Throughout the month, construction work on the Cycle Track prevented us from monitoring wildlife from the Kingfisher Culvert up to the Sluice Bridge
Weather: After a very wet start on 2nd, when six soggy observers only managed an hour in the field, conditions improved and ended with a lovely sunny day on 30th. However, heavy rain towards the end of the month resulted in high water in both becks, covering up previously exposed stretches of mud. Temperatures gradually fell, from 12 – 14 C down to 6 – 10C at the end of the month.
Observers: Numbers ranged from 5-6 people up to a massive 12 people on 16th, when we split into three groups. It was Amanda’s last day with us on 23rd, before she went off to take up her dream job at Kew in London. We wish her well, of course, but we will miss her friendly company and her sharp eyes!
There were very few highlights this month. The Grey Wagtail was seen at the Kingfisher Culvert on 9th, but not since then, probably due to the lack of exposed mud to feed on. A low-perched Great Spotted Woodpecker was near the Environment Centre on 30th, when a Goldcrest was also glimpsed near the Dragon Stones. A Sparrowhawk put in an appearance on 23rd and 30th, being mobbed by three Carrion Crows on the latter date. A Coal Tit was near the meadow on 16th.
It’s “change-over” time for the birds! Nearly all of our summer visitors have gone, although we did hear a single singing Chiffchaff on 30th. The monthly Winter Thrush Survey on 30th produced only 13 Blackbirds, with no indications that any of them were Scandinavian Winter visitors.
Tit feeding flocks continue to grow. Although Blue and Great Tits were present in the flocks, Long-tailed Tits dominated the flocks, with up to a dozen birds in the same flock. There are probably at least two separate flocks – one along Osbaldwick Beck and the other near the Dragon Stones. Robins are continuing to sing in at least six territories, and Goldfinch numbers seem to be increasing, with a number of juveniles (2nd brood?) being seen.
It has been a leisurely autumn, with a lot of leaves still left on the trees, and vegetation dying back perceptibly but slowly. The early-ripening fruits have been picked over by birds, people and possibly Wood Mice, but there is still a sprinkling of most species to last into early winter, and there is a very good crop of Hawthorn berries to follow on. Rose hips are abundant but don’t seem to be particularly popular with birds or mammals. There are good quantities of Alder seed catkins, but very few of them are ready to open yet. Spells of very mild weather encouraged individual plants to take their chance on one last flowering.
Through the middle of the month we were regularly logging 23 species, though not always the same ones. By the 30th, with more of a nip in the air, we were down to 17. Over the month, late-flowering plants like Clover, Hedge Woundwort, Tansy, Welted Thistle and Wood Avens gradually shut down for the winter. Plants producing an unpredictable late spurt included Lesser Stitchwort, Creeping Buttercup, several Vetch sp. and Hogweed. Some species were found in flower throughout the month. Herb Robert, Ragwort, Mayweed sp. and Hedge Bindweed are looking the worse for wear and will soon be over.
White Campion, Bramble and Yarrow are still looking quite fresh but only in a few locations. Field Scabious lingers in the Butterfly Walk, though its food value to insects must be limited. White Deadnettle, looking almost as fresh as in spring, is easy to find. Looking ahead to the new season, we found the first Gorse flower on 16th October. On 30th the reserve had one last (?) trick to play on us: our first recorded Hollyhock, stunted in height but full of buds, is in flower alongside the meadow path.
Fungi: October was a bumper month. We added just over 90 pictures of around 60 items to the photographic record – nearly half the year’s total to date. Some are almost certainly the same species in different stages or in different locations, but impressionistically there must be at least 25 species. We are constantly amazed at how fungi appear and disappear. Several very large clusters, probably belonging to the Inkcap group, were fine new toadstools one week, and unappealing heaps of semi-liquid mush by the next, presumably having produced and ripened their spores in between. One of the few species we can identify confidently is Candle-snuff, Xylaria hypoxilon, an attractive little fungus growing on dead wood. More types than usual were found in grassy areas, prompting us to wonder how soon grazing horses can make a difference to the habitat.
Butterflies: Although the butterly flight season is more or less over, we still recorded three species: Small Tortoiseshell on 9th, Comma, by Osbaldwick Beck on 23rd and Peacock Butterfly on 30th at the Northern end of the hay meadow.
The most colourful insects in the reserve in October were the invasive Harlequin Ladybirds. The north-west edge of the reserve (popularly called ladybird corner) seems to be the area of their greatest abundance, and here can be observed a rich variety of different colour morphs of this beetle which first appeared in the UK in 2004, and reached York in 2007. It is aptly named: it comes in yellow, orange, red or black, and with spots varying from none to 22. Native to East Asia, Harlequins were introduced to North America and Europe for the biological control of aphids, and then spread inexorably, putting pressure on our native ladybirds. In the USA some call them Halloween Beetles because the onset of colder weather in late October causes them to invade people’s homes.
Bugs of various kinds abound on the reserve, and during October leafhoppers, froghoppers, capsid bugs, mirid bugs, dock bugs, and the aptly-named shieldbugs have been observed. Only three species of the latter were seen in October (unlike September’s eight): Common Green, Hawthorn and Gorse Shieldbugs. Sometimes called Stinkbugs, we haven’t yet tested this aspect of their character!
Flesh flies, bluebottles, greenbottles and dung flies were everywhere, but only small numbers of hoverfly were seen during the month, of just four species. These sun-loving insects, attracted to flowers and pollen, found the dull and wet weather on most Wildwatch visits, and the lack of blooms, a challenge. Even the sunshine of the final walk of the month failed to bring them out. We now have a long wait until next Spring to enjoy again these charismatic and attractive insects.
During October we received the results of the Spider Workshop that took place at St Nicholas Fields at the end of September. Thirteen species were collected including Floronia bucculenta described as “a very local species, generally uncommon and infrequent. It hasn’t been recorded in Yorkshire since at least 1991” (Dr Geoff Oxford, University of York). The most frequently observed species on Wildwatch walks is the Nursery Web spider, Pisaura mirabilis. This spider spins a web not to trap food (it chases and catches its meals) but to provide a protective ‘tent’ over the emerging young for a week or two until they can fend for themselves. The male presents the female with a food parcel during courtship to prevent himself being eaten by her during mating. In addition to a number of spiders, eight-legged harvestmen are frequently seen on the reserve even in late autumn.
News from late September was of a Smooth Newt (aka Common Newt) being found out of the water. It was taken back to the Environment Centre, photographed by Alice and released where it had been found.
A Common Frog was seen during the wet weather on 2nd October, just outside the Environment Centre fence.
Mammals: Grey Squirrel was seen on all five visits during October, with a maximum of three sightings on one visit. Rabbit was seen on three of the visits.
All photographs were taken in October 2013, with the exception of the Smooth Newt, taken in late September 2013