Despite restrictions, our fantastic Wildwatch team have continued to collect wildlife data for us throughout the pandemic, whether out on their daily exercise or meeting up to do socially distant sessions (when allowed). This has been incredibly useful for us as it means we still have weekly records of the wide range of wildlife found on site. The team don’t have the capacity to write up all of their findings at the moment, so instead we’re going to be posting a monthly highlights blog. Below are some of the team’s favourite finds for December.
We often have people query how much wildlife can really be seen over winter. Though it is true spring and summer come with a buzz of life and energy, winter can be equally as exciting – as long as you’re looking in the right places! Those bare tree tops make it far easier to catch glimpses of feathery plumes. One lucky member of our team was able to watch a wonderful display of flocking siskins toward the end of the month (had it not been for the cold conditions, she might have stayed even longer to admire our feathered friends).
The banks of the beck, though by no means tame over the winter, are slightly less wild, which means that it is much easier to observe the activity of the banks from the safety of the adjacent paths or the culvert. That is, when the becks aren’t flooded! In December, our team were delighted to see a kingfisher on the beck. Usually a very elusive creature, it’s considered a treat to see a flash of electric blue as one swoops along the beck. However, this time, it perched on a branch long enough for a few Wildwatchers to get a good look and even a picture! Also on the beck there was a sighting one week of a chaffinch, very lovely but not all that unusual. What was unusual though was the brambling that was seen in the area very soon after. Though similar in appearance to a chaffinch, the intense orange breast of the brambling makes this winter visitor rather striking.
A particularly exciting sighting at the start of the month was a red kite hovering above the grassland at the back of Rawdon Avenue. We don’t know what it was after as it mostly feeds on carrion but small mammals do make up a small portion of their diet. We only have one other record of a red kite sighting at St Nicks so this was a real treat – let’s hope for more in the future.
And of course, for some birds, we don’t need to see them to know they are there. Towards the end of December, one of our team was serenaded as she walked out of the reserve by a song thrush, whistling its merry, flute like tune.
Fungi are always a great feature of the winter time and there are plenty to see sprawling the wet, shady woodland floor. A couple of particular gems last month were an emerging earth star fungi which, when fully developed, very much live up to their name creating a star shape on the floor, and a young cup fungi growing amongst some moss. As with the earth star, this fungi is very aptly named.
Hogweed is a common species at St Nicks, in fact, it pops up in most habitats across the site. However it is not common to see a hogweed plant in full flower in the middle of winter which is exactly what one of our Wildwatch team found. Not only this but usually white flowers had a pink tinge to their petals. We’re not sure what causes this change in colour, could it be a plant under stress or maybe something more evolutionary?
An activity that we take great joy in over winter is diving into the worlds that can be found within foliage or under logs and stones. A good old log is often a treasure trove of creatures, living for the most part harmoniously together. Under one particular log, our team found a group of false ladybird beetles. Lovely in themselves; bright red in colour with black spots (not unlike a ladybird, hence the name) but what was particularly special was the number of these beetles that we found nestling together. Usually found as individuals, the first sighting back in November revealed 11 of them hunkered down under one particular log! Throughout December, they were still found there in good numbers.
Woodlice are a regular find under logs and stones, but December saw a new species for St Nicks as one of our team found Britain’s smallest woodlouse, the least pygmy woodlouse. This is the second new woodlouse species to be added to our list this year as the rosy woodlouse was found earlier in the year too. This makes 7 woodlice species for the reserve in total! If you’re keen on your crustaceans, this is very exciting news.
Another new record for the reserve was a fern smut caterpillar found in a cocoon of fern spores. This was an amazing find as although it’s range is expanding, it has been described by Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union as a ‘very rare and very local resident’ in Yorkshire so it was a delight when one of our Wildwatchers found one at St Nicks.
And an honourable mention goes to Goosanders found at neighbouring site, Derwenthorpe. One of our team spotted these in one of the ponds there and although off site, we have done some work at Derwenthorpe and the cycle path between our sites make an important corridor for wildlife to travel up and down. So we thought it was still worth celebrating and, who knows, maybe they’ll make their way to St Nicks!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank our incredible Wildwatch team who have helped us continue recording and monitoring throughout this pandemic. We have added so many new species to our records this year and we are so grateful for all of their time and effort. You are an amazing team! Even those who have not been able to make it in have supported us by helping confirm identifications, checked sightings against previous records and boosted morale on those cold, wet days. Thanks so much.
Check back next month for some more highlights from our amazing Wildwatch team (yes, these are just the highlights – imagine the full species lists!).