After a sunny start on 4th December, the remaining two Wednesdays were “damp but bearable”. And yes, we did have Christmas Day off, so there were only three Wildwatch Wednesdays in December!
Five or six of us turned up on each of the three Wednesdays, with one being new to the group (welcome John T!)
A fairly quiet few weeks, bird-wise, but we did manage to add a new bird to the St Nicks list.. two Common Gulls flying over on 11th December, and identified by Cliff. This species isn’t rare, but our fly-over gull identification skills are not brilliant, so it’s quite likely that this species has been overlooked in the past.
Not on a Wildwatch walk, but worth recording is a clear sighting by Jonathan of a Kingfisher on Tang Hall Beck on 10th December. Also not on a Wildwatch walk was yet another sighting by Kaye of a Grey Wagtail on 11th December.
It’s good to note that Greenfinches seem to be making a comeback on the reserve, being recorded on all three Wednesdays. This species suffered a nation-wide decline in recent years, due to an outbreak of the fatal disease Trichomonosis. Certainly, from the early to mid part of the year, we have started to see these birds regularly.
Magpies seem to have had a good breeding season on the reserve; at least 14 were present on 11th December. Robins, too, appear to be doing well and are defending quite a few winter feeding territories. Winter Tit feeding flocks seem to be well-established, containing Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits. There are probably at least two such flocks on the reserve. And the rest.. yes, they are all there, including our iconic Bullfinches and, of course, Wood Pigeons!
By December, the majority of wild flowers have resolutely shut down or died back for the winter, but a mild month allows the hardy ones to keep going and often produces a few oddities. As usual, White Dead-Nettle has had by far the longest flowering season, recorded on 42 Wednesdays. It was still looking vigorous and fresh on 18th. On the other hand the Hollyhock and isolated specimens of White Campion, Red Dead-Nettle, Field Scabious, Nipplewort and Perennial Sow-Thistle had the slightly water logged look of plants that haven’t enjoyed being frozen. Bramble, Yarrow, Greater Burnet, Saxifrage and Hogweed have all had a final fling and might well last into the new year.
An unexpected find was a mad Hawthorn at the end of the Butterfly Walk bearing a few sprays of blossom. Perhaps it thinks it’s a Glastonbury Thorn. Dandelions are opportunists and will often flower in a mild spell, so it’s hard to know whether a single specimen was late for 2013 or early for 2014. The Gorse is very definitely building up to spring, with just a few flowers throughout the month but lots of buds developing. Most of the autumn berries have been eaten, but Haws and Rose Hips are still plentiful.
We recorded about twelve species of fungus, most of them unidentified but including some very fine bracket varieties. High on the New Year wish list is a regular group mycologist!
There were still some Harlequin Ladybirds about in December – adults of at least two colour forms, and pupae. Early in the month warm winter sunshine brought out Gorse Shieldbugs on the reserve’s few gorse bushes, while smooth sun-bathed tree trunks attracted flies and harvestmen. From mid-month Wildwatch walks took place in dull, cold or damp weather, so the group found a new and productive pastime: gently lifting stones and logs to see what was hiding under them. We discovered centipedes and millipedes, woodlice and their eggs, snails, slugs and earthworms, and two different species of ground beetle. Tiny unidentified creatures fled from the unexpected exposure to the light. One of the ground beetles was positively identified as Leistus fulvibarbis and is pictured here (it has no common English name).
Millipedes came in two varieties, both pictured: Snake (Tachypodoiulus or Cylindroilus species) and Flat-backed (Polydesmus angustus), while another picture shows two different species of woodlouse together: Common Shiny (Oniscus asellus) and Common Rough (Porcellio scaber). If you can get close enough and are fast enough to see them before they scuttle away, it will be observed that centipedes have one pair of legs on each of the many segments of their body, while millipedes have two pairs to a segment. Going round the reserve in winter it often seems that all of the summer’s bountiful insect life has died off or is hibernating. However, with patience and investigation there are still many small creatures to be found, making even our winter walks an invertebrate adventure!
Grey Squirrels, recorded on all three walks, were the only mammals recorded, with a maximum count of two.