St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: July 2014 Sightings


A plant re-discovered after a 3 year absence.. a “protective” hoverfly, new for St Nicks.. a bird up a tree (you don’t often find this water bird up a tree!).. more sightings of a endangered mammal.

Summertime trees at St Nicks

Summertime trees at St Nicks


A generally dry, warm month, with temperatures reaching 23C by the middle of the month.


Summertime trees at St Nicks

Yellow Rattle

The weekly count of plants in flower during July ranged from 47 to 62. This had more to do with the route chosen and the level of distraction from the insects visiting them, than with the species in flower, because we recorded a total of well over 90 excluding grasses.

The most exciting find of the month was Yellow Rattle – recorded in 2011 but not seen since. It’s a particularly useful plant because it takes nutrition from the most vigorous grasses, helping to create conditions in which traditional meadow flowers can thrive.

In mainly hot weather, the Limes had only a short flowering period, as did our single Sweet Chestnut. The Buddleias were out in good time, indeed a bit early, for the second generation of butterflies, and some of the Dogwoods seem to have started all over again.

In the meadow and grassland, Tufted Vetch and Bird’s-foot Trefoil were spectacular, intermixed with Clovers, Self-heal, Meadow Cranesbill, Yarrow, Common Knapweed and the green spikes of Greater Plantain. Tansy, Lesser Burdock, Wild Teasel, Spear Thistle, Creeping Thistle and Mugwort, along with a variety of Willow-herbs, tend to favour the rougher areas. More localised plants were Enchanter’s Nightshade along Osbaldwick Beck, Blue Sow Thistle behind the Environment Centre and in the Butterfly Walk, Lady’s Bedstraw and Canadian Golden Rod opposite the meadow, Lesser Stitchwort, Soapwort and Goat’s Rue along the main path, and Field Scabious in the Butterfly Walk and near the Dragon Stones. A new variety of Bedstraw was found, but still awaits positive identification. Common Ragwort justified its existence by supporting higher than usual numbers of Cinnabar Moth caterpillars, and wherever Hemp Agrimony and Hedge Bindweed grow, hoverflies hover…

Clockwise from top left: Soapwort, Hazelnuts, Blue Sow Thistle, Lady's Bedstraw

Clockwise from top left: Soapwort, Hazelnuts, Blue Sow Thistle, Lady’s Bedstraw

Looking ahead to autumn, the first Blackberries and Cherry Plums have been sampled, the Blackbirds are already tucking into Rowan Berries, the Apples are swelling, and Grey Squirrels and Wood Mice are testing the still unripe Hazelnuts.


July brought forth an abundance of insects and other invertebrates. The butterflies included particularly large numbers of Ringlet (early in the month) and Small Skipper (later). Other butterflies seen were Large Skipper, Brimstone, Large, Small and Green-veined Whites, Small Copper, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock (much fewer in number, so far, than last year), Comma, Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown. Orange-tips are over, but we now need sightings of the migrant Painted Lady to reach our last year’s total of 19 species. Some years (e.g. 2009) these arrive in large numbers but in other years they are scarce: we saw just one at St Nicks last year.

Left: Comma butterfly, right: Ringlet butterfly

Left: Comma butterfly, right: Ringlet butterfly

Several day-flying moths were seen, including many Six-spotted Burnets and Nettle Taps, smaller numbers of Cinnabars and Small Magpie, a tiny Dichrorampha petiverella whose larvae feed on Tansy and Yarrow plants,and a fine Shaded Broadbar.

Lesser Diving Beetle larva

Lesser Diving Beetle larva

Around the environment centre pond Azure damselflies and Common Darter dragonflies were frequent, and a Brown Hawker was also seen. Following an observation of an unidentified species of adult diving beetle earlier in the year, the larva of a Lesser Diving Beetle was caught and identified. Pond Skaters, Water Boatmen and Whirligig Beetles were also seen in some numbers.

An unexpected find on the wooden planters just outside the environment centre was a Common Field Grasshopper. Grasshoppers are scarce at St Nicks, and this one posed nicely for a photograph.

Many different species of bug were seen, notably Shieldbugs with the young of Gorse, Parent, Pied and Birch Shieldbugs appearing. The new adult shieldbug season is approaching, so we hope to see a number of these (9 species last year) this coming month and onwards. Several other True Bug species were seen in July, including the striking yellow-and-black leafhopper Evocanthus interruptus.

