Spring is definitely on the way, you can hear it!

Not just the sound track of the birds establishing territories but also the friendly hum of Bumblebees.

This time of year it is the queens that you will hear as they emerge from hibernation to start a new colony.  They wake up hungry and thirsty and therefore it is vital that they find early flowers to feed on. The newly emerged queens eat both nectar and pollen. It is actually the pollen that helps her ovaries develop in preparation for all the worker bees she will give birth to. She continues feeding and sheltering at night near the food plants until her body signals her that it is time to find a nest site.

Nests can be underground in disused rodent holes, under sheds or compost heaps. The Tree Bumblebee(Bombus hypnorum)shown in the picture prefers to nest higher up in hollow trees, bird boxes or maybe a house loft. This species is relatively new to the UK, it has been steadily spreading from the European continent and parts of Asia since the start of the 21st century. These Bumblebees prefer habitats that others do not, allowing them to pollinate flowers in areas that many other species do not get to. This has helped with their growing establishment and success.

The city’s waterways seem an unlikely habitat for finding otters in but as always nature can surprise you. Working with the Wildlife Trust the city’s nature reserves were surveyed for otter activity with very pleasing results. Spraint was found at 9 Wells, Logan’s Meadow, Stourbridge Common and Coldhams Common.

According to the Wildlife Trust just 15 years ago the otter population had almost disappeared around Cambridge. But since then the numbers have been steadily rising. Survey statistics gathered from Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers, the Cambridgeshire Mammal Group and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Water for Wildlife project have found evidence of a significant increase in Otter numbers.

The Otter survey carried out on the city’s nature reserves was part of a larger initiative which was surveying the whole of the county’s waterways and tributaries. The results are being gathered and will hopefully reveal a similar trend. It is certainly an optimistic picture for Cambridge city.

If you are interested in this project more information can be found at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Water for Wildlife Project- 01954 713555.

Since May last year volunteers have been monitoring Cherry Hinton Brook’s River fly larvae populations. Riverflies are an important indicator of the overall health of a water system. Using a monitoring system developed initially by Anglers,  then refined by the Riverfly partnership,  it has been amazing to see what life is present in the brook.

The need for monitoring became apparent after improvements were made to the stream but with no real way to measure the impact these changes had potentially had. Alongside the Riverfly populations the stream’s health is also monitored for other important elements such as: dissolved oxygen, temperature and PH. The aim is to try to build up a picture of the brook’s condition and how well it supports aquatic life.

The monitoring is carried out by volunteers. Their work  not only provides valuable data but also gives them the opportunity to become familiar with their local stream and what lives in it. If you would like to join in with this exciting project please email: parks@cambridge.gov.uk

 

A recent partnership with CPARG (Cambridgeshire and Peterborough amphibian and Reptile group) has reaped some invaluable pond improvements for the city’s nature reserves. Working firstly at Barnwell East pond, as this is one of the city’s most important common toad breeding sites, the volunteers removed overhanging willow and created a large hibernaculum. CPARG are planning to survey the site this coming spring to get an idea of toad numbers. Next to receive some attention were the ephemeral ponds located at the back of Stourbridge Common. The Friends of Stourbridge Common also pitched in offering some important local knowledge about the ponds and associated fauna. These precious seasonal ponds are a welcome haven for our toads but also popular with grass snakes and smooth newts. Finally the pond at Logan’s Meadow reserve was looked at and it’s drainage problems hopefully solved. If the levels of water can be a little more sustained we may see smooth newts breeding there this spring.

If you are interested in doing some volunteering for CPARG or Friends of Stourbridge Common their details are as follows:

CPARG:

candparg@googlemail.com

www.facebook.com/groups/CPARG/

Friends of Stourbridge Common:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=193283709830&ref=ts

General advice for Amphibians and Reptiles:

http://www.froglife.org/advice/FAQs/index.htm

http://www.arc-trust.org/advice/

 

Autumn is arguably the best time of year, beautiful trees, frosty mornings and yes, spider webs in the face!

It’s an integral part of the autumn experience feeling the silk sticking to your hair and face, not sure if you have really removed it all, is the spider somewhere???

But why is autumn such a ‘spidery’ time of year?

Most spider species have been growing all summer and are now larger and more visible in our gardens and parks.  Many species are reaching the end of their life span, they have matured, mated and now their spiderlings are hatching out. The gossamer the baby spiders produce to help with dispersal can be visible too, catching the light on a bright day. This process is known as ballooning. The baby spider ( or an individual from a  small species of spider) climb to a high point and release the silk threads from their spinnerets, the threads act like a sail and allow the spiders to be carried great distances. Fantastic!

Image: Araneus diadematus. Garden Orb-web spider