Weather: Drizzle for first half hour, then just overcast. Cool. Very light breeze. Poor light
Observers: Ian, Kaye, Janetta
The weather might have been dull for this, the first Wildwatch of 2013, but in the bird song and behaviour, and in some of the plant life, there were some promises of the Spring which will come – eventually!
Ian did his usual pre-walk wander round Osbaldwick Beck, then the three of us set out, first along the Bund Path, then down both sides of Tang Hall Beck as far as the Sluice Bridge, and returned to the Centre via the Butterfly Path. Both becks were very full after the recent heavy rain, Tang Hall Beck particularly so. But water levels were not as high as on some days in recent weeks.
Birds: In parts of the reserve, bird song was plentiful. Along Osbaldwick Beck and near the Environment Centre, two Song Thrushes were in full song. Robins were singing in about six locations, with two birds close to each other and not apparently competing for territory – pairing up? The Winter tit flocks seem temporarily to have broken up, with Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits seen singly.
Walking back from the Sluice Bridge along Tang Hall Beck, a flock of small birds was seen flying upstream. When we relocated the flock in Alder near the Kingfisher Culvert, it turned out to be a flock of about 15 Siskins. The birds flew again and landed in trees near the Environment Centre. When they flew yet again, the flock was estimated at about 30 birds, including a couple of Goldfinches. Other finches included a single female Chaffinch and two or three female Bullfinches.
Without counting too carefully (that will come next week when we do the Winter Thrush Survey!) there were probably about a dozen Blackbirds. The only winter thrushes seen were a flock of about ten flying over Tang Hall Beck. But they were silent, and it was too gloomy to make out any details, so we couldn’t tell whether they were Redwings or Fieldfares. Also flying over were five Black-headed Gulls and an immature Herring Gull.
Small hedgerow birds included a couple of Dunnocks, a single, very vociferous Wren and a few House Sparrows. A good number of Magpies were scattered over the reserve, with Carrion Crow and Woodpigeon bringing the total species count to 19 – not counting the unidentified winter thrushes.
Plants & Flowers: Yes, we can still include “flowers” in the title to this section! The first flowering plant to be seen and identified in 2013 was of course White Dead-Nettle, flowering quite convincingly on the approach to the Bund path and in the Tang Hall Beck area. Whether they are the remains of last year’s or the first of this year’s flowers is anybody’s guess. The Hogweed on the Reserve side of the Sustrans path was clearly in the former category – it didn’t look happy but it was making a valiant effort. Gorse is a law unto itself. From its angle, November, when it first came into flower is early spring, and it’s
likely to carry on continuously from now until the end of May. The real surprise of the morning was Alder. Its catkins are supposed to start lengthening from the end of January, and most of the trees on the reserve look as though they are operating to that time-scale. However the area at the bottom of the Bund steps must be particularly sheltered because just one bush there has almost fully extended male catkins. A nearby Hazel, which should start to flower in January, was showing only the slightest signs of opening. Along the Butterfly Path, there were a few small, new shoots forming on the Buddlea bushes.
Mammals: The only mammal seen was Grey Squirrel. However, near the upstream end of Osbaldwick Beck, Ian found Rabbit droppings. We haven’t seen Rabbits at this location before. Also, at the Eastern end of the Butterfly Path, we found three holes, which looked very much like Rabbit holes.. some distance away from the established warren to the West of the Kingfisher Culvert. A breakaway population?
Fungi: We found several species of fungi, but the only one we felt able to put a tentative ID to was Yellow Brain Fungus, which we saw before Christmas. There’s a few rather poor (iPhone!) photos below: