All-day chorus, bright meadows and the return of a damned elusive plant. Where have all the butterflies gone? Hoverflies and bugs make up for them!
Birds There was plenty of birdsong at St Nicholas Fields in June in spite of dull or damp weather on most of the five Wildwatch Wednesdays in the month. Stars of the show were the Blackcaps – at least five males singing often continuously on most days, and possibly ten on the 8th. The carrying song of the Chiffchaff, too, rang all over the reserve, with up to six individuals heard. Challenging them for volume and sustained song were up to three Song Thrushes, and shoutiest of all were the many singing Wrens. The high sweet song of Dunnocks was heard in many areas, as were the many louder Robins and Blackbirds. Blue Tits and Great Tits were on the reserve in some numbers, feeding young at this time of year, and feeding parties of Long-Tailed Tits were occasionally seen. Unusually, Coal Tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers were not seen or heard in June.
The quiet calls and sightings of Bullfinches every week in June, in several locations, confirmed the presence of several pairs of these shy but beautiful birds. Greenfinches were sometimes heard wheezing and Goldfinches frequently seen overhead in small groups, their characteristic liquid calls giving their presence away. They were also seen feeding on thistles and teasels. Chaffinches seem to have taken a break from St Nicks at the moment. Carrion Crows, Magpies, Woodpigeons, Collared Doves and House Sparrows were with us most weeks, while overhead the occasional Swifts and Swallows were seen, as were Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls.
There were only two records of Grey Squirrel. Rabbits were seen on three out of the five mornings.
Invertebrates First, an update: in June 2015 (see blog for that month) an unexpected hoverfly turned up and was photographed – a male Volucella zonaria, sometimes called the Hornet Hoverfly because it mimics Hornet wasps. Normally a southern species in the UK, it occurs mostly south of a line from Pembrokeshire to The Wash. We sent the photo to the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union. They confirmed the species, saying it was only the third ever Yorkshire record, and the first for our recording area (Vice-County 62, North-East Yorkshire). The other two were at Calley Heath near Pocklington in 2015 and Goole in 2013.
This year, with most of the five Wildwatch Wednesdays taking place in cloudy and sometimes wet weather, it certainly wasn’t ‘Flaming June’. This badly affected butterflies, with only four species positively identified. Speckled Wood, first observed this year in April, continued to be seen in small numbers while Large Skipper appeared for the first time on 8th June and was seen after that only occasionally. A few Ringlets were seen from 22nd, as was a single Meadow Brown. And that was that on Wildwatch Wednesdays.
A few day-flying moths were seen: Silver Ground Carpet Moth two weeks running, Nettle Tap on its food plant every week, Diamond backed Moth Plutella xylostella, a Grass moth Crambus lathoniellus, and a striking Longhorn Moth Nemophora degeerella with antennae four times longer than its body. Other micro-moths identified were Epinotia immundana and Micropterix aruncella. A Six-spotted Burnet larva was seen on 15th.
The first Dragonflies and Damselflies of 2016 appeared this month with several Azure damselflies seen on 8th, including females of both the dark form and the more unusual blue form. The normally earlier Large Red damselfly was not seen until 22nd, and on the same day a Common Blue damselfly. Damselflies are often seen quite a long way from the Environment Centre pond, resting on vegetation. From mid-month a male Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly took up residence for a few days on the pond.
True Bugs were well-represented. Shield Bugs are a feature of St Nicks, with four species seen during the month: Gorse (for the 28th consecutive month) in its usual habitat, Common Green, Hairy and Woundwort. Other bugs included the abundant yellow-and-black Grypocoris stysi mostly on nettles and hogweed, a Mirid bug Stenotus binotatus, Nettle Ground Bug Heterogaster urticae, a grassbug Leptoterna ferrugata and leafhopper Aphrodes-makarovi.
Beetles included only three Ladybird species: 7-Spot, 14-spot and Harlequin. A spectacular Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle was found on 15th in exactly the same place it was last seen in 2014. Red-headed Cardinal Beetles Pyrochrea serraticornis were still around, while a Soldier Beetle Cantharis rustica was found a few times, as were False Blister Beetles Oedemera lurida. The striking Wasp Beetle Clytus arietis was seen on 22nd, and a small Thistle Leaf Beetle Sphaeroderma testaceum.
