Weather: Cloudy with occasional sunny spells; light breeze sometimes freshening; fairly mild but with distinct wind chill factor.
Observers: Janetta, Linda, Phil, Kaye
After a very wet Tuesday, some of the unmade paths were muddy and water levels in the Becks were fairly high, but Spring was cautiously back in the air, with singing birds, a variety of shoots pushing through, and a distinctly fresh green about some of the short grass.
Birds: At around 9 at the cycle-track entrance, Kaye was delighted to find a singing Song Thrush and two Robins singing defiance at one another from adjacent territories. We have neglected Osbaldwick Beck lately, and a decision to prioritise it paid off well. There was a pair of Mallards at either end, and a lone Moorhen skulking among vegetation before taking off downstream. The trees and shrubs held Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits in pairs or small groups, at least two singing Robins, a couple of Bullfinches and various Blackbirds, as well as the ubiquitous Wood Pigeons. Phil thought he found a Redpoll but wasn’t sufficiently confident to call. To the right of the top path we heard a Wren singing. Then one came into clear view in the undergrowth, closely followed by another. For a moment we wondered if they were starting to pair, but concluded that it looked more like a territorial dispute. Returning via the lower path, we stopped to check out a Siskin and discovered that there were at least nine birds feeding in a very small Alder. We did remind Linda that this is the time of year when woodland birds are easy to see….. there again, she found the first of two well-hidden Dunnocks. Back on the main reserve, we got a good view of a perched Song Thrush. Magpies were all over the place in groups of up to five. A largish and very mobile flock of Goldfinches criss-crossed our route, never settling near enough to be checked for hangers-on. At our closest view, Phil was almost certain that a little group of five were all Redpolls. Happily there was no doubt about the single bird down by the culvert, where we also picked up more Bullfinches, Goldfinches and assorted Titmice. Our best sighting of Long-tailed Tits was on the edge of the John Lalley Wood where a flock of perhaps a dozen birds could be seen well with the naked eye. House Sparrows and Collared Doves near the Centre, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, a flyover Carrion Crow and a lone Starling on the power cables brought the morning’s list to 22.
Mammals and amphibians: Scott reported seeing a Newt in the pond. Only the usual Grey Squirrels were in evidence on the reserve.
Plants: It is continuing to be a good season for fungi, with several varieties in bracket and spot form on twigs and logs. We were particularly interested in a small, pale species growing like tiny mushrooms attached by the top of their caps. Unfortunately nobody had a camera. There are still plenty of Hazel catkins at various stages of development but no advance in numbers of female flowers. “Pussy willows” are just starting to break in the Tang Hall Beck area. Alder catkins are further behind, and again there is no sign of female flowers. When we stopped to inspect some, Phil solved an old problem, producing with a flourish the term strobile for what we have hitherto called cones-in-scare-quotes. Along Osbaldwick Beck, Daffodil leaves are well through, and a clump of Snowdrops is ready to flower. The most baffling find hereabouts was a Hawthorn bush that appeared to have a few very unhappy-looking flowers open, unfortunately too high to get at. They appeared to be growing on twigs with haws still attached, but we’d like to believe they belonged to something else growing through. There was no doubt about leaf buds starting to open on smaller Hawthorns and Elders. As Janetta observed, early Elder leaves often have a distinctly purplish tinge that makes them harder to notice, but they are regularly among the earliest shrubs in leaf. We should perhaps try to test a hypothesis: these early leaves seem to be more common on immature plants. Is it possible that a younger Elder takes a chance, while an older Elder has more sense?
Date for your diary: St Nicks is taking part in the RSPB Garden Bird Watch on Saturday 29th January, from 10 a.m. Please join us and help us to survey as much of the reserve as possible. (In the event of bad weather, we will use vantage points from the Environment Centre.)