Over-wintering summer visitor? .. skulking rail still present.. blank on Shieldbugs..return of Water Vole.. Lemon Disco!
Not surprisingly, temperatures fell throughout the month. 12C was recorded on 7th December, falling to 2C on the 28th, the latter day being bright, sunny and “nithering”!
The long-staying Water Rail was seen on all four Wildwatch Wednesdays in the bramble patches along Osbaldwick Beck, more often seen at about midday.
One surprising sighting was of the summer visitor Chiffchaff, with two (maybe three) seen on the 7th along Tang Hall Beck, and another sighting on the 14th in the same area. But they were not seen after that date. Chiffchaffs, which normally migrate to Southern Europe and North Africa, are increasingly being recorded in the UK as over-wintering in the UK. This is the latest we have recorded this species in St Nicks.
Winter visitors.. we keep looking out for winter thrushes. On the 7th, there was a passage of several groups of Fieldfares, with one group numbering 20+ birds. A few of them alighted briefly, but too short to get any photos. Siskins are another winter visitor to St Nicks (but seen throughout the year in other parts of Yorkshire). This species was recorded at St Nicks on 21st and 28th, but just in 2s and 3s.
Other scarce St Nicks birds were Treecreeper (21st), Grey Heron (1 flying over on 21st), Great Spotted Woodpecker (7th, 14th & 28th ) and Lesser Black-backed Gull (one flying over on 21st). One Goldcrest was seen on the 7th near the Rabbit Warren and one, possibly two, near the Kingfisher Culvert on the 14th and another one by Osbaldwick Beck on the same date.
Iconic St Nicks birds are, of course, Kingfisher and Bullfinch. The former was seen only on the 7th, with three sightings, probably the same bird. But Bullfinches were seen on all four Wildwatch Wednesdays, scattered all over the reserve; the small trees near the “Kingfisher Culvert” (Tang Hall Beck) is a good location to see these striking finches. Four were seen here on the 7th, and three males and two females in the same tree here on the 14th.
Tit flocks were continuing to build, with a feeding flock of 16+ Long-tailed Tits seen on the 7th.
Frost and rain continued to cut back vegetation, while mild sunny spells encouraged growth. What is a herbaceous plant to do? The majority cut their losses and gradually withdrew to their root systems. We didn’t find any more Feverfew in flower after the 7th, and weekly totals were down to a maximum of four species. Here and there we found oddities: on 28th, a lone Welted Thistle on a bank of Tang Hall Beck sported several frost-bitten flowers , and a single Periwinkle flower was so translucent with ice that we debated whether it counted as in flower. There was one record of Hogweed and two of Daisy – one of them right on the reserve boundary. Unusually, there was one week (28th) when we failed to spot White Dead Nettle – the botanical equivalent of not noticing a Wood Pigeon. Of course one doesn’t have to search for Gorse flowers, which gleam in winter sunlight but light up dull days regardless. As a taste of 2017, we noted that some of the Alder and Hazel catkins were ready to start lengthening early in the new year.
Jelly Ear, Candlesnuff – two species we can identify confidently – and various unidentified “toadstools” had generally succumbed to frost by mid-month, going dehydrated or soggy according to type. One of our favourite stumps produced a fine, almost ceramic-looking crop of what we believe to be Velvet Shank, and all over the reserve a range of twigs sprouted tiny white brackets like extra-miniature wall-lamps. Two new finds are believed to be Hazel Woodwart and the engagingly named Lemon Disco Fungus. Various other species, mainly resupinate and bracket species, continue to elude us.
Not surprisingly there is little insect life to report this month, apart from a few Seven-spot Ladybirds hibernating in the gorse bushes. Regular readers of this blog will know that these gorse shrubs are home to a population of Gorse Shieldbugs Piezodorus lituratus which can be found in every month of the year. This month we failed to see them – the first blank month since March 2014; however they turned up again on 4th January the little devils!
Other invertebrates have been found, as last month, under logs and stones. Our recent October/November blog has some photos of these, but here are some more. Two show differences between centipedes and millipedes (Myriapods). If you look closely you will find that centipedes have one pair of legs on each body segment while millipedes have two pairs. Centipede legs are also longer in relation to their body size, enabling faster running. Look under a log (be careful to replace it in exactly the same position afterwards) and any centipedes there will scuttle away while the millipedes will stay where they are, curl round or start to move very slowly. Centipedes, being carnivorous, need speed to catch their prey. Their main quarry is the woodlouse: it has been estimated that 40% of woodlouse predation is attributable to centipedes. Millipedes, on the other hand, consume vegetable and other rotting matter, so do not need speed to find their meals. Millipedes are ecologically valued as agents of microbial decomposition and soil nutrient cycles. Some 6 to 7 species of millipede have been identified at St Nicks in recent years, and 3 or 4 of centipede.
The two other creatures pictured are both very small. The long-legged harvestmen, related to spiders (having 8 legs) are usually found on plant material above ground, but one very small species, Nemastoma bimaculatum, is found at ground level, both in the leaf litter and under rotting logs, scattered but quite numerous. It has a 2.5mm black body with two white spots, and shorter legs than its harvestman relatives. It can move quite fast relative to its size, and predates other small creatures.
There are approximately 30 species of harvestman in the British Isles, but many more of the other pictured group – the springtails. These resemble insects, having six legs, but are a different class of arthropod. They range in size from 1mm to 6mm, and number some 250 UK species. They have hardly changed from fossil specimens dating from 390 million years and have a specially evolved pair of limbs folded under their bodies by which they spring out of danger. Lift a log and these tiny creatures start leaping before your eyes. Only about six species of springtail have been positively identified at St Nicks: some have long bodies, some are globular. The species shown is Entomobrya nivalis or intermedia.
After the 2015 Boxing Day flood, we were concerned about the survival of our Water Vole population, with almost no sightings being recorded in 2016. So it was a relief that one was sighted swimming across Tang Hall Beck by the Kingfisher Culvert on the 7th.
Grey Squirrels were seen on the 7th and 14th, and a Brown Rat was by Osbaldwick Beck on the 7th.