St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: March 2017


The flowers that bloom in the spring (tra-la!).. the year’s first butterflies appear, and the Harlequinade begins.. mewing in the air and creeping in the garden!

Dandelion - bringing broad splashes of colour to St Nicks

Dandelion – bringing broad splashes of colour to St Nicks


Temperatures started to creep up during the month, starting with a cool 4C on the 1st and reaching 11C later on subsequent Wildwatch Wednesdays. There were some sunny intervals and it was mainly dry, except on the 22nd, when we had to end our session at 11.30 because of rain.


Goldcrests, Britain’s smallest bird, used to be seen only occasionally at St Nicks, but in recent months they have been seen regularly. Two birds (a pair) have been frequenting the bushes and trees in the Kingfisher Culvert area, sometimes feeding together. On the 29th one was seen in the Environment Centre garden. A much scarcer visitor to St Nicks, a Treecreeper, visited the garden briefly on the 8th.

Clockwise from top left: singing Wren, Goldcrest; Magpie collecting nesting material, adult male Sparrowhawk

Clockwise from top left: singing Wren; Goldcrest; Magpie collecting nesting material; adult male Sparrowhawk

There can be some good bird sightings from the garden – on the 15th, two Common Buzzards flew over the garden and their mewing calls could be plainly heard. There were several good sightings of Sparrowhawk during the month, with multiple sightings of both perched and flying birds on the 1st, 15th and 22nd. The one rather fuzzy photo taken showed that at least one of the birds (if there were more than one individual) was an adult male.

A glimpse of the Water Rail!

A glimpse of the Water Rail!

Winter visitors disappeared during March. The last sighting of Siskins was on the 8th, with three individuals being seen near Tang Hall Beck. The long-staying Water Rail, present by Osbaldwick Beck since late November, was heard (and glimpsed once) on the 1st, 8th and 15th, with the last sighting by one of the Rangers on the 21st.

Summer visitors started to arrive. The first Chiffchaff was seen and heard on the 15th – two birds, increasing to four by the 29th, when the first Blackcap of the year was seen and heard near the Kingfisher Culvert; its song being rather hesitating as if it was trying to remember how to do it!

Many of our resident birds showed signs of getting ready to breed. Carrion Crows, Magpies and Wrens were seen carrying nesting material, Blue Tits were investigating a nest box near the Kingfisher Culvert, Robins, Dunnocks and Blackbirds were obviously pairing up, and the bird song increased steadily during the month, with Greenfinches and Song Thrushes being particularly vociferous.

Finally, a Kingfisher was seen briefly on the 22nd – at the Culvert named after it!


March weather with sharp frosts and heavy rain between warm sunny spells resulted in early flowers lasting well. Our impression was that some of the main flush of flowers that bloom in the spring (tra-la!) were coming out early, but checking the records shows no significant difference from recent years.

Hazel, Alder, Aspen and the early Prunus blossoms lasted into March but were mostly over by the end of it. Blackthorn and probable hybrids overlapped and replaced other Prunus sp. as the dominant spring blossom. Early Willow catkins continued throughout, and Box Elder came into flower about half-way through the month. Norway Maple, Larch and Ash were just opening by the end. It’s well worth taking time to notice these surprisingly beautiful but often overlooked flowers.

The number of herbaceous species recorded in one session jumped from seven at the beginning to fifteen at the end. Snowdrops were over by the end of March, but Daffodils including smaller species closely related to the native wild Daffodil overlapped with them. Fritillaries planted in and since 2011 have popped up again in the anticipated locations, so it looks as though we can consider them established. Non-native Chionodoxas and Grape Hyacinths turn up here and there – as they do – but the bees seem to like them. Regular readers will know that White Dead-nettle has been in flower after a fashion all winter, but now it’s starting to show what it can do when conditions suit and it really tries. Red Dead-nettle is out too. Lesser Celandines reported at the end of February are by now at their spectacular best (see Spotlight), and by the end of March were being joined by other members of their group – much larger Marsh Marigolds at the edges of the pond, and one or two recently planted Wood Anemones in sheltered places. Like the Fritillaries, these can be hard to establish but once started should spread happily.

