A secretive bird… even more secretive mammals… Halloween beetles (and bats!)… a new gall for the reserve
For various reasons, we were not able to complete a Wildwatch blog report for October, so this is a combined October / November report. We’ve been looking out for visiting winter birds, and had a few surprises! Invertebrate recording has depended in the latter weeks on turning over logs and stones, whilst plant recording, naturally enough, has focused less on flowering plants and more on galls and fungi. Mammals on the reserve have produced even more surprises than birds! Read on..
From the 14C – 16C at the start of October, temperature, not surprisingly, started to fall. The snowy / rainy weather on 9th November was so miserable that no-one turned up for the Wildwatch Wednesday, the first time this has happened outside Bank Holidays since our records began. The final Wildwatch Wednesday, on the 30th November, was cold (0C – 4C) but mainly sunny and calm – time for the thermals!
The highlight was undoubtedly the Water Rail on Osbaldwick Beck, in the same location in the Bramble patch where it was seen a couple of years ago. It was first seen by Jonathan on 31st October, seen by the Wildwatch team on the 23rd November and photographed on the 30th November. Is it the same bird that visited two years ago? There’s no way of telling!
At this time of year we look out for Siskins, a winter visitor to St Nicks. But so far the only sighting was on 16th November. We’ll continue to look out for these small finches. Other Winter visitors included Redwing and Fieldfare on 26th October.
We also expect to see our Summer visitors disappearing, but Chiffchaffs were seen on 5th and 19th October. Could they over-winter here for the first time?
One bird that many people hope to see at St Nicks is Kingfisher. We were not disappointed.. at least one bird was seen on Tang Hall Beck on 5th, 12th and 19th October and on 16th November – the usual bright blue flash as the bird flew away. Other scarce St Nicks birds included Great Spotted Woodpecker on 5th, 19th & 26th October and 16th & 30th November. Treecreeper also put in an appearance on 19th October and 16th November and Goldcrest on 2nd and 23rd November. It’s worth checking out the roaming Tit flocks for both of these two species.
The last recorded butterflies of the year at St Nicks were seen on 5th October: a few Speckled Wood, Small White and Red Admiral, and a single Comma.
The most obvious insects seen on the reserve in October were ladybirds: small numbers of our common native Seven-spot but considerably larger numbers of the invasive Harlequin, with larvae, pupae and adults visible in many places around the reserve. It was interesting to note the various colour forms exhibited by this large and highly variable ladybird with wingcases of yellow, orange, red or black backgrounds and spots varying from none to 20 or more. Harlequin ladybirds were first seen in the south of the UK in 2004 and reached Yorkshire by 2007. Native to East Asia, they 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. October and November brought two sightings of Orange Ladybird Halyzia sedecimguttata. The first record for St Nicks was in January 2014, but at the time it was wrongly identified as the similar Cream-spot Ladybird. Quite a few Seven-spot Ladybirds were found hibernating in November, particularly in the gorse bushes.
Four species of shieldbug were found in October: Common Green, Gorse, Hawthorn and Parent. Almost all British shieldbugs are herbivores, so can wake up from hibernation as the leaves on their various preferred plant species start to appear the following spring. The one exception is the Spiked Shieldbug (see September’s blog) which is carnivorous. It overwinters in the egg stage with hatching biologically delayed until insect grubs start to appear. Gorse Shieldbugs seem particularly hardy and adults can be seen (as followers of this blog will know) on their preferred food plant in every month of the year, even in snow in January.
Hoverflies (Syrphidae) of seven common species were found at the beginning of October, but few later. Many other species of fly were still around in some numbers during October, mainly of the families Calliphoridae (blowflies), Muscidae (house flies), Psychodidae (moth flies), Sarcophagidae (flesh flies), Scathophagidae (dung flies), Sciomyzidae (snail-killing flies) and Tachinidae (parasitic flies). The Bluebottle pictured in all its finery is one of the Calliphoridae.
A few bees and wasps were still flying in October, notably late Common Wasps in some numbers, plus Common Carder and Tree Bumblebees. A queen of the latter species was found hibernating under a log in November. One striking find was an Ichneumon wasp on October 5th (pictured). Ichneumons are parasitic wasps, females using often long ovipositors to insert their eggs into their host species, usually lepidoptera larvae and pupae. Identification of these wasps is difficult, with 2,300 British species to choose from, but this one has the features of a male Amblyteles armatorius.
With the onset of November attention switched to the creatures found under the many scattered stones and fallen logs on the reserve. Invertebrates in this habitat are surprisingly numerous, among which several species of millipede, centipede, woodlouse, springtail, groundbug, ground beetle, spider, harvestman, slug and snail were recorded. Some of these are pictured on the adjacent collages, including three of the five species of woodlouse and all five species of millipede found during the month, one of which, the Eyed Flat-backed Millipede, is a new record for the reserve.
Many of the remaining tree and shrub leaves on the reserve show clear signs of insect activity within the leaf tissue. An example is the larva of a micro-moth Stigmella aurea, known as the Bramble Leaf Miner, which leaves striking traces of its progress through the leaf (pictured).
