Three new plants & six new plant galls.. more “blue flashes” and sightings of the “tree mouse”.. spiders and harvestmen abound, and grasshoppers spring a surprise!
Nationally, and locally, a very dry September, but with just enough rain to keep the two becks flowing. Temperatures on “Wildwatch Wednesdays” ranged from 12C to 20C, with a couple of sunny mornings. Winds were generally calm to light breezes, giving good viewing conditions.
September has a habit of springing surprises. There are no excuses for failing to notice the Whitebeam sp that some of us have been walking past for years, but a Wych Elm sapling in the laid hedge round the Centre really is a new find. Long may it survive, though its chances aren’t strong. There are also two new herbaceous plants: Common Toadflax was in a seed-mix that the rangers sowed just outside the Sustrans entrance. As far as anybody can remember, Devil’s Bit Scabious wasn’t, but there’s one very attractive specimen in the same spot. Neither is in its ideal environment, but Toadflax features on a site list from the 1980s, so here’s hoping!
Overall, it looks like an early autumn, and the tallest vegetation is already keeling over or dying back. Flowering plant records have fallen from 47 at the start of the month to 34 by the end – always with the caveat that attention often gets distracted by other species. The characteristic late summer flowers such as Hedge Bindweed, Yarrow, Field Scabious, Red Bartsia and Tansy are still going strong, and the Lesser Stitchwort along the main path is having an extended season. Hemp Agrimony and Bird’s-foot Trefoil are coming to the end of their flowering period, but were attracting insects throughout the month. Other species recorded include Musk Mallow, Common Mallow, White Campion, Creeping Cinquefoil, Wood Avens, Purple Loosestrife and Soapwort – all but the last of these are likely to be found into October. Tufted Vetch is making a come-back in the grassland east of the meadow. At the beginning of the month we found just one flower head, attracting the attention of a grazing horse that came across to see what we were looking at, and ate the specimen. By the last week there was a lot more of it about, along with new Ribbed Melilot and Pink Clover. Last year’s lone Hollyhock has survived, and came into flower on or just before 3rd September.
It was a good month for new gall records. Adding to the wasp-induced Oak galls reported in the August Spotlight, we found Silk Button Spangle Galls (Neuroterus numismalis), Cupped Spangle Galls (Neuroterus tricolor) and possible Kidney Galls (Trigonaspis megaptera). We also found three midge galls: Rhopalomiya tanaceticola on Tansy flowers, Hartigiola annulipes on Beech leaves, and Dasineura crataegi on Hawthorn shoots.
As expected, a fairly quiet month for bird recording, with an average of 17 – 18 species recorded on each of the Wildwatch Wednesdays. The “blue flash” of Kingfisher was seen along Tang Hall Beck on 10th and 24th (but not photographable, as usual!), and the “tree mouse” (aka Treecreeper“) was still associating with the feeding tit flocks along the Bund Path on the 24th.
Some juveniles have yet to acquire their adult plumage – possibly because they came from second or third broods.
Our two summer visitors, Blackcap and Chiffchaff, were still with us up to the 24th, both seen and heard. It’s now certain that both these species bred at St Nicks. A count on the 10th suggested that there were five Chiffchafs and up to three Blackcaps still on the Reserve.
Winter tit feeding flocks are now starting to build up, with, perhaps, three separate flocks, comprising Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits moving around the reserve.
Robins are now starting to set up their winter feeding territories, with both males and females defending their feeding grounds. A count on the 10th indicated 14 singing birds, with at least four down Osbaldwick Beck. The berry crop seems to have been good this year, and even Carrion Crows were seen feeding on Elderberries!
Water birds have been scarce this month, with no Mallards recorded on either of the becks. But adult Moorhens were seen on Tang Hall Beck on the 17th and on Osbaldwick Beck on the 24th.
