St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: December 2015 Sightings


Late summer, early spring for plants.. several scarce St Nicks birds seen.. edible or deadly poisonous – we didn’t dare test..

Tang Hall Beck flooded. Inset.. the beck under normal conditions. Photos by Lewis Outing.

Tang Hall Beck flooded. Inset.. the beck under normal conditions. Photos by Lewis Outing.


Generally mild (10 – 13C) and cloudy, with some sunshine on some days. But on 26th and 27th, the floods came, due to the problems with the Foss Flood Barrier. Large areas of the reserve went under water, but the Environment Centre was safe. You can see photos of the effects of the floods here. As yet, we don’t know how the flooding affected our Water Vole population, but monitoring of these animals is continuing.


Siskins: left, male; right, female

Siskins: left, male; right, female

Siskins were seen on all five of the Wildwatch Wednesdays, with flocks of up to 12. What a contrast to last winter, when sightings were scarce! Sometimes the birds were seen with Goldfinches, although the flock size of the latter has been smaller than in some previous years. We have yet to see Redpolls, often seen with Siskins, although we know that they are in the area.

Scarce St Nicks birds seen in the month included Treecreeper (Osbaldwick Beck on the 9th ), Grey Wagtail (also Osbaldwick Beck, on the 30th), Coal Tit on the 2nd, 9th and the 30th, and Goldcrest on the 16th 23rd and 30th.

Flying over the reserve, a Mute Swan on the 16th was an unusual sighting. A Sparrowhawk was seen on the 2nd, 16th and 23rd. Gulls flying over included Black-headed, Lesser-Black-backed and Herring Gulls.

Winter feeding Tit flocks were much in evidence, with Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits continuing to delight with their rapid feeding movements. Our Bullfinch population seems to be thriving, with up to 10 birds being seen on the 16th. A Song Thrush made a welcome return on the 23rd, by Osbaldwick Beck.

Left: House Sparrow. Right: Moorhen

Left: House Sparrow. Right: Moorhen

On the becks, Moorhens were seen on the 2nd (two on Tang Hall Beck), 9th and 16th (three on Tang Hall Beck), with Mallards seen on the 2nd and 16th, also on Tang Hall Beck.


Flowering in December.. clockwise from top left: Red Clover; Bramble; Yarrow; Hogweed

Flowering in December.. clockwise from top left: Red Clover; Bramble; Yarrow; Hogweed

Predominantly damp conditions and normal seasonal die-back continued to reduce the number of species recorded, but mild weather enabled some of the late species to continue in flower. Meanwhile in sheltered spots that catch the winter sun, the first flowers of the new season were starting to emerge.

Of the late flowerers, Bramble and Herb Robert were last recorded on 2nd. The Musk Mallow in the Butterfly Walk, Hedgerow Cranesbill outside the Centre, a single clump of Tansy, and the odd Wood Avens, Greater Burnet Saxifrage, Red Dead Nettle and Ragwort persisted longer. Red Clover, a Brassica sp and Feverfew were still putting out a few flowers on 30th. A fine fresh-looking Groundsel emerged mid month, and there was new Hairy Bitter-cress on 30th. Opportunistic Dandelions, Daisies and rather stunted Hogweeds pop up whenever conditions are remotely favourable.

By 23rd, we were noticing lengthening Alder and Hazel catkins along Osbaldwick Beck and at the bottom of the Bund steps, and emerging Daffodil and Snowdrop leaves are clearly visible on the beck side. There are also sheltered places where Elder and Hawthorn leaves are emerging. We had noticed whitening buds on some Prunus species, but a member of staff checking the reserve during the floods reported fully open flowers. Looking forward to next year, the little Black Nightshade has defied the odds and ripened two berries, so here’s hoping for a succession.

The floods flattened most of the dying-back grasses and nettles, and will hasten their decay. Before the next rains wash it off, look for the “tide-line” of mud on the beck-side shrubs and on the occasional Ivy stem up the trees: the Wildwatch team found it sobering to note how far up to their shoulders the water would have come. But the muddy background only served to enhance a new flush of White Dead-nettle flowers on plants that certainly look a bit tatty but are still defiantly upright.

A new willow gall, thought to be induced by a Sawfly, Eupontania pedunculi, was found among leaf litter at the start of the month.


Left: Xylaria species (possibly Dead Man's Fingers). Right: Either edible or highly poisonous!

Left: Xylaria species (possibly Dead Man’s Fingers). Right: Either edible or highly poisonous!

One or two interesting finds brightened up the end of a poor season.   A sinister-looking species, thought to be a Xylaria sp. was found under a log.  There was debate about whether stalked fungi on rotting willow were a gourmet variety or its particularly poisonous lookalike. Nobody was silly enough to attempt to firm up the ID.  One or two intriguing but unidentified bracket species, several attractive stalked fungi,  and a textbook example of Jelly-ear were also recorded.


Clockwise from top left: Gorse Shieldbug; 7-spot Ladybird; Flesh Fly; Bluebottle

Clockwise from top left: Gorse Shieldbug; 7-spot Ladybird; Flesh Fly; Bluebottle

There is little to report for December, with just a few hardy insects appearing on the warmer days of the month. Gorse Shieldbug Piezodorus lituratus maintained its record of appearing in every month of the year (like gorse flowers) with several seen on the two sunny Wildwatch days in December: 2nd and 23rd. Seven-spot Ladybirds Coccinella 7-punctata were seen in several places on the reserve during the month, and an occasional fly, notably the common species of Bluebottle Calliphora sp. and Flesh Fly Sarcophaga sp. These four species provide the photo-montage – the pictures all taken on the reserve during the month. We hope to increase our invertebrate sightings in January by exploring carefully and sensitively the world of hidden creatures under the logs and stones on the reserve.


The only Water Vole sighting was on the 23rd, although droppings were noted on one of the Tang Hall Beck rafts on the 2nd. We will be closely monitoring the two becks in January to see if the voles survived the flooding. Grey Squirrels were seen on all the Wildwatch Wednesdays except on the 30th, which was the only day that we recorded Rabbit. Brown Rats were seen by Osbaldwick Beck on the 9th and 30th.

All photos were taken at St Nicks during December 2015.

6 January 2016 | Categories: Wildwatch | Tags: 7-spot Ladybird, Bramble, goldcrest, Gorse Shieldbug, Grey Wagtail, Hogweed, Red Clover, Siskin, Song Thrush, Treecreeper, Yarrow