St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: August 2015


Big bird of prey seen.. plentiful “blue streak” sightings.. endangered mammal seen thistle gall…beautiful migrant butterfly arrives, plus an unexpected damselfly and more hoverflies.

Osbaldwick Beck resembling a tropical rain forest

Osbaldwick Beck resembling a tropical rain forest


We were fortunate on all Wildwatch Wednesdays with the weather staying dry. Temperatures ranged from 21C to 24C on the first two Wednesdays, but dropping to 19C to 20C on the last two. We enjoyed sunny weather on the 12th and 19th, and sunny intervals with light breezes on the other two days. However, heavy rain on other days in the last couple of weeks raised the water levels in both becks.


Summer visitors lingered on up to the end of August, with Blackcaps being seen on the 12th and 19th (a juvenile male on the latter date on “Lungwort Lane”) and Chiffchaffs on the 12th, 19th and 26th, some of them no doubt juveniles. A single Swallow and Swift flew over on the 5th (but none since then) and two House Martins were over on the 26th.

The Osbaldwick Beck Long-tailed Tit flock continued to grow, with about 10 seen on the 5th and an amazing 24 in the same tree on the 26th – probably an amalgamation of several family groups. Up to three juvenile Bullfinches were recorded on several locations on the 12th, but on other days sightings were fewer than might be expected. Goldfinches were also in short supply, with an adult at the Environment Centre on the 12th, another adult at the Compost Heaps on the 19th and two adults by Tang Hall Beck on the 26th. Juvenile Dunnocks have also been seen, with one by the Compost Heaps on the 19th.

Clockwise, juvenile Chiffchaff,  Blackcap, Song Thrush, juvenile Grey Wagtail

Clockwise, juvenile Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Song Thrush, juvenile Grey Wagtail

At least three Robins have started to set up their winter feeding territories along Osbaldwick Beck, with others starting to sing in other parts of the reserve.

In the skies, both Greylag and Canada Geese flew over on the 19th, Sparrowhawks on the 12th and 26th, and a single Herring Gull on the 19th. Water birds were scarce, restricted to a single Moorhen heard calling from Osbaldwick Beck on the 19th.. where are our Mallards? !!

Wednesday 26th August was what birdwatchers would call a “purple patch”! Apart from the Chiffchaffs, House Martins, Sparrowhawk and Long-tailed-Tits reported above, the morning started with two Kingfishers seen together, perched briefly next to the Kingfisher Culvert. Later, there was another sighting of a Kingfisher perched near the culvert, which took off and flew away from the water, with its characteristic “blue streak”, over the reserve. A Common Buzzard, a rarity at St Nicks, was seen by two observers flying near the Environment Centre. Finally, a juvenile Grey Wagtail was seen from the Sluice Bridge, the first sighting of this species for quite a few months.

We think that the Kingfishers were probably juveniles, kicked out from their parents’ territory and sent off to find territories of their own. But no photographs were possible, so we can’t be certain of the age or sex of these birds.


Water Voles were easily seen from the Kingfisher Culvert on the 5th and 12th, but after the heavy rains, which raised the beck’s water levels, they weren’t seen on the last two Wildwatch Wednesdays.

Water Voles

Water Voles

A Brown Rat was seen entering the water from the Kingfisher Culvert on the 26th. Rabbits were seen on all Wildwatch Wednesdays except the 12th, with at least one juvenile being seen. Grey Squirrels were recorded on the 12th, 19th and 26th, with at least one juvenile seen on the 12th near the Kingfisher Culvert.


The first half of August brought sunshine, warmth and lots of butterflies. Sixteen of the 17 species recorded for the month were seen on the 12th, including our first sighting of Painted Ladies, seen again on 26th. In many years these migrants from North Africa and southern Europe hardly reach our shores, but in a good year they can be found as far north as Shetland. 2015 has been one of the UK’s best Painted Lady years for some while. The most abundant butterflies on the reserve in August were Gatekeeper and Ringlet though by the end of the month their numbers had dropped considerably. Small Skipper numbers faded during the month, and it was often hard to find Comma and Small Tortoiseshell. Large White, Small White and Greenveined White were frequently seen, as was Speckled Wood and a late flush of Brimstone. Peacock was not as numerous as it has been in some previous years. Other butterflies were few in number: Small Copper, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Meadow Brown and the mainly migrant Red Admiral. The year’s butterfly total is now 19 species.

clockwise: Small Copper Butterfly, Mother-of-Pearl Moth, Hoverfly Myathropea florea, Painted Lady Butterfly

clockwise: Small Copper Butterfly, Mother-of-Pearl Moth, Hoverfly Myathropea florea, Painted Lady Butterfly

Day flying moths included an abundance of hard-to-identify grassland micro-moths, plus Six-spotted Burnet, Silver-Y, Mother-of-Pearl, Pale Straw Pearl, Shaded Broadbar, Yarrow Plume (a first record for the reserve), Straw Dot and the tiny Dichrorampha petiverella. Disappointingly we have not seen Cinnabar this year at St Nicks, either their striking caterpillars on Ragwort, or the adults.

