Breeding evidence at St Nicks of a nationally endangered species; cold, windy May brought out quality rather than quantity of St Nicks invertebrates; a record number of this elusive summer visitor; white is the predominant colour at St Nicks.
Generally cool and breezy, although a sunny Wildwatch on the 13th brought out seven species of butterflies.
The Met Office described May 2015 as colder, cloudier and windier than average, a fact clearly reflected in the low numbers of flying insects seen at St Nicks during the month.
Butterfly numbers have been small – ones and twos only of just eight species: Brimstone, Small White, Green-veined White, Orange Tip, Holly Blue, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Speckled Wood.
However some interesting micro-moths turned up. Several Green Longhorn moths, Adela reaumurella were seen – their antennae three times as long as their 9mm bodies. Much smaller, at 4mm, were a number of Cock’s-foot Moths, Glyphipterix simpliciella seen on Germander Speedwell flowers by the Dragon Stones. Their larvae hatch inside the stems of some of our common grasses. Smaller still was a Heliozela resplendella whose larvae make mines in Alder leaves.
The first damselflies of the year were seen. One by the environment centre pond in mid-month was an Azure or Common Blue but it didn’t stop long enough to be positively identified. The following week a Large Red Damselfly was found near the Dragon Stones.
Shieldbugs have been very slow to appear this year apart from the regular Gorse Shieldbugs which are now laying eggs looking like miniature barrels in neat little rows on the gorse bushes. Green Shieldbugs at last appeared, but we are still waiting for Hawthorn Shieldbugs which last year were seen from early April. At the end of the month Woundwort Shieldbugs were mating on the Woundwort plants just outside the Environment Centre, 5 weeks later than last year. A few other species of true bug were seen during the month including a slender grass bug Stenodema laevigata.
Beetles included the two pictured species: Red-Headed Cardinal Pyrochroa serraticornis and one of the UK’s 40 species of Soldier Beetle: Cantharis rustica. June will bring the Common Red Soldier Beetle crowding onto Hogweed flower heads. The tiny but attractive Willow Flea Beetle Crepidodera aurata with red head and green body was seen in several places. Ladybirds were few and far between, with very small number of these 4 species being seen during May: Harlequin, 7-Spot, 10-Spot and 14-Spot.
Flies of many different species, from tiny ones to the large Flesh Flies, increased during the month, and we picture some of these. The strikingly-patterned Graphomya maculata is one of the many Muscidae species, a family which includes House Flies. It resembles a small version of the much more common Flesh Fly Sarcophaga carnaria. The Hogweed Fly Euleia heraclei is tiny but is one of a number of similar-sized and most attractive picture-winged flies we see at St Nicks during the year. The wing patterns of the several species are all different. Some are gall flies. The Dance Fly Empis tessellata has a fascinating mating ritual. With its dagger-like mouth parts it kills and then parcels up other flies in a silken case, then goes dancing in the air with a lot of other males. The females fly into the crowd of dancing males and choose a partner – ignoring any who are not carrying a matrimonial gift. On pairing, the couple depart together and, while the female is eating the gift, the male mates with her. Other flies included three species of Crane Fly including the green-eyed Tipula vernalis.
Arguably the most striking of all the British species of Hoverfly is the one pictured, Helophilus pendulus, which is happily also one of the most frequently seen around the reserve. Hoverflies (Syrphidae) are an attractive branch of the fly order (Diptera) and fortunately St Nicks has a good number of these – approaching 30 species positively identified so far. Patient watching found 12 of these during May.
The predominant colour in May was white, as the Hawthorns blossomed, Rowan and Horsechestnut buds opened, and Cow Parsley and Garlic Mustard lined the woodland paths alongside the spring peak of our ever-present White Dead-nettles. Dandelions made a bright contrast, and Creeping and Meadow Buttercups started replacing the last of the Lesser Celandines.
Sycamore and Field Maple were still in flower mid-month, while the Oaks were just getting started, enabling us to find the small, inconspicuous female flowers alongside male tassels. The weather has produced one of those seasons where the taller, more rampant vegetation puts on a spurt just as the lower-growing plants come into flower. We had to hunt for Ramsons, Cuckoo-Pint, Ladies’ Smock and Ground Ivy, and have yet to find a couple of the smaller Cranesbill species. Germander and Common Field Speedwells, Silverweed and Black Medick tend to grow in more open spots, and are all easy to find around the Dragon Stones, where a patch of Water Avens also seems to be flourishing.
Common Vetch, Bush Vetch, Green Alkanet, Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Herb Robert can all be found in sunny or sheltered spots. Also just starting to open mid-month were Comfrey sp and Honeysuckle sp along the main path. Other noteworthy species are Ribwort Plantain, Red Campion, Forget-me-not sp, and Salad Burnet. The latter, as its name suggests, gives a pleasant flavour to spring salads, but can’t be recommended for foraging in areas used by inconsiderate dog walkers. Lungwort lingers on as one of the longest-flowering spring plants, outlasting the Cowslips and Primroses. The Gorse has finished its main season, but then it started a lot earlier. The nearby Broom is putting on a good show but won’t last nearly so long.
On the last Wildwatch Wednesday of the month, Elder, Dog Rose, Ox-eye Daisy and Laburnum came into flower. The latter will be a spectacular sight along the Tang Hall Beck path next month, but be quick – the flowers tend not to last very long!
Finally it has been a good year for observing immature Pine cones, growing at eye level near the path round the centre.
The breeding season is now well under way. Juvenile Long-tailed Tits were seen on the 20th and 27th and a pair of Mallards with three well-developed ducklings were on Osbaldwick Beck on the 20th. Blackcaps were singing in many areas of the reserve, with seven being heard on the 27th. This is probably a record number for the reserve. They are very elusive, and sightings were few and far between! Chiffchaffs were heard on all four Wildwatch days, as were Song Thrushes. Wrens are loud and plentiful, with perhaps as many as ten singing birds!
The first Swallows of the year were seen on the 20th, with Swifts seen on the 27th. One of our scarcer birds, Great Spotted Woodpecker, was also seen on the 27th
Once again, we have breeding evidence of the endangered Water Vole, with two adults and two youngsters seen on Tang Hall Beck on the 27th. The habitat along this beck and along Osbaldwick Beck is being managed to help this species to thrive.
Grey Squirrels were seen on almost all the Wildwatch Wednesdays, with Rabbit seen on the 13th and 27th.