Winter birds still with us, but signs of Spring.. First hoverfly of the year enjoys the snowdrops, while beetle is one-in-a-thousand
Cool (4 – 9C) but with some sunny intervals. The Wildwatch team stayed dry!
Winter visitors are, not surprisingly, still with us! Two Redwings flew over on the 8th and there were about 20 Siskins present on the reserve on the same date, with four of this species on the 22nd. The long-staying Water Rail was still in the Bramble clumps on Osbaldwick Beck, but was becoming increasingly elusive; this is the third consecutive month that it has been present.
But there were increasing indications of the approaching Spring.. Song Thrushes singing throughout the month, along with Dunnocks starting to pair up, as are the Robins, and Magpies and Carrion Crows were seen carrying nesting material. Bird song was increasing throughout the month, with Great Tits being especially vociferous, along with Greenfinches.
Scarcer birds included a Kingfisher on Tang Hall Beck on the 22nd, Goldcrests on the 8th and 15th (possible up to three birds on the latter date), Great Spotted Woodpecker over Tang Hall Beck on the 8th and Coal Tit on the same day.
Overhead, there was a passage of Common Gulls on the 8th with maybe up 20 birds involved. Herring and Black-headed Gulls were also noted during the month.
Alder, Grey Alder and Hazel catkins continued to open throughout February, providing a continuous supply of pollen to fertilise the tiny female flowers. By the end of the month silver “pussy willow” catkins on Goat and Grey Willow, and much longer furry grey Aspen catkins were opening, ready to provide a vital pollen source for Queen Bumblebees emerging from hibernation. Prunus species, probably varieties of Cherry Plum, were coming into blossom by the end of the month. One or two small Elder and Hawthorn bushes were well into leaf.
Several of the Gorse bushes already look as if they are in full flower, but there is still more to come. Snowdrops were out in tiny clumps or wider drifts all over the reserve, and are expected to last well into March. These are obviously not naturally occurring wild flowers, but are closely matched varieties very successfully planted in recent years by teams of volunteers. They are of great value to early insects, as shown in the invertebrate section. The first solitary Coltsfoot was recorded on 15th February, and each week brings a few more. Look for the tough little buds pushing through bare earth near the open flowers. In the final week, Lesser Celandines and low-growing species Daffodils were starting to open, again with more to come through March and into April. And there is always White Deadnettle if you search, which of course we do.
We were not expecting to find a new species for the reserve in February, but while we were looking at new growth along a path edge, we spotted interesting little purple-red blisters on a very small plant. The provisional agent is thought to be a rust fungus, Puccinia lapsanae, which is known to affect young plants in spring. The snag with galls is that they tend to be listed under the host plant, so we have to wait to see if ours survives long enough to be confirmed as Lapsana communis – Nipplewort. The find is a timely reminder that although we do most of our gall hunting from midsummer to late autumn, plenty of interesting ones are formed much earlier in the year.
As promised in last month’s blog, here is a further bulletin on some of the fungi seen around the reserve. Our first photo shows some of the beautiful colours to be seen at St Nicks even in the dead of winter – Coral Spot fungus and Xanthoria lichen (with fruiting bodies) sharing the same small branch of a tree. There are plenty of examples of this on the reserve.
The two collages show further examples of fungi seen and photographed at St Nicks in January and February this year.
Moving clockwise from top left in each case, the first collage shows the striking Blushing Bracket Daedaleopsis confragosa (upperside then underside) followed by decaying remnants of the two Earth Star fungi so far recorded at St Nicks: Sessile Geastrum fimbriatum and Collared Geastrum triplex.
The second collage shows several different kinds of fungus. Top left is a possible Willow Bracket Phellinus ignearius followed by the resupinate crust fungus Cylindrobasidium laeve. Then comes mature Hazel Woodwart Hypoxylon fuscum found on both Hazel and Alder tree branches, ready for falling rain to get the spores puffing out through the central opening. Finally, Dead Moll’s Fingers Xylaria longipes - typically curved over and thinner than the better-known Dead Man’s Fingers.
Many more species of fungus can be seen at St Nicks, mostly crust and resupinate (wrapped like sheets around the stems and trunks of their woody hosts) kinds. Some of the timber from the current programme of tree thinning and coppicing is left as habitat piles and logs, which attract the growth of these fungal types.
With the year still slow to warm up insect life on the reserve has been scarce and, as usual, it is the small area of gorse bushes that has provided most of the above-ground sightings. Seven-spot Ladybirds are frequently seen in the gorse, and the hardy Gorse Shieldbugs were again seen in some numbers on sunny days. Snowdrops, seen from the beginning of the month, attracted the first hoverfly of the year – and on 22nd two Eristalis tenax hoverflies were seen by the wildwatchers, one of them pictured here. Occasional flies and early bumblebees were seen during the month, but not in large numbers.
Lower levels, including under decaying logs, produced some ground beetles: Ocys harpaloides, Black Cock Pterostichus madidus (both pictured) and Pterostichus niger. Another beetle found was a Rove Beetle (pictured) which is yet to be identified – not an easy task when the British and Irish list contains over 1,000 species of rove beetle.
Grey Squirrels were recorded on all Wildwatch days, and the first Rabbit of the year was seen on the 22nd. Three juvenile Brown Rats were in the Environment Centre garden on the 15th.
Paw prints near the Kingfisher Culvert (Tang Hall Beck) were confirmed as Otter prints; other signs of this elusive mammal were also recorded further downstream from the culvert. Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to capture some images of this scarce creature – it would be great if we could!
Finally.. “planted” alongside Osbaldwick Beck by St Nicks resident prankster..
All photos were taken at St Nicks during February 2017 (apart from some fungus photos, taken in January 2017).