Autumn came in quietly and warmly this year. Butterflies excepted, insect numbers held up throughout September, while spiders and harvestmen showed well. Unlike last year, butterfly numbers have been disappointing for most of this year, and of St Nicks more numerous species, Ringlets and Gatekeepers were last seen in August, but Speckled Woods were still much in evidence throughout September. It was disappointing not to see Brimstone this month, but a bonus was the Small Copper seen just outside the Environment Centre at the end of the month. It seems that no Small Tortoiseshells or Peacocks were spotted in September, though Red Admirals were seen in small numbers throughout the month (it’s been a good second brood hatching for this species), as were Small and Large Whites and Commas. The migrant Painted Lady, whose numbers sharply fluctuate from year to year, has not been reported on the reserve this year. So, just six species of butterfly in September. Of the day-flying moths, a Silver-Y and a Plume Moth Emmelina monodactyla were seen at the start of the month.
A female Common Darter Dragonfly was an unexpected find basking near the Dragon Stones at the end of the month, while Common Field Grasshoppers were seen near Ladybird Corner.
Bugs put in a good appearance during the month with Common Green, Gorse, Hawthorn, Sloe and Woundwort Shieldbugs spotted, the first two seen throughout the month. Other notable bugs were Tree Damsel Bug Himacerus apterus (pictured consuming a Cluster Fly Pollenia Rudis) and several colonies of Nettle Ground Bug Heterogaster urticae.
The only Ladybirds seen were 7-Spot, 14-spot and Harlequin, the latter in nothing like the abundance seen this time last year.
Hoverflies included, in some numbers, the Drone Flies Eristalis pertinax and E. tenax, the ‘Marmalade’ and the ‘Footballer’ Episyrphus balteatus and Helophilus pendulus; and Syrphus ribesii. Fewer in number were Eristalis nemorum, Myathropa florea, Melanostoma scalare, Sphaerophora scripta and Sphaerophora interrupta.
Other flies enjoyed the September sunshine, with the usual Flesh Flies, Bluebottles, Greenbottles, House Flies and Cluster Flies seen in some numbers each week, plus two Phaonia species: angelicae and pallida, the Tachinid fly Tachina fera, tiny Ensign Flies Sepsis fulgens, slightly larger Snail–Killing Flies and yet larger Dance Flies Empis tessellata. There were more flies not identified, and a few Sawflies seen but not identified to species.
Of the bees and wasps, a number of quickly-moving Ichneumon wasps were seen, one of which was Ambyletes armatorius. A fine digger wasp (pictured) Ectemnius cavifrons or cephalotes was one of several solitary wasps observed in several places on the reserve. Bees included large numbers of Honey Bee, and smaller but still significant numbers of Common Carder and Tree bumblebees.
Arachnids included several unidentified species in addition to the ubiquitous Garden Spider Araneus diademata, another common orb web spider Zygiella x-notata, a slim-bodied spider of the Tetragnatha species, possibly extensa, and the frequently-observed Nursery Web Spider Pisaura mirabilis, some females carrying egg sacs larger than their own bodies. The Garden Spider features in September’s “Spotlight” on this website. Harvestmen were abundant (as befits their autumnal name), particularly Leiobunum rotundum, Mitopus morio and Opilio sp.
Finally an addendum to August’s blog. The recent colonist Harvestman Dicranopalpus ramosus was spotted and photographed at Ladybird Corner on both August 6th and 13th. Moving up from North Africa, the first British sighting was in 1957 at Bournemouth. This species slowly spread northwards until it reached Scotland in the year 2000. It is easily identified by the way its eight very long legs are spreadeagled in parallel lines, four on each side of its body.
Grey Squirrels were seen on three out of four Wildwatch Wednesdays – both adults and juveniles. Rabbits were only seen on two of the days – again, one possible juvenile. No Water Vole sightings again this month, but we hope that the survey next month will provide some evidence of their continued occupation of the reserve.
All photographs were taken at St Nicks during September 2014