Cool damp weather suppresses butterflies, and other insects.. birds defending their breeding territories.. trees & bushes reach their flowering peak.
Temperatures remained low throughout most of the month.. around 10 – 12 C, although a mainly sunny day on the 4th saw the thermometer climbing to 18C. We had intermittent rain on the remaining three Wildwatch Wednesdays, with the 18th being the wettest morning.
May is usually the month when our butterfly counts start to rise, but several of the Wildwatch Wednesday morning walks during May were overcast, damp or cold when no butterflies were seen. There were only occasional sightings of Small White, Green-veined White, Orange Tip, Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood. Clusters of Small Tortoiseshell larvae were observed on emerging nettle leaves in a number of places.
Moths seen during the month included a fine Herald Moth Scoliopteryx libatrix found and photographed by our reserve manager, Jonathan, and a micro-moth Esperia sulphurella. Neither has been recorded from St Nicks before.
Hoverflies were fairly active during the month with all of April’s species seen (Eristalis pertinax, Syrphus ribesii, Melanostoma scalare and Helophilus pendulus) plus Epistrophe eligans, Eupeodes luniger, Dasysyrphus albostriatus, Melangyna cincta, Leucozona lucorum and a Cheilosia sp. We expect to add to these 10 species during June. Other fly species have continued to be, in some cases, an identification puzzle. Owing to the many banded snails seen on the reserve, small yellowish flies are possibly of the family known as Snail-killing Flies Sciomyzidae or close relatives. It is the larvae, not the adults, which feed on snails. Two species of Crane Fly have been positively identified: Tipula paludosa and T. oleracea. Several Moth Flies, also known as Drain Flies, Pericoma sp. have also been seen.
Of the beetles, ladybirds have been few and far-between with only three species seen. May saw the Harlequins Harmonia axyridis starting to outnumber the so-far most observed species, the Seven-spot Coccinella 7-punctata. Unlike the stable 7-spot, Harlequins take many colour forms and spot patterns and this month we have seen them black with two spots, black with four spots and orange with 12 to 18 spots. The only other species seen (in several places) was the tiny yellow Fourteen-spot Propylea 14-punctata.
Other beetles have included the Red-headed Cardinal Pyrochroa serraticornis which is a spring species, though usually seen a bit earlier than this first sighting on 25th May. Not recorded from St Nicks before was a large slow-moving weevil Liophloeus tessulatus which feeds on Cow Parsley and Hogweed, both of which are abundant on the reserve. Another striking find was inside the Environment Centre compound feeding, appropriately, on a Rosemary plant: a Rosemary Beetle Chrysolina americana. This is one of a family related to the Tansy Beetle and Dock Beetle. The species is a recent arrival and since the 1990’s has become an established pest in England. In spite of its scientific name it is a native not of the Americas but of southern Europe.
Shieldbugs have been scarce. Gorse Shieldbugs Piezodorus lituratus were as usual seen in some numbers on the gorse bushes but Pied Shieldbug Tritomegas bicolor, first seen in April, has not appeared since. Green Shieldbug Palomena prasina, which is usually the most abundant at St Nicks, is starting to be seen, and on the leaves of emerging Hedge Woundwort plants Stachys sylvatica near the Environment Centre was spotted the year’s first Woundwort Shieldbugs Eysarcoris venustissimus – small and shining with a metallic bronze colour. Most years we have a good population of these on the reserve. Disappointingly, in spite of thorough searching and an abundance of Hawthorn trees and shrubs on the reserve, Hawthorn Shieldbug Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale has not been seen since a single was photographed in February (see February 2016 blog).
Bees and wasps are often seen on the reserve, including Honey Bees and several species of Bumble Bee, the most frequent in May being the Common Carder Bee Bombus pascuorum. A solitary bee of the Nomad type was identified at the end of May: Nomada flava/panzeri. Several unidentified Ichneumons were seen, but these parasitic wasps move rapidly and don’t often pose for photographs. With 2,300 species in the UK ichneumons are always going to be an identification puzzle.
Several spider species have been seen, including the regular Nursery Web Spider Pisaura mirabilis, and two others of note: a Crab Spider Xysticus cristatus on dandelion flowers just outside the Environment Centre and one of the long-legged Stretch Spider species Tetragnatha extensa or similar seen in several places.
Cool, wet weather kept the bird counts low, but bird song continued, with three to four singing Song Thrushes recorded on all four Wildwatch Wednesdays, with one carrying food on the 18th. Wrens and Robins were vocally defending territories / attracting mates, whilst Blackbird song was heard all over the reserve.
Sightings of summer visitors continues, with Blackcap pairs seen feeding together along Tang Hall Beck on the 4th and 18th and up to five Chiffchaffs heard in the month. A single Whitethroat sighting near the Dragon Stones was the first (and only) record so far this year.
The first Swallow of the year was seen near Osbaldwick Beck on the 4th, and the first Swift on the 25th over the Bund Steps.
As yet, we have not yet positively recorded any juvenile birds on the reserve. Sadly, the Long-tailed Tit nest in the Gorse bushes near the playground seems to have been predated; the last sightings of adult birds near the nest was on the 4th.
Hawthorn, Apple and Bird Cherry reached their flowering peak in May, joined in the course of the month by Lilac, Horse Chestnut, and much less conspicuous Oak. Cow Parsley, Garlic Mustard, Hogweed and Ox-eye Daisies along the paths picked up the predominant tree colours to give a an overall impression of the reserve dressed in classic May-time green and white.
Looking more closely at path edges and grassland, there were various shades of yellow – the last of the Celandines, Primroses, Cowslips giving place to the richer shades of Dandelions, Wood Avens and newly opening Meadow and Creeping Buttercups and Silverweed. As the Bluebells faded, the stronger blue of Green Alkanet and Ground Ivy emerged, along with the more delicate shades of Forget-me-nots and various Speedwells – some of these awaiting a rethink about their identity at species level. Red and pink flowers signal early summer – Red Campion, Red Clover, various small Cranesbills, Water Avens, Salad Burnet and right at the end of the month the first of the Dog Roses.
As the May spotlight reminds us, this is Cuckoo time, and to prove it there were a few Cuckoo Flowers (aka Milkmaids) and Cuckoo Pint (Lords and Ladies, Wild Arum). The latter is already forming berries, so yet again we’ll hope to be able to introduce them into a less vulnerable area of the reserve. Other species that don’t fit neatly into any theme include “Fringed Cups”, a garden escape in a woodland area, and Ribwort Plantain, growing in most of the grassland areas with lots in the play area. Does anybody still play at catapults with them?
Work on the path edges has started in earnest – to the relief of some walkers and the distress of others who hate seeing flowering plants cut down. The scythers are trying to work round less common species and are cutting fairly high. The benefits are already showing, as cutting back the vigorous competitors enables low-growing plants to regenerate and flower. Watch those spaces!
Path edge work comes at another cost with no benefit. We have lots of very responsible dog walkers who always clear up after their pets, but there is a minority who think it only applies to the paths. If you spot anybody doing it, please give them a gentle hint. Mess on the grass verges is quickly overgrown, hard to spot and easy to tread in while photographing a plant or insect. Imagine putting your scythe through it!
The only mammals recorded were one or two Grey Squirrels on the 4th and a very active Rabbit chasing around near the Kingfisher Watchpoint on the same date. No other mammals were seen for the rest of the month!
All photos were taken at St Nicks during May 2016