Greenfinches bounce back… eight new invertebrates…tiny member of the Rose family.
Wildwatch weather at St Nicks from the beginning of March to the end of May reflected the national picture, with both plant life and insect emergence held back by the cold late start of Spring. In March early frosts were followed by sunshine before April brought a change to cloudy, overcast and sometimes rainy days, though it warmed up in the second half of the month. May was a breezy mixture of sunshine and cloud, allowing nature to catch up quickly in an abundance of plants and insects and birdsong.
Spring is always a change-over period for birds, with the Winter visitors departing, and the Summer visitors arriving. Siskins were the last Winter visitors to depart; eight were seen on 7th March and the last four on 21st March. Four Redwings, another Winter visitor, were seen on 14st March, and three on the 21st.
One week later, the first Summer visitor, Chiffchaff, appeared on 28th March along with another Summer Visitor, Blackcap, which arrived a week later. Both species were seen or heard on almost all of the Wildwatch Wednesdays, with up to two of the first species seen on 4th April. There was a surprise on the 16th May, when two Whitethroats were seen in scrub near the play ground possibly carrying nesting material, and one the following week. This species used to be a breeding bird at St Nicks until a few years ago, but records have been scarce in recent years.
On the becks, a Water Rail was seen on 7th and 14th March.. will it return next Winter? Kingfisher was seen on Tang Hall Beck on 14th and 28th March and on 4th April – still no photos!
Overhead, a notable skein of about 60 Pink-footed Geese was seen on 14th March, Greylag Geese on 4 days and Canada Geese on 2 days. Sparrowhawks were recorded on five days, including two separate birds seen on three days. Lesser Black-backed Gull was seen on 7th March and Common Gull on 14th March. Black-headed and Herring Gull were regularly recorded.
The woodland and scrub areas at St Nicks support many of both our scarce and common birds. Two Tree Creepers were seen on 21st March and one on 28th March. Coal Tits made an appearance on 14th March, with two on 21st March. Long-tailed, Great and Blue Tits were seen most Wildwatch Wednesdays. Goldcrests, one of Britain’s smallest birds, were seen in March (2 birds on 21st, 1 on 28th), 4th April and 30th May (2 birds).
Finches also were seen regularly on the 13 Wildwatch Wednesdays: Greenfinch (good to see this species bouncing back again!), Bullfinch and Goldfinch most days, Chaffinch on 5 days.
And then, of course, there are our other regular birds: Wren, Dunnock, Robin and Blackbird were seen most days but, surprisingly, House Sparrows, were seen only on seven days.
Oh, and let’s not forget the omnipresent Woodpigeon!
After such a cold winter very few insects made themselves visible on the reserve until after the middle of April. Exceptions were a single Comma butterfly on 21st March, a Brimstone butterfly on 6th April, occasional 7-Spot and Harlequin ladybirds, a few Gorse Shieldbugs (found on their food plant in every month of the year), and queen bumblebees, mainly Common Carder and Buff-tailed. A lepidopteran pupa was found in mid-March, which was taken into care by a St Nicks staff member. By 25th it had emerged as a Bright-line Brown-eye Moth, a first record for the reserve!
A single fallen log was gently turned over on March 7th. Under it was found a Black Cock ground beetle Pterostichus madidus sharing its space with a large invertebrate community comprising five species of millipede, two of centipede, three of woodlouse, a harvestman Nemastoma bimaculatum, and various unidentified springtails.
Late April brought more butterflies into view: Green-veined White, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Speckled Wood. Small White, Orange Tip and Holly Blue waited until early May. May also brought the first moths. Five species were found: Green Longhorn, Cocksfoot, Esperia sulphurella, Coleophora albicosta (a new St Nicks record) and the larva of a Six-spot Burnet.
The first damselfly of spring was, as usual, Large Red early in May, followed just a few days later by Azure. Common Blue and Blue-tailed damselflies appeared near the end of the month. A surprise was a Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly which emerged from the Environment Centre pond on May 9th, and dried off clinging to the building itself.
Gorse Shieldbug was found in most weeks on its food plant, but in May we were seeing Hawthorn, Common Green and Parent shieldbugs, several females of the latter sitting on eggs, as their name suggests. A couple of weeks later they were still there brooding hatched young. No other shieldbug species stays with its eggs or young after laying. True bugs of other species were seen in April: Common Flower Bug Anthocoris nemorum and Mirid Bug species Liocoris tripustulatus, but we had to wait until May before we saw mirids Grypocoris stysi and the impossibly-named Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus (a new species for St Nicks). Cuckoo Spit (containing Common Froghopper nymphs) was abundant from early May.
Of the Neuroptera, Brown Lacewing Wesmaelius sp. found on 23rd May was another new record for the reserve, and on the same day, and subsequently, Green Lacewing Chrysopa perla.
In addition to the ground beetle mentioned above, beetles of various kinds were seen, with Cream-spot Ladybird a nice find in both April and May. Diminutive yellow 14-Spot Ladybirds were seen every week in May. Towards the end of the month the yellow flowers of Silverweed hosted False Blister Beetles Oedemera lurida while gleaming Red-headed Cardinal Beetles Pyrochroa serraticornis were found in several places on the reserve.
The Environment Centre garden hosted, from mid-April, a few Rosemary Beetles Chrysolina americana and then in May, in some numbers, Alder Leaf Beetles Agelastica alni – a new record for St Nicks. Willow Flea Beetle Crepidoders aurata was seen on the reserve early in May, and late in the month a weevil sp. Liophloeus tessulatus.
Foliage by Tang Hall Beck attracted a few of the Alderfly sp. Sialis lutaria in early May – the first time these have been observed at St Nicks – but they were not subsequently seen.
