First summer bird visitor returns.. insects slow to awake in cold month but first hoverflies of the year seen, then a butterfly.. trees in flower!
Temperatures stayed around 7C on all four Wildwatch Wednesdays, but managed to creep up to 10C later on the 25th. Most days were sunny, or had sunny intervals, and winds were generally light, but with a Westerly breeze on the 4th.
The elusive Water Rail was seen on the first three Wildwatch walks of the month; it’s possible that this unusual visitor to St Nicks has now departed. Our first Summer visitor, a Chiffchaff, was seen and heard singing on the 25th, a little later than last year. Kingfisher was seen on Tang Hall Beck on the 11th and 18th, and, from the photos taken, both were identified as adult males. A Treecreeper was seen near Tang Hall Beck on the 4th; sightings of this once-scarce St Nicks bird have become increasingly regular.
One common bird, which has been absent from St Nicks for many months, a Pheasant, was heard calling on the 18th and the 25th. Amongst common birds, Greenfinches have been numerous and vociferous, as have been Robins (busy establishing their territories), Dunnocks and Wrens. A song not often heard has been that of the Bullfinch, which, like their soft “coo” call, is very understated.. surprising for such a colourful bird! The winter tit feeding flocks have now broken up, so Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits are now being seen in smaller numbers. The latter have nested near the Playground. Song Thrushes made an appearance on the 18th and 25th, with their delightful repertoire of repeated notes.
A Blue Tit had a narrow escape when it flew into an upstairs window at the Environment Centre on the 18th, and then slid down, stunned, into the gutter. We all watched in amazement as its mate (presumably) tried to rescue it. Thankfully, the bird recovered!
Overhead, Sparrowhawk was seen on the 11th and 18th, Jackdaw (a scarce St Nicks bird) on the 4th and 25th, and Greylag Goose on the 11th and 25th. Three Magpies put on a mating display flight over the Dragon Stones on the 4th – fascinating to watch them!
The fine drifts of snowdrops at St Nicks this year attracted early bees and hoverflies, the latter mostly Drone Flies Eristalis tenax seen in several places, including one on March 4th in the garden of the Environment Centre (pictured). Otherwise very few insects were seen around the reserve apart from Gorse Shieldbugs (seen in every month of the year), occasional Honey Bees and some unidentified queen Bumble Bees visiting the few flowers open on the reserve to gain strength for prospecting for nest sites. One or two 7-spot Ladybirds were seen during the month and some early flies, but altogether fewer insects were seen above ground than in February until, on the
last Wednesday Wildwatch Walk of the month, the first butterfly of the year was spotted: a Comma.
Gently turning logs and stones revealed a hidden world (see February’s ‘Spotlight’) of insects and other invertebrates, and four species of Ground Beetle were tentatively identified as Leistus fulvibarbis, Leistus ferrugineus, Pterostychus madidus, and Pterostychus nigrita. Tiny insects such as Springtails Collembola sp. were active, but other (non-insect) creatures were numerous. In order of abundance: woodlice, millipedes, worms, slugs, snails, centipedes, harvestmen and spiders.
Britain has 37 species of woodlouse but only six are common and widespread. Five of the six are regularly seen at St Nicks (and were during March): Common Shiny, Common Rough, Common Striped, Common Pill and Common Pygmy, but the sixth has so far eluded us: the tiny Rosy Woodlouse. Four species of millipede were seen during the month: Flat-backed, Red-spotted Snake, White-legged Snake and Blunt-tailed Snake. Centipedes included the fast-moving Lithobius forficatus and one of the long thin Geophilus species. One small harvestman (harvestmen are related to spiders) seen this month, Nemastoma bimaculatum, is frequently found under logs and stones – recognisable for its black colour with small white patches on its body and legs.
February merged seamlessly into March: plants reported last month – Alder, Aspen, Hazel , Poplar, Prunus sp, Willow, Coltsfoot, Dandelion, Gorse, Lesser Celandine and White Dead-nettle – continued in flower throughout, and Snowdrops lasted almost to the end. The Celandines and Coltsfoots came out slowly and cautiously, and overnight frosts deterred much else from opening up to join them, apart from Lungwort and cultivated varieties of Daffodil. (The small Daffodils along the paths near the Dragon Stones are cultivars, but are the closest in appearance to the native species.)
A mild spell brought a noticeable change between 18th and 25th. Box Elder, Field Maple and Blackthorn came into flower around the meadow, with the first Cowslips nearby. Primroses opened close to the recently coppiced area near the Bund steps, where the improved conditions should encourage them to spread. Violets, again probably a cultivated variety, have popped up along Osbaldwick Beck. Previously we had only found them in the planters in front of the Centre. Chionadoxa is very definitely a non-native species, to the extent that it doesn’t even have an accepted English name, and the pink version dotted along some of the path edges looks distinctly out of place.
The first flowers of Ivy-leaved Speedwell, on the other hand, are so inconspicuous that we felt lucky to find them. One or two species we expected to find, such as the Daisies in the play area, are still biding their time. As of the end of March, Spring at St Nicks seemed to be running about a week later than last year
Water Vole was seen in Tang Hall Beck on the 25th. Away from the Environment Centre, Brown Rat was in Osbaldwick Beck on the 11th. Grey Squirrel was recorded on the 4th, 11th and 25th, and Rabbit on the 11th, 18th and 25th. A local dog walker reported that she’d had several daytime sightings of Fox on the reserve.
Common Frog returned to the Environment Centre Pond on the 25th, but in fewer numbers than last year – possibly because last year all the frogspawn disappeared, presumed eaten by the Common Newts, which were also seen on the 25th.