St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: 26 June 2013 – Bugs, birds, butterflies.. where do we start?

Mallard & rubbish on Tang Hall Beck - unfortunately the latter is all too common.

Mallard & rubbish on Tang Hall Beck – unfortunately the latter is all too common.

Weather: Sunny intervals, light breeze, warm in the sunshine – 15C to 19C
Observers: Amanda, Carrie, Declan, Ian, Janetta, Kaye, Paul, Rosemary, Tim, Tracy

A good turn-out of ten people today, with four new people joining in the group walk. We split into two parties, with Kaye and Janetta taking Amanda, Paul and Tracy on a mainly botanical walk, whilst Ian and Carrie accompanied Declan (one of our new Reserve Rangers), Rosemary and Tim on a bird-oriented walk.

Ian took his usual pre-Wildwatch meander and had a good view of our star mammal! And his group managed, at last, to find potential breeding evidence of a summer bird visitor which was completely absent last year. For that reason, “birds” have, once more, been elevated to “pole position” in this week’s sightings report!

One of the two Whitethroats near the Dragon Stones

One of the two Whitethroats near the Dragon Stones

Birds: On the main path next to the Dragon Stones, where a Whitethroat had been seen a couple of weeks ago, we found two birds (a pair?) flitting around, giving (almost) photographical views. According to the British Trust for Ornithology (“BTO”) breeding categories, we can now elevate this species to category “P” – “pair in suitable nesting habitat”. It’s good that we can record this potential breeding record this year.

We have yet to come up with firm breeding evidence for the other two warblers on the reserve, Chiffchaff and Blackcap, although both were heard today. However, the sighting on 5th June of a Chiffchaff carrying food could suggest breeding on the site (BTO code FF = confirmed breeding = carrying food for young), but it might just have been feeding itself! There were at least three Blackcaps and two Chiffchaffs on the reserve today.

Bird song was good today, although a little subdued compared with earlier weeks. “Heard only” included House Sparrow, Robin, Greenfinch and Bullfinch, the latter being very scarce today. And, once more, Song Thrush was completely absent. Have they been breeding and are now are now silent, whilst feeding young? We had five or six singing birds a few weeks ago!

Juvenile Great Tit near Osbaldwick Beck

Juvenile Great Tit near Osbaldwick Beck

Sightings of juvenile birds are increasing. Today, we saw young Great Tits, Dunnocks and Blue tits, together with several Magpie families. There were plenty of Blackbirds around, but we’ve yet to see our first young bird.

Flying over the reserve today were Common Swift,  House Martin, Black-headed Gull and Herring Gull. Other birds recorded today were Wren (many!), Goldfinch, Long-tailed Tit (one bird down the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track), Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, and a single drake Mallard in Tang Hall Beck – a total of 22 species.

Plants and Fungi:  An identical total to last week’s 50 species in flower was obtained by entirely different methods.  We have rarely covered such a small area of the reserve, but spent longer than usual trying to sort a few sub-species.  We ticked one item on our list of species found in earlier years but not in 2012 – Foxgloves are still present, though well off the beaten track and therefore hard to find.  Plants newly in flower this week are mostly ones we associate with late summer.

Rosebay Willow-herb and Common Ragwort are out along the path below the Dragon Stones, though much less advanced elsewhere.  Single flowers of Creeping Thistle and Hedge Bindweed, together with Greater Plantain in bud were found along the main path near the meadow. Janetta identified Pink Catchfly in one of the planters outside the Centre, and Nipplewort is opening in various locations.

We made a perfunctory start on differentiating our Dock species by confirming Broad-leaved Dock. Janetta carefully studied a number of wild Rose bushes but concluded that they were all variants of Dog Rose.  They are having a longer season than usual and are still a lovely sight.  Vetches, Clovers and Bird’s-foot Trefoil are attracting a fair number of bumblebees.

Common Nettle

Common Nettle

Lesser Stitchwort is pretty among the grass in front of the gorse, and Bird’s Eye Speedwell and various Cranesbills are still quite easy to find.  For sheer quantity, it’s a close thing between the statuesque Hogweed and Common Nettle, which people tend to forget has flowers.  Don’t try this at home, but we were intrigued to discover that some of the nettles with plain pale green flowers don’t seem to sting. There’s a possible story to this which we’ll

Unidentified bracket fungus

Unidentified bracket fungus

tell you when we’ve checked it out.  Finally we added another unidentified Fungus to our collection, spotted on the bark of an Apple tree.

Butterflies and other Insects:

From top left, clockwise: Azure Damselfly, Wasp Beetle, Pellucid Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens), Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum), Harlequin Ladybird, Tapered Dronefly (Eristalis pertinax)

From top left, clockwise: Azure Damselfly, Wasp Beetle, Pellucid Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens), Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum), Harlequin Ladybird, Tapered Dronefly (Eristalis pertinax)

Speckled Wood butterfly

Speckled Wood butterfly

Butterfly sightings are, as expected, increasing. Speckled Woods were seen in about half a dozen locations and there were a couple of sightings of Whites, almost certainly Large Whites (a.k.a. Cabbage Whites). There was a single Brimstone along the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track, and Kaye’s group saw a Skipper, but not well enough to see if it was a large or small Skipper. The probability is, given previous year’s sightings, that it was a Small Skipper.

There were plenty of other insects around, and quite a few photographs were taken. However, given the absence of our insect experts, Ian had to go onto an British Insect group on Facebook to beg for some IDs. Fortunately, help was forthcoming, and we might now be able to add more species to our St Nicks list, such as Pellucid Hoverfly, Early Bumblebee, Tapered Dronefly and Wasp Beetle (which Janetta identified).

Back at the Environment Centre pond, Ian was, thanks to Cliff’s earlier help, able to confidently identify Azure Damselfly, which we had previously dismissed as Common Blue Damselfly!

Water Vole by Osbaldwick Beck

Water Vole by Osbaldwick Beck

Mammals: Ian, on his pre-Wildwatch saunter round Osbaldwick Beck, put some time in watching the known territory of Water Vole, and was rewarded with some good views of a feeding vole. We have been told that there are two juveniles here, but we are not yet experienced enough to tell juveniles from adults.

The only other mammal we recorded was a single Rabbit, near the Bund Path. Once again, the Grey Squirrels have eluded us!

28 June 2013 | Categories: Wildwatch | Tags: Bumblebee, Speckled Wood, water vole, Whitethroat