Weather: in a wet and relatively mild month, Wednesday mornings were mainly cold and dry, though very muddy. Water in the becks was high early in the month, but kept below flood level.
Observers: numbers have remained high, sometimes running to three groups.
Birds: the previous month’s high bird counts continued, with a maximum of 28 species on 27th and a possible total of 35 species for the month. One possible extra species was a Blackcap spotted by our Spanish volunteer, Rafa, who knows the bird well. Blackcaps are summer migrants which breed in Britain. Almost all leave us in the autumn to winter in southern Spain and North Africa, but a few mid-European breeding Blackcaps migrate north-west in the autumn and spend the winter in Britain. They are sometimes seen on our garden feeders in January and February. There are several recent records in the York area, including two on different dates in the garden of one of our volunteers, so it is entirely possible that a Blackcap was seen at St Nicks this month.
Of the winter visitors to the reserve we continued to see Siskins (attracted by the Alder “cones” and Birch seeds) with a fall from 25 on 19th February to 10 on 26th. Lesser Redpolls were seen with the Siskins on 5th and 19th February, both in the Alder and Birch trees north of the Dragon Stones and along the Oswaldwick Beck, where Grey Wagtail appeared again on 26th.
Two Redwings were seen on February 19th but most of these winter visitors are (or will soon be) departing for their Scandinavian breeding areas.
Excitingly, a Kingfisher was seen on the Tang Hall Beck on 12th February. Four tit species were observed on the reserve on wildwatch walks during February: Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and Long-tailed Tit. Of the finches, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Bullfinch continued to delight us. Bullfinch amazes us by the numbers we have on the reserve at St Nicks. They are scarce birds in the countryside around York but we have a number of pairs at St Nicks (they pair for life) and their plaintive calls are heard on almost all Wildwatch walks – some of the most beautiful birds on the reserve. A Treecreeper was seen, and it is particularly exciting that we are seeing a rise in numbers of the diminutive Goldcrest on the reserve with several sightings in January and February.
Spring song is now frequently heard from our resident Robins, Dunnocks, Wrens, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes. Woodpigeons and Collared Doves coo frequently, while Magpies, Carrion Crows and Jackdaws are very much in evidence, waiting for the breeding season to provide them with food. Overhead we have frequently seen passing gulls: Black-Headed, Common, Herring and Lesser Black-backed, plus Greylag Goose and Sparrowhawk.
Mammals and Amphibians: The staff spotted the first Common Frog of the year at the very end of February (a few days later than usual) and a Smooth Newt was seen. Grey Squirrels have been recorded regularly and Rabbits were seen on one occasion.
Invertebrates: Early in the month pond snails and a number of well-camouflaged caddis fly larvae (probably Limnephilus sp.) were active in the Environment Centre pond. Further afield on the reserve, under stones and logs, in addition to earthworms, snails and slugs three species of woodlouse and two millipede species were found. The woodlice were Common Pill Armadillidium vulgare, Common Shiny Oniscus asellus and Common Rough Porcellio scaber.
The millipedes were Flat-backed Polydesmus angustus and White-legged Tachypodulus niger. The latter is superficially similar to Cylindroiulus punctatus seen two months ago in December, but unlike the reddish-brown Cylindroiulus, Tachypodulus which is black in colour, curls into a tight spiral when disturbed.
Bumble bees and flies are beginning to appear regularly around the reserve, while on two occasions in February butterflies were seen. One was unidentified but the other, a well-seen Peacock Aglais io, sought shelter in a log crevice just outside the environment centre. The Gorse Shieldbugs seen in January failed to appear in February on the gorse bushes by the main path and are probably now hibernating.
Plants: After such a mild winter, it would be logical to expect an unusually early Spring. At St Nicks it isn’t quite so straightforward. On 26th February we found a couple of Dandelions, and the first Daffodils starting to open along Osbaldwick Beck, both almost exactly a month earlier than last year. The Snowdrops, which were already out in January, have flowered throughout the month, and are probably at their best now. They certainly won’t last into April again! On the other hand we have been looking out for Coltsfoots, which were around from mid-February last year, and have still found no sign of them. Lungwort, another early flowering species, remains in tight bud in the reserve, though a cultivated variety is out in the Centre garden along with various Primula species and Crocuses. One single Crocus was noticed near a couple of Daisies in the play area. The first Lesser Celandines were out at the end of the month , recorded at almost exactly the same time as last year.
Alder, Hazel, Aspen and Goat Willow have continued to flower throughout the month, with different trees of the same species markedly ahead of others. The Aspen at the end of Osbaldwick Beck is well worth a special visit, now that most of its silky catkins have opened to full length. Small and sheltered specimens of Elder and Hawthorn are showing a few full leaves. More mature plants have got more sense. Wild Plum, Cherry Plum and possibly hybrid species are providing the first delicate white blossom of spring. There should be a lot more to follow.
Most of the plants reported in January continue to flower sporadically, though by the end of the month the Brambles seemed to have stopped trying to flower and were producing strong new shoots. Along the path verges, leaves of various Geranium and Labiate species are growing rapidly, alongside the first shoots of later flowering varieties. Nettle tea, anybody?