Evidence of Water Voles breeding.. Sightings of Garden Warbler and Whitethroat.. Nine species of butterflies seen in the month.. First damselflies of the year seen.
Dry for the first three Wildwatch Wednesdays, with some sunshine, and temperatures rising to 23C on the 14th. The final Wednesday was very wet, which depressed sightings of birds and insects (and the spirits of the Wildwatchers!)
Hawthorn was spectacular for most of the month, with variety provided by one or two pink and pink-tinged cultivars. By the end, Elder, Dogwood and Guelder Rose were opening, and the Limes, last of the woodland trees to flower, were in bud. The big Laburnum on the Tang Hall Beck path is flowering only sparingly after a prolific season last year.
Along the paths, Cow Parsley is gradually giving way to Hogweed, and Garlic Mustard to Horse Radish. The Speedwells and Cranesbills recorded towards the end of April have continued throughout May, with the addition of Germander Speedwell, Dusky Cranesbill and French Cranesbill near the Dragon Stones. Two more localised species – Cuckoo Flower in the gorse area and Ramsons along the Bund steps – have been harder to find this year, probably confirming fears that they are trying to grow in less than ideal situations.
Typical early to mid-summer flowers were becoming easier to find or just starting to open at the beginning of May, and most will remain in flower throughout June: Meadow and Creeping Buttercups, Red Clover, Hop Trefoil, Red Campion, Salad Burnet, Bush Vetch, Ribwort Plantain and Ox-eye Daisies. Winged Thorn Rose and Goatsbeard followed; these typically have quite a short flowering season. Coming into flower by the end of the month were Dog Rose, Silverweed, White Campion, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, White Clover, Goosegrass and Welted Thistle. Overall, the weekly count has shot up from a a high of 38 in April to 50 in May.
Meanwhile, those of us who don’t believe in nice tidy seasons are observing well-developed Sycamore keys, little fertilised specks that will soon start to turn into acorns, and tiny green plums. Unfortunately for foragers, the light-coloured fruits like miniature bananas on Blackthorn are so-called pocket plums – developing sloes galled by Taphrina fungus – interesting to observe, but no good for sloe gin.
The first – and so far, only – Common Whitethroat was seen on the 17th – on the Saturday Spring Walk, not on a Wildwatch walk. It was on exactly the same date as the sighting last year, and within 50 metres of where it was seen last year! It seems that it was just passing through the reserve. A Garden Warbler was heard on the 21st in the same location as last month – near the Dragon Stones. No sight or sound of last month’s Willow Warbler; we seem to have lost this as a breeding bird this year. But two other summer visitors appear to be doing well, with up to ten singing Blackcaps counted on the 14th and at least four Chiffchaffs heard on the same date.
The first broods of Long-tailed Tits have now fledged, with three separate family groups seen on the 14th. Other juvenile birds seen included Robin, Dunnock and Goldfinch.
Cardinal Beetles, mentioned in April’s Wildwatch blog, continued to show at St Nicks throughout May. About a centimetre-and-a-half in length, they gleam a bright red colour as they sit on top of a leaf or on a stem. Those at St Nicks are the red-headed species Pychroa serraticornis. Another similarly-sized and somewhat spectacular beetle was spotted on the Nature Walk on the 17th – a Wasp Beetle Clytus arietis. It is one of the Longhorn type of beetle and despite its striking wasp-like markings it is completely harmless.
Damselflies are beginning to appear, and not just round the environment centre pond. The Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphulais one of the earliest to emerge, and was spotted on several occasions settled on foliage in different parts of the reserve.
Most of last month’s butterflies and all of last month’s ladybirds were seen in May. A Small Copper butterflyLycaena phlaeas was seen in mid-month, bringing the year’s total so far to 11. On the 14th there was a flush of Brimstones Gonepteryx rhamni attracted among other flowers to the Dandelions in the children’s playground. The Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis appears to be the most abundant of the ladybirds at St Nicks. A recent colonist originating in Asia (see last October’s blog) the Harlequin appears in many different colour forms, from red with multiple small black spots to black with red blotches, and many variations in between.
Micro moths were occasionally seen, including a fine Small Magpie Moth Anania hortulata spotted in the lavatory in the environment centre.
Shieldbugs have been putting on a good show this spring and many mating pairs have been seen among the six species so far observed on the reserve: Gorse, Hawthorn, Green, Parent, Pied and Woundwort. The Parent Bug Elasmucha griseais is aptly-named. Other species of shieldbug leave their eggs, after mating, to hatch on their own, but the female Parent Bug covers and guards her eggs with her body. When the larvae hatch she gathers them around her for a few weeks until they are able to fend for themselves. Why only the Parent Bug does this is not known. The young feed in Birch and Alder trees.
Of the several species of Bumble Bee seen the Common Carder Bombus pascuorum seemed to be the most abundant in May, with its furry bright orange thorax. Flies are becoming abundant around the reserve, and small Greenbottles Lucilia sp. gleam brightly on the foliage. Other obvious flies are the Flesh Fly Sarcophaga sp. with checkerboard abdomen and a Tachinid fly species Tachina fera with attractive red abdominal flanks. Two different picture-winged flies were seen. These are very small and often lay their eggs in flower buds or other plant tissue causing the plant to produce a gall. Next month there will be more about the many galls seen on the trees and other plants on the reserve. Finally, Hoverflies are becoming more and more noticeable. The new species for the reserve seen last month Dasysyrphus albostriatus continued to be seen in May, together with another attractive hoverfly: Eupeodes luniger.
At last, we seem to have firm evidence that Water Voles are breeding at St Nicks. On the 21st, a group of Wildwatchers and the Nature Reserve Manager watched at least one adult and up to two juveniles entering the same burrow holes along Osbaldwick Beck. We have suspected for some time that breeding has occurred on the reserve, but this is the strongest evidence so far.
Grey Squirrel was seen on two of the Wildwatch Wednesdays, but there were no sightings of Rabbit in the month.
Common Newts continue to be seen in the Environment Centre pond, with some photographable views at times.
Note: All the photographs were taken at St Nicks in May 2014