St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: 19 September 2012 – A Blitz On Blackbirds!

Blackbird enjoying Hawthorn berries

Blackbird enjoying Hawthorn berries

Weather: Sunny intervals, cool when not in sun
Observers: Hannah, Ian, Janetta, Kaye, Linda, Tom

This week, our group carried out the first of a series of monthly surveys for the “Winter Thrush” survey, organised by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology). We followed a route previously set by Ian, which took us along the Bund Path, down the Tang Hall Beck Path, along the Cycle Track as far as the Sluice Bridge and then, retracing our steps, along the Butterfly Path and back to the Centre. We’ll be following the same route in future months’ surveys.

Although the emphasis was counting thrushes, we didn’t close our eyes to other things!

Birds: Counting “winter thrushes” involves counting all thrushes seen, but today, the only thrushes we saw were Blackbirds. In all, we counted 12 of them. However, earlier, Ian saw a Song Thrush by Osbaldwick Beck; but since this isn’t on our survey route, it can’t count in our survey.

Foraging Blue Tit

Foraging Blue Tit

The foraging tit flocks seem to be building up and, in various locations we saw Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits in twos and threes. Juvenile Chiffchaffs are still around, mainly near Tang Hall Beck (2 or 3 birds), although earlier, one was singing near Osbaldwick Beck. Other juvenile birds included Goldfinches and Woodpigeons. Flying over the reserve, Linda briefly saw a Sparrowhawk, two Swallows flew north and both Jackdaws and Carrion Crows were only seen in the air, along with a juvenile Herring Gull. Completing the count of 19 species were Moorhen (one in Osbaldwick Beck before the walk started), Magpie, Dunnock, Robin and (heard only) House Sparrow and Bullfinch.

Plants:  The season has suddenly flipped.  There is a general impression that vegetation is starting to die back or soften and keel over. Seed-heads predominate on the Willow-herbs, Thistles, Teasels, Burdocks and Composite sp. in general, though flowers can still be found.  Fruit on Blackthorn (Sloes), Elder, Bramble, Hawthorn and Wild Rose is ripe and easy to see, and the Apple trees are dropping windfalls.  As we anticipated,  berries are in general a bit thinner than last year, but there are plenty of round green seed-catkins ready to ripen on the Alders.  There are still enough new flowers among the Buddleia dead heads to attract butterflies, and there is nectar still to be found in the occasional Dandelion, Knapweed and Tansy.  Plants that still seem to think it’s summer include White Dead-nettle, Hedge Bindweed and Field Bindweed – the latter probably only visible along the Butterfly walk.  Of course plants were not our main concern this week, and we calculate that a visitor taking their time could still log at least 30 species.

Red Admiral (left) and Comma (right) butterflies

Red Admiral (left) and Comma (right) butterflies

Harlequin Ladybird

Harlequin Ladybird

Butterflies and other insects: Speckled Wood butterflies were well distributed, although not as numerous as a couple of weeks ago. As noted above, there are still enough Buddleia flowers to attract butterflies and along the Cycle Track towards the Sluice Bridge, we found several Red Admirals and Commas.

On vegetation at the end of the Tang Hall Beck path, we found a considerable number of ladybirds, including Twenty-two Spot, Seven Spot and, alas, several of the invasive Harlequin Ladybirds. The latter can be very varied in both colour and the number of spots, but these had the large white patches near the head which is a good ID mark.

Hawthorn Shield Bug

Hawthorn Shield Bug

In recent weeks, we have been noticing a number of shield bugs, without always being able to positively identify them. However, one which we found today along the Tang Hall Beck path was so distinctively marked that we were subsequently able to identify it as a Hawthorn Shield Bug. We also found Common Earwig, Garden Spider and what looked like Red Pustulate Galls caused by  a mite, Eriophyes macrorhynchus.

Mammals: The usual two.. Rabbit and Grey Squirrel, the latter’s screeching call being now familiar to most of us. Rose-hips found with neat holes in one end and all the seeds eaten out are generally thought to be the work of Wood Mice, but we can’t be sure yet. We know they are on the reserve as previous small mammal trapping has shown us. We spent about 15 minutes at the Sluice Bridge, looking out for Water Vole, which was there on the previous two Wednesdays. But no sightings today.

Fungi: Now is the time of year when we’re starting to see more fungi, but our ID skills are sadly lacking! Here’s one of the few we saw today:

Unidentified fungus

Unidentified fungus

Any suggested ID would be appreciated!

19 September 2012 | Categories: Wildwatch | Tags: blackbird, Harlequin Ladybird, hawthorn shield bug, Ladybird, winter thrush survey