Among the beetles we saw 2-spot, 7-spot, 14-spot and 22-spot ladybirds, and several of the invasive Harlequin ladybirds. Ground beetles were not observed but a number of leaf beetles, were seen, including the hairy brown Darkling Beetle Lagria hirta looking like a miniature Kiwi Fruit. Soldier beetles Rhagonycha fulva were frequently seen on umbellifer and thistle heads, while on nettles Malthodes marginatus was occasionally spotted.

Clockwise from top left: Common Field Grasshopper, Comb-footed Spider, Mugwort Gall Flies mating, Parent Bug nymphs

Clockwise from top left: Common Field Grasshopper, Comb-footed Spider, Mugwort Gall Flies mating, Parent Bug nymphs

Flies were abundant, including the lovely gleaming Greenbottle, the spectacularly-plumaged Flesh Fly (you could play a game of chess on its abdomen) and various other flies: notably the soldier fly Broad Centurion, cluster fly Pollenia rudis, tachinid fly Tachina fera, empid fly Empis tessellata, the strikingly-coloured sawfly Rhogogaster viridis, and, among the crane flies the equally distinctive yellow-and-black Nephrotoma flavipalpis.

Tiny picture-winged flies lay their eggs in flower heads or plant stems, and often cause galls to form. St Nicks has several of these. On the flower heads of the numerous Lesser Burdock plants from June to August two different picture-winged gall flies were observed: Tephritis bardanaeand Terellia tussilaginis, while Mugwortplants have been host to another species with attractively-spotted wings: Campiglossa misella.

Hoverflies were everywhere to be seen, notably the so-called Marmalade Hoverfly with its double-striped abdomen, abundant and sometimes queuing-up to drink the nectar of the white trumpet-flowers of the Bindweed. Some twelve other hoverfly species were observed during July, one of them not recorded previously from St Nicholas Fields: Eristalis nemorum where, uniquely among hoverflies, the male hovers a few inches above the female, guarding her as she drinks nectar from a flower head.

Bees and wasps were abundant on the reserve, both social and solitary, with several ichneumon wasps seen, notably Haemorrhoicus crassigena.

Among the spiders Nursery Webs, Pisaura mirabilis,were frequently seen, some having constructed their ‘tents’ to guard their young, and among a number of other species an attractive Comb-footed Spider, Enoplognatha ovata was photographed.


July and August are often quiet months for birds, with most young birds fledged and learning to find their own food. But not all of them.. a Chiffchaff feeding two youngsters was seen on the 2nd, and up to four Blackcaps were heard weekly up to the 23rd. The solitary Whitethroat was seen and heard at the beginning of the month near the Dragon Stones, but appears not to have attracted a mate. A juvenile Coal Tit, seen on the 16th, suggests this species, once a rare bird for St Nicks, might have bred on the reserve.

Clockwise from top left: Young Magpie begging for food, Juvenile Robin, Blackbird sunbathing, Male Bullfinch

Clockwise from top left: Young Magpie begging for food, Juvenile Robin, Blackbird sunbathing, Male Bullfinch

A Kingfisher, seen briefly perched by Tang Hall Beck on the 16th, was a welcome sight. There are plenty of fish in the beck, and it’s possible that this was a young bird which was fledged on the nearby River Foss. If that’s the case, then we’d hope for more sightings in the coming months.

Moorhen up a tree!

Moorhen up a tree!

Amongst the more common birds, the Long-tailed Tit family groups seem to be slowly dispersing; no longer are we seeing groups of up to eight juveniles; they are more in twos and threes. Bullfinches were heard more frequently in the month, after a quiet period. Noisy young Magpies were still being fed by parents at the beginning of the month, and juvenile Robins were seen regularly throughout the month.

Finally.. the bird up a tree! On the 2nd, a Moorhen was 20 feet up a tree by Osbaldwick Beck, and stayed there happily preening! It looked very much out of place. Several young Moorhens with an adult were seen on the 30th.


A Water Vole spotted in Tang Hall Beck on the 16th marked a welcome return to this beck. Sightings over the past few months have been confined to Osbaldwick Beck. Water Voles are classified as an endangered species in Britain.

After an absence of sightings last month, Grey Squirrels were seen on the 9th and 30th. Rabbits were noted on the 2nd and 9th.

As mentioned above, the presence on the reserve of Wood Mouse was evidenced by characteristic nibbling of Hazlelnuts.

All the photographs were taken at St Nicks in July 2014

4 August 2014 | Categories: Wildwatch | Tags: Blue Sow Thistle, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Comb-footed Spider, Common Blue, Common Field Grasshopper, Gatekeeper, Hazelnut, Holly Blue, kingfisher, Lesser Diving Beetle, Mugwort Gall Fly, parent bug, Soapwort, water vole, Yellow Rattle