Weather: Hot and sunny!
Observers: Hannah, Ian, Kaye, with guests.. another Hannah and Ian!
Kaye took our two guests on a tour of the reserve, whilst Hannah and Ian went in search of breeding evidence in birds. The two groups met up from time to time, and, between us, we covered most of the reserve.
The sunshine meant more bird song than last week, and there was a noticeable increase in the number of flowering plants and grasses.
Birds: Four, possible five Blackcaps were singing, mainly invisibly, although Ian did catch a glimpse of one feeding along the Bund Path. Only one Chiffchaff was seen and heard, but there was no sight or sound of Willow Warbler. Two families of Blue Tits were seen near the Bund Path and along Tang Hall Beck, a noisy party of juvenile Magpies flew around in the tree tops. Other singing birds included Wrens (everywhere!), Dunnocks, Song
Thrush (near the Dragon Stones), Greenfinches and Robins. Blackbirds were more giving alarm calls rather than singing, suggesting that there are youngsters in nests.
A pair of Mallards were in Tang Hall Beck, whilst overhead we saw a single Swallow and Swift, with a distant Sparrowhawk seen from near Tang Hall Beck. The only Bullfinch sighting was a pair on the feeders at the Environment Centre, where there were also a few House Sparrows. Completing the count of 19 species were Woodpigeon, Carrion Crow and a single singing Goldfinch.
Plants & Flowers: The reserve is suddenly a sea of tall flowering grasses: bad news for hay-fever sufferers but visually splendid and a whole new world for anyone equipped with a hand lens. Wild Rose sp, Dogwood, Elder and Bramble are in full flower, and summer plants like Ground Elder, Welted and Spear Thistles, Tufted Vetch, Stitchwort and some varieties of Cranesbill grow tall enough to show easily among the grass, while tallest of all at around 200cm are Hemlock and Hogweed. Until mowing
starts, low-growing Speedwells, Cinquefoil and a range of small Trefoils are easiest to find along the path edges. We managed to miss the brief flowering period of Large-leaved Lime, and the seeds are already well-developed. Overall, the range of complex plant species presents a real ID challenge. Confidently differentiating some of the members of the Dandelion family isn’t a simple task for amateurs, even before the field guide tells us that 412 sub-species of Hawkweed are currently recognised.
Insects: Speckled Wood butterflies are now being seen on a regular basis, and we saw several during the morning. It was also good to see our first Large Skipper of the year, feeding in a grassy clearing near the Dragon Stones.
Along the western Tang Hall Beck path, Richard was continuing with his invertebrate survey. He showed us one of the alien Harlequin Ladybirds which he’d found, and pointed out the large extent of white on the head, which can be a good ID mark. Here’s one of these photographed at St Nicks, with a harmless 7-Spot Ladybird for comparison:
Harlequin Ladybirds are said to be harmful to our native species because they eat 2 or 3 times as many aphids, and they also eat the larvae of other ladybirds. Other insects noted were Tree Bumblebee and a probable Common Carder Bumblebee. Small galls on some leaves apparently indicate Alder Gall Mite eriophyes laevis.
Mammals: The only mammal seen was Rabbit, grazing in the middle of the Dragon Stones.
Amphibians: Common Newt was still present in the Environment Centre pond.