Crane Flies of three species were seen in May: Nephrotoma flavescens, Tipula oleracea and (another first for the reserve) Tipula lunata. St Mark’s Fly Bibio marci was late in appearing, not observed until mid-May (St Mark’s Day is April 25th) but common flies of many other species were frequently seen from April: Bluebottles, Greenbottles, Flesh Flies, Dung Flies, House Flies etc, including the strikingly-marked Graphomya maculata.
From April Dark-edged Bee Flies Bombylius major each with a fearsome dagger-like proboscis were seen a number of times, on one occasion found alongside a few of the bees whose nests they parasitise: Tawny Mining Bee Andrena fulva. Attractive shiny Soldierflies were represented by the Murky-legged Legionnaire Beris chalybata and Broad Centurion Chloromyia formosa during May. Between mid-April and the end of May fifteen species of hoverfly had been identified on the reserve. St Nicks is rich in these attractive and busily-pollinating insects, and in the last five years we have identified 50 different species.
Among several Sawflies found in May were Macrophya maculata, and also many Tenthredo species on buttercup, hogweed and other flowers. Tree Bumblebee was seen round the reserve in good numbers from mid-April, as were the Common Carder and Buff-tailed already mentioned. Red-tailed was also frequently seen, and other bumblebee species not positively identified.
Finally, from April several spider species were seen including Wolf Spiders Pardosa sp., Nursery Web Pisaura mirabilis, Cucumber Araniella cucurbitina/opisthographa, Stretch Tetragnatha extensa/montana and Crab Xysticus cristatus. Also seen in early April were Red Velvet Spider Mites Trombidium holosericeum.
Eight new species for the reserve in just a few weeks is a pleasing result for the Wildwatchers after such a challenging winter.
The early flowering trees in the Hazel and Willow groups continued through March, joined by slightly later than usual Prunus species. April brought the yellowy-green clusters of the Maple group and dark Ash flowers. May followed with the white and occasionally pink blossoms of the Rose family – Hawthorn, Rowan, Whitebeam, Apple, Bird Cherry – and the much less conspicuous male and female Oak flowers. By now most of these are showing developing fruits. Lilac and Elder flowered towards the end of the period, along with Laburnum. The big tree on the Tang Hall Beck path looked good, but by last year’s standard was having a bit of a rest.
The tally of herbaceous plants in flower went from 12 at the start of March to 44 by the end of May (as always, with the caveat that the figures are just a snapshot of what we happened to note on Wednesday mornings). A cool spring meant that Snowdrops lasted throughout March, while Daffodils, Fritillaries and Ramsons didn’t appear till March and had a relatively short season. Lesser Celandine, Coltsfoot and Lungwort appeared a couple of weeks later than usual. Other plants with a well-defined flowering season within the period included Sweet Violet, Cowslip, Cuckoo-flower, Ground Ivy, Cuckoo Pint (aka Lords-and-Ladies, Wild Arum), Wood Anemone and Marsh Marigold in the Centre pond. Yellow Archangel also came and went, in more ways than one. The variety on the reserve is an introduced sub-species identifiable by its variegated leaves, which has been listed as seriously invasive. First steps towards trying to eradicate it have been taken, with the intention of replacing it with the native species. Its near relation, our old friend White Dead-nettle, performed its annual stunt of emerging from its winter flowering with a display to show off what it can really do when it tries. This species of course will run and run, so won’t get another mention till next winter.
From late April through May, Garlic Mustard and Forget-me-not had their main flowering season, joined by Herb Robert, which will go well into autumn. Warm days in May brought a sudden surge. Grassy areas became bright with Meadow and Creeping Buttercups, Red then White Clover, Germander Speedwell and the first Bird’s-foot Trefoil and early Vetches. Towards the end of May we had welcome evidence that Yellow Rattle and Ragged Robin have established well from previous years’ sowing. On path edges, the yellow flowers of Silverweed look like small buttercups but actually belong to the Rose family, closely related to Strawberries. Various small Cranesbills and Speedwells are present but in some places can’t win. If essential path maintenance doesn’t take place soon enough, they rapidly get overgrown by higher vegetation; if it does they get cut back. But they’re resilient little plants and usually re-emerge later in the year. Ox-eye Daisies, Cow Parsley, Red and White Campions, Ribwort Plantain, Wood Avens and Green Alkanet are easy to find deeper in the verges, and all but the first two will carry on flowering all summer. In scrubbier areas, the Dog Roses are in flower and will be at their best in early June.
If you visit the reserve in June, you probably won’t want to find the well-advanced first signs of autumn, so look out instead for the Limes and Dogwoods, last of the trees and large shrubs to flower. The meadow will soon be at its best, and it’s always exciting to see what emerges from re-seeded areas. Expect Poppies, Chamomile, Corncockle and who knows what else. By way of a spoiler, the figure for the first Wednesday in June had already shot up to 59 species. By all means watch this space, but it’s no substitute for going out and having a look for yourself.
Mite-induced galls (Phytoptus avellanae) observed on Hazel in late winter have opened up releasing a new generation of mites. New galls induced by another mite, Aceria myriadeum, on Field Maple were found in early May, along with the light patches associated with the Lime gall mite Eriophyes leiosoma. Currant galls were found on Oak catkins in mid-May: these house the first generation of a tiny wasp, Neuroterus quercusbaccarum. The second generation will lay its eggs in the leaves, to produce autumn spangle galls. One of the minor mysteries of St Nicks is why we find so many spangles but so few currants.
Grey Squirrel and Rabbit were each seen on five of the 13 Wildwatch Wednesdays.
Smooth (or Common) Newt were recorded in the Environment Centre Pond on 28th March and 4th April.