can confirm that the Dinton breeding swifts have eventually returned but (darn darn darn) have not yet chosen to use my nestbox despite unrelenting use of the caller system!
It is some 20 days since I last penned some notes and for much of that time it has not really been moth weather, temperatures have been low and there has been rain and sometimes windy too. I have run the trap in my garden every night over those 20 days but have only been to Linford Lakes Nature Reserve on 5 occasions and had only one visit to Hollington Wood.
That said, there has been a sort of spluttering start to moth season proper with the appearance of the aptly named Herald on the 21stApril at Linford Lakes followed on 30thApril there a Lime Hawk-moth, Pebble Prominent and Spectacle Moth.
The Herald is one of a small number of moths that overwinter as adults in sheltered locations such as sheds, barns and outhouses. The caterpillars feed on Aspens, Willow and Poplars of which there are plenty at Linford Lakes.
The Lime Hawk-moth is one of nine species of hawk-moth that are resident in the British Isles. There are nine other species that occur as immigrants but the early stages are unable to survive the winter. The Lime Hawk-moth does not feed as an adult. The caterpillars are not confined to Lime trees and will feed on Elms, Birches and Alders.
Pebble Prominent is so named because of the pebble like blotch on the fore wing. It is able to produce 2 generations in a year, one on the wing April to June and the other July to August. The caterpillars feed on Sallow, Willows, Aspen and Poplars.
The Spectacle is so named after the grey shape, like a pair of spectacles or goggles visible on the thorax when viewed front on. Like the Pebble Prominent, the Spectacle has two generations spanning April to September. The food plant of the caterpillars is Common Nettle.
On Moth Notes of 29thMarch, I wrote about Emperor Moths and showed a photograph of some eggs that had been laid after moths had mated. Well, on Saturday, 4thMay there was great joy and excitement in the Redford household because the eggs began to hatch. The caterpillars are about 2mm long and as the photograph shows have shiny black heads, black bodies with short black hairs. They will just eat and eat now till around August.
Text and photos kindly supplied by Gordon Redford. Click here to read the previous edition of Moth Notes