Bumper month for the “Blue Flash”.. Shieldbugs are September’s stars and Harlequin Ladybirds spring a surprise.. fungi starting to flourish.
As Summer moves into Autumn, the flora and fauna at St Nicks changes. Flowering plants are dying back, insects are declining in numbers (although still plenty to see), Autumn colours are appearing as the leaves on the trees start to fall. Yes, we still have some of our summer-visiting birds in and over the reserve, and young birds are starting to find their own territories. And some stunning fungi are starting to appear. It’s change-over time at St Nicks, and we never know what will surprise us next. Read on to find what has surprised us this September!
Once again we were blessed with dry weather on Wildwatch Wednesdays. Yes, we had sunny days and overcast days, but temperatures remained in the mid-teens.
One of the highlights of the month were the Kingfisher sightings, with one on the 7th, two on the 14th, and (a record number for the reserve?) three on the 28th! All were along Tang Hall Beck. It is likely that these were juveniles who are now being displaced from their parents’ territories and who have to find territories of their own – or perish. Also along Tang Hall Beck was a Grey Wagtail on the 21st; we hope to continue to see these as Autumn progresses.
Other highlights were Great Spotted Woodpecker – with a mobile pair on the 28th. Also on the 28th was a Treecreeper near Tang Hall Beck – a scarce bird at St Nicks. It’s worth checking out the roving tit flocks (see below) for Treecreepers, as they often associate with these flocks. Coming soon.. a St Nicks Spotlight blog on Treecreeper!
We still had summer visitors at St Nicks, both in and above the reserve. Flying over, we recorded House Martins on the 7th and several groups of up to seven Swallows on the 28th. Two, maybe three Chiffchaffs were both seen and heard on all Wildwatch Wednesdays except the 21st, and Blackcaps were still singing on the 14th.
Winter feeding tit flocks were starting to build up, with Great, Blue, Long-tailed and Coal Tits seen in good numbers. Coal Tits, an elusive bird at St Nicks, were seen or heard on all but the last Wednesday, with three being recorded on the 7th. Long-tailed Tit flocks numbered up to at least a dozen individuals – but it’s just a matter of chance whether you catch up with a flock!
Finally, let’s not forget the common birds, such as Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Wren, Robin and even Collared Dove and Wood Pigeon – and juveniles of the latter two species were seen on the 28th.. they breed all the year round! A bit of a dearth of bird photos this month, so enjoy this shot of the much-maligned Magpie enjoying the Autumn sunshine!
September continued the pattern of this disappointing year for butterflies, but at least we had some sightings of Small Tortoiseshells which have reportedly crashed in numbers nationally this year. One possible cause is the increasing presence, due to global warming, of a continental species of fly, Sturmia bella, which is a parasite of the butterfly’s caterpillars. Small Tortoiseshells were seen in different parts of the reserve on 14th and 28th of the month. The only other butterflies seen were Speckled Wood in fair numbers throughout the month, occasional Commas and Red Admirals, and a few Large and Small Whites.
Moths included many Nettle Tap, some Angle Shades and Silver Ys, and a single Mother-of-Pearl. Of the dragonflies, Common Darter was seen in good numbers. It was interesting to watch the females ovipositing in the Environment Centre pond: the male holds the female as she dips her abdomen into the water or onto submerged vegetation. Southern Hawker was also occasionally seen around the reserve.
Shieldbugs were more visible in September than in any other month of this year, with six species observed on September 28th. After a three-year wait the elusive tenth species for St Nicks – a single Red-Legged Shieldbug (formerly known as Forest Bug) Pentatoma rufipes turned up on 14th. A mating pair of Spiked Shieldbugs Picromerus bidens was found on the same date, the first sighting of this species this year, and two weeks later a pregnant female was found in the same area devouring larval prey. In all, eight species were seen in September, the other six being Common Green, Gorse, Hairy (formerly Sloe), Hawthorn, Woundwort and Parent. A cluster of nymphs (pictured) of the last-named species was found on an Alder leaf at the beginning of the month. By the end of the month either the same or another cluster was found close by in which some of the nymphs had moulted into adults (also pictured).
