Weather: Overcast, dull, mild (6C) and calm
Observers: Kaye, Linda, Phil, Ian
It might have been dull and overcast, but some colour was brought into the scenery by the many Bullfinches we saw and, yes, on this, the shortest day in the year, some flowers as well!
It stopped raining shortly before we set off, but leaves and branches were still dripping with rain drops.
Tang Hall Beck’s level has dropped by a good 2 – 3 feet since last Wednesday – see below. It may be that the downstream blockage has been cleared.
Birds: The “little cutie”? This was the Goldcrest, which we had good views of along the Tang Hall Beck path. Goldcrests, Britain’s smallest breeding bird, also arrive as winter visitors to the UK in large numbers. St Nicks’ Goldcrests, which we see only infrequently in the winter months, are almost certainly arrivals from continental Europe. Ian didn’t have his big camera with him, so here’s one he made – sorry, took! – earlier.
Bullfinches seemed to be all over the reserve today, with maybe a dozen different individuals seen. Another splash of colour to this drab day was a brief glimpse of a Kingfisher at the culvert, only seen by Linda and partially by Ian. We saw plenty of flitting Goldfinches, up to 30 at a time, but just one female Siskin associating with them.
Both Robins and Great Tits were singing, the latter being heard for the first time in a few weeks. A small tit feeding flock was seen along the Tang Hall Beck path with Great, Blue and a single “Billy-no-mates” Long-tailed Tit! The six pairs of Mallards we saw last week were down to a single pair today on Osbaldwick Beck.
Completing our count of 22 bird species (again!) were House Sparrow (only around the Environment Centre), Greenfinch, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, Blackbird (not as many as in some weeks), Magpie, Starling, Black-headed Gull (a number flying over), Chaffinch (a few more than some times), Carrion Crow, Wren and Dunnock.
Flowers: The “little early”? It was a clump of budding Lesser Celandine, near the playground, which shouldn’t be flowering until late February. It’s worth looking out for if there’s a sunny spell. White Dead Nettle and Nipplewort are still trying to flower, along with a Bramble in bud and a single fine specimen of Hogweed. Gorse is a law unto itself, and nobody who knows the traditional saying will be surprised to find it flourishing at Christmas. The first Hazel catkins are starting to lengthen only a couple of weeks earlier than expected.
Fungi: There were still some good fungi specimens around, particularly those living on dead wood. Kaye managed subsequently to identify the rather unusually named “Witches Butter” (Exidia glandulosa), which we saw on one dead stump. We also saw an interesting-looking paper-like fungus (which felt very thin and papery) and some very fine bracket fungi, both along Osbaldwick Beck.
Mammals: Yes, of course, the usual Grey Squirrels and a single Rabbit! But, along Osbaldwick Beck we had some lovely (yes, really!) views of two Brown Rats, foraging at the edge of the water. We know that these are not everyone’s favourite animal but, away from human habitation, and in their natural habitat, they can seem almost cute! Ian’s rather fuzzy photo, taken on his tiny camera, shows one of these two, possibly a young animal because of its paler fur.
Down at Tang Hall Beck, we haven’t see Water Voles for a few weeks. We are wondering what happened to them when all their levels of burrow entrances were flooded last week.
Surprisingly, one of our Water Vole rafts, which we put in place a few months ago, has still survived the flooding, and is still tethered near the culvert. And, in case you are wondering, no, don’t expect any pics of Water Voles paddling these rafts! They were put in place to try to monitor the Voles by evidence of their droppings. We’ve had only limited success in this trial.