Weather: Warm with sunny intervals
Observers: Hazel, Ian, Janetta, Kaye, Kaj, Linda
What a contrast in the weather from the pouring rain we experienced last week! And the weather change was reflected in the quality of our sightings today. Our bird count was higher than in the past three weeks, butterflies were on the wing everywhere and we were able to observe far more other invertebrates than in recent weeks.
We started off on our normal walk along the Bund Path and along the left-hand Tang Hall Beck path. Then Ian suggested that it might be a good idea to visit, as a group, the Tang Hall Beck bridge near the sluice, right on the Northern edge of the reserve. It was a good move, because some of us saw the first Water Vole recorded for nearly six months (see below).
Afterwards, for once, a walk along the Butterfly Path resulted in the path living up to its name!
Birds: Robins seem to have started to set up winter territories. In several parts of the reserve (such as along the Tang Hall Beck path) we heard adjacent Robins singing their defiant song, warning the other off their territory. Quite a few birds, including Blackbirds and Bullfinches are feeding off the increasing crop of berries.
Warblers haven’t yet left the reserve. We found a singing (!) Chiffchaff on the Sustrans path along Tang Hall Beck and a probable Willow Warbler was glimpsed near the Butterfly Path. It’s a little early for the winter tit flocks to have formed, but both Blue and Great Tits were seen and heard in various locations. One regular bird which was heard in only one location was Wren. What a contrast from a couple of months ago when we were seeing and hearing this bird in 15+ locations!
In the skies, over the reserve, we saw at least 7 Greylag Geese (they seem to be moving around the area quite a lot recently), Carrion Crow and 20+ Starlings. One bird not frequently seen was Grey Wagtail, which Ian saw flying upstream from the Tang Hall Beck Sluice Bridge.
Other “regulars” recorded were Magpie, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Chaffinch and Goldfinch, bringing the total bird species recorded today to a more respectable 17.
Not included in the above total, but worth recording, is Tawny Owl, which one of the regular dog-walking visitors has seen frequently along the Sustrans path near the Tang Hall Beck Culvert. But that’s only been at about 5.30 am, so you’ve got to get to the site early!
Mammals: Yes, the Grey Squirrels were entertaining, with their aerial acrobatics (see photo later in the post). But the star has to be the Water Vole! It’s nearly six months since we last recorded this mammal at St Nicks – and that was an isolated sighting on Osbaldwick Beck. Since the two early summer floods on Tang Hall Beck, Water Voles seemed to have disappeared. But today, down at the edge of the reserve, from the Tang Hall Beck Sluice Bridge, Hazel and Ian had excellent close views of one of these scarce rodents swimming downstream towards the bridge, and disappearing into what might have been a burrow on the left-hand (as you look upstream) bank of the beck.
We found, on both sides of the beck, paw prints, but they could have been either Water Vole or Brown Rat. They aren’t too easy to tell apart, unless you can take their measurements. And none of us were prepared to risk taking a dip in the beck to do this!
One other mammal recorded was Rabbit, near the small warren by Tang Hall Beck.
Worth noting is Fox, seen last week by one of our regular dog walking visitors, crossing the meadow to the north of the Play Area.
Plants and Flowers: By way of a little project, we resumed mapping the Tansy clumps. Our first impression is that the large patches on the edge of the meadow have extended. Isolated plants seem to be more variable but there may well be more of them. Most of the plants are still in full flower, but a few are starting to die back.
Our other job was to try to find Upright Hedge Parsley – so far without success on the reserve, though we did identify a single plant on the Sustrans path nearby. The Butterfly walk is well worth a visit for plants as well as butterflies, with Buddleia, Field Scabious, probable Greater Burnet Saxifrage, Knapweed, St John’s Wort sp., Wild Carrot, Field Bindweed and Yarrow all easy to find, and the possibility of the odd flower on Silverweed and Creeping Cinquefoil. The flowers on Hedge Bindweed here and virtually everywhere else are pointing up an increasing site management problem – hard to find till already well-established, time-consuming to remove from its support plant without damage, and almost impossible to control without resorting to chemicals. Hazel gave us an alternative name for it – “Mother-in-law’s skirts”, and showed us a childhood trick of squeezing the calyx to catapult the flower. We felt absolutely no qualms about destroying a few!
Among other plants recorded, Red Clover, Red Bartsia and Bird’s-foot Trefoil can still be found in or near the meadow, while out on the Sustrans path Janetta found three more species so far not located on the reserve: Chicory, Common Toadflax and possible but unconfirmed Wild Basil.
Butterflies & Other Invertebrates: Today, with the warmth and the sunshine, we had a good “butterfly” day! Speckled Woods, normally in mating pairs, were all all over the reserve. We didn’t even count the numbers! Also recorded were Red Admirals (the first of this delayed season), Commas (at least two, maybe three on Buddleia along the Butterfly Path), Large White and Peacock.
Along the Sustrans path, on the way to the Sluice Gate Bridge over Tang Hall Beck, we found several striking Garden Spider webs. The photo here shows a possible female of this species.
The photo you’ve all been waiting for.. with baited breath..! Grey Squirrel: