Record number of hoverflies (including 4 new to St Nicks); scarce summer bird visitor returns (and two stunning juvenile water birds); the magnificent big yellow “L”!
Temperatures ranged from 14C to 19C. Some sun (especially on the 3rd and 10th). We stayed dry!
On the 3rd, A Whitethroat sang all morning near the Dragon Stones Bramble patch. It stayed throughout the month, frequently singing, and occasionally being seen. This warbler, a summer visitor to the UK, was a breeding bird at St Nicks a few years ago but then sightings became very infrequent.
On the final Wildwatch Wednesday, a few observers were fortunate to see a perched Kingfisher at the Kingfisher Culvert by Tang Hall Beck. A quick photo showed it to be a juvenile, possibly driven off its parents breeding territory. A second bird was also seen at the same time, presumably another juvenile.
On the 3rd, a new reserve record, a Stock Dove, was heard (but not seen). These are often overlooked as they can be confused with feral pigeons. A bird predominately found on arable land, its call is very distinctive. To hear the call, click here. Let us know if you hear it at St Nicks!
Our regular summer visitors, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, were seen and heard throughout the month, possibly five or six of each species. Two Treecreepers, once a scarce visitor to St Nicks, were seen casing a dead Willow by Osbaldwick Beck on the 31st. Song Thrushes delighted us with their magical song throughout the month!
Our resident breeding birds, including Robin, Dunnock, Wren, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits were seen in good numbers throughout the month. On the 24th, nine juvenile Long-tailed Tits were preening in a bare tree behind the Gorse bushes near the playground, and a juvenile Robin was photographed on the 21st (a non-Wildwatch day).
Overhead, Swifts were noted on the 10th & 24th – but no Swallows!
The month of May at St Nicks was remarkable for the number of hoverfly species seen, with a good number too of butterflies, moths and ladybirds.
Butterflies seen during the month were Brimstone, Large White, Small White, Green-veined White, Orange Tip, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Comma, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood – 12 species in all. To these we added six positively identified moths: Small Magpie Anania hortulata, Cocksfoot Glyphipterix simpliciella (abundant on buttercup flowers), a Longhorn Adela reamurella, Ancylis badiana, Silver-ground Carpet Xanthorhoe montanata and a beautifully coloured and patterned Green Carpet Colostygia pectinataria. The first four were once categorised as micro-moths, the latter two as macros.
Damselflies appeared from early May, mostly out on the reserve rather than at the environment centre pond.The first (as in most years) was Large Red, followed a week or two later by Azure with both males and females (blue form) seen.
True Bugs were infrequent apart from shieldbugs, of which Common Green outnumbered them all, but there were also good numbers of Gorse Shieldbug, a single Hairy Shieldbug and small numbers of Woundwort Shieldbugs which increased as the month ended. Two Green Shieldbugs were observed fighting (over food or a female?) by one of our rangers, shieldbug behaviour not seen before at St Nicks. By the end of the month the appearance of cuckoo spit on plant stems betrayed the presence of Common Froghopper Philaenus spumarius (subject of a Spotlight in these blog pages last year), while a few Common Flower Bugs Anthocoris nemorum were seen. These and many other species of beetles, bugs and flies will increase with the blooming of the Hogweed all round the reserve, already in evidence by the end of May.
Beetles included several striking Cardinal Beetles Pyrochroa serraticornis and, later in the month, an abundance of Soldier beetles Cantharis rustica including many mating pairs. But it was the ladybirds who shone: seven species seen: Two-spot, Seven-spot, Ten-spot, Fourteen-spot, Twenty-two-spot, Cream Spot and Harlequin, the latter in many colours and patterns.
Hoverflies amazed us, numbering 19 species by the month end, including four never recorded before at St Nicks: Cheilosia pagana, Merodon equestris (Narcissus Bulb Fly), Platycheirus ambiguus and Syrphus vitripennis. We also had another sighting of last month’s new hoverfly: Scaeva selenitica. Of the other 14 species seen, Baccha elongata has not been recorded on the reserve since the 2013 Bioblitz, while we generally see Cheilosia illustrata, Dasysyrphus albostriatus, Leucozona lucorum and Meliscaeva auricollis in rather small numbers and not every year. The remaining species are regular and fairly common on the reserve each year: Episyrphus balteatus (‘Marmalade’) Epistrophe eligans, Eristalis pertinax, Eristalis tenax, Eupeodes luniger, Helophilus pendulus, Melanostoma scalare, Myathropa florea and Syrphus ribesii. This makes a total of 45 hoverfly species seen in the last four years at St Nicks, an indication of the richness of the reserve’s habitat.
