St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: 3 April 2013 – Has Spring Been Cancelled?

Female Sparrowhawk

Female Sparrowhawk

Weather: Sunny at first, then sunny intervals. 3 to 5 C. Light NE wind. Feeling cool!
Observers: Eithne, Ian, Kaye, Jo, John, Roger

At last – a sunny day! But still cold, and still little sign of Spring. It’s as if everything has been put on hold, waiting for a few warm days for all the plant life to leap into action. But more birds were singing, and we noticed a few more signs of breeding (or at least, courting) activity. But still no signs of any Common Frog activity in the Environment Centre pond, and no signs, either, of the Common Newts which were seen a couple of weeks ago.

Tang Hall Beck from the Kingfisher Culvert - with, unfortunately, abandoned debris

Tang Hall Beck from the Kingfisher Culvert – with, unfortunately, abandoned debris

We followed our normal route round the reserve – up and along the Bund Path, down and back along the Tang Hall Beck path, a brief visit to the Kingfisher Culvert and to the Kingfisher Watchpoint (the latter rewarding!) and then down to the Sluice Bridge and back along the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track.

Water levels in the two becks have dropped considerably since last week, and we were able to see some more fresh small mammal prints at the Sluice Bridge (see below).

Kingfisher (taken in December 2011)

Kingfisher (taken in December 2011)

Birds: Unfortunately, the highlight bird of the morning, Kingfisher, was only seen clearly by Ian, perched on the bank near the Kingfisher Watch Point, and very briefly by Kaye, as it zoomed off downstream and disappeared round the bend in Tang Hall Beck. But at least we know that they are still visiting St Nicks, even if briefly. We suspect that these birds (or is it just one bird?) are coming up from the River Foss, over Morrisons car park to visit Tang Hall Beck. We suspect that the Osbaldwick Beck Kingfishers hold territory upstream of the reserve, and fly over Melrosegate to reach us. The photo here, by the way, is one from our archives, and not taken today!

Singing Wren

Singing Wren

Bird song continues to increase, with both Song and Mistle Thrushes heard briefly, Robins and Dunnocks singing all over the resererve, and Wrens becoming less skulking as they start to sing from higher song posts. Two Wrens were seen chasing each other around near the Dragon Stones – a sign of courting behaviour. But strangely, the Blackbirds haven’t started singing yet!

Blue Tit - feeding on buds near the Kingfisher Culvert

Blue Tit – feeding on buds near the Kingfisher Culvert

The Winter Tit feeding flocks have started to disperse, and birds are increasingly being seen singly or in twos and threes. We saw Blue, Great, Long-tailed and Coal Tits, the latter a single bird along the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track. Greenfinch, Bullfinch and Goldfinches were also quite vocal. House Sparrows were in their usual noisy flocks near the Environment Centre.

Bullfinches seen today: (left) male (right) female

Bullfinches seen today: (left) male (right) female

Carrion Crow - drying off after bathing in Osbaldwick Beck

Carrion Crow – drying off after bathing in Osbaldwick Beck

Woodpigeons, Magpies and Carrion Crows were everywhere, and one of the Carrion Crows was seen drying off in a tree after bathing in Osbaldwick Beck! Flying over the reserve were two Greylag Geese, a few Herring Gulls and a female Sparrowhawk (see photo above).

A total of 21 bird species recorded today.

Plants:  The Black Poplar hybrid  on the Tang Hall Beck path has open catkins – unfortunately too high to see clearly without binoculars let alone check whether it’s a male or female tree.  Coltsfoots are coming up in more

Coltsfoot in flower today

Coltsfoot in flower today

locations, and by now are not at all hard to find even when not fully open.  If you don’t know this attractive little plant, look for miniature-dandelion style flowers, on thick, rather scaly stems with no leaves. Its botanical name tussilago comes from Latin tussis – cough – and refers to its use as a cough remedy in traditional medicine. Otherwise there’s nothing new on the flower list. As we expected, we were still finding plenty of Snowdrops.  The cold that has delayed everything else has suited them well.  In 2012, our last record was 7th March. We spent the rest of our rather limited botanical time speculating about fat leaf buds and trying not always successfully to identify emerging leaves along the grass verges.

Mammals & Amphibians: We saw a couple of Grey Squirrels. The newish-looking drey in the Lime trees seems to have had no further signs of activity. We counted three or four dreys (squirrels’ nests) around the reserve today. There were also two Rabbit sightings.

Small mammal footprints - 2p coin for size comparison

Small mammal footprints – 2p coin for size comparison

We looked closely for evidence of Water Vole activity. There were a few holes along Tang Hall Beck which might be Water Vole burrows, but there was nothing conclusive. At the Sluice Bridge, with falling water levels, we saw several fresh small mammal prints. In response to The Mammal Society’s reply to our previous mammal print photographs, requesting some size scale, John nobly volunteered to clamber down the bank of the beck and place a 2p piece to give some scale. The photos have been sent off to the Mammal Society, and we are awaiting their reply. If we can get some sort of assistance in being able to separate Water Vole prints from those of Brown Rats, this will be a valuable tool to help us to monitor the presence, or otherwise, on the reserve of this endangered species.

The amphibian report is, alas, negative. There were no signs today in the Environment Centre Pond of either Common Newts or frog spawn.

Singing Greenfinch along the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track

Singing Greenfinch along the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track

4 April 2013 | Categories: Wildwatch | Tags: carrion crow, kingfisher, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, sparrowhawk, water vole, wren