Of the Diptera (flies), Hoverflies numbered at least 14 species: Cheilosia illustrata, Episyrphus balteatus, Eristalis intricarius, Eristalis pertinax, Eristalis tenax, Eupeodes luniger, Helophilus pendulus, Leucozona lucorum, Melanostoma scalare, Myathropa florea, Pipiza luteitarsis, Syrphus ribesii, Volucella bombylans and Volucella pellucens. Other flies included abundant Greenbottles, Bluebottles and Flesh Flies. A Downlooker Snipefly Rhagio scolopaceus (so-called because it usually perches head downwards) was an attractive find on 8th and among the craneflies seen was a nicely marked Nephrotoma flavescens on 22nd. A beautiful Lacewing Chrysopa perla was found on 15th and 22nd and on the same days we found Stilt-legged Fly Neria cibaria. Thick-headed Flies Sicus ferrugineus with yellow heads were seen occasionally. Several different small and attractive species of gall fly (‘Picture-winged Flies’) were seen, notably Tephritis bardanae found in large numbers on the many Lesser Burdock plants on the reserve. Of the Dagger Flies, Empis tessellata were abundant, and Empis livida was also seen.
The superfamily which covers bees, wasps and ants (Hymenoptera) also includes Sawflies which feed on and lay their eggs in fleshy plant tissue. Several species are seen each year at St Nicks, and this month we saw Rose Sawfly Arge pagana, Bramble Sawfly A. cyanocrocea, Rhogogaster viridis, and probable Tenthredo atra and T. livida. A number of common species of Bumble Bee were active throughout the month, as were social wasps, honey bees, and unidentified solitary and predatory Ichneumon wasps.
Finally: Harvestmen and Spiders. The only harvestman to be positively identified was the common Mitopus morio though other species were seen. Wolf Spider Pardosa amentata
appeared in several places while Nursery Web Pisaura mirabilis, one of the commonest spiders on the reserve, was frequently seen. Long-Jawed Tetragnatha species were found in a number of places, and occasionally the bright green ‘cucumber spider’ Arianella cucurbitina sensu lato. An intriguing find was what at first looked like a white ‘sputnik gall’ on the underside of an oak leaf. This turned out to be the striking egg sac of the spider Paidiscura pallens with a small pale yellow female quickly rushing to protect it. Finally a somewhat alarming observation on a gorse bush was of a species of Crab Spider Xysticus cristatus consuming one of the partners of a mating pair of Gorse Shieldbugs.
Invertebrate life at St Nicks is abundant in summer, and these observations are clearly just an indication, not a full list, of what the reserve contains.
Plants By early June most of the trees had finished their flowering period. Only the evocatively scented Elder flowers and the rather unpleasantly pungent Dogwood were coming into bloom. Herbaceous plants on the other hand have risen from 37 recorded in flower at the start of the month to 66 by the end – too many to list individually. The most obvious feature of June was and still is the meadow, repaying all the efforts of scything, planting and sowing with its best ever display.
Red and White Clover, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Meadow Buttercups and Meadow Cranesbill are the most obvious flowers, but smaller members of the Geranium family are not hard to find, and everybody is delighted with the successful establishment of Yellow Rattle. This semi-parasitic plant helps to weaken the coarse grasses, improving the conditions for meadow flowers. Along the surrounding paths, on a rare warm day, the scent of Horseradish rises from the leaves rather than the short-lived flowers. Creeping Cinquefoil and Silverweed line the paths with buttercup-like flowers that are actually members of the rose family, while above them Dog Roses have had a particularly good season. Attempts to find other varieties of native rose have so far been unsucessful. Ribbed Melilot, Meadow Vetchling and Tufted Vetch thrive in open areas of long grass, and Goat’s Rue is just starting to open along the main path. Midsummer flowers like White Campion, Rosebay Willow-herb and three varieties of Thistle are well out, and long-flowering species like Knapweed and Hedge and Large Bindweed are just getting started. Around the Dragon Stones, a thriving patch of Ladies’ Bedstraw is some compensation for its apparent disappearance from the Cowslip patch.
Back in July 2013, we found a weak little specimen of Scarlet Pimpernel. For the next two years we sought it here and sought it there without success. Now, presumably thanks to the work of last year’s rangers and volunteers, several plants are thriving near the Dragon Stones, though it takes a fine sunny day to find them easily. Their country name of Poor Man’s Weather Glass refers to the way the flowers close tightly into their green calyx whenever rain threatens.