St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: 7 December – Galls, Gulls and Gusts!

Dragon Stones in winter sunlight

Dragon Stones in winter sunlight

Weather: Heavy showers, sunny intervals, cool, fresh to strong, gusty wind
Observers: Phil, Kaye, Kaj, Janetta, Ian

A grey, wintery sky promised rain as we set off from the Centre – and we got it! It was a cold and very wet rain when it arrived, but fortunately it only lasted about half an hour. When the sky cleared, the light was clear and

Plenty of water in Osbaldwick Beck

Plenty of water in Osbaldwick Beck

beautiful. But it was still cold! Despite the weather, a good number of birds, fungi and even flowers were seen during our walk.

After the recent rains, Osbaldwick Beck was flowing strongly, in contrast to the sluggish stream we’ve seen during the summer.

Birds: As we waited for a shower to pass before setting off, we watched the birds feeders at the Environment Centre, and saw 9 species on or near the feeders: Blackbird, Dunnock (unusually, actually on the feeder), Blue and Great Tit, Robin, Greenfinch, House Sparrow, Bullfinch, Wood Pigeon and Magpie.

We don’t normally associate gulls with St Nicks, although Black-headed Gulls are seen regularly, as they were today. More unusual today was a sighting of two Lesser Black-backed Gulls flying over, the first since June this year. These gulls don’t breed in the area; their status in the York Recording Area is “passage migrant and scarce winter visitor“.  Another winter visitor (which also does breed in the York area) is Lapwing, and we saw a flock of 60 – 70 birds flying over the Dragon Stones, at the same time as a flock of 20 – 30 Jackdaws flew in the opposite direction.

Wildwatch Group members along Osbaldwick Beck

Wildwatch Group members along Osbaldwick Beck

In Osbaldwick Beck were three pairs of Mallards and two Moorhens, but very few other birds apart from Wren.

Near the Dragon Stones, during another heavy shower, we stood listening to the active chattering of a nearby flock (“charm”) of Goldfinches, who weren’t going anywhere until the rain stopped. Then they wheeled off and headed for the Alder cones near the Dragon Stones. There could have been as many of 60 of them.. difficult to count as they dashed from one tree to another. We managed to find just one Siskin amongst them. In the same area, we watched a Sparrowhawk high up, flapping and gliding. To complete our tally of 20 species was a single female Chaffinch.

Mammals: There were a few Grey Squirrels around, including one ambitious individual which nearly came a cropper when making a massive leap from one tree to another! Also, unusually, we had two sightings of Brown Rat, a species we don’t normally encounter on our walks round St Nicks.

Fungi: We came across a few fungi, which we struggled to identify. Below are images of two of them.

Two fungi seen today

Two fungi seen today

A Bramble in flower - in December! And a healthy looking bloom as well!

A Bramble in flower - in December! And a healthy looking bloom as well!

Flowers: Yarrow is winning in terms of quantity and quality of flowers.  Hedge Bindweed, White Deadnettle and Sow Thistle can still be found if you look.  A clump of Herb Robert is flourishing on a dead log to the left of the path from the Rawdon Avenue entrance, and there are Bramble flowers a bit further on to the right. (Yes! Bramble flowers in December! Will we be picking Blackberries in February?!!) With a determined search, Ian even located a single Vetch flower (probably Tufted) in the patch off the end of the meadow.  Looking ahead to the new season, one of the Willows near the Osbaldwick Beck has buds starting to show silver.

Galls: Kaye took us to a young Oak tree North of the meadow, where she had earlier found Marble Galls, which most people think of as “Oak Apples” (which is a different, and scarcer gall). Some of them at least had a tiny hole in them, indicating that the gall wasp had left. Quite close to the Environment Centre, Kaye spotted a very small, reddish gall protruding through a leaf – possibly a Bean Gall. A rather blurred photo of this, together with the Marble Gall, is shown below:

Marble Gall (left) and possible Bean Gall (right)

Marble Gall (left) and possible Bean Gall (right)

7 December 2011 | Categories: Wildwatch | Tags: Lapwing, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Marble Gall