Clockwise from top left: Willow catkins; Blackthorn; Lungwort; White Dead Nettle

Clockwise from top left: Willow catkins; Blackthorn; Lungwort; White Dead-nettle

Lungwort has been in flower throughout, and it’s nice to see a vigorous clump growing well away from the danger zone of the immediate path edge. Primroses are most easily found in the woodland verge at the bottom of the Bund steps, but Cowslips have established in several new locations including around the Dragon Stones and just off the main Sustrans entrance. The best display will still be the patch adjacent to the Meadow, where flowers are out but a lot more are still to come. So far there has been no sign of Sweet Violets other than in the Centre garden.  They are a lot tougher than they look but may have been outgrown by emerging Cow Parsley and Garlic Mustard. Coltsfoots have been out since February and new ones are still coming up in shadier places. By now the Dandelions are starting to put on their extra-special spring show.

St Nicks Daisies, compared to everyone else’s, seem to be temperamental, and the best place to find them at present is among the grass on the reserve boundary on Melrosegate. If we could discover and market the reason why they seem so reluctant to spread in the play area, the only bit of the reserve to be mowed conventionally, we could make a fortune. Perhaps the secret is that we positively want them to grow there to for children to make daisy chains. Then there’s the Gorse, of course…


Just one of the five Wildwatch Wednesdays produced the sunny warm conditions to bring out early spring insects, and on 15th March the first butterflies of the year were seen: small numbers of Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni, Comma Polygonia c-album and Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae. After a frosty morning on 1st March brief early sun tempted out a few faithful Gorse Shieldbugs Piezodorus lituratus in their usual habitat. They were accompanied in the gorse bushes and in other places by 7-spot Ladybirds Coccinella 7-punctata, but we had to wait until the end of the month before the first Harlequin Ladybirds Harmonia axyridis were found on newly-emerged ground vegetation, showing just two of their many different wingcase patterns and colours.

Clockwise from top left: Gorse Shieldbug;  7-Spot Ladybirds;  2 patterns of Harlequin Ladybirds

Clockwise from top left: Gorse Shieldbug; 7-Spot Ladybirds; 2 patterns of Harlequin Ladybirds

Prunus blossom – Blackthorn (P. spinosa) and Cherry Plum (P. cerasifera) – enabled Honeybees Apis mellifera to fill their pollen baskets on the warmer days, with Bumblebees high up in the trees nectaring from willow catkins. Bumblebees increased in number until by the end of the month we had logged five species: Buff-tailed Bombus terrestris, White-tailed B. lucorum, Red-tailed B. lapidarius, Common Carder B. pascuorum and Tree B. hypnorum. Common Wasp Vespula vulgaris was present in small numbers every week. The only hoverflies seen were a few more of the species first observed in February: Eristalis tenax. Other flies included increasing numbers of Bluebottles Calliphora vomitoria.

Clockwise from top left: Ground Beetle Leistus spinibarbis; Comma Butterfly;

Clockwise from top left: Ground Beetle Leistus spinibarbis; Comma Butterfly;
Flat-backed Millipedes with Lithobius Centipede; White-legged Snake Millipede

A number of creatures were found under decaying logs, with woodlice, millipedes, centipedes, springtails and slugs the most numerous (see blogs for previous months) plus occasional ground beetles. The photos show Ground Beetle Leistus spinibarbis; Flat-backed Millipedes Polydesmus angustus with Lithobius Centipede and White-legged Snake Millipede Tachypodoiulus niger.

Paw print of a Fox (arrowed)

Paw print of a Fox (arrowed)


Grey Squirrels were seen on every Wildwatch Wednesday except for the 22nd and Rabbits were around on the 15th and 29th. A paw print seen next to Osbaldwick Beck on the 15th was identified as that of a Fox.

All photos were taken at St Nicks during March 2015

13 April 2017 | Categories: Wildwatch | Tags: blackcap, Brimstone butterfly, Bumblebees, Chiffchaff, comma butterfly, common buzzard, fox, Fritilliary, goldcrest, kingfisher, ladybirds, Siskin, Snowdrop, sparrowhawk, Treecreeper, Water Rail, white dead nettle