Dragonflies and damselflies were among our August stars. Dragonflies included Southern Hawker, possible Migrant Hawker, Brown Hawker and Common Darter – the latter in some numbers around the Environment Centre pond and in other places. Damselfly species were Azure – seen frequently – Common Blue, Emerald and an unmistakable male Banded Demoiselle seen by several people at different times. July’s possible male Beautiful Demoiselle was photographically confirmed as a sighting – far out of its usual habitat which in Yorkshire is normally confined to fast-running streams in the North York Moors. The last three species have not been recorded from St Nicks before.

Clockwise: Tachinid Fly;  Brown Hawker Dragonfly;  Banded Demoiselle;  Yellow-and-Black Longhorn Beetle

Clockwise: Tachinid Fly; Brown Hawker Dragonfly; Banded Demoiselle; Yellow-and-Black Longhorn Beetle

Grasshoppers are not frequently seen at St Nicks, but in the Dragon Stones area some Common Field grasshoppers were seen during the month. No doubt there were more in the meadows.

The lush summer habitat of St Nicks has proved attractive as usual to many species of bug including Gorse, Sloe (Hairy), Common Green and Woundwort shieldbugs. A Common Damselbug adds to the Tree Damselbug seen last month, and the Mirid bug Deraeocoris ruber was again seen in both red and black colour forms – this bug is more abundant this year than recorded before. Several other Mirid, Capsid and Leaf Bugs were present, including the tiny but smart yellow-and-black leaf-hopper Evacanthus interruptus.

Beetles included more Lagria hirta Darkling Beetles, smart Black-and-Yellow Longhorns Rutpela maculata, and of the Ladybirds, 7-spot, 14-spot, 22-spot and Harlequins were recorded.

Again, the rich habitat plus dog and horse droppings attracted a great many species of fly, among them Graphomya maculata, Mesembrina meridionalis (Noon Fly), tachinid fly Eriothrix rufomaculata and dance flies Empis tessellata.

Hoverflies were present in good numbers, particularly the Marmalade Episyrphus balteatus, ‘Footballer’ Helophilus pendulus, Syrphus ribesii and two Drone Fly species: Eristalis pertinax and tenax. Smaller numbers were seen of Chrysotoxum festivum, Eristalis intricarius, Eupeodes luniger, Myathropa florea, Scaeva pyrastri, Sphaerophora scripta, Syritta pipiens, Volucella pellucens, and two not recorded before at St Nicks: Eristalis arbustorum and Melanostoma mellinum.


August recording averaged around 50 species. Coverage was not particularly thorough, with lots of distractions and a week with no plant recorders present.

Most of the species in flower this month fall into two groups. Some with a very defined flowering season peaked in August but are already over or will not last long into September. They include Soapwort, Goat’s Rue, Blue Sow-thistle, Yellow Rattle, Lady’s Bedstraw, Tansy, Meadow Vetchling and Canadian Goldenrod.

Those with a later, longer or recurrent flowering period include Lesser Stitchwort, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Tufted Vetch, Ribbed Melilot, Great Willow-herb, the Bindweeds, Field Scabious, Wild Teasel, Knapweed, Welted Thistle, Redshank, Scentless Mayweed, Creeping Cinquefoil, Yarrow and Bramble – some of these will survive until or even after the first frosts.

Two new finds this month were Corncockle – just a couple of plants growing in a patch outside the Centre sown with wildflower seeds – and a wild Pansy sp, possibly out of the same packet, or perhaps self-seeded from a couple of plants noted last year in the old raised beds.

Meanwhile Apples, various Plum sp and Blackberries are swelling and ripening already, and promise a good harvest. Elderberries and Sloes look to be less abundant, but foragers will be able to find some. Don’t forget to leave plenty for the birds!

Plant Galls: Knopper and Artichoke Galls are back on the Oaks, along with a new record, Striped Pea Gall.

Thistle gall

Thistle gall

Smooth Pea Galls are proving fairly easy to find on Dog Roses – the wasps that cause these need to be hatched in order to find which of two possible species is the agent – and intriguing swellings on Creeping Thistle stems have been identified as Urophora cardui, induced by a species of Picture-winged Fly.

8 September 2015 | Categories: Wildwatch