St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: 17 April 2013 – “And The Birds They Are A-Warbling”

Cowslips near the Flower Meadow

Cowslips near the Flower Meadow

Thanks – and apologies – to Bob Dylan for the headline!

Weather: Cloudy, 8 to 10C, calm at first, freshening SW breeze later.
Observers: Ian, Janetta, Kaye, Kaj

It was a grey, overcast day, but we just missed the heavy shower earlier in the morning. With the initial lack of wind, birdsong was plentiful and, with the recent milder and sunnier weather, many plants had come to life and produced flowers.

Ian had seen and heard a new Summer visitor along Osbaldwick Beck before the Wildwatch team assembled, so we went to check this area out first. Then, having heard of a fall of Wheatears in the area, we decided to check out all the grassy areas on the reserve to see if we had attracted any of these moorland-breeding passage visitors  – we hadn’t!

With there being just the four of us, Kaye went off with Janetta to look at plants and flowers, taking advantage of Janetta’s botanical knowledge, whilst Ian and Kaj roamed around, checking out the bird life.

Ian will be missing the next four Wildwatch sessions due to him swanning off to remote areas and also due to his guided walks at the RSPB’s Blacktoft Sands reserve, so Kaye will be the “blogger” for the next few weeks – and there might be a “blogless” week during that time!

Willow Warbler - near the Environment Centre

Willow Warbler – near the Environment Centre

Birds: First, the warblers.. During his pre-Wildwatch stroll, Ian both heard and saw a Willow Warbler by Osbaldwick Beck, the first of the year for the reserve. No photos this time, but here’s one from last year. He also thought he heard a Blackcap singing opposite the Bramble patch near the Dragon Stones, but the song was too brief for him to be certain. However, Kaye, on a solitary stroll after the Group walk had ended, “nailed” this species with a clear sight of a singing male Blackcap by the Sustrans Cycle Track. During the morning, we all heard at least two Chiffchaffs, but Kaye, again on her solitary stroll, actually saw one near the Kingfisher Culvert. So, that’s three of our warbler species back on the reserve. Will we get a return this year of Whitethroats, which were, unusually, missing last year?

Song Thrush singing next to the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track

Song Thrush singing next to the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track

Bird song was great, especially before 11 am, when the wind picked up slightly. There were at least four Song Thrushes, both seen and heard, as were many Blackbirds! One Blackbird by Osbaldwick Beck was seen carrying nesting material. Robins and Wrens seemed to be everywhere, and Dunnocks were heard in about four places, including a strange sounding individual near the Sluice Bridge.

Bullfinch sightings were restricted to a group of four males and a single female near the Dragon Stones (what’s going on there?) and Greenfinches were very vocal but nearly all invisible. Goldfinches, too, kept a low profile, although their song was heard in many places. A single Chaffinch was heard by Osbaldwick Beck (one of their regular haunts), but Kaj might have seen one by the Sluice Bridge.

Starling - one of two near the Playgound

Starling – one of two near the Playground

Great and Blue Tits were seen singly or in pairs throughout the reserve, but sightings of Long-tailed Tits were restricted to Osbaldwick Beck (another regular spot for this species) and along the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track. A single drake Mallard did what looked like an emergency crash-landing in Osbaldwick Beck, the only water bird seen today. Starlings are not a rare species (although, nationally, they are declining), but it’s unusual at St Nicks to see them actually on the reserve. We saw two last week near the Playground and again, today, near the same spot, we saw another (the same?) two. Have they got a nest site nearby?

Rounding up our bird species count of 24 were three over-flying Greylag Geese, a couple of Herring Gulls, many Magpies, a few Carrion Crows, House Sparrows near the Environment Centre, a couple of Collared Doves – and, of course, Wood Pigeons!

Lesser Celandines near the Playground

Lesser Celandines near the Playground

Plants & Flowers:  The long-awaited acceleration is with us at last. To start with a few of the old faithfuls, fully open Lesser Celandines, Coltsfoots, White Dead-nettle and undifferentiated Prunus blossom can be found all over the reserve. Gorse is still out near the Dragon Stones as well as along the main path. Chionodoxas in pink as well as traditional blue, and various garden variety Daffodils are popping up in new locations. In the Centre Garden, Marsh Marigolds are opening in the pond and little white Violets are out under the Larch trees.

Along Osbaldwick Beck we found a single Cow Parsley flower, Blackthorn, Red Dead-nettle and a presumably cultivated variety of Spurge.  The first Cowslips are out opposite the meadow, and a Field Maple nearby is coming into flower.  Along the Butterfly Walk the first Apple blossom is just breaking, while Ash flowers are almost out in the John Lally Wood though much less well-developed elsewhere. Ivy-leaved Speedwell is showing well-coloured buds but isn’t quite out – look for it along path edges where the grass is short.  Willow, Poplar and Hazel Catkins can still be found, though the latter are at the very end of their season.  The Snowdrops have finally succumbed to the warmer weather.

Insects: No butterflies were seen flying today. Kaye stalked a few Bumblebees (well, someone’s got to!) but the only one she could positively identify was Buff-tailed Bumblebee.

Small mammal footprints - 2p coin for size comparison

Small mammal footprints – 2p coin for size comparison

Mammals & Amphibians: We had a few sightings of Grey Squirrel and Kaye saw a single Rabbit. Some news about Water Voles: earlier this month (see blog entry for 3rd April) we photographed some small mammal prints at the Sluice Bridge, with a 2p coin for size comparison. We sent a photo off to the Mammal Society and asked them if the prints were Water Vole or Brown Rat. They replied: “The roundness of the print does indicate water vole as opposed to brown rat, and if this is a riparian habitat, it is even more an indication! The 2p as a scale is ideal as well so I would be very comfortable to say this is not brown rat. ” So, possibly, we might be able to identify the presence of Water Vole from their prints with more certainty in the future. Maybe!

Frogspawn in the Environment Centre pond

Frogspawn in the Environment Centre pond

Since our last Wildwatch meeting last Wednesday, the Common Frogs in the Environment Centre pond had come, done what was necessary, and left a good-sized patch of frogspawn. Unfortunately, the Wildwatch Group missed seeing this brief activity, but below is a photo which Ian took of Common Frogs at Filey Country Park a couple of weeks ago.

Mating Common Frogs - not taken at St Nicks, but at the Filey Country Park.

Mating Common Frogs – not taken at St Nicks, but at the Filey Country Park.

17 April 2013 | Categories: Wildwatch | Tags: blackcap, buff-tailed bumblebee, Chiffchaff, coltsfoot, cow parsley, field maple, frogspawn, lesser celandine, marsh marigold, water vole, willow warbler