A skulking bird was a first for the reserve.. unexpected winter insect sightings, while a world of other creatures are found hiding under logs and stones.. and 15 species of flower still out!
Temperatures ranged from 1C at the beginning and end of the month up to 12C on the 17th. All the Wildwatch Wednesdays were dry and with mainly light winds.
The highlight was without doubt a Water Rail, seen briefly (and photographed) by one observer by Tang Hall Beck on the 3rd. This skulking bird is always difficult to see, since it often hides in dense vegetation by the edge of water.
A Kingfisher was seen briefly, also on Tang Hall Beck on the 10th. There were several sightings of Great Spotted Woodpecker on the 3rd, a female definitely identified from a photograph, and a male also possibly seen on the same day. Goldcrests, a scarce bird at St Nicks, were seen on the 10th and 17th, the one on the latter date associating with a Blue Tit feeding flock. Coal Tit, another scarce bird, was on the Environment Centre feeder on the 31st.
An attempt was made on the 17th to count some of the more common birds. The totals seen were: Robin: 14; Blackbird: 20; Goldfinch: 30+; Bullfinch: 5; Greenfinch: 8; Long-tailed Tit: 25+; Magpie: 8; Wren: 5. A count of 12 Mallards (6 pairs) on Tang Hall Beck on the 3rd was possibly a record for the reserve! Six Carrion Crows, noisily disputed nesting trees near the Playground on the 3rd.
Six overflying Fieldfares on the 10th was our first record of winter thrushes this winter; we have yet to record Redwing. Finally, you’ll be pleased (or not!) to know that Woodpigeon numbers have recovered from the low counts last month!
Few insects were seen during December, though there were some surprises, including a regular friend the Gorse Shieldbug. Gorse is well-known for flowering in every month of the year, prompting the old proverb “When gorse is out of bloom, kissing’s out of fashion”. The same might be said of its shieldbug, which has been observed at St Nicks in every month of the year except February. We’ll be specially keen to see if sunshine brings any of these shieldbugs out this coming February.
In the same clump of Gorse a tiny picture-winged fly was also tempted out by December’s early sunshine. We have identified it as Tephritis neesi, a gall fly which is particularly associated with the Ox-Eye Daisy.
Caddis Fly larvae, probably one of the Limnephilus species, were active in the environment centre pond throughout December, each one wearing a camouflage of leaf and twig fragments.
Hibernating insects were occasionally uncovered, including a Common Carder Bee under a log and some Nettle Groundbugs inside a dead stem of Hogweed.
At ground level logs and stones concealed a variety of creatures including two kinds of ground beetle – Leistus fulvibarbis and a species of Pterostychus. Ground beetle larvae were also seen with their strikingly patterned bodies. Other invertebrates seen at ground level included harvestmen, four species of woodlouse, four species of millipede, centipedes, snails, slugs, worms and springtails.
Colder weather with wet spells brought the year to an end with most of our flowering species safely dormant. Fifteen were recorded in flower, of which seven – Bramble, Herb Robert, Hogweed, Greater Burnet Saxifrage, Bindweed sp, Fox-and-cubs and Yarrow – were the hardy remains of the late summer season, by now cut back by frost. Dandelions are opportunists that often open a single flower in response to a short bright spell. Cultivated varieties like Lesser Periwinkle and the pink Lungwort outside the Centre flower in early spring, and these too will open early in midwinter sunshine regardless of likely frost.
Ivy flowers in autumn, so it wasn’t surprising to find a few clusters left at the beginning of December, while the Gorse started its new season in October and continues to build up to its spring display. More indicative of seasonal change are lengthening Alder and Hazel male catkins along Osbaldwick Beck and in the usual early spot at the bottom of the bund steps. Here, we also found Hazel female flowers on New Year’s Eve. Finally it’s time for the annual tribute to White Dead-nettle, recorded in flower on 46 of 49 recording weeks, including a slightly water-logged looking specimen in the frost on 31st December. This often overlooked plant is at its best in early summer, but unless the ground is completely snow-covered, it’s a fair bet that if we don’t record it, we forgot to search in the right places.
Most of the species we found through the autumn had either dehydrated or degenerated into heaps of slime by mid-December. Notable exceptions were what we think might be Sulphur Tuft (which we marked as “unidentified in last month’s blog) and Crystal Brain, a few resupinate species, and a strange spiky tangle of fungus was seen (picture) which may be a more developed form of the Candlesnuff fungus Xylaria hypoxylon which is frequent on dead wood on the reserve. If an experienced mycologist chances to read this, please make a New Year resolution to come and explore the fungi of St Nicks for us!
A Water Vole was seen in Osbaldwick Beck, not far from the Environment Centre, on the 17th. Grey Squirrels were seen on most Wednesdays, with one active near a drey (nest) on the 17th. Unusually, no Rabbits were seen in the month.