New bumblebee and hoverfly species for St Nicks brighten up a cold month.. bird breeding season underway.. possible new breeding species? .. herbaceous flowers peak mid-April
Generally a cool month, around 14 – 15C, but dipping down to a chilly 6 – 7C on the 26th. Some sunshine, breezy at times – but we stayed dry!
After a sunny start on April 5th, from an invertebrate recorder’s point of view the remaining Wildwatch Wednesdays were disappointingly overcast and chilly. Only two more species were added to March’s meagre butterfly list, with just Orange Tip, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood seen during the month. A few Micro–Moths were also found. Bumble Bees increased in number, including on 5th a species not before recorded at St Nicks: Forest Cuckoo Bumble Bee Bombus sylvestris.
Hoverflies also produced a new record: a single Scaeva selenitica on 26th (see photo). This rather scarce species is more usually associated with conifer woods but is also partially migratory, so it may have been heading towards Dalby Forest where it is known to breed.
At least eight other hoverfly species were recorded during the month, with particularly good numbers of Epistrophe eligans and several examples of Eupeodes luniger, superficially similar to Scaeva selenitica.
Other fly species (Diptera) gradually increased during the month with good numbers of Bluebottles and Greenbottles (Calliphoridae), Flesh Flies (Sarcophagidae), Dung Flies (Scathophagidae) and House Flies (Muscidae) which included the attractive Phaonia subventa. Soldier flies of the Beris genus (probably Beris chalybata) were frequently found. Early in the month a few Bee Flies (Bombylius major) were seen prospecting for the nests of solitary mining bees (Andrena species) in which to lay their eggs. Throughout the month the keen-eyed could find on exposed vegetation tiny Ensign Flies (Sepsis fulgens) waving their black-spotted wings in courtship rituals.
Not many species of True Bug were seen. Gorse Shieldbugs were on their food plant in good numbers as usual while Common Green Shieldbugs increased in number through the month and were seen mating. A single Hawthorn Shieldbug was found on 12th.
Beetles included Seven-Spot and Harlequin Ladybirds as last month, and a number of Ground Beetles were found on 12th underneath metal and other debris on the reserve. These were mostly of the genera Leistus, Nebria and Pterostichus.
Among the Spiders seen were Nursery Web Pisaura mirabilis, Cucumber Araniella cucurbitina sensu lato, Stretch Tetragnatha extensa and Comb–footed Enoplognatha ovate.
The breeding season is starting to get under way. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, summer visitors to St Nicks, have been seen or heard throughout the month, with up to six individuals of each species. Female Chiffchaffs, generally silent except for a “hueet” call, have also probably arrived. We may have a potentially breeding pair of Goldcrests, Britain’s smallest bird. Two are still being seen for the second consecutive month by the Kingfisher Culvert – although they can be difficult to spot.
The beautiful song of the Song Thrush was heard on half of the Wildwatch Wednesdays, but the territorial songs of Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks were heard throughout the month, and Robins appeared to be feeding young at the far end of the Tang Hall Beck path (near Ladybird Corner). Blackbird song was increasing throughout April – a lovely sound!
Blue Tits seem to be pairing up. A pair of Magpies looked as if they were preparing to mate along Warren Walk on the 26th, and on the same date, a Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard drumming.
Bullfinches and Goldfinches were recorded throughout the month, but the latter seemed to be down in numbers.
On the becks, a pair of Mallards was on Tang Hall Beck on the 5th, and a single Moorhen also on Tang Hall Beck on the 19th.
Blackthorn and the early Willow catkins faded out, succeeded by later-flowering Crack Willows, Osier, Hawthorn, Apple and Bird Cherry. Members of the Maple family and Lilac were also in flower, and Rowans were opening by the end of the month. Broom came out as the Gorse passed its peak.
Along the main path, Horsetails reminded us of one of many questions we ask every year but never get round to answering – why does this patch always produce fertile, spore-bearing shoots when plants in other areas of the reserve don’t?
The number of herbaceous species in full flower peaked at 30 in mid-April, falling back slightly as the early-flowering species came to an end – Daffodils, Wood Anemones, Coltsfoots, Lesser Celandines, Primroses in more or less that order. Cowslips, Marsh Marigolds, Lungwort and Dandelions flowered well throughout.
By the end of the month, visitors could have been forgiven for thinking that there was not a lot apart from Cow Parsley and Garlic Mustard along wooded paths, but Red Campion, Bluebells and Green Alkanet provided a contrast here and there – along with the odd Tulip (very odd!). Ramsons aka Wild Garlic seems to have established well from the last couple of years’ plantings, though it’s not always easy to pick out among the masses of other white flowers. Lower-growing plants flourished in more open areas: Water Avens on its usual well-drained bank near the Dragon Stones; Cuckoo Flower on Osbaldwick Beck; early Cranesbills, Ivy-leaved Speedwell, Ground Ivy, Ribwort Plantain and a few Violet sp. along path verges. The arum-lily flowers of Cuckoo Pint (Lords-and-Ladies) never last more than a couple of weeks, but there were more of them this year. The patch of Yellow
Archangel up the path from the culvert also has a short flowering season. Iin a garden, it would be grown for the variegated leaves which mark it as a cultivar. April ended on a promising note, with lots of early summer flowers in bud.
A vociferous Grey Squirrel was seen and heard by one of the team on a non-Wildwatch day on the 23rd. Rabbits were seen near Ladybird Corner on the 19th and 26th.
All photos were taken at St Nicks in April 2017.