St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: 29 May 2013 – Flowers, breeding birds – and the 2nd largest in the world!

Tang Hall Beck from the Sluice Bridge. With lower water levels and more exposed mud, many birds are coming down to the becks to drink and bathe

Tang Hall Beck from the Sluice Bridge. With lower water levels and more exposed mud, many birds are coming down to the becks to drink and bathe

Weather: Cloudy, breezy Northerly, 11 to 13 C but felt colder
Observers: Carrie, Ian, Kaye

Ian did his usual pre-Wildwatch perambulation, but drizzle then persuaded him not to carry his camera out on the Wildwatch patrol. Fortunately, Carrie and Kaye were able to take some interesting close-up photos of plants and other small things!

We started off doing a circuit around Osbaldwick Beck, and had some interesting sights of breeding birds, and also one of the 2nd largest birds of its type in the world.. see below! We then went on to the Dragon Stones area, looking for one of our warbler birds, and were well rewarded. Ian yomped off on an (almost) fruitless walk to the Sluice Gate Bridge, whilst Carrie and Kaye proceeded at a more leisurely pace, botanising on the way.

We were glad to get back to the Environment Centre and to warm up a bit. To have freezing cold fingers at the end of May is not very seasonal!

Juvenile Long-tailed Tit, at the Kingfisher Culvert in 2011

Juvenile Long-tailed Tit, at the Kingfisher Culvert in 2011

Birds: The breeding season is now under way, thankfully. We saw two families of Long-tailed Tits, with their really cute baby birds, one on Osbaldwick Beck, and the other along the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track. The photo here was not taken today, but in 2011. Two of the nest boxes by Osbaldwick Beck had been observed in previous weeks as being occupied by Great Tits, but there was no activity by either of them today, so presumably these clutches have, successfully, we hope, fledged.

We have a new breeding record for St Nicks. Coal Tits have, until this year, been a scarce visitor to the reserve. But, over the past few weeks, they have been a regular sighting, including two next to Osbaldwick Beck. Today we saw a juvenile next to Ossie Beck, strongly suggesting that they have bred on the reserve.

Whitethroat-June 2011, near the Environment Centre

Whitethroat-June 2011, near the Environment Centre

We are still continuing to see Whitethroats after a one year absence, with one individual seen today near the Dragon Stones apparently carrying nesting material. So breeding Whitethroats is a strong possibility this year. Again, no good photos this year of Whitethroats, so here’s another from our archives from 2011.

So, what about the “2nd largest in the world”?

Mistle Thrush, singing near Osbaldwick Beck

Mistle Thrush, singing near Osbaldwick Beck

Enough of the teasing! Mistle Thrush is the 2nd largest thrush in the world, after Great Thrush, a far-Eastern bird. Mistle Thrush is not often seen at St Nicks, but today one was heard and clearly seen at the Melrosegate end of Osbaldwick Beck, in a large tree a few metres just outside the reserve, but seen and heard from well inside the reserve. We’re counting it!

Bird song, despite the raw weather conditions, was great. Blackbirds, Robins and Wrens seemed to be everywhere. There must have been at least a dozen Wrens, and we couldn’t count the Blackbirds! There were 5, maybe 6, Song Thrushes, 2 or 3 Chiffchaffs and several Blackcaps, one of which was heard and seen from the Environment Centre garden, near where there were many chirping House Sparrows.

Greenfinch, singing near the Dragon Stones

Greenfinch, singing near the Dragon Stones

Other small birds seen or heard included Dunnock, Bullfinch (just one male near the Sluice Bridge) and Goldfinch (a few by Ossie Beck), Greenfinch (one singing near the Dragon Stones) and Blue Tit (not many of these). Larger birds were the inevitable Wood Pigeons, Collared Dove (uncharacteristically along the Tang Hall Beck Cycle Track), Magpie and Carrion Crow.

A pair of Mallards flew in and landed on the roof of the Environment Centre, maybe waiting to raid the pond! We also saw, in the sky, about 5 or 6 Swifts, 1 or 2 Swallows and up to 5 Herring Gulls. A total of 25 bird species wasn’t bad for a dull day in late May!

Plants:  We only covered about half the reserve, so a list of 32 species in flower almost certainly indicates an overall increase in numbers. Newly in flower are Winter Cress and Goose-grass (Cleavers) on the Osbaldwick Beck path, Cut-leaved Cranesbill near the Dragon Stones, Red Clover along one of the side paths from the Centre, and the first Ox-eye Daisies just outside the Centre. Hawthorn, Rowan, Apple and Lilac are the most noticeable trees in flower, including a very striking pink Hawthorn close to the Centre. The Laburnum buds are colouring and will start to open any day now. Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Common Vetch and Wood Avens are easier to find, but there is a lot of variation between sites.  In ascending order of conspicuousness, Ramsons, Red Dead-nettle, Red Campion, Garlic Mustard and Cow Parsley are in the middle of their flowering season.

We were pleased to find the Campion in a previously unrecorded site near the Bund steps. Ribwort Plantain, Daisies and of course White Dead-Nettle are at their Spring best but will continue to flower for months yet.  So will Dandelions but their exuberant first flush seems to be over.  Opposite the play area, the Gorse is past its best and the Cuckoo-flowers won’t last much longer, but there are fine clumps of Comfrey and the Broom is spectacular.  There has been no sign of last year’s solitary red Tulip in the middle of the wood near Tang Hall Beck.  It was an inappropriate species in a totally unsuitable site, but we’re sorry it didn’t survive.

Possible Carder Bee on the Tang Hall Beck path

Possible Carder Bee on the Tang Hall Beck path

Insects:  A single Buff-tailed Bumblebee and a few Pond Skaters were the only identifiable insects, although Ian might have seen a few Carder Bees along the Tang Hall Beck path.  Currant Galls found on three oak trees – in one instance on catkins, in the others on leaf edges – contain the larvae of a tiny gall wasp, Neuroterus quercusbaccarum, which will emerge later this summer. A few “Water Boatmen” (aka Pond Skaters) were on the

Current Galls on Oak catkins - near the Rabbit Warren

Current Galls on Oak catkins – near the Rabbit Warren

Environment Centre pond.

Mammals & Amphibians: Surprisingly, we saw no mammals today, apart from signs of Rabbit droppings below the Bund Path near the Environment Centre. We also couldn’t find either Tadpoles or Common Newts in the Environment Centre pond.

30 May 2013 | Categories: Wildwatch | Tags: breeding, Coal Tit, current gall, long-tailed tit, Mistle Thrush, Whitethroat