Pineapples, Lettuces and a lone Artichoke.. Butterflies disappoint, bugs abound, heaps of hoverflies, shieldbugs shine.. and what’s that “mouse” creeping up a tree?
A somewhat cooler August, but temperatures still reaching 20C. The Wildwatch Wednesdays enjoyed sunny intervals on all four days.
Butterflies were very disappointing in number. Our August 7th blog last year declared: “butterflies were everywhere”, but 2014 is a very different picture. Eleven species were recorded in August but none very frequently. Gatekeepers and Speckled Woods were the only species to be seen in more than ones or twos on any day. The other occasional species were Small Skipper; Small, Green–veined and Large Whites; Common Blue; Red Admiral; Peacock; Small Copper and Ringlet. It appears that Small Tortoiseshells, Commas and Meadow Browns were not seen in August, nor the migrant Painted Lady.
Moths… Moth trapping is not undertaken at St Nicks so we can only record the occasional sightings of day-flying moths. August brought a lovely and well-camouflaged Angle Shades (pictured) resting up for the day, and a Shaded Broadbar, both by the Dragon Stones. Caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth were frequent wherever Ragwort flourishes on the reserve, but no adults seen. There were 2 or 3 sightings of Mother–of–Pearl, translucent and prettily-marked, the largest of the so-called micro-moths. Other micro-moths seen were Pale Straw Pearl and Nettle Tap.
Dragonflies.. Common Darters were frequent at and around the Environment Centre, often alighting on the railing round the pond, allowing close views (see photo). Azure Damselflies were only occasional, and there were brief glimpses of Southern Hawker and a restless fast-flying Common Hawker.
Shieldbugs, as predicted in last month’s blog, began to appear more frequently in all three of their life stages: egg, nymph and adult. Five species were seen: Common Green, Parent, Pied, Sloe (now also known as Hairy Shieldbug) and Gorse. One group saw a late nymph Gorse Shieldbug shed its skin and emerge as an adult (see photo), which it achieved as we watched.
Other bugs.. As well as an abundance of Common Leafhoppers Philaenus spumarius and an occasional Alder Spittlebug Aphrophora alni, the attractive orange-red mirid bug Deraeocoris ruber was seen on several occasions. Two bugs not hitherto recorded at St Nicks were the Nettle Groundbug Heterogaster urticae (adults and nymphs) and theMarsh Damselbug Dolichonabis limbatus. The latter sighting means that in the last 12 months all three of the most common damselbug species have been seen and photographed at St Nicks, confirming the excellent wide spread of habitat on our almost city-centre reserve.
Flies..A large number of flies can be found at St Nicks, many of them listed in last month’s blog. Adult Snail–killing Flies (including Tetanocera elata) are also frequently seen on the reserve, though it is their larvae rather than the adult which feed on mostly aquatic snails. Another often-seen fly is Phaonia subventa which has a striped thorax like a Flesh Fly but is smaller, with an orange abdomen. Hoverflies are of particular interest and some 20 to 30 species of these attractive insects can be seen at St Nicks during the year. In August 13 species were identified and photographed plus 2 or 3 smaller ones not so far positively identified. Few hoverflies have common English names, so please forgive the following scientific list: Myathropa florea (pictured, with ‘Batman’ image on its thorax), Helophilus pendulus, Eristalis pertinax, Eristalis tenax, Eristalis nemorum, Episyrphus balteatus, Syritta pipiens, Syrphus ribesii, Melanostoma scalare, Dasysyrphus albostriatus, Volucella pellucens, Sphaerophora scripta, and (new record for the reserve) Meliscaeva auricollis. August was definitely hoverfly month.
Bees and Wasps, both social and solitary were seen in some numbers, with fleeting glimpses of the more challenging Ichneumon wasps (2,800 species in Britain!) and other predatory wasps These are mostly difficult species to identify, but we are trying!
