Prolific fungi, fox & cubs (!), scarce visitor to the Environment Centre plus a new pair of birds, and lots of little creatures skulking under logs and stones.
Temperatures ranged from a minimum of 7C to a max of 11C. Mainly cloudy on Wildwatch Wednesdays, but a sunny day on the 5th and rain on the 12th, which cut short our walk.
The “new pair of birds” was two Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the same tree on the 19th, the first time that two of this species has been seen together at St Nicks. They were rather distant and, from the rather blurry photographs it wasn’t possible to determine whether or not they were a male and a female – but wait for the December blog!
A surprise visitor to the Environment Centre was a Grey Wagtail, which landed briefly on the pond dipping platform at the Environment Centre on the 26th – possibly the same juvenile that was seen on Osbaldwick Beck last month. A member of the St Nicks staff said that there had been one the previous week on the lily pads on the pond.
There was a brief sighting of a Kingfisher on Tang Hall Beck (from the “Kingfisher Culvert”) on the 19th, with another sighting by one of the Rangers on Osbaldwick Beck.
On the 5th, there were two Siskins by Osbaldwick Beck, associating with Goldfinches. Numbers of the latter species have been slowly building, but we have yet to see flock sizes comparable with last winter. But Goldfinches seem to have had a good breeding season this year. Sightings of Bullfinches, too, have increased in recent weeks and are now being seen regularly throughout the reserve.
The winter tit flocks have continued to develop; Long-tailed Tit flocks number 8 – 10 birds in 2 -3 flocks, and Blue Tits seem to outnumber Great Tits. Unseasonably, a Song Thrush was in full song near the Environment Centre on the 26th, despite the cool and cloudy conditions. Blackbird numbers remain high, but not in the same numbers as last month. We have yet to record our first Redwings and Fieldfares of the Autumn. Maybe soon?
Water birds were restricted to a single record of Moorhen on the 5th, but Mallards were present throughout the month, with four pairs on Osbaldwick Beck on the 26th. A skein of 30+ Greylag Geese flew over on the 19th.
Finally, Woodpigeons have been scarce this month, with sightings down as low as 1 – 3 per week. Magpies seem to be growing in numbers, with six being seen together on the 26th. On the 19th, a Carrion Crow was seen carrying nesting material!
It has been a prolific season for species growing on old wood, both fallen and standing. They range from large brackets, through colourful encrustations, to miniscule stalked fungi with pleated caps. “Toadstool” types among grass and wood-chips seem to have been harder to find this year, but an Ink-cap sp and probable Drumstick were notable exceptions. There has also been less Jelly-ear than usual on the old Elders, but fine specimens can be found, easily recognisable by their shape and rich translucent orange-brown colour.
The visible insect population of St Nicks rapidly vanished during November, many adults dying but others overwintering in cracks in the bark of trees, in the leaf litter or under dead wood, as with a Common Carder Bee found secreted away beneath a log in mid-month. Insects have a variety of ways and hiding places in which to survive the winter. Different species do so in egg, larva, pupa or adult forms. Birds, especially tits, feed in winter by searching out these hiding places under leaves or in bark crevices.
A few insects did remain to be seen, including ladybirds (notably the Harlequins) and this pictured Noon Fly Mesembrina meridiana. Others included several small flies, Gorse Shieldbugs, a Ground Beetle Pterostychus sp, and Caddis Fly Limnephilus flavicornis larvae moving about the Environment Centre pond camouflaged with small twigs and fragments of leaf. The pond also featured Whirligig Beetles Gyrinus natator whirligiging a little more slowly in the colder November water.
A few small spiders were still to be seen, of various species, and some small black Harvestmen not before recorded (but undoubtedly present) at St Nicks, which feed on small creatures in the leaf litter or under decaying wood: Nemastoma bimaculatum.
The other invertebrates seen were found at or below ground level, hiding under logs and stones: Centipedes: Lithobius forficatus and Geophilus flavus; Millipedes: Flat-backed, White-legged, Blue-tailed Snake and the delightful Spotted Snake (pictured); Woodlice: Common Shiny and Common Rough, and a number of slugs and snails including gatherings of Netted Slug Deroceras reticulatum.
November proved to be another rather unsatisfactory month for plant monitoring, which was only possible in two weeks out of the four. Until mid-month, a tally of 18 species included Lesser Stitchwort, Wood Avens, Bramble, Common Mallow and Bindweed sp. that have been more or less continuously in flower since first opening, and “one-off” opportunist items including a remarkably pristine Common Nettle, the occasional Red Clover, and one slightly sad-looking Creeping Buttercup. In the final week, after a couple of hard frosts, Fox-and-Cubs (sorry about the teaser in the “Highlights”!) and Yarrow were still surviving in the shelter of the Environment Centre fence. Out on the reserve, Hogweed, Herb Robert and White Dead-nettle carry on regardless, and the Gorse grows brighter as the days get shorter.
Grey Squirrels were plentiful, with up to five being recorded on the 19th. Surprisingly, there were no sightings of Rabbits during the month. Although no Water Voles were seen by Wildwatch members, two were seen in the month by one of the Rangers on Tang Hall Beck