Late departures and early arrivals of birds.. A new botanist, new species for old, and the start of a moss survey.. Flies still flying in warm October, and at least three new insect records for St Nicks this month.
Nationally, the 10th= warmest October since 1910! At St Nicks, the highest Wildwatch Wednesday temperatures ranged from 18 C on the 1st down to 12 C on the 29th. We mainly enjoyed sun or sunny intervals, with light to fresh winds. We were fortunate to stay dry on all five of our Wednesday walks!
A bit of a strange month..! Two Swallows were seen on the 8th (last year, the latest was on the 21st August), and a Blackcap seen on the 15th (last year the latest was on the 4th September). In contrast, our last Chiffchaff was heard on the 10th, whereas last year, we still recorded this species on the 30th October.
Winter visitors were recorded earlier than last year. We had our first Siskin on the 22nd (last year, 6th November), and our first sub-adult Scandinavian Blackbird on the 22nd (last year.. in November). These Nordic visitors can be identified by what seems like a black-plumaged adult male – but with a dark beak. Our locally-fledged young males develop their characteristic yellow beaks earlier than their Scandinavian cousins.
There was a massive influx of Blackbirds on the 22nd, mirroring other local York Recording Area reports. Blackbirds were scattered all over the reserve in good numbers. Possibly, this movement also brought in our first Siskin. We are still awaiting our first sightings of other winter thrushes – Redwings and Fieldfares – both of which have recently been seen in the York Recording Area.
Winter-feeding tit flocks have started to build up, with two, maybe three, mixed flocks of Blue and Great Tits roaming around St Nicks. Of even greater interest are the two (maybe three) foraging flocks of Long-tailed Tits, comprising maybe 10 – 15 birds in each flock. They are worth looking at closely because of other birds associating with them. On the 8th, a Treecreeper was seen with them along the Tang Hall Beck path, and on the 22nd, both Coal Tit and Goldcrest were seen with them not far from the Environment Centre. These last three species are fairly uncommon birds at St Nicks, so scan the Long-tailed Tit flocks closely!
Goldfinch feeding flocks have also been building up, forming flocks (“charm” as a flock is called!) of 30+ birds. Both sightings of Siskins (on 22nd and 29th) have been birds associating with Goldfinches.
Other bird highlights this month included.. an excellent view of a Great Spotted Woodpecker near Tang Hall Beck on the 1st.. a Sparrowhawk, which flew just above head height over observers at the Kingfisher Culvert.. an argument between six Carrrion Crows and three Magpies in the Black Poplar along the Tang Hall Beck path (possibly over nest sites?).. a juvenile Grey Wagtail feeding by Osbaldwick Beck on the 22nd and 29th.. and a Song Thrush feeding regularly by the compost heaps by the path to the left of the Environment Centre.
Other commonly observed birds included Wrens, Robins, Bullfinches, Dunnocks and House Sparrows, the latter normally near the Environment Centre. Surprisingly, towards the end of the month, Woodpigeons seemed to be in short supply, despite the massive influx of this species locally; there is a big winter arrival of Woodpigeons into the UK each year.
It has been an unusual month from the angle of plant monitoring. We were overjoyed to welcome a new ranger who just happens to be an expert botanist with a particular interest in grasses and bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). The timing is perfect for the latter – thriving and more easily visible in the winter months – but it’s getting a bit late for grass, so for the first couple of weeks some of us embarked on a very steep learning curve as Alison showed us what to look for among the autumnal remains. Perennial Rye Grass, Annual Meadow Grass, Cocksfoot, False Oat-grass, Yorkshire Fog, Red Fescue, Crested Dog’s Tail, Common Couch-grass and Reed Canary Grass have been confirmed. Details of and no doubt lessons on the twelve moss species she has tracked down so far will follow in due course.
Routine monitoring of other species in flower was limited, and records are incomplete, but 25 were found on two occasions. At the start of the month, these included probably the last Field Scabious, Tufted Vetch, Meadow Vetchling and Ribbed Melilot of the year. By the end, we were recording the usual late autumn stalwarts: White Dead Nettle, Yarrow, Common Ragwort, Herb Robert, Dandelions and Hogweed, with a few remaining flowers on Tansy, Common Knapweed and Bramble. In a mild autumn all sorts of plant are putting out just an odd flower – the count includes a single washed-out Red Campion. Lesser Stitchwort is still going strong. Meanwhile first Gorse flowers of the new season are opening, and Ivy is coming into flower alongside the Sustrans path. There was a sharp wake-up call when Alison pointed out that a lot of what we have been uncritically recording as native Hedge Bindweed, Calystegia sepium is in fact introduced Large Bindweed, Calystegia sylvatica and hybrids. However, both species are present, giving us an unexpected new item for the site list. On the down side, the Hollyhock, which at the end of September was flowering nicely, has vanished without trace.
Three new galls have been found. One on a Sallow leaf was probably caused by a Sawfly, Eupontania pedunculi. Galls on Wood Avens and Hazel are induced by mites. The Hazel Gall Mite Phytoptus avellanae is an unwelcome new arrival because it attacks next year’s leaf and female flower buds, affecting the bush’s potential growth and crop.