Other flies included two crane fly species: Tipula oleracea and Tipula vernalis, quite a few soldier flies Beris chalybata and large numbers of the more common fly species.
Other insects included a Common Field Grasshopper Chorthippus brunneus, a beautiful Lacewing Chrysopa perla, several sawflies, a lot of bumblebees of about 6 species, and black, yellow and orange striped nomad bees which were probably Nomada flava or panzer.
Finally a good number of spiders were seen, and some of them identified, including Nursery Web Pisaura mirabilis, Cucumber Cucurbitina sp., Stretch Tetragnatha extensa or montana, Woodlouse Dysdera crocota, a Wolf Spider Pardosa sp. carrying large egg sacs, and Neriene peltata. Identifying spiders is always a challenge, but it has been made a lot easier with the publication this month of a fine new photographic guide to spiders in the Wildguides series, co-authored by local spider expert Geoff Oxford, secretary and past president of the British Arachnological Society. Highly recommended! Geoff has led several spider workshops at St Nicks in recent years.
Weekly species counts for May soared from high twenties to low forties.
Warmer weather had finished off most of the blossoming trees, Gorse, Cowslips, Bluebells and Ramsons by mid-May. Lungwort, one of the earliest species of the year, was still in flower on 24th, and could well have been there on 31st if we’d had time to look for it.
Inconspicuous Oak and showy Horsechestnut came into flower at the beginning of the month, rapidly followed by Dogwood, Guelder Rose, the magnificent Laburnum on the Tang Hall Beck path (the “big yellow “L”!), and headily scented Elder all over the place – looking as if it’s doing its best to make up for last year’s poor berry crop. Foragers take heed: it’s usually possible to have elderflower champagne and elderberry wine, but too much of the first always risks leaving you and the birds short of the second!
A sizeable group of early-flowering herbaceous plants continued to the end of May: Ground Ivy, Garlic Mustard, Dandelions, Daisies, Meadow and Creeping Buttercups, Red Campion, Herb Robert, Green Alkanet, Forget-me-nots, Ribwort Plantains, and we weren’t going to mention White Deadnettle again, but it’s putting on a particularly fine display this year. Several of them have finished their main flush by now, but will continue sporadically to the end of summer and beyond.
A long list of species came into flower during May. Spearwort replaced Marsh Marigolds in the Centre pond. Slightly stunted Common Poppies look pretty in recently seeded areas. Dog Roses will be at their best in early June, as will the Rugosa species near the Centre. The deep blue of Germander Speedwell looks particularly good at the base of the Dragon Stones. Common Field Speedwell with its lighter colour and white lower petal is harder to spot. Various Cranesbills are out, from taller-growing Meadow Cranesbill and a related garden cultivar to the much smaller Dove’s-foot. The striking Dusky Cranesbill growing near the Dragon Stones has a shorter flowering season and is likely to be over by now. Members of the legume family are starting to build up: yellow Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Common Vetch, Red Clover, White Clover and Hop Trefoil, all particularly attractive to bees and hoverflies. Look out too for Ox-eye Daisies, White Campion, Dock, Horseradish, Silverweed, Wood Avens, Salad Burnet, Hogweed, Honeysuckle and Russian Comfrey. Maybe the highlight is Yellow Rattle. This semi-parasitic plant helps to control coarse grasses, improving meadow areas for other species. There was only one spot on the reserve where it grew, but much to the delight of the Reserve Manager, last year’s attempts to establish it more widely seem to have been very successful. We’re all looking forward to seeing what else will turn up as a result.
Rabbits seen on the 17th and 31st and Grey Squirrels on the 17th – including a very vociferous one by Osbaldwick Beck!
All photos were taken at St Nicks in May 2017.