Weather: occasional light drizzle, grey and overcast, cool (2C to 4C) and light Easterly breeze.
Observers: Carrie, Cavan, Eithne, Haley, Ian, Jim, Kaye
A grey, raw day, but it didn’t deter the seven members of the Wildwatch Group who turned up! Some of the smaller paths were very muddy after the recent heavy rain, but most paths were easily walkable, thanks to their excellent
construction. Many of the smaller birds were hunkered down, sheltering from the cool breeze, but bird song was still more plentiful than last week. Flowers were fewer in number than last week, but some still hung on.
We followed our usual route round, but in reverse, visiting the Sluice Bridge first, then going down the other side of Tang Hall Beck, returning along the Bund Path. Ian had already covered Osbaldwick Beck earlier on, so we were all glad to get back to the Environment Centre and some welcome hot drinks at 12 noon.
And the “gruesome breeding evidence”? Read on..!
Birds: Until a few weeks ago, Coal Tits were a very occasional visitor to St Nicks. But in recent weeks, we started to see one regularly on the Environment Centre feeders and nearby, at Osbaldwick Beck. However, today we saw – and heard – two Coal Tits next to the Kingfisher Culvert. They were both calling equally loudly, which suggests that they were two males. Female Coal Tits do call, but quieter than the males. Coal Tits are the smallest member of the tit family found in Britain, and are usually subservient to other tits, although they do move with other tits in winter feeding flocks. In the York area, they do breed, but seem to prefer conifers, of which there are very few at St Nicks.
Winter feeding tit flocks seem to have mainly dispersed, with both Blue and Great Tits seen in small numbers. Goldfinches also were seen in smaller numbers than earlier this winter. Cavan saw a group of about five birds on his walk in, which he was able to identify due to knowledge which he acquired last week! Greenfinches were heard calling all over the reserve, a welcome increase in this species. Bullfinches were also vocal in many places, and a single male Siskin, the smallest finch regularly found in Britain, was along the Bund Path.
Although Blackbirds have started singing elsewhere in York, our birds – and we saw many – were mainly silent, apart from the occasional alarm call. Maybe they will be more vocal next week, when we plan to carry out the final winter thrush survey. Song Thrushes, on the other hand, were much more vocal, and we heard two, possibly three individuals along the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track and in the Kingfisher Culvert – Dragon Stones area. Robins were also in good voice all over the reserve. Other small birds which we heard, and occasionally glimpsed, were Wren and Dunnock. House Sparrows were also very vocal, as always!
Near the Kingfisher Culvert we saw two Magpies entering a large, domed nest. Unlike some species, this handsome corvine repairs and renovates old nests, rather than building a new nest each year. Carrion Crows seem to have increased in numbers in recent weeks, mainly being seen in the air. Also in the air today were two Black-headed Gulls and a single Herring Gull and four Greylag Geese flying over the Sluice Bridge. Completing our tally of 20 bird species today were, of course, Wood Pigeons and two Collared Doves, although this Collared Dove count includes the scattered feathers of one by the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track – probably the result of a Sparrowhawk kill. But that’s not the “gruesome breeding evidence”; read on..!
Plants & Flowers: Where flowers are concerned, spring has stuck and this report is getting monotonous! January-flowering species are getting a very long season, and we could still be finding Snowdrops in April, whereas February and March openers are coming along very warily – in the Celandinepatch, for instance, there are just one or two more buds showing, while the two or three half open flowers look very unhappy. The total
flowering plant list is identical to last week’s. In an afternoon session, Eithne and Kaye noticed far more signs of things to come – very fat Blackthorn buds, young Nettle shoots growing strongly, fully formed leaves on some (usually young) Elders and Hawthorns, with occasional Hawthorn shoots showing flower buds, more leaves and buds in the Cowslip patch, and the first sign of buds breaking on an Apple tree in the Butterfly Walk. Close inspection of path-side vegetation along Osbaldwick Beck revealed hundreds of tiny seed-leave – we have no idea yet what they are, but from last year’s records Garlic Mustard is a strong possibility. More easily identifiable are Yarrow and Cinquefoil leaves along the Story-circle path, and Ground Elder in a couple of woodland areas.
Fungi: We saw a fine, if slightly decaying, example of a Jelly-ear Fungus next to the Tang Hall Beck Path.
Mammals: A single Grey Squirrel was seen not far from the Kingfisher Culvert. However, interesting evidence of squirrel breeding was the corpse of what was almost certainly an infant Grey Squirrel along the Bund Path. The Grey Squirrel breeding season in Britain starts in January and ends around June, the female having one or two litters per year with one to seven youngsters per litter. The dead animal we found could have been born in February and taken from the nest (known as a “drey”) by a predator. There are several dreys along the Bund Path.