Mainly cloudy on all five Wildwatch days, except for sunshine on the 23rd. As expected, temperatures started to rise throughout the month, starting off with 4C to 6C on the 2nd, and up to 15C on the 30th.
Generally smaller numbers than in recent months, but we still had to split into two or three groups. We have decided that, when numbers allow, we will have three groups: a bird recording group, a “small patch” recording group which will intensively study small areas looking for insects and a general recording group, with an emphasis on plants and flowers. But all of us will, of course, be on the lookout for anything!
Our summer visitors continue to arrive, with the first Blackcaps arriving on the 9th, and Chiffchaff numbers increasing. A count on the 30th indicated the presence of seven singing Blackcaps and five Chiffchaffs. A single Garden Warbler was heard and seen briefly on the 16th near the Dragon Stones, with a Willow Warbler heard along Tang Hall Beck on the same day.
Two Sparrowhawks were seen flying together over the reserve on the 9th, with a single bird on the 23rd. Mallards were seen regularly on both becks, with the first ducklings of the year sighted on Osbaldwick Beck on the 23rd. Two Moorhens on Osbaldwick Beck on the 9th were the only other water birds recorded.
We continued to discreetly watch the only known Long-tailed Tit nest, and on the 30th we saw three adults leaving the nest – suggesting that the pair had recruited a “helper” to feed the chicks. This is quite a common behaviour amongst these birds, with an “aunt” or “uncle” helping the parents to feed youngsters.
We are continuing to see Greenfinches in good numbers but Bullfinches seem to be scarcer than usual, with only one pair and two single birds seen on the 30th. We are going to try to monitor this species more closely next month, but it is likely that, at this time of year, these birds are not as vocal as usual. Apart from these, the St Nicks “regulars” seem to be doing well.. at least ten singing Wrens were counted on the 9th, Dunnocks, Blue Tits and Great Tits are scattered throught the reserve and, seeing as we haven’t mentioned it recently, be assured that our Woodpigeon population seems to be as healthy as ever! We are continuing to look out for our first juvenile Woodpigeon of the year!
At the end of April, the reserve looked like a dress-rehearsal for May Day. Among the trees, Apple, early Hawthorn and Bird Cherry have taken over centre stage, and Rowan and Horse Chestnut are just starting to open. Other trees flower less conspicuously, but lime-green Sycamore, the little tassels of Oak, and dark purple Ash are well worth looking for, and there’s still time to seek out the exotic little “flowering” cones on the Larches near the Centre gate.
The warm spell mid-month brought on the early summer herbaceous plants, and already the path edges are a mass of Cow Parsley and Garlic Mustard. Some of it will have to be cut back in its prime to keep the paths open and enable less lush species to survive. Bluebells (unfortunately mostly Spanish sp. or hybrids), Forget-me-nots, Green Alkanet and the first Wood Avens and Red Campions add colour to the mix, and the Dandelions are at their magnificent best. Where the grass is shorter, the first of the geraniums – Dove’s-foot Cranesbill, Hedgerow Cranesbill and Herb Robert – are coming into flower, along with Ivy-leaved and Common Field Speedwell, Ground Ivy and Hop Trefoil. A few species have a short, very clearly defined season. Fertile Horsetail shoots, Fritillaries and Cuckoo-pint (aka Wild Arum or Lords-and-Ladies) came into flower in early April and are more or less over. Fringed Cups at the lower end of the John Lalley Wood, White Comfrey near the culvert, and Yellow Archangel won’t last much longer. Ribwort Plantain and very early Common Vetch, on the other hand, should be around for most of the summer.
Of the early flowering species, Lungwort, Primroses, Cowslips and Gorse should last well into May. White Dead-nettle of course seldom stops, and, for the rest of the season, regular readers should assume that no news is good news.
