Weather: Changeable. Warm in full sun; chilly under cloud. Occasional light showers.
Observers: Aingeal, Carrie, Janetta, Linda, Lindsay, Richard, Kaye
Cooler weather over the last week hasn’t deterred trees and herbaceous plants, and the reserve continues to grow greener every day. The Environment Centre garden and pond are well worth a visit. Intermittent rain has left the becks running well without being too high – good for the bankside residents and birds in need of a bath.
Birds: Blackcaps have been reported from nearby locations, so we were disappointed not to find one. However, we collected a list of 22 spring regulars. Wrens, Blackbirds, Robins and at least three Chiffchaffs were in full song. One Chiffchaff, in the trees off the main path near the Centre, had an intriguing variation to its song: a repeated sequence of standard chiffs followed by a little syncopated phrase. In the same area, we had a brief glimpse of a Goldcrest. Blue and Great Tits were active and vocal in several locations. Long-tailed Tits and Bullfinches were present but less easy to find than usual. We expect other finches to be harder to find at this time of year: one Goldfinch and one Greenfinch sang briefly from a high perch, and we heard a Chaffinch singing from dense cover. We still don’t really know whether these species move elsewhere to breed, or have become superbly good at hiding from the ever-watchful Magpies and Carrion Crows. Dunnocks, the odd Mallard, Wood Pigeons and flying Canada Geese and Starlings completed the sightings. Pheasant and Jackdaw were heard.
Mammals: For most of the morning, we saw only the occasional Grey Squirrel. Then along Osbaldwick Beck we had a brief but clear view of first one then another Water Vole. Given that we hadn’t seen voles on Tang Hall Beck, we can’t be absolutely certain that these two were different animals, but what we’ve learnt about their territorial habits makes us cautiously optimistic. North of the Dragon Stones we stopped to record plants, and noticed lots of nut shells under a Hazel bush. Some of the nuts had been split open, suggesting squirrel or possibly human activity; others had a hole in one end, which is typical of Wood Mice.
Amphibians: Newts continue to be fairly easy to see in the Environment Centre pond, and there are still one or two Frogs about. Tadpoles are much harder to find: with so many predators sharing the pond, their chances of survival are slim.
Invertebrates: Near Tang Hall Beck, a beautifully bright Orange Tip Butterfly was sunning itself among the nettles, but didn’t stay long enough to be photographed. A few Bumblebees were about, including a Red-Tailed Bumblebee looking rather drunk on Dandelion nectar, and the first Common Carder of the season. So far it has been a spectacularly good season for Ladybirds, but along Osbaldwick Beck, there were probably hundreds of them – we counted upwards of fifty in a relatively small stretch. Most were 7-spots, in odd ones, pairs and whole clusters, but in among them we found small numbers of 18-Spot, 2-Spot, a few probable Harlequins and a tiny yellow one not yet firmly identified. Richard also found a Pied Shieldbug, and a pair of mating green Shieldbug sp. In the same area there were also lots of small Snails – again still to be positively identified.
Plants: All the early flowering plants recorded in previous weeks continue to show, though the Coltsfoots are at the end of their season and rapidly going to seed. Dandelions are particularly fine: if you only think of them as a lawn weed, stop and admire the handsome plants they make when they’re flourishing in the right place. The Cowslips are approaching their best, and a few Forget-me-not sp. are opening. Apple and Bird Cherry are starting to blossom. Sycamore flowers are much less obvious but are well worth a closer look. Ash and Blackthorn are still in full flower, while Hawthorn and Horse Chestnut will be out before long.