St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: 12 June 2013 – Bugs, botany – and a bird “rarity”!

Weather: Overcast, light occasional breeze, 16C – 19C
Observers: Cathy, Cliff, Chris, Doug, Guy, Ian, Janetta, Kaye, Max, Tracy

A good turn-out of ten people today, so we split into two groups. Doug and Guy turned up later. Guy joined Kaye’s group, whilst Doug went out exploring on his own. Kaye was accompanied by Janetta, Max and Tracey, whilst Ian went round with Cathy, Chris and Cliff.

Between us, we probably, without any planning, covered most of the reserve and recorded some interesting species – plants, mammals, birds and invertebrates. The weather wasn’t particularly good for photography but, with a few cameras between us, we got some interesting shots.

The vegetation now can only be described as “rampant”! Some routes which we have been able to cover in recent weeks are now being rapidly overwhelmed by nettles in particular. But the main paths, thanks to the work of volunteers doing the “grunt work”, remain clear and open for visitors to explore.

This week, thanks to sterling investigation and photography by our botanists (Janetta and Kaye) and our insect expert (Cliff), birds, for once, take a back seat in this blog post.


Clockwise from top left: Bird's Eye Speedwell, Hogweed, probable French Cranesbill, Cuckoo Flower (or Lady's Smock), Meadow Cranesbill, Ox Eye Daisy

Clockwise from top left: Bird’s Eye Speedwell, Hogweed, probable French Cranesbill, Cuckoo Flower (or Lady’s Smock), Meadow Cranesbill, Ox Eye Daisy

It’s always intriguing to find a new species.  Have we overlooked it for years, or has it just arrived?  If so, how, and will it establish?  Today we came across a Dusky Cranesbill, a probable French Cranesbill, and a still-to-be-identified labiate. Three new non-native species in the same area raises the possibility that somebody deliberately planted them to enhance the spot.  If any of our readers are tempted to do this, please don’t!  Though we have quite a lot of introduced species on site, our status as a Local Nature Reserve means we shouldn’t be planting new ones, no matter how attractive they are. If you’d like to donate plants, it’s best to do it through the Reserve Manager to make sure that the right plant goes in the right place.

It’s a good time to look for native Geraniums, with Cut-leaved Cranesbill, Herb-Robert and Meadow Cranesbill all recorded in flower, and at least four other species to look out for along the path edges. Recorded for the first time this year are Elder (just starting to open in one or two places), Dog Rose, Ground Elder, Dock, Lesser Stitchwort, and three more members of the pea family – White Clover, Bush Vetch and Meadow Vetchling. Horse-radish, just opening last week, is in flower all over the place. So far we have only found one Welted Thistle, but others won’t be far behind. The Cow Parsley is going to seed, but Hogweed is coming into full bloom. The unappealing name and heavy-duty leaves and stems don’t do justice to the spectacular flowers.

On a much smaller scale, Bird’s Eye aka Germander Speedwell accounts for patches of vivid blue along the Butterfly Walk and near the Dragon Stones.  Silverweed, Meadow and Creeping Buttercups, Ox-Eye Daisies and Bird’s-foot Trefoil are all looking particularly good, and White Campion is getting easier to find. Red Campion will soon be coming to the end of its flowering period, so this is a good time to compare the two.  The big Laburnum is at its spectacular best, but like the Lilacs will probably be over in a matter of days.  Some species have not simply finished flowering but are well into the next stage – tiny Sloes and Apples are forming, and ironically it seems to be a good year for Ash keys.  The total list of plants in flower came to 49 species, and many more are in bud, so there’s lots more to find.


Clockwise from top left: Cardinal Beetle, Mint Moth (a tiny micro moth), Hover fly (Helophilus pendulus), Nursery Web Spider), Greenbottle flies, Azure Damselfly

Clockwise from top left: Cardinal Beetle, Mint Moth (a tiny micro moth), Hover fly (Helophilus pendulus), Nursery Web Spider), Greenbottle flies, Azure Damselfly

We learnt a lot more about insect life on the reserve today, thanks to Cliff! He found some “micro moths”, tiny little moths. There are over 500 species of Micro Moths in Yorkshire alone. You’d normally overlook them, but they are quite numerous. In addition to the beautiful little Mint Moth (Pyrausta aurata), pictured above, he also found quite a few Nettle Tap Moths (Anthophila fabriciana), which, as the name suggests, favours nettles.