Fruiting bodies in various shapes, sizes and colours are starting to pop up all over the place, and we keep adding to our photographic record of unidentified species. Excitement was caused by the appearance of what seems to be a variety of Earthball. One that we can identify is the intriguing white and black Candle-snuff, which is reappearing in one or two locations for the third successive year.
Butterflies offered an interesting comparison with October last year when three species were seen: Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Peacock. This year again three species were seen during the month, but entirely different ones: Small Copper, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood. Day-flying moths were scarce apart from fleeting and unidentifiable grass moths, though the small and prettily patterned Nettle Tap was frequently observed in its usual habitat.
The warm month enabled a number of insects to put on a show. Bugs of various kinds were frequently seen, including four species of shieldbug: Gorse, Common Green, Hawthorn and Parent, of which the Green was by far the most abundant. Of the hoppers, the Common Froghopper and Alder Spittlebug were spotted in various locations, while a single sighting of a Potato Leafhopper Eupteryx aurata was a new record for the reserve. Tree Damselbug Himacerus apterus, first recorded in October last year, and seen again last month, was spotted on three occasions this month, and several Common Flower Bugs Anthocoris nemorum were noticed, quickly scuttling underneath a leaf when approached.
October’s list of beetles began with another new record for the reserve, this time within the compound of the environment centre, attracted by their food plant: the bark fungus on rotting tree stumps. These were rich red ladybird mimics with four large black spots known as Handsome Fungus Beetle Endomuchus coccineus. Several were found feeding and mating on these stumps during two Wildwatch mornings in the month. A fine black ground beetle was found under a rotting log near Ladybird Corner, possibly Leistus spinibarbis. Many ground beetles are hard to tell apart without close examination following capture, while Wildwatch walks are mostly about observation in situ rather than collecting samples. Last year’s great abundance of Harlequin ladybirds appeared not to be repeated this year until towards the end of the month they suddenly blossomed, with larvae, pupae and adults appearing in many locations, the adults in 7 or 8 different colours and patterns. Several 7-spot ladybirds were also seen, but no other ladybird species apart from a tiny yellow 22-spot on the first day of the month.
Flies were by far the most abundant insects around the reserve, with some late hoverflies searching for nectar on the diminishing number of plants in flower: Eristalis pertinax and tenax – popularly known as drone flies – Episyrphus balteatus (‘Marmalade’), Helophilus pendulus (‘Footballer’), Syrphus ribesii and Melanostoma scalare making up the six identified species. All of the common fly species listed in September’s blog continued into warm October, plus tiny Moth Flies Pericoma sp. Two interesting crane flies were seen: the attractively marked Nephrotoma flavipalpis and, not recorded on the reserve before, Ptychoptera contaminata. A few of Britain’s 2,600 species of Ichneumon Wasp were seen, only one of which was identified: Amblyteles armatorius.
Spiders and Harvestmen continued to be seen in large numbers around the reserve, mostly of the Garden and Nursery Web species, but others too, including a fine Common Cross Araneus quadratus and the mainly nocturnal Nuctenea umbricata. Unfortunately the spider workshop planned for September did not attract enough numbers for it to go ahead: this would have been a boost for our identification skills of a number of currently unidentified spider species on the reserve. Harvestmen were also seen in small numbers, including a possible Opilio canestrini.
Finally, creatures hiding under logs and stones. Common Shiny, Common Rough and Common Pill woodlice were abundant, while scuttling around them, or curled up beside them, were several species of millipede including Spotted Snake Blaniulus guttulatus, Flat-backed Polydesmus sp. and Black Snake Tachypodoilus niger.
Grey Squirrels appear to have had a good breeding season, with multiple sightings on all five Wednesdays. On the 8th there were about ten sightings of this creature. In contrast, single Rabbits were only seen on two occasions. A Brown Rat was seen swimming in Tang Hall Beck, near the Sluice Bridge on the 15th. This is not to be confused with the two fake Brown Rats, which appeared on the reserve shortly before Halloween!!
No Water Voles were seen during the month. However, as part of of the St Nicks Water Vole Survey, a number of tethered rafts were placed in both becks, baited with apple pieces. When they were checked later, some droppings were found on the rafts which were clearly left by Water Voles. So, although we might not have actually seen any voles this month, they are still around.
The Wildwatch Group has produced the 2013 Wildlife Report, with a summary of the group’s sightings last year. With 43 pages, it’s the biggest and most comprehensive report we’ve ever produced! It covers birds, mammals, amphibians, invertebrates, plants, trees and fungi & lichens. With loads of full-colour photos, it represents a detailed record of St Nicks wildlife. And, if you get the online PDF version, it’s available for the popular York price.. free! Printed copies may also be available for a low price; enquire at the Environment Centre.
Download your free copy here
All photos on this page were taken at St Nicks in October 2014 (except for the Wildlife Report 2013 cover!)