A few oddities have been noted: we are as certain as we can be that Shining Cranesbill is new to the Story Circle path, as is Water Avens in a very unlikely site near the Dragon Stones. Finally in 2012 there was a single red Tulip right in the middle of a wooded area near Tang Hall Beck. We didn’t expect it to survive, and sure enough it wasn’t there last year. But there was another one in the same spot a couple of weeks ago.
At the start of April sightings of insects and spiders were hard to come by – some early queen bumblebees, a hoverfly or two, a few harlequin and 7-spot ladybirds and other occasional beetles and bugs. But by the end of the month, with growing warmth in the season, the small creatures of the reserve were popping up everywhere, and on sunny days butterflies were seen in some numbers. In all, ten species of butterfly had been spotted on the reserve by the end of April: Brimstone, Large, Small and Green-veined Whites, Orange Tip, Holly Blue, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Comma and Speckled Wood.
As April began our recent hobby of looking under logs and stones revealed two creatures hitherto unrecorded at St Nicks: a Spotted Snake Millipede, Blaniulus guttulatus, pale straw in colour with red polka dots all along each side, and an orange-and-black ground beetle, Badister bipustulatus. In the Environment Centre pond a Great Diving Beetle, Dytiscus marginalis, was spotted among the more usual inhabitants which included pond skaters and whirligig beetles.
Early sightings (though not in the pond!) also included Gorse and Hawthorn shieldbugs. By the end of the month Green, Parent, Pied and Woundwort shieldbugs had also been seen: two thirds of last year’s total already.
Ladybirds, too, greeted the warming Spring, and by the end of the month 2-spot, 7-spot, 10-spot, 14-spot, 22-spot, Cream-spot and Harlequin had been recorded, 7-spot and Harlequin being the most abundant. Unusually, a 10-spot was seen mating with a Harlequin: a union which if successful would produce hybrid but infertile offspring.
Sightings of hoverflies also increased as the month went on and the sun came out. Two different Drone Fly species, Eristalis tenax and Eristalis pertinax were seen, plus Helophilus pendulus, Melanostoma scalare and Syrphis ribesii, the latter easily the most abundant. Then on the last day of April a hitherto unrecorded hoverfly species for St Nick’s was seen: Dasysyrphus albostriatus, with its diagnostic chevron stripes on the abdomen, and two pale vertical stripes on the thorax.
On the same day a Cuckoo Bumblebee was spotted and photographed, so we hope soon to identify the species; and a Cardinal Beetle was seen, the first probably of many of these striking beetles to be found at St Nicks this year. A picture (along with the Helophilus pendulus hoverfly and the Nursery Web spider) can be found in last year’s blog of 12th June, easily found in the Wildwatch Blog in the newly-designed St Nicks website, which is excitingly worth exploring.
Several micro moths were seen, among them the Nettle Tap Anthophila fabriciana which should become abundant on nettles in the reserve as the year goes by, and Epinotia immundana beside the Environment Centre pond. Other insects included a very small bright red weevil, Apion frumentarium, and a strikingly-coloured green and bronze-red beetle named Lebia chlorocephala.
Spiders, too, were increasingly to be seen, including the small pale green orb web spider Araniella cucurbitina, plus the most abundant spider so far discovered at St Nicks: the Nursery Web, Pisaura mirabilis, surely (with its fascinating lifestyle) the subject of a future “Spotlight on….”
Nursery Web spiders can be seen basking on leaves in some numbers on the reserve, often with their two pairs of forelegs entwined. Finally, with St Mark’s Day being on 25th April, the Wildwatch Walk on 30th April duly and obediently turned up a St Mark’s Fly Bibio marci, bringing to an end an exciting month of increasing observations and new discoveries…
Good news is that Water Vole is still around, with sightings of a single animal in Osbaldwick Beck on 16th and 23rd. Grey Squirrels were seen on every visit, and Rabbit on three out of the five Wednesdays.
No Frog spawn has survived in the Environment Centre pond, presumed to have been eaten by Common Newts, which are seen regularly in the pond. The plastic intruder (below) fooled a few people for a short time!!