Generally, the weather gave us grey and cloudy days on all five of the Wildwatch Wednesdays (yes, Kaye and Ian turned up on New Year’s Day!). Temperatures ranged from 2C up to 10C, with occasional light to moderate breezes. We managed to stay dry on most Wednesdays, but heavy rain at other times raised the water level in the two becks to almost flood proportions.
From 6 – 8 people on the first two “proper” Wildwatch Wednesdays, numbers shot up to 14 – 16 people on the last two walks of the month. Sixteen pairs of eyes was probably a record turnout!
Good numbers of observers no doubt contributed to high species counts, with 25 on 8th and 23rd and over 20 on the other two Wednesdays. A “whumph whumph” sound alerted Cliff and enabled him to add a new bird species to the St Nicks records – two Mute Swans flying over on 23rd.
“Winter” birds were still at St Nicks, with Redwing on 8th and 29th, Lesser Redpoll also on 8th and 29th, the latter day producing a small flock of 8 birds near the Dragon Stones. But surprisingly, Siskin was scarce compared with previous years, with just one record on 23rd (but a small flock might have been seen by Lulu on the Bund Path on an unspecified day in January). A single Grey Wagtail was feeding next to Osbaldwick Beck on 8th, and Coal Tits, once a St Nicks rarity, were recorded on 8th and 15th. Goldcrests, also a scarce bird here, were seen on two days, with two birds at the Storytelling Circles on 15th and one near the Kingfisher Culvert on 29th.
But there are signs of Spring! Song Thrushes were in song from 15th up to the end of the month, and a Blue Tit was prospecting a nest box next to Osbaldwick Beck on 29th. But Robins are still doing verbal battle to defend their Winter feeding territories, with three singing (well, shouting abuse at each other, actually!) within 50 feet of each other at the Bund Path steps on 23rd!
And the rest? Yes, all the “regulars” were still scattered all over the reserve.. singing Wrens, our iconic Bullfinches (usually in pairs), small “charms” of Goldfinches, Greenfinch, Goldfinch – and our local Sparrowhawk (seen on four occasions) looking out for unwary small birds!
On cue for the New Year, the male catkins of Hazel and Alder seemed to lengthen overnight. The bottom of the Bund Steps is a particularly good place to compare the two. The path to the Dragon Stones has Hazel at all stages of development and it’s easy to find the little red female flowers. By the end of the month, a few “pussy” Willows and Aspen catkins were opening along Osbaldwick Beck. Snowdrops are by now fully out in this area, though not yet in other locations. Bluebell leaves are well advanced, and Daffodil shoots are starting to come through. The year-round stalwarts, Gorse and White Dead-nettle, are
flowering merrily on. The peculiar winter has allowed all sorts of unseasonal species to put out the occasional opportunist flower – we have found isolated specimens of Wood Avens, Bramble, Red Dead-nettle, Groundsel, Shepherd’s Purse, Ragwort and Black Mustard, along with a Sow Thistle sp, probably Perennial but a bit too battered for confident ID. In very sheltered areas, leaves are already opening on Elder and Hawthorn, occasionally alongside last year’s mature leaves that have not yet fallen. Some of the Prunus sp. are showing bud colouration that suggests they won’t be far behind. Finally, along the grass verges it’s worth noticing the fresh new growth marking the start of spring and early summer flowers.
The year got off to a bang, so to speak, with the discovery of a couple of Earth-stars, one of which was induced to eject its little cloud of spores. This was followed up with a little cluster of Stump Puffballs. Like many of our plants, these seem to be outside their normal fruiting season. Jelly Ear is still emerging on Elders. There are numerous Bracket fungi, mostly associated with Willow, ranging from large gilled specimens to tiny ones (possibly Pleurotus sp) with a high cuteness factor. “Toadstool” types are less frequent but are still to be found.
This is a good time to observe yellowy-green Xanthoria lichen (a symbiosis of fungus and algae) on many of our older trees. Bring a hand-lens or magnifying glass to appreciate fully its intricate structure.
Not unexpectedly insects and other invertebrates are hard to find in January, but there were a few surprises. Our late 2013 Gorse shieldbugs showed again in January – what hardy creatures they are, and it will be interesting to see if they continue throughout the year, along with the Gorse flowers which famously bloom in every month of the year (see the January St Nicks blog “Spotlight on Gorse Bushes”). Gorse shieldbugs resemble gorse seed capsules, so are well camouflaged.
In the middle of the month a new ladybird species for the reserve was spotted, hibernating in the crevice of a tree branch. This is the Cream-spot ladybird, apparently a common and widespread species which we hope to see on the reserve in the spring and summer.
All round the reserve in winter can be seen the dry hollow stems of parsley and hogweed plants. When one of these was broken open on our
January 22nd walk, a crowd of hibernating Capsid bugs tumbled out, showing the value of these dead plant stems in winter for these and other hibernating insects.
Other finds during January included (under stones) the silver-backed larvae of ground beetles, Flat-backed Millipedes, and various other little creatures hiding from the winter weather.
Roll on Spring!
At last..! A good Water Vole sighting. Four observers were fortunate, on 23rd, to have close (3 metres), prolonged (over 10 minutes) views of one feeding on the bank just downstream of the Sluice Bridge over Tang Hall Beck. Sadly, the only camera with the group was an iPhone, so the pics were far from good! Grey Squirrel was recorded on all visits, with at least three on 29th. Rabbits were seen on two visits, with a maximum of two at The Warren on 29th.
All photos were taken at St Nicks in January 2014