Spiders are becoming more frequently seen on the reserve as summer proceeds, with regular sightings of the Nursery Web Pisaura mirabilis and many Garden Spiders Araneus diadematus. Two other interesting species were seen in August: a small pale female Enoplognatha ovata with transparent legs, carrying a bright blue sac of eggs considerably larger than herself, and a crab spider Xysticus cristatus, a species in which the male has to tie up his female before he can mate with her! Look out for a Spotlight on the Garden Spider to be published on these blog pages in mid-September.
Treecreepers have often been compared to tiny mice, moving up a tree. These delightful little birds are very occasional visitors to St Nicks, and one was seen on the 27th – on the Black Poplar along the Tang Hall Beck path. It was watched for about 10 minutes by three Wildwatchers. It’s possibly the first time that this species has been photographed on the reserve.
In last month’s blog we said that we’d hope for more sightings of Kingfisher in the coming months. In August, we were not disappointed, with sightings on Tang Hall Beck (Kingfisher Culvert) on the 13th and 27th, with a final sighting by Ian on the 31st. On all occasions, the bird perched for about a second, so no photographs were possible. We need prolonged sightings to determine whether or not these are adults or juveniles.
Juvenile birds were everywhere on the reserve this month! Two juvenile Chiffchaffs were being fed by a parent at the Sluice Bridge on the 6th. Two or more juvenile Blackcaps were near the Environment Centre on the 13th, with an adult male on the Tang Hall Beck path on the 27th. A juvenile Bullfinch near the Dragon Stones on the 27th was the first evidence this year of breeding on the reserve. Ian saw a “charm” of at least 20 juvenile Goldfinches at the Kingfisher Culvert on the 31st. And young Robins, Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits were seen frequently, all over the reserve.
Othr records of interest were a Coal Tit, on the Environment Centre feeders on the 13th, a Great Spotted Woodpecker at the Kingfisher Culvert on the 27th, and a single Cormorant, flying over the flower meadow, also on the 27th.
Species in flower have fallen from a July high of 62 to an end-of-August 40. Midsummer plants are certainly coming to the end of their flowering season, and the meadow has had its summer cut, but August is a last chance to track down things we haven’t yet recorded, so we’ve probably missed a lot else in the process.
At this time of year the stars of the show both for colour and insect life tend to be the tough guys: Hedge Bindweed, Yarrow, Common Ragwort, Hemp Agrimony, Tansy, Teasel and Great Willow-herb. In among them, lower-growing Red Bartsia and Bird’s-foot Trefoil are still prolific, and Clovers and Hop Trefoil can still be found. Field Scabious is still flowering well near the Dragon Stones and along the Butterfly Walk. Soapwort and Common Knapweed were good throughout August but are nearly over. Ribwort Plantain on the other hand is having a second season.
New for August are Field Bindweed, which seems to be more firmly established in the Butterfly Walk, Wild Carrot in the planters outside the Centre, a Mint sp. in the W1 area, and a Hawkbit sp. Ivy flowers near the cycle track are just beginning to open.
And the highlights? Prickly Lettuce probably originated in the planter compost, but is trying to establish itself in the surrounding area. To find out why it’s called prickly, very cautiously check out the underside of the central leaf vein. As for Pineapple Weed, we had barely finished remarking on its absence from the reserve when we noticed the clump that must have been growing alongside the main path for years. The Artichoke Gall is a new Oak gall, the work of a little wasp, Andricus foecundatrix, which we hope to track down one day for the invertebrate section.
An Earth Star fungus on a path leading up from the Environment Centre to the Bund Path (“Lungwort Alley”!) was an interesting find on the 20th. By the following week, it was past its best. Gently flicking its central part produced a little cloud of spores.
We hope to be finding (but probably not identifying!) more fungi species over the next few months.
Grey Squirrel was recorded on the 6th, 20th and 27th, with a probably juvenile at the Kingfisher Culvert on the 31st.
Rabbits were seen on the 13th and 27th.
But no sightings of Water Vole this month.
All the photographs were taken at St Nicks during August 2014