Long tailed screecher – new bird at St Nicks.. bugs sunbathe while beetles hide in the dark.. brains seen all round the reserve.
The first Wildwatch Wednesday of the year was cold but sunny, and we enjoyed some sunshine on all but one of the four Wednesdays. Temperatures ranged from 4o – 8o C. And we stayed dry on all of the days!
On the 18th January, some of the group heard a loud screeching coming from some tall trees on the edge of the reserve, and finally spotted the bird – a Rose-ringed Parakeet! It was heard and seen again by most people on the 25th. This bird, which is probably not an escape, has been seen in the York area over the past month or so, but these were the only occasions where it has turned up at St Nicks. There are several thousands of these birds in London and the South East, and small populations in Manchester, Hartlepool and Edinburgh. Also called Ring-necked Parakeet, this species is wide-spread in Northern India, and the UK feral populations will have come from domestic escapes. You might hear this loud screeching bird, and maybe see it flying, with its long tail streaming behind it.
Back to less exotic birds..! The Water Rail continues to be seen along Osbaldwick Beck, usually near the bramble patches. On the 25th, it was seen swimming across the beck, before disappearing into the brambles. There’s a Spotlight article on this skulking bird here. Siskins were seen on the 4th and 25th, the latter date producing a flock of about 20 birds, feeding mainly on Alder cones. A few had a dip in Tang Hall Beck! Another winter visitor to St Nicks, Redwing, was well seen and photographed on the 25th from the Kingfisher Culvert on Tang Hall Beck.
Gulls are frequently seen flying over the reserve, but not always identified. On the 4th, our “gull expert” saw four species of gull: Black-headed, Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Common Gull. On the same morning, two Rooks flew over Osbaldwick Beck – quite a rare sight at St Nicks; they are more of a farmland species. Another “flyover” was a Sparrowhawk on the 18th quite a regular sight over the reserve.
Two reminders that the bird breeding season isn’t too far away: a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming on the 4th and a Magpie carrying nesting material on the 18th. And Woodpigeons and Collared doves have started calling again and Song Thrushes were heard on a couple of occasions.
Finally, two of St Nicks’ scarcer species were seen: Treecreeper on the 4th and Goldcrest on the 11th and 25th.
After a disappointingly dry autumn for fungus on the reserve, wetter conditions in December and January brought out a flush of species, and last month’s blog made a start with the identification of some of these. As mentioned there, many of the species are of the bracket type or resupinates on the bark of decaying trees, largely owing to the large number of fallen trees and branches around the reserve. The frequently rising and falling water levels of the two becks which run through the reserve create ideal conditions for fungal growth in their vicinity, and many parts of the rest of the reserve are damp and low-lying. Is there anyone reading this who is experienced in fungus identification and willing to come and help us on occasion?
The two collages here show a small but representative sample of what the Wildwatch Group saw on their Wednesday walks in January, starting with the very common Glistening Inkcap Coprinellus micaceous which grows in often large clusters around decaying tree stumps. The two photos (taken a week apart) were of the same cluster, showing the way that the caps of Coprinus species turn up at the edges as they dissolve into an inky mess. The other two in the first collage are bracket fungi. Turkeytail Trametes versicolor is found all round the reserve in various forms, small and large, sometimes forming serried ranks up and around decaying tree stumps. Smoky Bracket Bjerkandera adusta takes similar forms but has an unmistakable thick white edge to the bracket.
The second collage shows three different jelly-like fungi which can be found growing on tree branches. Yellow Brain Tremella mesenterica is parasitic on some of the resupinate fungal types (fungi clinging like sheets around the stems and trunks of their woody hosts) and gleams brightly. White Brain Exidia thuretiana grows in clumps on fallen branches of deciduous trees, as does the striking Purple Jellydisc Ascocoryne sarcoides. Crystal Brain Exidia nucleata has also been seen. The remaining pictured fungus, Small Stagshorn Calocera cornea, grows on dead wood like tiny yellow fingers, and is unmistakable. Its fruiting bodies, only 1-centimetre tall, are rounded and do not divide at the top like some other stagshorn fungi.
Many more kinds of fungus were found during December and January and there will be a further bulletin in next month’s blog.
Cold weather keeps plants dormant when they ought to be; wet helps the decay of last year’s annual vegetation; a burst of sunlight encourages early flowering species to do just that. Result for St Nicks January 2017 – not a lot happening and all of it entirely predictable, but very well worth going out of your way to have a look. Not that you’d need to, because most of it can be seen at its best from the dry and unmuddy security of the main path.
The stubby little male catkins of Hazel and Alder were already lengthening into open flower on the first recording day of the year (4th). Alongside them we gradually started to find the tiny red female tufts of the Hazel. All members of their family bear separate male and female flowers on the same plant. Pollen from the dangling male catkins is carried on the wind. Flick one gently with a finger and you might see a little cloud of pollen fly. It’s an advantage to a female flower to be pollinated from a neighbouring bush rather than its own. The chances of this happening seem to be increased by a long and apparently random flowering period. Right now at St Nicks you can see bushes with fully open male catkins alongside others all still in tight bud. One of the best places to find them and search for female flowers is along the path leading to the the Dragon Stones. Alder catkins are easy to see close-up along the Bund.
Members of the Willow family flower a little later, taking their chance on the availability of early insects to carry their pollen. By the end of January, we noted the “pussy willow” catkins of one or two Grey Willows and the Aspen on Osbaldwick Beck starting to open, though at you might need binoculars to be certain. With luck these trees will be bearing pollen by the time a really warm spring day brings the first Queen Bumblebees out of hibernation.
It was impossible to miss the Gorse flowers in the scrub area opposite the meadow, otherwise we needed to hunt. As regular readers know, we can nearly always find a White Dead-nettle flower, particularly along Osbaldwick Beck. Red Dead-nettle put out the occasional January flower, a sunny Wednesday brought out a couple of Daisies, and a flowering Groundsel was recorded. We also kept a close eye on the Snowdrops, finding several clumps that weren’t open on the last Wednesday of January, but will certainly be out very early in February.
As last month there is little to report on the invertebrate life of St Nicks. Gorse Shieldbugs, missing in December (but seen in the previous three Decembers), appeared again on January 4th continuing the all-year-round saga of these hardy creatures. Whatever the month of the year, a little sunshine brings them out. They share the gorse bushes with over-wintering Seven-spot Ladybirds.
Since October we have been reporting on and picturing creatures found under fallen logs and stones. January did not disappoint, with most of the same species sighted: beetles, centipedes, millipedes, woodlice, springtails, harvestmen, spiders, slugs and snails, and a few more besides. January’s beetles included 7-spot ladybirds and a hibernating 22-spot. Ground beetles found hiding under logs were Leistus fulvibarbis, Leistus spinibarbis and Pterostychus madidus, the last two of which are pictured. A number of springtails were found, one of which – the globular Dicyrtomina saundersi, less than 3mm long – is shown here.
Grey Squirrels were recorded on all but the first WW Wednesday, with three chasing each other and vocalising by Osbaldwick Beck on the 25th. Brown Rats continue to be seen near the Environment Centre, where precautions have recently been taken to try to put bird feeders out of their reach!
All photos were taken at St Nicks in January 2017.