One beautiful insect, seen by both groups, was a Cardinal Beetle (top left above). There are a few species in this family, but this one is Pyrochroa serraticornis. Many insects (and plants) don’t have common names, so sometimes the Latin scientific name is the only way to name them properly! Another family of insects which most people simply call Hover Flies do contain, in fact, a number of species. Cliff found two of these today, Melanostoma scalare, and the one pictured above, Helophilus-pendulus.

A couple of large spiders seen both turned out to be Nursery Web Spiders (Pisaura mirabilis). Down at the Environment Centre pond, a few blue damselflies were present. Most of us would have just called them Common Blue Damselflies, but Cliff’s photo, (above centre left), proved that they were Azure Damselflies, the blue stripes just behine the head (the “antehumeral stripes”) being much narrower than on the Common Blue. There is so much to learn!

No butterflies were seen on today’s Wildwatch walk, but after we broke up, Ian saw a Large White just outside the Environment Centre, and, in the afternoon, Kaye saw an Orange Tip.

Birds: Big bird news of the day was a bird which Doug spotted whilst exploring a new route upstream along Tang Hall Beck from “Ladybird Corner” up to the Sluice Bridge. Common in many parts of York, including outside the Tang Hall “chippie”, but a rarity in St Nicks, is Pied Wagtail. Doug found this bird on open mud alongside Tang Hall Beck. There is no reason why this bird shouldn’t be found more regularly at St Nicks, but it isn’t!

New juvenile birds, proving breeding evidence on the reserve, were seen today. By Osbaldwick Beck, there were two juvenile Great Tits, flicking their wings in a food-begging posture, and in the same area, there was a juvenile Dunnock. A single juvenile Robin was seen along the Bund Path, with about half a dozen adults heard singing in various places.

Mallard duckling in Osbaldwick Beck - all on its own

Mallard duckling in Osbaldwick Beck – all on its own

In Osbaldwick Beck there was a single Mallard chick, which had almost certainly been washed through the culvert under Melrosegate from the adjoining Hull Road Park. Although it seemed to be healthy and actively feeding, it is very vulnerable to predation. Doug saw a Magpie on the beck side sizing it up. We decided later that, even if it was possible to capture the chick and return it to Hull Road Park (where it might not be reunited with its family), we should not intervene, but let nature take its course. Later in the morning, a pair of adult Mallards flew over the Bund Path.

Bird song seemed to be a little muted this morning. We only heard one, maybe two, Song Thrushes, a couple of Blackcaps, four Wrens, and a couple of Bullfinches and Chiffchaffs (heard only). The single Whitethroat was heard from the area of the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track – we are still not sure whether or not it is breeding on the reserve this year; we have not seen any evidence of any breeding activity, such as display flights. But at least we have sightings this year, whereas in 2012 there were no records of this species.

Blackbird song and sightings were prolific, but there was just a single Blue Tit record (heard only). Overhead, flying over the reserve was a single Herring Gull, a couple of Jackdaws, two Swifts and a few Carrion Crows. Oh, and let’s not forget the numerous Wood Pigeons, which took the total bird species count up to 19!

Common Newt in the Environment Centre pond

Common Newt in the Environment Centre pond

Amphibians: The Common Newts (“Smooth Newts”) in the Environment Centre pond seem to be doing well. A few of us saw some of them today.

Mammals: Ian, spending some time pre-Wildwatch, along Osbaldwick Beck, had good views of a single Water Vole, feeding on the beck side near where Mick and Dave saw two juveniles last week.

Water Vole, feeding by Osbaldwick Beck

Water Vole, feeding by Osbaldwick Beck

Along the Tang Hall beckside towards the Kingfisher Culvert, there was a sighting of a single Rabbit.

It’s interesting to note that in recent weeks, we’ve had more sightings of Water Vole than we have had of Grey Squirrel. We really don’t know what has happened to our squirrels!

13 June 2013 | Categories: Wildwatch | Tags: cardinal beetle, damselflies, micro moths, water vole