Plenty of galls.. Nine new insects for St Nicks.. Woodpeckers and Kingfishers brighten up the month.
One or two showers and the 23rd was a washout! A rather cool and damp August, but with a few sunny intervals on the 9th and 16th.
With August Wildwatch Wednesdays often dull and chilly, insect life was not as abundant as we had experienced in June and July. However, no fewer than nine new species (not recorded before from St Nicks) brought some cheer, including our 49th hoverfly – Xylota segnis – see photo.
Butterfly numbers were low, both species and individuals, with just 12 species recorded: Small Skipper, Large, Small and Green-veined Whites, Holly Blue, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Comma, Peacock, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood.
Nor were many day-flying moths found: just seven species included two not identified before from the reserve: Agonopterix alstromeriana and a caterpillar of the Buff Tip Phalera bucephala. The other five were Mint Moth Pyrausta aurata (pictured), Mother-of-Pearl Pleuroptya ruralis, Pale Straw Pearl Udea lutealis and Ancylis badiana micro-moths, plus several Shaded Broadbar Scotopteryx chenopodiata macros. Dragonfly and Damselfly numbers were equally low, with just a few Azure damselflies and an occasional Southern Hawker dragonfly and perhaps other species glimpsed too. Common Darter dragonflies were the most numerous, frequently seen mating on the Environment Centre pond.
Late summer sees the adult emergence of the year’s true bugs from their nymph stages (true bugs do not pupate) and quite a few were found. Many adult Common Froghoppers Philaenus spumarius were seen, following an abundance of cuckoo spit earlier in the season. There is a Spotlight telling the fascinating story of their life cycle in St Nicks blog pages. Three new bug records for the reserve were Broad Damselbug Nabis flavomarginatus Potato Capsid Bug Closterotomus norvegicus (pictured) and a mirid bug Campyloneura virgula. Other bug sightings included Common Green, Gorse, Hairy, Hawthorn and Parent Shieldbugs; Nettle Groundbug Heterogaster urticae and Tree Damselbug Himacerus apterus (both pictured); Common Green Capsid Lygocoris pabulinus, mirid bug Liocoris tripustulatus, several examples of both red and black forms of mirid bug Deraeocoris ruber and the striking yellow-and-black leafhopper Evacanthus interruptus.
Flies (diptera) are everywhere on the reserve, the commonest being Greenbottles Lucilia, Bluebottles Calliphora, House Flies Musca and Flesh Flies Sarcophaga. Pictured here are three other commonly-seen species at St Nicks: Graphomya maculata with a strongly-striped thorax, the rather attractive (for a fly!) Pollenia rudis with its golden-furred back, and a Yellow Dung Fly Scathophaga stercoraria. The brightly-marked parasitic (Tachinid) fly Dexiosoma caninum is also regularly seen in mid- to late summer and three new fly records for the reserve were another parasitic fly Thelaira nigripes, a strikingly-patterned snail-killing fly Coremacera marginata (pictured), and a crane fly Phylidorea ferruginea. A dozen hoverfly species were recorded, including the pictured Melanostoma scalare, a pregnant female.
Spiders of various species can always be found on the reserve. One of the most abundant, seen from March to November, is the Nursery Web Pisaura mirabilis which uses silk not to spin a prey-catching web but to create a large tent in which the female protects her eggs and then her spiderlings. Pictured here is a female carrying a large egg sac in her chelicerae (mouthparts).
The most obvious and abundant snail species seen on the reserve is the Banded Snail. Banded Snails Cepaea are very variable in pattern and colour and two common species occur: white-lipped and brown-lipped, indicating the colour of the thin rim around the opening of the shell. Most of St Nicks sightings are of the white-lipped Cepaea hortensis (pictured) but it is worth looking out for the brown-lipped Cepaea nemoralis
August turned distinctly autumnal, with ripening fruit on Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Rowan, Bramble, Plum sp., Dogwood and by the end of the month Elder. Squirrels were already working their way through unripened Hazel nuts. But if you don’t like the idea of autumn, there are signs of spring – tiny Hazel and Alder catkins ready to flower in January.
Weekly flowering plant tallies ranged from 59 to zero – we don’t mind getting wet in a good cause, but torrential rain and thunder drove us in on 23rd. August is normally a month when early-to-midsummer flowering plants fade out, leaving a range of fairly tough species that will either continue or flower sporadically till frost finishes them. Sure enough, Tansy, Yarrow, Ragwort, Common Mallow, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Red Clover, Bindweeds, Field Scabious and much less conspicuous Red Bartsia are among the easy-to-find plants offering pollen and nectar to a wide range of insects. Even the dreaded Indian Balsam, which the 2015-16 floods seem to have spread into previously free areas, attracts its quota of bees. Less predictable was a late display of annuals from recent seedings – new patches of Corn-cockle, Corn Marigold, Common Poppy, Ragged-robin and Wild Carrot opening as the earlier ones faded. It was a nice surprise to find three new species from seedings or plantings near the Dragon Stones – Bladder Campion is a new reserve record; Agrimony was reported years ago but hadn’t been seen again till this month; a manifestly different Asteracea sp. is proving a challenge. Down by Tang Hall Beck, bug-hunters came across a lone specimen of Monkeyflower of unknown origin, and nearby a possible Brooklime needs confirmation. Strange seasons and scrub clearance can combine to produce oddities: if you want to see a Cowslip in September, look carefully along the path below the Dragon Stones. Finally, last month we reported searching St Nicks in vain for that d– elusive Scarlet Pimpernel. We didn’t want to write a spoiler for the Derwenthorpe blog, but as they forgot to mention it, we are delighted to point out that there are several thriving patches of it on a gravelly site over there.
It’s proving to be an unusually good season for Silk Button Galls – look for them underneath Oak leaves showing yellow blotches on the upper side. The other common gall under Oak leaves is the Common Spangle. Knobbly Knopper galls are easy to find among the acorns on trees near the Sustrans path. Marble, Artichoke, Cola-nut and Ramshorn galls have all been found on their host Oaks but need a careful search. All of these are stimulated by tiny wasps: respectively Neuroterus numismalis, N. quercusbaccarum, Andricus quercuscalicis, A. kollari, A. foecundatrix, A. lignicolis and A. aries. Another wasp, Diplolepis nervosa, is responsible for the fascinating Sputnik galls on Dog Roses. Curious little galls in Tansy flowers are induced by a midge, Rhopalomyia tanaceticola.
Not many records, partly because of the time of year and partly because the “Birdman of St Nicks” was only able to be present on two of the five Wildwatch Wednesdays! Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen and heard on the 9th, 16th and 23rd, with two seen on the 16th by Osbaldwick Beck. Kingfisher was seen on Tang Hall Beck on the 16th and 23rd.
Summer visitors still continued to be seen and heard, with Chiffchaffs recorded on the 9th, 16th and 23rd and a juvenile and female Blackcap by Osbaldwick Beck on the 16th.
Unusually, an adult Moorhen with two chicks was seen on Tang Hall Beck on the 9th, and again, with four chicks on the 16th – possibly the first record we have had of Moorhen chicks at St Nicks.
In the air, one, maybe two Sparrowhawks were seen on the 9th, with a single Swift on the same date. Throughout the month, our regular birds continued to be seen – Goldfinches, Bullfinches, Wrens, Robins and Dunnocks, with a juvenile of the latter species seen on the 9th.
Grey Squirrels were seen on the 9th and 16th, and a Rabbit on the 16th.
All photos were taken at St Nicks during August 2017.