Tiny winter visitor makes a brief appearance.. What’s shiny, rough, smooth and pygmy?.. Spring under way with male and female flowers showing.
Temperatures remained seasonally low, between 2C and 7C, but dry and mainly calm on the Wildwatch Wednesdays. The Boxing Day floods continued to ensure high water levels on both the becks.
Top bird of the month was, without doubt, a Lesser Redpoll, seen by many people on the 6th, the first Wildwatch Wednesday of the year. This small finch often associates with Siskins at St Nicks, but not this time, when it was on its own near the Dragon Stones. It was not seen again for the rest of the month.
But Siskins, a wintering visitor to St Nicks, were very much in evidence from the 13th onwards, with actively feeding flocks of up to 20 on the 13th and 14 on the 20th, both flocks feeding on Alder cones at the top of the Dragon Stone steps on the Bund Path. Smaller numbers were also seen in the Alders near the Environment Centre on the 20th and 27th, with several along the Tang Hall Beck Path on the 13th. Other scarce St Nicks birds included a female Great Spotted Woodpecker near the Warren, on the 13th and Goldcrests on the 6th and 13th, with maybe up to three on the former date.
Greenfinches have had a tough time in recent years, being stricken by the parasitic Trichomoniasis disease. But now, they seem to be making a comeback to St Nicks, with flocks of up to seven or eight birds being seen throughout the month.
And, yes..! Birds have started singing again! Of course, Robins have been singing throughout the winter, defending their feeding territories. But Great Tits have started their “teacher.. teacher” song, and Bullfinches have continued their low contact calls. Song Thrushes, starting to make an appearance again (on the 6th and 20th), still remained silent. Maybe next month we’ll hear their lovely song?
Insects are hard to find in January, the exceptions being a few Bluebottle flies Calliphora sp., Seven-spot and Harlequin Ladybirds seen in various places on the reserve, and the faithful Gorse Shieldbugs, with ten or more seen in their food plants on two Wildwatch days this month.
We found more success at ground level on one January Wildwatch day, lifting some of the logs and stones scattered in many places around the reserve. Various slug and snail species need a mollusc enthusiast to help us identify them, but woodlice are identifiable and are found in abundance. Of the 37 British woodlouse species most are rare or found in specialised habitats, but six of the commoner species have been found at St Nicks: Common Shiny, Common Rough, Common Pill, Common Striped, Common Pygmy and finally Rosy (of which only one has been seen). The last two are very small. This month we identified Shiny, Rough, Striped and Pygmy. Other invertebrates we found hiding under logs in January include millipedes and centipedes, springtails, spiders and harvestmen.
Centipedes seek out living prey (usually springtails) and move quickly when disturbed. They have one pair of legs per body segment. Millipedes on the other hand are vegetarians and move slowly, with two pairs of legs to each segment. Of the centipedes, we found Geophilus species and Lithobius species, while at least four species of millipede were found: Flat-backed, Spotted Snake, White-legged Snake and some Cylindroiulus species. Springtails are very small (3 to 4 mm) but leap up when disturbed. Examples of three genera were found: Dicyrtomina, Entomobrya and Tomocerus. One particular species of Harvestman is often found under decaying logs: Nemastoma bimaculatum. It is small and black with white spots on its legs and body, and several of these were found. Finally two plant bugs were seen under logs, probably disturbed while hibernating. These were of two species: Liocoris tripustulatus (family Miridae) and Birch Catkin Bug Kleidocerys resedae.
Autumn 2015 ended mid-month, when the last half-dead Tansy, Common Ragwort, Red Clover, Hogweed and a single miserable-looking Red Campion finally succumbed to frost. Spring 2016, meanwhile, was already well under way with some Alder, Grey Alder and Hazel male catkins at full length, and female Hazel flowers showing. By now you can find all three trees in every stage from tight bud to full flower.
Plentiful white blossom in sheltered spots, particularly around the two becks, belongs to various Prunus
species – yellow-fruiting Cherry Plum and purple fruiting Wild Plum, or related hybrids. Surprisingly, Snowdrops in the same areas weren’t fully out till the last week of January, the same date that we recorded the first open Lesser Celandine. White Dead-nettle carries on regardless of flood and frost, and the Gorse is coming up to its peak flowering period. The occasional opportunistic Dandelion, Hairy Bittercress, Red Dead-nettle and Groundsel were recorded. Some young or very sheltered Hawthorns and Elders by now have a scattering of well-developed leaves.
There were still a few fungi specimens around, including some fine Jelly Ear fungi
A Water Vole sighting on Tang Hall Beck on the 6th provided reassurance that this endangered mammal hadn’t been washed out completely at St Nicks by the Boxing Day floods. Grey Squirrels sightings seem to have increased during January, with up to three being seen on most Wildwatch Wednesdays, with two on the 27th raiding the Environment Centre feeders. Rabbits were seen on the 13th and 27th, and a Brown Rat on Osbaldwick Beck on the 20th.
A single Smooth Newt was seen in the Environment Centre pond on the 27th.
All photos were taken at St Nicks during January 2016.