St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: 22 February 2012 – Where are our young Bullfinches?

Hazel catkins

Hazel catkins

Weather: Overcast, some drizzle, cool breeze.
Observers: Carrie, Ginny, Ian, Kaye, Kaj, Linda

A rather damp start to our walk, but not as wet as we thought it might be! Water levels in both becks had dropped over the past week, but there was still a good flow of water through both of them.

There were many signs of Spring today, both in the quantity of bird song and in the plant life around the reserve.

Birds: Before we set out, we mugged up on how to identify last year’s juvenile Bullfinches. Because last year’s youngsters have more or less grown their adult plumage, the only difference between them and the full adults is the colour of their two bars on their wings. The adults have one bold and one insignificant grey-white wing bars. Last year’s juveniles have the same wing bars, but one or both of them are a buffy-brown, rather than grey-white colour.

It sounds a bit “nerdie”, but in fact, given a good view of the birds sideways on, it wasn’t too difficult to make this distinction. Very soon, up on the bund path, near the Dragon Stones, we saw a group of three Bullfinches in the same bush. One was a male and the other two were female. But one of the females definitely had a bold, buffy-brown wing

Song Thrush near Osbaldwick Beck

Song Thrush near Osbaldwick Beck

bar, making it clearly one of last year’s fledglings. We all felt quite pleased with ourselves at having made this discovery (and having added to our knowledge of these lovely birds), but we failed to find, for certain, any other young Bullfinches on our walk. We’ll have to keep on looking!

Bird song was everywhere at St Nicks today. We heard Song Thrushes singing at least four locations today, although we couldn’t be certain if some of these were duplicates. But there were almost certainly three separate birds involved.

Robin at the "Kingfisher Culvert"

Robin at the "Kingfisher Culvert"

We also mapped six, possibly seven Robin territories, based on singing birds. There were two, possibly three, down Osbaldwick Beck, one on the bund path, two along Tang Hall Beck and one along the butterfly path.

Great Tits were calling their “teacher teacher” song all over the reserve, and Blue Tits and Wrens were also very vocal. Just one Dunnock was singing near Osbaldwick Beck.

The solitary Goldcrest put in an appearance on the path by the Tang Hall Beck culvert (aka “Kingfisher Culvert”!), but no Kingfishers today. A pair of Mallards and a single Moorhen were on Osbaldwick Beck, and another pair of Mallards on Tang Hall Beck. There were just four Starlings on the power lines on the north of the reserve, and a few Herring Gulls and a single Black-headed Gull overflew the site. Blackbird numbers were low, and we saw just one solitary Goldfinch on the Tang Hall Beck path

Completing our modest count of just 20 bird species were Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, House Sparrow (near the Environment Centre), Carrion Crow and Magpie (in good numbers, everywhere!)

Mammals: We found a new location on the right-hand side of Tang Hall Beck where we could see 1-200 metres downstream of the beck, ideal, perhaps, for seeing Kingfishers. We saw none of those birds, but we had a really close view of a single Water Vole feeding on the bank opposite us, just a few metres away. The animal looked quite small, but we had no objective way of measuring its size. The bank side opposite us was riddled with Water Vole burrow entrances, and the animal entered and emerged from one of them on a number of occasions.

The only other mammal we recorded was, of course, Grey Squirrel, seen in a number of places on the reserve.

Plants and Flowers: Snowdrops have suddenly popped up all over the place.  There’s a carpet of them along the industrial estate path, and we came close to walking past without noticing them.  A healthy looking clump of Lesser Celandine just outside the Centre fence is starting to flower. The Hazel catkins are probably at their peak, with the very first male ones just starting to shrivel and females easier to find, while more Alder and Willow catkins are fully open.  We found just a few flowers opening on Blackthorn, and more leaf burst on Elder and Hawthorn. And as a foretaste of things to come, there are little Nettle shoots coming up all over the place near Tang Hall Beck.

Common Frog. Photo by Kaj Nyman

Common Frog. Photo by Kaj Nyman

Amphibians: A Common or Smooth Newt was seen in the Environment Centre pond, where there was also a Common Frog. This photo of a Frog, near the bicycle shed, was taken last week.

22 February 2012 | Categories: Wildwatch | Tags: Bullfinch, catkins, common frog, common newt, goldcrest, robin, snowdrops, water vole