Highlights: Return of the Head-banger. New butterfly record but butterfly numbers remain low. Look out for Kiwi fruit with antennae! Giant puffball and galling plant discovery.
Dry on all the Wildwatch Wednesdays, with temperatures ranging from 14C to 23C. The 24th was particularly hot, sunny and with calm winds.
As expected, August was a quiet month for birds, with Wednesday species counts ranging from 15 to 20. Great Spotted Woodpecker was probably the highlight, a female seen on the 3rd and 10th and photographed on the 17th, all sightings being near the Kingfisher Culvert.
Summer migrant warblers were still hanging around, but were only giving their contact or alarm calls, rather than their songs. A juvenile Chiffchaff was seen on the 3rd and this species was recorded up to the 24th. After a male was seen on the 3rd, Blackcaps went missing for a couple of weeks, but two were located giving alarm calls on the 24th near Ladybird Corner. Overhead, the last Swift and Swallow were seen on the 3rd, and four House Martins flew over on the 3rd, with two on the 10th.
Long-tailed Tits have formed their post-breeding flocks, with between 10 and 15 being seen on the 3rd, 10th and 24th. The flock is very mobile and can turn up anywhere on the reserve. Breeding evidence for our resident birds is a little scarce so far this year, but it seems likely that up to six pairs of Bullfinches are on the reserve, and will probably have produced young. Juvenile Goldfinches were seen in a flock of 10+ birds on the 24th.
The local Sparrowhawk was seen low over the reserve on the 3rd, possibly hunting juvenile birds!
Grey Squirrels, including juveniles, were seen on all Wildwatch Wednesdays, with Rabbits being noted on the 10th and 17th.
Sixteen butterfly species seen on the morning of the first St Nicks Wildwatch of August (3rd) was a great start to the month, but numbers of most individual species were quite small, and on the four following Wednesdays fewer species were logged (9, 7, 6 and 3 respectively) with disappointingly small numbers of most of them.
One surprise visitor was a single rather tattered Dark Green Fritillary Argynnis aglaja on the 3rd, the first record of this species for the reserve. Its nearest breeding places are on the North York Moors.
The sixteen seen during August were Large and Small Skippers, Brimstone, Large, Small and Green-veined Whites, Holly Blue, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Peacock, Comma, Dark Green Fritillary, Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown and Ringlet. Nationally the Small Tortoiseshells are seeing another collapse, and were not seen on the reserve in August, though several clusters of their caterpillars were found on nettles during June and July. Speckled Woods were particularly numerous during the month, as was Gatekeeper in early August, taking over from July’s abundance of Ringlets. Skipper numbers were down compared with previous years, as were Large and Green-veined Whites. Comma, Red Admiral, Peacock and Meadow Brown were only occasional. Both 2015 and 2016 have been ‘Painted Lady Years’ nationally with often large numbers of this migrant moving across the channel. We saw 5 or 6 individuals on August 3rd, but no more after that.
Six species of moth were identified during August. The last of the (disappointingly few this year) Six-spotted Burnets were seen on 3rd, but no more after that. Cinnabar caterpillars (pictured) were found on their usual Ragwort food plant – the first sighting at St Nicks for two years of this increasingly scarce moth. Other moths seen were Shaded Broadbar, Silver-Y, Straw Dot, Pale Straw Pearl and Nettle Tap, plus several unidentified small grass moths.
Dragonflies were well seen during the month, around the pond at the Environment Centre, along the becks and out on the reserve. These included Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker (several), Common Darter (many), Azure Damselfly and Banded Demoiselle. See the Spotlight on Dragonflies, recently posted on this blog.
Among many True Bugs on the reserve during August were several shieldbugs including both adults (pictured) and nymphs of Gorse Shieldbug a species which has now been found, summer and winter, in every month for the last two-and-a-half years. Other shieldbugs found were Hawthorn, Hairy (formerly ‘Sloe’), Woundwort and Common Green, of which a tiny early instar nymph is pictured. True Bugs have no pupal stage in their life cycle. Flightless nymphs hatch from the eggs and go through around six changes of skin as ‘instars’ before emerging as adults. Other bugs identified were plant bugs Deraeocoris ruber (pictured), Liocoris tripustulatus, Common Green Capsid Lygocoris babulinus and Nettle Groundbug Heterogaster urticae.
Of the Beetles, 7-Spot, 14-Spot and Harlequin Ladybirds were recorded and on 31st the group watched a Harlequin emerge from its pupa. There were further examples of Yellow and Black Longhorn (see July blog), and several Darkling Beetles Lagria hirta (pictured) looking like miniature kiwi fruit.