Ladybirds were seen in larger numbers than in any other month this year, with immigrant Harlequins easily the most abundant and in many colour forms, but also good numbers of the native 7-Spot. Occasional 14-Spot and 22-spot were found: both of these are small and yellow with black spots. The photo collage here makes the 14-Spot look larger than the Harlequin above it, but in fact it is only half its size. One intriguing sighting (pictured) was of three life-stages of the Harlequin found together on one leaf.
Flies seen in September include many common and often abundant species, two species of Crane Fly, several Soldier Flies including Twin-spot Centurion Sargus bipunctatus, and a few Tachinid Flies, notably Tachina fera. A small Stilt-legged Fly Micropeza corrigiolata has been seen around the reserve for at least two months, and during September a few Moth Flies, possibly Pneumia extricata were seen.
Hoverflies are falling in numbers with the end of summer, but a good find was Sericomyia silentis – a large hoverfly (pictured) and the first sighting of this species this year. This brings to 25 the hoverfly species positively identified on the reserve this year.
The count of species in flower plummeted from 53 at the start of the month to 21 at the end. This is probably a reasonable estimate of species still in their flowering season across the reserve. Probably a dozen more species could be found with an odd flower here and there: collating the weekly records gives a total of 76 species recorded at least once in September. But at this time of year, plant hunters tend to get distracted by more exciting bird and bug watching, searching for galls, or just looking at changing tree colours under a beautiful autumn sky.
Grim determination and much swearing over our hand lenses at the beginning of September enabled us to confirm that we still have three kinds of yellow Sow Thistle (Prickly, Smooth and Perennial) on the reserve, though the latter two are very much in the minority. We likewise confirmed that some of the Dove’s Foot Cranesbill is indeed Small Flowered Cranesbill – but we failed miserably to differentiate small-flowered Willow-herbs and ground to a halt with yellow Asteraceae apart from a single specimen of a Hawkweed sp.
Otherwise, it’s fair to say that there are four main categories of record. Some of the high summer plants came to an end during September: Rosebay and Great Willow-herb, Soapwort, St. John’s Wort, Canadian Goldenrod, Mugwort, Weld, Silverweed, Creeping Cinquefoil, White Campion, Creeping Buttercup, Red Bartsia, Knapweed, Tansy, Welted Thistle and Teasel were all easy enough to find in flower on 7th, but were very scarce if not definitively finished by 28th. As noted last month, grass cutting sometimes induces earlier flowering plants to make a comeback, or prolongs the season of midsummer plants. This gave us, for example, Garlic Mustard, Forget-me-not sp, Green Alkanet and Red Campion. Then there are the species that are coming to the end of their season but will carry on flowering sporadically until the first heavy frosts cut them back, or carry on regardless unless it snows for any length of time: Yarrow, Feverfew, Indian Balsam, Dandelion, Large and Hedge Bindweed, Field Scabious, Wood Avens, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Herb Robert, White and Red Dead-nettle, Hogweed. Then there are the species that tend to get overlooked when flowers are plentiful: Redshank, Knotgrass, Sun-Spurge and Fat-hen do flower fairly late, but are also much easier to see when lush vegetation begins to die back.
In a league of its own is Ivy – first noted in flower on 21st, it is likely to continue throughout October, much appreciated by the clouds of bees visiting it.
A vividly colourful and attractive but very short-lived fungus may or may not have been a Ramaria species…. or one of three or four other possibilities. A fine mushroom-type likewise remains unidentified (pictured above). The Earth Star fungus, found last month, has now been tentatively identified as Sessile Earth Star Geastrum fimbriatum (also pictured above). A new gall record is a Ram’s horn on Oak, caused by the gall wasp Andricus aries, a relatively recent arrival in the North of England. Otherwise, the impression in September was that there are fewer Oak galls than usual – both fewer species and lower numbers of those that are present.
Mammals were not well recorded this month. A Brown Rat was seen feeding along Tang Hall Beck on the 14th. Three Grey Squirrels (two of them juveniles) and three Rabbits were seen on the 28th.
All photos were taken at St Nicks in September 2016.