43 species were found in flower during October, with totals of 25, 34 and 19 in the first three weeks (no formal record from 26th). As usual, these were based as much on where we went as what was actually out. On the same principle, there were probably one or two more than the mere five recorded in heavy frost on 30th November.
Two plant families accounted for over half the October records. Asteraceae included the last gasp of long-flowering Hemp-agrimony, Tansy, Yarrow and Ragwort, typically opportunistic flushes of Dandelion and Groundsel, and a couple of late Creeping and Welted Thistle flowers in among all the seed-heads. A pristine new crop of Feverfew up the path from the big Lime trees was probably induced by late summer edge-cutting. It was vigorous enough to survive till the end of November. There were lots of new Cranesbill leaves in the same area. An unexpected find was identified as Wall Lettuce – a species we didn’t manage to find last year. The other sizeable group was the legume family. Red clover, Black Medick and Bird’s-foot Trefoil had been in constant flower since May; Ribbed Melilot, Tufted Vetch, Common Vetch and Meadow Vetchling went to seed some time ago, but here and there came back for another go. Among the minority groups, Field Scabious, Greater Burnet Saxifrage, Indian Balsam, Red Campion, Wood Avens and the Bindweeds were still quite easy to find at the end of their normal flowering season. Only the latter two lasted into November.
Field Bindweed recorded on 19th October was the latest we have ever found it, but just as we thought it was finished, a couple more opening buds were spotted on 23rd November. It surely can’t survive the latest cold spell? Herb Robert and Hogweed lasted through November – they are likely to pop up in any mild spell through the winter – and of course only heavy snow will temporarily deter White Dead-nettle and Gorse (and even then might only stop us from finding them). The highlight of October was discovered by a bird-watching group. Water Figwort was recorded in July 2013 on the south side of Tang Hall Beck, but not confirmed in subsequent years because the plant hunters chickened out: none of us were tall enough to get our heads above the nettles. We were rather peeved (nettled?) to find it growing quite profusely along the Sustrans path but well outside the reserve boundary – until the birders came across it on the north bank where we feel we can reasonably claim it as a St Nicks species. As for November, the botanical highlight was undoubtedly what the frost did to the leaves on the very last day.
Overall, we have found fewer plant galls than usual this year – both fewer species and fewer examples of species found. Many gall-inducing insects have two generations in the year, with the second generation overwintering in leaf litter. We wonder whether last winter’s floods affected their survival rate. During October we finally caught up with a Nettle midge gall, Dasineura urticae, a small cluster of Oak Cola-nut Galls (wasp Andricus lignicolis), and a single Oak pea gall (probably wasp Cynips divisa: the definitive test is to try to squash the gall, which under the circumstances didn’t seem fair). Knopper (wasp Andricus quercuscalicis) and Spangle galls (wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum)
have been easy enough to find, though still not in such numbers as previous years. The one species found more easily than usual has been the attractive Oak Silk Button gall (wasp, Neuroterus numismalis). Another new record for the reserve was found on 19th, tentatively identified as a gall first recorded in the South of England in 2008. This one is induced by the second generation of another tiny wasp, Andricus gemmeus. As of 2011, first generation galls had not yet been recorded in Britain, so it seems likely that our autumnal ones were produced by a chance visitor from further south, unaffected by York floods.
During the Autumn Fayre, an expert forager found edible species but as far as we know did not leave a note of their identity. It’s probably fair to say that no Wildwatcher would dream of sampling a species identified by another Wildwatcher, no matter how confidently, and we would still dearly love to welcome a serious mycologist to the group. Despite apparently favourable conditions October was not an unusually prolific month. We seemed to find more “toadstool” than bracket and resupinate species, including some impressive groups growing on logs, and reasonably familiar Ink-cap and Bonnet sp. among the path-side grass. Nectria sp – Coral Spot and closely related species – are easy to find in habitat piles incorporating small branches. November brought several records of Candle-snuff, a spectacular crop of Jelly-ear and bucking the October trend, several attractive bracket species.
Otter: There have been definite signs of this mainly nocturnal mammal alongside Tang Hall Beck. We’re not disclosing the exact location. We know that there have been regular sightings on the Ouse, and possibly the Foss. Otters on Tang Hall Beck are probably foraging animals.
Deer: We have found, alongside Osbaldwick Beck, a footprint which is almost certainly a deer hoof print. St Nicks is almost surrounded by houses and factories, so we are guessing that this animal has arrived on the reserve by the Hull Road Park wildlife corridor.
Fox: near the deer hoof print on Osbaldwick Beck, we found another paw print which seems more like fox rather than dog. We know that foxes visit the Reserve, not just by anecdotal evidence, but because one was caught on the Environment Centre’s CCTV recordings.
Grey Squirrel: Recorded on four of the Wildwatch Wednesdays
Rabbit: None recorded! Where have they gone?
Finally.. this appeared in a tree just before Halloween… we think we know who the culprit was!!
All photos were taken at St Nicks in October and November 2016