Flies (Diptera) of a great many kinds were seen on the reserve in August with Greenbottles (pictured), Bluebottles, Flesh Flies and Cluster Flies easily the most abundant visible species. Several Tachinid flies were logged, including the attractive red-flanked Tachina fera. Thick-headed flies (Conopidae) of three kinds were seen: Sicus ferrugineus, Conops flavipes and Physocephala rufipes. Conopids are parasitoids, acrobatically depositing their eggs in flight into the abdomen of a bee or wasp. They were seen hovering round the Hemp Agrimony plants around the Environment Centre which attract many bees. Crane Flies (‘Daddy Longlegs’) of several species were found, including Tipula paludosa and T. oleracea.
Hoverflies are among the most visible and attractive of flies, and in August fourteen species were identified, several of them in high numbers. Most abundant was the Marmalade Episyrphus balteatus followed by the Drone Flies Eristalis pertinax and E.Tenax. Three other Eristalis species were seen: E. arbustorum, E. intricarius and E. nemorum. The male of the last named species hovers over the female as she feeds on a flower head, either as protection or possession. Syrphus ribesii and Helophilus pendulus (‘Footballer’) were on the reserve in good numbers, but there were fewer of the remaining species: Chrysotoxum festivum, Melanostoma scalare, Platycheirus albimanus, Myathropa florea, Sphaerophora scripta and Syritta pipiens.
Of the wasps and bees a number of solitary wasps and ichneumons were seen but were difficult to identify (the British list includes 2,300 ichneumon species alone). Honey Bees were everywhere, and so were Bumblebees, which with cuckoo bumblebees can prove an identification challenge. However, the most abundant species was Common Carder Bombus pascuorum. Most other common species were present including many of the recent colonist Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum. Hypnorum which is black with a fluffy ginger thorax and a thin white tail was first found in Britain (Wiltshire) in 2001, reached York in 2009 and southern Scotland in 2013. As its name suggests it nests not on or in the ground but in trees and even in bird nestboxes (including the writer’s nestbox this year). It is now here in the UK in large numbers, but is no threat to our native bumblebee species. It is a good pollinator!
Overall, the reserve is taking on an increasingly autumnal look, as flowering plants put their energies into releasing seeds and tree fruit ripens. Now is the best time to forage for Blackberries (always remembering to leave plenty for birds and small mammals!) though as predicted last month, the Elder crop is relatively poor. And if you were hoping to make Sloe gin this year, it’s a waste of time starting at St Nicks.
Around 84 herbaceous plant species were found in flower during August, though never more than the high fifties in any one week. Species like Spearwort, Meadow Buttercup, Creeping Cinqfoil, Ribbed Melilot and Goat’s Rue gradually came to the end of their normal flowering period. Path verge maintenance earlier in the year brought a late second flush for Common Field Speedwell, three species of small Cranesbills, and Ribwort Plantain. Random plants either came into growth late or produced a few opportunistic extra flowers – these included Garlic Mustard and Green Alkanet.
The genuine late summer flowers are of course present: Soapwort, Red Bartsia, Purple Loosestrife, Great Willow Herb, Yarrow, Tansy, Ragwort, Field Scabious, Mint sp., Teasel, Lesser Burdock, the various Bindweeds. Several of these will carry at least one or two flowers up to and sometimes beyond the first heavy frost. A plant well worth looking for in early autumn is White Bryony, climbing up shrubs in various locations. By now its pale green star-like flowers are still opening alongside clusters of attractive but poisonous berries in all shades of ripeness from green to bright red. There were two new items for the year list. Devil’s-Bit Scabious seems to be establishing itself after growing from seed in 2014. Its anticipated flowering period is from July to September, but in its very shady spot, this year’s 24th August is our earliest record. Investigation of an interesting gall drew attention to its host, Amphibious Bistort, which we must have managed to overlook for several years because we have never yet seen it in flower. Last month we reported Woody Nightshade as a first record for the reserve. Since then it has turned up in two other locations including a very easy access spot near the compost bins.
Plant Galls Turning over old leaves during August revealed a nice crop of Oak Spangle and Silk Button galls, along with about equal numbers of Knopper galls and healthy acorns. Fungal Taphrina galls on Alder seed heads and a range of mite galls on Lime, Alder, Sycamore, Sallow and Field Maple are easy to spot, as are Bean galls on narrow-leaved Willows and Bedeguar galls (Robin’s pin cushions) on Dog Rose.
Galls caused by a Picture-winged Fly species on Creeping Thistle seem to be more common this year, and a new find was a gall caused by a midge, Wachtliella persicariae, on Amphibious Bistort.
Fungi The main season got off to a promising start with the discovery of an Earth Star species, thought to be Geastrum Triplex, and a magnificent Puffball sp. In the absence of a mycologist, the Wildwatch group continues to try to maintain a photographic record but can only make a very tentative attempt to identify any but the most distinctive species.