A 2nd bird record for St Nicks – and the 1st to be photographed, and a long-lingering summer visitor.. two new plant finds.. handsome Fungus Beetles delight!
A mainly cloudy month on Wildwatch Wednesdays, but also dry, apart from a few showers on the 18th. But there were sunny intervals on the 18th and 25th. Temperatures ranged from 8 – 11C
The highlight of the month was a female Kestrel, seen and photographed near the Dragon Stones. One was reported earlier this year (first for St Nicks), but this was the first ever seen by the Wildwatch Group, and the first to be photographed at St Nicks. Although Kestrels are relatively common (but declining in the UK), the commonest bird of prey seen from the reserve is Sparrowhawk.
Winter-visiting birds continued to be seen throughout the month. Notable were a Redwing on the ground on the 18th and an overhead flock of 40+ Fieldfares on the same date. Small flocks of Siskins were seen on all three dates from the 11th to the 25th, often associating with Goldfinches, the latter being seen in flocks of up to 10+ birds. The Siskins have been favouring trees near the Environment Centre, as well as feeding on Alder cones in various parts of the reserve.
Moving from winter to summer, two Chiffchaffs (normally a summer visitor to St Nicks) were seen near the Dragon Stones on the 18th. Were these late departing birds, or were they over-wintering, as these small warblers sometimes do? We’ll be looking out for them in the coming months!
Other scarcer St Nicks birds seen this month were Jackdaw on the 11th (normally seen just flying over the reserve), Goldcrest on the 4th, near “Ladybird Corner” and a Grey Wagtail on Tang Hall Beck on the 25th – possibly a juvenile bird. A Cormorant flying over on the 18th was also notable.
In addition to the Siskins, a good range of finches were seen: Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Bullfinch (up to 8 birds) and Goldfinch. Winter tit feeding flocks were scattered around the reserve in varying number, including Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits. Unusually, Wood Pigeon counts remained low throughout the month, apart from the 11th, when ten were seen by Tang Hall Beck.
Flying insects are scarce in late autumn. Most have died off, having secured the future with overwintering eggs, larvae or pupae, while many True Bugs, Beetles (including Ladybirds), Bees and Wasps hibernate, ready to arouse in Spring and start their families early.
Seen in every month of the year on their food-plant, adult Gorse Shieldbugs appeared in sunshine at the end of the month, and on the same bushes another adult Spiked Shieldbug was found (see last month’s Wildwatch blog). The Gorse bushes were often home to 7-Spot Ladybirds too, and several flies.
Decaying logs, of which there are many on the reserve, attract several different species of fungus, which in turn attract a small range of fungus-eating insects. Chief of these is the Handsome Fungus Beetle Endomychus coccineus which for obvious reasons (see picture) is also called ‘False Ladybird’. Adults and larvae consume fungus.
The most frequent insects and other invertebrates from November onwards are found hiding under logs and stones on the reserve. Logs are slowly lifted, the inhabitants observed and recorded, and the logs carefully replaced. There we have found Springtails, Mites, Ground Beetles, Millipedes, Centipedes, Slugs, Snails, Worms and Woodlice. Some of these are illustrated in the photo montages. During November at least four species of Springtails have been seen including the striking plump Dicyrtomina saundersii (pictured). Springtails are so tiny (2-3 mm) that they challenge the resolving power of our cameras.
The only species of Ground Beetle seen so far this autumn, under several logs, has been Leistus fulvibarbis, but a striking beetle larva (pictured) has also been seen.
Millipedes have included White-legged Snake, Blue-tailed Snake, Red-Spotted Snake and Flat-Backed. We have seen the large and quick-moving Centipedes Lithobius forficatus, and a nursery of the slower and longer Geophilus sp.
Five species of Woodlice have been recorded – the abundant Common Shiny, with less frequent Common Rough, Common Striped, Pill and Pygmy.
St Nicks in November, lacking most of our flying insects, is by no means dead of creatures. They need to be searched for (including hibernating creatures such as Common Carder Bumblebees and Common Newts – pictured) but the discoveries are rewarding.
November – the month when as often as not the first heavy frost reduces any remaining annual vegetation to mush, and puts an end to opportunistic out-of-season flowering. And so it seemed this year, with parts of the reserve still quite luxuriant at the start of November, but flattened by the end. Bird watchers regain their good views of the becks, bug-hunters start rolling logs instead of scanning flower heads, but plant seekers resign themselves to waiting for spring. But of course St Nicks tends to spring surprises.
Species recorded in flower dropped from 22 on November 4th to only 12 on 25th, although as always the raw figures can be slightly misleading. What we see inevitably depends on which bits of the reserve we are able to cover in a single session. Things still come and go: for example Dandelion flowers were missing from the list one week, but a few sunny days brought out new ones. Species like Pink Campion, Meadow Cranesbill, Common Mallow, Lesser Burdock and Common Ragwort, already well outside their textbook flowering season, do seem to have been fairly definitively cut back. However, the little re-seeded patch outside the Environment Centre still has Chicory, Red Clover and Black Medick providing a slightly chilled looking splash of colour. Out on the reserve, the Musk Mallow sheltered from North winds in the Butterfly Walk hadn’t admitted defeat, the late Tansy patch along the main path is still there,and those prepared to search could still find the occasional Wood Avens, Large Bindweed and Yarrow flower. Low-growing Hogweed plants are still putting out new flower heads, Gorse stands up to frost well, and of course White Deadnettle carries on regardless, with Red Deadnettles in the Centre Garden vying to share the family honours. We were expecting to add Ivy to the list, but when we checked the mature plants near the Sustrans path, we found that they had flowered earlier than last year, and berries were already swelling.
Finally the two surprises. Down by the Dragon Stones, an unexpected little white flower proved to be a first reserve record of a Strawberry sp – more likely to be a garden “alpine” cultivar sown by a passing bird than a true wild one. Then while we were looking for galls and fungi in the wood north of the Dragon Stones, a sharp-eyed placement student spotted what turned out to be only our second record of Black Nightshade. Like its 2011 predecessor, it was a very small, stunted specimen flowering too late to have any chance of seeding itself. As it’s an annual, this means it’s a one off, but again birds must occasionally deposit it, so there’s always a chance that one day they’ll put it in the right place at the right time to establish itself. You never know with St Nicks!
Overall it has continued to be a poor season for fungi. We are finding very few large specimens, and few large groups of smaller ones. The main exception seems to be members of a group that grows flat on the surface of rotting or ailing wood. The most appealing finds have been very small gilled fungi mainly growing among leaf litter. Of course we lack expertise to know whether they are small species or likely to grow bigger, and we seldom see them two weeks running to find out. Unfortunately few of them can be identified with any conviction.
A Water Vole was seen on the 4th from the Kingfisher Culvert. Grey Squirrels were seen on three out of the four Wildwatch Wednesdays (including one eating apples near the Dragon Stones) and Rabbits were noted on the 11th and 25th.
All photos were taken at St Nicks during November 2015