A secretive dweller in the Pond – and CCTV catches a “first” for St Nicks!
A dull and drizzly start to the first Wildwatch of the year, but it got colder and clearer later in the month. There was a scattering of snow on the 14th.
We searched unsuccessfully for the Water Rail, seen at the end of last year, but it appeared to have moved on. Some of St Nick’s scarcer birds put in appearances during the month. A Tree Creeper was seen by the Reserve Manager on the 14th, the same day that a Goldcrest was seen by Osbaldwick Beck, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was in the same area.
A Coal Tit continues to visit the Environment Centre feeders, with one observed on the 7th. A Song Thrush was in full song on the 28th, a bright, sunny but cool morning.
Goldfinch flocks visited many parts of the reserve, frequently seen feeding on Alder cones, with Greenfinches often close by. Winter feeding flocks of Long-tailed Tits often numbered up to 10 birds. Wrens were seen regularly, but were not very vocal.
Starting 2015 where 2014 left off, the Gorse is steadily building up to its spring display, one or two Hogweed flowers are still standing up to the frost, and White Dead-nettle continues to flower in several locations. Closely related Red Dead-nettle was found between the planters outside the Centre, along with a single Groundsel flower. Snowdrops were out by the third week, but most are still only in bud. Hazels and Alders are coming into full flower, and it’s time to give our annual reminder to look for the tiny female flowers in among the long pollen-laden male catkins.
By the end of the month, fluffy grey catkins were just starting to show on the Aspen at the end of Osbaldwick Beck, and those of early-flowering Willow species were particularly easy to spot when they shone white against a clear blue sky. In sheltered places, leaves are starting to open on Elder and Hawthorn saplings, and the flower buds of Prunus sp are showing white. As the leaf buds of other trees start to swell, watch the subtle changes in colours and silhouettes in the treescape. It’s a good time to practise identifying winter twigs, and the Woodland Trust has a useful guide available at www.naturedetectives.org.uk/download/id_twigs.html
The pond at the Environment Centre may seem rather dead in the winter months, but that is far from the case. For example Caddis Fly larvae (probably of the species Limnephilus clavicornis) can easily be seen moving slowly about in the water in the winter months, encased in fragments of twig and leaf, shown clearly in the picture. Able to survive in icy water, they live on a diet of fragments of plant material, living vegetation, and other living and dead organisms. They proceed during their first year through five stages of larval development (‘instars’) before pupating for a few weeks and finally emerging in early summer above the surface of the water as adults. The adults fly mostly at night, do not feed, and are seldom observed…. but maybe we can see and picture these in 2015. Adult caddis flies live for only a few weeks to mate and lay eggs which will produce the next year’s young. Their life-cycle is about 12 months.
Our regular Gorse Shieldbugs Piezodorus lituratus enjoy winter sunshine and were seen on a rare warm January day on their food plants. February is the only month of the year in which they have not been recorded at St Nicks, so we are hoping for a February sighting this year.
Other invertebrates have been seen under logs and stones, including three ground beetle species, three (maybe four) species of Woodlouse, fast-moving Centipedes, slow-moving Millipedes, and lively Springtails. Springtails are favourite prey species of the predatory and fearsome-looking Ground Beetle larvae. Centipedes have been mostly the common Lithobius forficatus, while millipedes have included Flat-backed Polydesmus angustus and Red-Spotted-Snake Blaniulus guttulatus. Woodlice included the four most common species: Common Pill Armadillium vulgare, Common Shiny Oniscus asellus, Common Striped Philoscia muscorum and Common Rough Porcellio scaber. We are still hoping to make a positive identification of the very small Rosy Woodlouse Androniscus dentiger.
We have suspected for a long time that one particular mammal visits St Nicks, but we have had no conclusive evidence until this month. Then, during an examination of the footage from our security cameras, a Fox was clearly seen just outside the Environment Centre gates!
A single Rabbit seen on the 14th was the first record since last November. Grey Squirrels were seen on all four Wildwatch days.
Finally… No Kingfisher sightings this month, but the plastic Kingfisher made another appearance, briefly fooling the Wildwatcher it was aimed at; the expression on his face was a picture in itself, but we won’t embarrass him by publishing it here!!
All photos on this page were taken at St Nicks during January 2015.