Winter & summer birds overlap; striking autumn colours; shieldbugs still bugging, but butterflies have flown
Temperatures were generally in the low teens. The 14th was the only Wednesday with any sunshine, whilst on the 28th, heavy rain curtailed the Wildwatch activity after about an hour. Otherwise, conditions were dry, if a little soggy underfoot at times.
Summer met winter on the 14th, with two Chiffchaffs (summer visitors) seen and heard near the Environment Centre, and a small flock of eight Siskins (a winter visitor) seen along Osbaldwick Beck, where five Redwings (another winter visitor) were seen flying over. A Siskin flock (the same one?) was also feeding on Alder seeds along Tang Hall Beck on the 28th. A Treecreeper, a scarce visitor to St Nicks, was seen near the Dragon Stones on the 7th and 14th, with Goldcrests, another scarce visitor, and Britain’s smallest bird, were also seen on those dates.
Winter feeding flocks of assorted species of Tits are steadily building up. Notable was a flock of about 20 Long-tailed Tits along Osbaldwick Beck on the 14th. It’s worth checking these flocks carefully, as you might find Coal Tits and Treecreepers associating with the Blue and Great Tits. Goldfinch flocks are still fairly small, with 14 being seen on the 7th, and smaller numbers in subsequent weeks. Some of the birds are still in their juvenile plumage, lacking the striking head colours.
In the becks, Mallards have started to return, after an absence of a few weeks, and a Moorhen was in Osbaldwick Beck on the 14th. In the skies above, both Herring and Black-headed Gulls continue to be seen. On the 14th, a photographable Sparrowhawk was seen being mobbed by a Carrion Crow.
In total, 28 different bird species were seen during the month, with 23 of them seen on the 7th.
It was quite a traditional October, with striking autumn colours and one or two golden days to view them. The herbaceous plants seemed to be steadily closing down, with 27 species still in flower on the first recording day, and only 16 on the last. We may well have missed a few in the rain that day, but Buddleia, Field Scabious, White Campion, Ribwort Plantain, Musk Mallow and most of the vetches and thistles appeared to have finished.
Of course in a mild November almost any species could put out an opportunistic flower, so who knows? Russian Comfrey did just that with bright new flowers at the very end of October. Plants like Meadow Cranesbill, Common Mallow, Wood Avens, Indian Balsam, Red Clover, Bramble, Ragwort, Yarrow and Large and Hedge Bindweed were providing food and basking places for late insects throughout the month, and are likely to continue off and on until the first hard frost. Chicory, Nipplewort and Tansy were flowering more prolifically than might have been expected. The former two started very late in a newly seeded patch.
The Tansy clump was cut down during scrub clearance but regenerated in time to fit in normal flowering a good month late – an effective example of the Chelsea Chop. And that leaves Herb Robert, flowering merrily in some unexpected spots, and the ever present reserve stalwart White Dead Nettle, by no means at its early summer best, but flowering on regardless.
Most of the early-ripening fruit has been harvested or eaten by birds and squirrels, but there are plenty of rose-hips, haws and other assorted berries, as well as Teasel, Alder and Birch seeds to feed birds and small mammals through a normal winter.
So far it has been a poor year, with the main excitement coming from three more of the Earthstar sp. reported last month. We are starting to see one of our favourites, the distinctive black and white Candlesnuff, on the cut surfaces of old wood. A couple of Inkcap sp. have been found in grass verges, and unidentified tiny specimens pop up among the wood chip on soft paths, but so far there have been few groups of large “toadstools” or conspicuous brackets. However, there’s still time – you never know with fungus.
Looking back at last year’s October blog, the insect life of St Nicks in October this year has been much less in evidence. Probably the weather on Wildwatch days had something to do with it. Butterflies were seen on only on the one October walk which enjoyed some sunshine – a few Speckled Woods and a couple of Red Admirals. Moths too were scarce: several Nettle Tap micro moths, and a fine moth caterpillar (pictured) which the group was convinced was one of the Hawks, but turned out to be Dot Moth Melanchra persicariae.
Of the True Bug order the shieldbugs were most in evidence with Gorse Piezodorus lituratus and Common Green Palomena prasina in some numbers, and on 21st a fine Spiked Shieldbug Picromerus bidens (pictured) was the first sighting of this species this year, bringing the year’s total of shieldbug species to nine. A tenth species, the Red-legged Shieldbug (also known as Forest Bug), has never been recorded at St Nicks though it has been seen this year in many other places locally. Also pictured is the shed skin of a Common Green – the newly-emerged adult was resting nearby. There is no pupa stage in a bug’s life: eggs hatch into miniature wingless adults called nymphs, which go through up to six ‘instar’ stages, successively shedding skins until they finally emerge with wings. Pictured is its last cast-off nymphal coat.
Other bugs included numerous Common Spittlebugs (‘Froghoppers’) and a number of Common Flower Bugs Anthocoris nemorum.
Beetles were few and far-between, with a few 7-Spot and Harlequin Ladybirds in various places on the reserve most weeks, and on 21st the second sighting for the year of the attractive Cream Spot Ladybird (pictured sitting on a snail). A single Willow Flea Beetle Crepidodera aurata was seen on 28th.
Flies (Diptera) were the only frequently-seen insects on the reserve in October, with Bluebottles, Greenbottles, Cluster Flies, Dung Flies and Flesh Flies conspicuous, particularly when the sun shone on 14th, the only sunny Wildwatch morning of the month. The same day brought out several late Hoverflies with six species identified. Eristalis pertinax, E. tenax and Syrphus ribesii were frequently seen, and there were also occasional sightings of Eupeodes luniger, Episyrphus balteatus and Sphaerophora scripta. The Crane Fly Tipula pagana (an autumn species) was seen and also several tiny Ensign Flies of the species Sepsis fulgens.
Wasps included Common Wasp, Gall Wasps and Ichneumons. Ichneumons, of which there are over 2,300 species recorded for Britain, are particularly hard to identify. They parasitize larvae of other insects, particularly lepidoptera and sawflies. Two different ichneumons are pictured here, one male and one female, and any identification help would be gratefully received! Two plant galls are also shown. The Spiked Pea Gall (‘Sputnik’) affects wild roses, and is caused by a tiny wasp Diplolepis nervosa. The other gall photo shows a small wasp between two Silk Button Spangle Galls. This is a gall of Oak trees caused by and containing the larvae of the gall wasp Neuroterus numismalis, but this is not the wasp that can be seen in the picture. She is a female Chalcid wasp, probably of the species Torymus flavipes. She parasitises oak gall wasp larvae, using her ovipositor to insert her eggs into spangle galls, inside which her hatched larvae consume the larvae of the spangle gall wasp. ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’ (Tennyson).
Spiders and Harvestmen included the abundant Garden Spider (see this “Spotlight” article), the frequently seen Nursery Web Spider Pisaura mirabilis, and others we have yet to identify. Three Harvestman species were seen around the reserve: Mitopus morio and Opilio canestrini on foliage, and Nemastoma bimaculatum under logs.
Grey Squirrels and Rabbits were seen on three out of the four Wildwatch Wednesdays, and a juvenile Brown Rat was in Osbaldwick Beck on the 14th.
All photos were taken at St Nicks during October 2015