Shieldbugs shine while hoverflies put on an autumn show… summer lingers on in the bird world… and autumn turns fruitful
Once again, we were blessed with rain-free Wildwatch Wednesdays! We had sun or sunny intervals on most days and temperatures stayed in the mid teens.
Butterflies were scarce during September with the exception of Speckled Wood which was seen in fair numbers on every Wildwatch Walk during the month. Most years this species is on the reserve every month from April to October. A few Large and Small Whites were around, and several Red Admirals, but there were only occasional sightings of Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Comma.
The only Moths identified were the well-known day-flying species Silver-Y and Nettle Tap and a single damaged Rosy Rustic which is normally a nocturnal species.
Dragonflies were still to be seen, notably several Common Darter and a couple of Southern Hawker.
True Bugs were a very numerous class of insect on the reserve. Common Froghoppers were everywhere to be seen, plus several kinds of Mirid Bug and a few Damsel Bugs including the Tree Damsel Bug pictured. Best of all, six species of Shieldbug were found, both adults and young (‘nymphs’), of which the Common Green could hardly be missed basking on leaf surfaces, particularly bramble and bindweed. Gorse Shieldbugs were in their usual place, closely imitating gorse buds and seed capsules. Hawthorn Shieldbug has appeared in much smaller numbers than previous years, but several were seen in September. Closely resembling this species, but smaller, is the Birch Shieldbug which didn’t seem to mind Alder trees as well as its more usual plant. Alder and Birch are also home to Parent Bug, whose females are unique in the shieldbug world in staying to guard their young, a cluster of which is pictured here. The sixth species found in September has recently had a rename from Sloe Bug to Hairy Shieldbug – it is the nymphs which are noticeably hairy.
Beetles were not much in evidence during the month, with only three species of ladybird seen: 7-Spot, 22-Spot and Harlequin. For the fourth month in a row a small beetle resembling Kiwi Fruit, one of the Darkling Beetle species, Lagria hirta, was seen on several occasions resting on leaves. This year has also seen a number of False Blister Beetles of the species Oedemera lurida. If squashed in the fingers, a nasty blister can result. Pollen feeders, they mate on a flower head, the female filling a sac in her intestine with pollen which is broken down to manufacture eggs, which are then laid in crevices in tree bark.
Flies (‘Diptera’) are visually the most abundant insect order on the reserve, and from Spring to Autumn Bluebottles, Greenbottles, Flesh Flies, Dung Flies and many others are continuously seen. Crane Flies (‘Daddy Long Legs’) of several species are seen in most seasons, and September brought out a number of these, including the plain Tipula palidosa and nicely-patterned Nephrotoma flavipalpis. Ten species of Hoverfly were counted during September, with many examples of the Drone Flies Eristalis pertinax and Eristalis tenax, and of the Marmalade Hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus, the ‘Footballer’ Helophilus pendulus, and the very common Syrphus ribesii. In smaller numbers but seen most weeks were Eupeodes luniger, Sphaerophora scripta, Melanostoma scalare, one of the Platycheirus species, and the larger Myathropa florea with an unmistakable ‘Batman’ shape on its thorax.
Garden Spiders Araneus diadematus were frequently seen around the reserve in many different habitats, with orb webs abundantly visible on moist mornings, and sometimes its close relative the Common Cross Spider Araneus quadratus was seen, the females being particularly plump. The female Nursery Web spider Pisaura mirabilis uses silk not to trap flying insects but to spin a tent to protect her young. This is one of the most numerous spiders on the reserve and can be seen in many months. Relatives of the spiders, Harvestmen are also a major part of the fauna of St Nicks, with half a dozen species seen in most years. September brought out Mitopus morio, Opilio canestrini and Nemastoma bimaculatum.
Our two breeding summer visitors, Chiffchaff and Blackcap, were present throughout the month, with Chiffchaffs still singing from time to time.. maybe juveniles practicing? Blackcaps were less vocal, but more visible than the Chiffchaffs. Possibly the last hirundines of the year were seen over the Dragon Stones on the 2nd – one Swallow and two House Martins.
Scarcer birds at St Nicks included Kingfisher on the 2nd and 9th (at the Tang Hall Beck culvert), a Great Spotted Woodpecker on the 16th, flying near Osbaldwick Beck, two Treecreepers on the 9th, and up to eight Rooks on the 30th.
There were more sightings of geese than usual. On the 9th, eight Greylag Geese and 18 Canada Geese flew over, and on the 23rd, 17 Greylag Geese, flying in a line formation and three Canada Geese.
Robins are now in full song all over the reserve, with both males and females setting up their winter feeding territories. On the 30th, at least 12 singing birds were counted. Several small flocks of Goldfinches were present, with a flock of about ten over the Dragon Stones on the 2nd and four feeding birds at the compost heaps on the 16th. Bullfinches were also scattered about the reserve, with 5 or 6 groups of 2s and 3s seen or heard on the 23rd, including juveniles. Dunnocks were secretive, but widespread.
Plant recording has been to say the least perfunctory this month, from a combination of absences and divided responsibilities. It’s still fair to say that it’s a slightly offbeat season. On the one hand, there are ripe fruits on Brambles, Elders, Hawthorns, Dog Roses, Apples, Blackthorns and a range of other imperfectly identified Prunus sp; Hazelnuts and Acorns aren’t hard to find; Sycamore, Maple and Ash keys are well developed; autumn leaf colours are in evidence though still a bit random. On the other hand, the 39 herbaceous plant species recorded in flower on 30th September outnumbered the tally for 2nd. Against expectation, Tansy, Buddleia, Woundwort and Field Bindweed have continued to put out new flowers throughout the month, while Black Medick, Herb Robert, the two larger Bindweeds, Field Scabious, Yarrow, Common Ragwort and the inevitable White Deadnettle are still going strong. Some plants are having a second season – notably the Cornflowers and Corn Marigolds near the Rawdon Avenue entrance.
Two species are very late: Devil’s-bit Scabious, growing in an unpromising site near the main Sustrans entrance, only came into flower at the beginning of September, while nearby Common Toadflax appears to have decided that a single unhappy looking flower in August was as much as it can manage. Both appeared last year after a sowing of wild flower seed, and may not survive long term.
The seeded patch just outside the Centre continues to provide interest and challenges. Prickly Lettuce flowered, so briefly that we could easily have missed it, and what might have been a Fleabane sp. had opened and gone before we had time to check it out, but Chicory has continued throughout the month. At least one Brassica sp, a yellow composite and several assorted Chenopods and Polygonaceae are yet to be identified.
The Oaks near the Dragon Stones were found to hold small numbers of Silk Button galls, induced by the wasp Neuroterus numismalis, one or two Spiked Pea galls courtesy of wasp Diplolepis nervosa appeared on Dog Roses, while two new galls, thought to be caused by the mite Aculus laevis and midge Iteomia major were found on Sallows.
The highlight of 30th September wasn’t a plant at all, but a perfect specimen of an Earthstar type fungus. Pictures have been sent to a friendly expert in the hope of pinning it down further.
Grey Squirrels were seen on four out of the five Wildwatch days, with three seen on the 23rd. Rabbit was seen on three of the days. There was just a single Water Vole sighting on Tang Hall Beck on the 23rd.
All photos were taken at St Nicks during September 2015