Spring was certainly a very exciting time for our Wildwatch team with lots of amazing new discoveries and the return of a few familiar friends.
For some of our Wildwatch team, just getting back to St Nicks following lockdown was a highlight in itself (and a highlight for us too as our team are amazing and we miss them dearly when they aren’t able to make it). Not only did some of our wonderful Wildwatchers return to the site, so did chiffchaffs and blackcaps after their long travels from warmer climes. Though not particularly rare species, I think after this year, we can all agree that seeing (and hearing) familiar friends is something to take great joy in! Some of the group were also pleasantly surprised to see repolls one Wednesday morning. Redpolls aren’t regularly seen on site so that was a rare treat!
But it wasn’t just the return of certain species that got us excited in March. One Wednesday morning one of our team found a new species of woodlouse tucked into a nest of ants; very appropriately named the ant woodlouse. These ant nests are very sensitive to disturbance and when checked again the following week it had gone. After finding that, our woodlouse species count was officially up to 8!
The ant woodlice wasn’t the tiniest find at St Nicks in March though. One Wildwatch volunteer stumbled across the gall mite Aceria vermicularis in Sycamore buds. He said it was amazing to find so many tiny mites inside a single bud. This particular mite seems to be a very under-recorded species – this was the first record for the British Plant Gall Society database, and likely to be new to Yorkshire (although our volunteer is waiting for confirmation on this). It’s amazing what our dedicated and curious team uncover!
Something we find fairly often is signs of a slightly bigger creature visiting the site – otter spraint (poo) is often left on one particular log for our team to find. We have also found anal jelly in the past, which isn’t quite as unpleasant as it sounds, it’s actually a mucus secretion from the otter’s stomach (ok, so it’s still a little bit unpleasant). There have been potential otter prints too, though these can be difficult to distinguish from dog paw prints. However, in March, we set out our trail camera and managed to get an actual picture of it! It’s not the most high quality shot but still, it’s nice to see the otter’s face and not just the droppings it leaves behind!
As we shook off winter, the site started to buzz again as March saw our bees and butterflies emerge. There were lots of butterfly recordings over the month including commas, small tortoiseshells, peacocks, speckled woods, orange tips and brimstones!In April, the sun shone and those fabled April showers were nowhere to be seen as we experienced one of the driest Aprils on record. But there was still plenty to discover on site and the wildflowers didn’t seem to suffer too much, as one Wildwatcher found plenty of false oxlips, a new record for the reserve. These wildflowers are hybrids between primroses and cowslips. Some of those found on site were really tall – a sign of so-called ‘hybrid vigour’, whereby the gene mixing in the hybrid gives it growth benefits lacking in the parents.
Also in April, yet another woodlouse species was discovered as one of the team added spurred ridgeback woodlouse to the list. That brings our woodlouse list up to 9 species, the other 8 being common shiny, common rough, common striped, pill, pygmy, rosy, least pygmy and ant.
Following the dry weather of April, May was much more fickle and interchanged sunshine, showers, hail and storms within the blink of an eye, leaving us confused as to whether to top up on sun cream, don the waterproofs, add extra layers or do all 3! Yet our amazing Wildwatch team persisted and continued to explore the site, whatever the weather threw at them.A particular highlight for one member of the group was finding a glorious patch of water avens in our wetter area of grassland. Talk of such flowers about the site had been heard but, until recently, they had not been seen. It was great to rediscover these beautiful wildflowers after they were presumed absent from the site.
Something that we definitely knew were present during May were the red headed cardinal beetles. There were loads of these rather fetching and bold beetles out over the course of the month, adding a splash of colour to Wednesday mornings (even if some of them were a little grey!).
Frog and leafhoppers are something else that we find commonly on site, but something rather extraordinary happened one morning as the group stumbled across a leafhopper nymph in the process of moulting into an adult. That’s definitely not something we see very often!
In May, some of our group also recorded a couple of bird species that we don’t see all too often. Along Tang Hall beck a pair of stock doves were spotted towards the start of the month, their iridescent green band on the back of their necks and lovely pink chest a nice contrast to the slightly dull morning. Later in the month, we were treated by a whitethroat that popped out of a bramble patch shortly after one of our Wildwatch sessions had finished. Luckily, not too late for a few of our team members to spot it!
It’s been an exciting few months and I am sure as we continue into summer, there will be a lot more to see and discover. Thank you to our incredible Wildwatch team who continue to monitor and record the species we have on site, which helps us to manage in the best, most wildlife friendly way possible.
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