Snowdrops everywhere.. Water skulker and Tree “mouse” return.. a February shieldbug first, and a semaphoring fly!
Snow showers greeted us on the 4th, with a chilly 1C. But during the month, temperatures slowly rose and we had bright days on the 18th and 25th.
Last month’s statement that the December Water Rail (aka “Water skulker”!) had departed was a bit premature! One was seen on the 4th, frequenting two bramble clumps on Osbaldwick Beck. Also on the 4th, no fewer than three Tree Creepers (aka “Tree mouse”!) were seen together near the Rabbit warren, not far from the Kingfisher Culvert.
Two Grey Wagtails were seen together on Osbaldwick Beck on the 18th, giving rise to the hope that the possible breeding record from last year might be repeated this year – although they might be breeding in the nearby Hull Road Park. Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen / heard on the 4th and 25th.
A sign of Spring approaching was Song Thrushes singing on the 11th and 18th (when four birds were seen), with a further sighting of this species on the 25th. But winter lingered on, with a sighting of a Redwing near the Cycle Track on the 25th – the first record for 2015.
Overhead, a Sparrowhawk was seen on the 4th and both Herring and Black-headed Gulls were seen during the month, with Jackdaws (a scarce species at St Nicks) seen on the 18th.
Sunny days this February brought us a long hoped-for sighting: Gorse Shieldbugs Piezodorus lituratus in some numbers, fulfilling our aim of seeing these hardy and handsome creatures in every month of the year at St Nicks. Gorse is celebrated for flowering in every month of the year (“When the gorse is out of bloom, kissing’s out of fashion”) and our favourite shieldbugs are not to be outdone! This insect is one of nine species of shieldbug recorded so far at St Nicks.
In the same clump of gorse bushes other insects were occasionally seen: a tiny Ensign Fly Sepsis fulgens which lives up to its name by waving its spot-marked wings like miniature flags; a Seven–Spot Ladybird; and some early Bluebottle and Greenbottle flies. Elsewhere hibernating insects were occasionally found, particularly two kinds of Plant Bug concealed in the hollow dead stems of Hogweed: Nettle Groundbug Heterogaster urticae and another nettle-feeding bug Liocoris tripustulatis with its distinctive bright yellow heart shape formed by the dark wing cases.
Turning over logs and stones provided an abundance of insects and other invertebrates this month, with ground beetles of several species, and their fearsome larvae, scampering from the unexpected exposure of their winter hiding places. The larvae can live up to 5 years before they turn into adults. Several orange Click Beetle larvae, known as wireworms, were spotted, and a Rove Beetle Philonthus decorus was seen, a new record for the reserve. This species feeds on slugs, of which there are plenty under St Nick’s logs!
Continuing to look under logs and stones, Harlequin Ladybirds were found hibernating, while Millipedes of at least three species were revealed, and fast-scurrying Centipedes too. A first for the St Nicks records was the tiny (but apparently abundant) Pygmy Woodlouse Trichoniscus pusillus, bringing to five the woodlouse species we have recorded: Common Shiny, Common Rough, Common Striped, Common Pill and Pygmy. Now we are all set on discovering the miniscule Rosy Woodlouse. See the recent Spotlight in these blog pages: Creatures found under logs and stones.
The final Wildwatch Walk of February, in warm sunshine, saw several insects finding nectar up in the Willow catkins and among the beautiful and plentiful clumps of Snowdrops on the reserve. We saw unidentified Bumblebees in the trees, and among the snowdrops a Honeybee and a Hoverfly of the Eristalis species. Spring is springing in!
February brought yet more lengthening Hazel catkins shedding clouds of pollen, increasingly spectacular Gorse flowers, and drifts of Snowdrops especially along the Tang Hall Beck path. Alder and “Pussy” Willow catkins (Salix caprea, S. cinerea and hybrids) are developing more slowly, with only a couple of spots where they are fully open. A Willow with catkins shining gold rather than silver in sunlight is always worth scanning for early bumblebees. The Aspen at the top of Osbaldwick Beck is opening, and will be in full flower during March.
Throughout the month, we found just a few other species putting out random flowers – Dandelion, Groundsel, Red and White Dead-nettle, Common Chickweed. On the final Wednesday of the month we looked specially for Coltsfoot and Lesser Celandine, and found them just starting to open in sunny spot. Both are within a week of last year’s first sightings.
The first flower buds on a Prunus sp in the Butterfly Walk were also open, but these are about a fortnight later than in previous years. Finally a hint – if Hairy Bitter-cress is coming into flower at St Nicks, it’s worth checking for it in your garden before it has chance to go to seed.
Under one decaying log near the Environment Centre a hibernating Smooth Newt was found.
A single Water Vole was well seen on Tang Hall Beck on the 11th, the only Rabbit sighting was on the 25th, but Grey Squirrels were seen on all four Wildwatch visits, with a maximum of three on the 4th. Three Brown Rats were seen on the 25th; the location was not recorded, but it was probably in the Environment Centre garden.
All photos were taken at St Nicks during February 2015