Weather: Cloudy, light, cool SW breeze, 2 – 5 C
Observers: Carrie, Hannah, Ian, John, Katie, Kaj, Kaye, Steve
The arrival of John and Katie, two new members of Wildwatch, swelled our numbers to eight observers. We decided, therefore to split into two groups. Carrie, Ian, John and Katie went anti-clockwise round the reserve, with the others going in the opposite direction.
It was a dull day with a chilly little breeze, and this initially reduced bird song. However, sightings improved throughout the morning, with a lovely view of an attractive visitor to St Nicks (see below).
Vegetation is starting to green up a little, and more flowers are starting to appear. The two becks, however, have still got extremely muddy and bare banks, partially the result of high water levels over the past few months.
Birds: Undoubtedly, the highlight of the morning was a Grey Wagtail, seen by both groups on Tang Hall Beck, near the Kingfisher Culvert. The bird, a juvenile, was feeding on insects plucked from the muddy banks of the beck. Although a resident breeder in the York area, Grey Wagtails are occasional visitors to St Nicks, and have been recorded on both becks.
Winter tit feeding flocks are still foraging throughout the reserve, with groups of up to five Long-tailed and Blue Tits seen at one time. One Blue Tit along Osbaldwick Beck seems to have some sort of feather infection; it looked like a very scruffy juvenile – which it couldn’t be. Great Tits were sighted only in ones and twos, and the Coal Tit seen for a few weeks on the Environment Centre feeders hasn’t been spotted in recent weeks.
Kaye’s group found seven Redwings in tall trees near the Environment Centre, Blackbirds were all over the reserve, and a couple of Song Thrushes were singing
constantly. Greenfinches seem to be making a comeback, with seven seen in a tree on the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track, and several pairs of Bullfinches were recorded, with two pairs apparently feeding together. After a slow start, Robins were heard all over the place, a few Dunnocks were in full song, but Wrens and Goldfinches were not as numerous as in recent weeks. Other small birds recorded included House Sparrows and Chaffinches.
A single Moorhen was feeding on the beck side at the Sluice Bridge, but surprisingly, no Mallards were seen today. Magpies and Carrion Crows were in good numbers, the latter now more plentiful than a few weeks ago.. Flying over the reserve were a single Sparrowhawk (near the Environment Centre), two Greylag Geese, Black-headed and Herring Gulls, and a small flock of Starlings. Woodpigeon and Collared Dove brought our bird species count today to 25.
Plants: The first Coltsfoots are out along the side-path leading to the Bund steps, about a week earlier than last year, and we finally found female Hazel flowers in the same area. There’s a single bud visible in the Lesser Celandine patch, a good two months later than last year! The Aspen catkins at the top of Osbaldwick Beck are lengthening but are not yet fully open. Aspen bears male and female catkins on different trees, so it remains to be seen what gender this one is. More Prunus sp. blossom has opened (likely to be Cherry Plum, but much easier to identify later in the year from their fruit). Alder catkins, Lungwort, Snowdrops, Gorse and of course White Dead-nettle complete the week’s list of open flowers, but we noted Daffodil and Blackthorn buds swelling.
Invertebrates: Hannah found several large growths on twigs of a small willow (possibly Purple Willow). We suspect that they’re the work of a Gall Wasp, but the suspect species has evidently been reclassified since Kaye’s ancient book was published, and is proving a challenge to trace. Further on, Hannah poked tentatively about in vegetation at the base of the small Oak tree where she hid a Knopper Gall last summer in the hope of following its progress. Unfortunately inconsiderate dog-walkers seem to have been attracted to the spot, so the search had to be abandoned.
Mammals: Grey Squirrels were seen twice on the reserve. Close scrutiny of the mud at the Sluice Bridge revealed quite a few small mammal footprints, either Water Vole or Brown Rat. Unfortunately, it was not possible to make a positive ID.