Even though this January was the coldest the UK has seen in 10 years, our brilliant Wildwatch team were undeterred by the chilly conditions and still spent lots of time at St Nicks, observing and recording as much wildlife as they could find. Below are some of the team’s highlights for the month.
Gorse shieldbugs (guess what kind of bushes you’d find gorse shieldbugs on!) are often seen at St Nicks and are familiar friends at this point. They have been recorded nearly every month over the last couple of years, however in December, we didn’t see a single one. Though they would have still been around, the cold, overcast conditions probably meant they were staying tucked away rather than coming out to greet us. It looked like January was going in the same way but then, on the last Wednesday of the month, the sun started shining and one of our team caught a glimpse of one enjoying the sunny conditions! A welcome sight indeed.
Another great find in January was an elder branch. Now I am sure you are thinking, what’s so special about that? There are loads of elder branches around St Nicks! Well this one was particularly special as it was an elder branch hosting 8 different moss species or bryophytes. Moss is easily overlooked but it is actually an incredibly important part of our ecosystem, helping to cycle nutrients, keep soil moist and providing habitat. So when a member of our wonderful team found one branch with so many different moss species living on it, it was hard not to get excited. Below is an annotated picture of the elder that points out the different moss species.
And tree branches are also a great place to spy birds, particularly during the winter when the branches are bare. Though no doubt the trees look luscious during the spring and summer in full bloom, it does make it harder to spot which winged creatures are frolicking within. Despite the cold weather, there are still plenty of birds to see over the winter. One of our team was delighted to see a treecreeper last month, a lovely little bird, so named for the way it climbs up the trunk of a tree (though not back down as its tail gets in the way!). Treecreepers are also sometimes called tree mice because of their novel climbing abilities. There were also siskins and bullfinches spotted in large numbers around the sight throughout January – just the splash of colour needed to pick you up on a grey January morning!
Something worth looking out for when taking a stroll around the site are the rather magnificent catkins of hazel trees. Catkins are actually the male flowers of the tree and they produce copious amounts of pollen. Developing in the winter means there is little help from pollinators when it comes to spreading their pollen but luckily, they are designed for such things. The dangling catkins produce a lot of pollen and once developed, even the slightest movement or gentle breeze will help dispersal. The pollen spreads to other hazel trees where it will hopefully encounter the little tendrils of the tiny female hazel flowers found along branches. The fertilised flowers will then produce delicious hazel nuts.
Kingfishers are another one to keep an eye out for, not only at St Nicks but at connected sites such as Hull Road park and Derwenthorpe. They seem to be becoming a more common occurrence, though admittedly this could be because there are more people looking out for them and reporting back to us than there once was!
A particularly exciting sighting in January was an otter! Unfortunately, not at St Nicks, one of our Wildwatchers saw it in the Ouse from the cycle path bridge at Bishopthorpe, going towards Acaster Malbis in the flood. However we do often see field signs of a visiting otter at St Nicks, prints, runs but the most conclusive and unmistakable otter field sign is spraint (poo). We regularly find the very recognisable droppings on logs along Tang Hall beck. A great sign that the ecosystem is a healthy one as otters are very sensitive to their environment. Let’s hope we get to see more than just poo one day soon! You can read more about otters in our spotlight blog.
If you find anything particularly exciting at St Nicks, please do get in touch. We love to hear all about the weird and truly wonderful creatures that we have on site!
This summary of January sightings was written by Volunteer Coordinator Maria Gill.