An early winter visitor…20 new invertebrate species recorded…a great summer for hoverflies.
Except for one warm sunny day in June, indifferent and cloudy (though dry) weather greeted most Wildwatch mornings until mid-July, after which Britain’s long hot summer dominated our Wednesday walks until the last two meetings of August which were duller.
Mainly summer visitors and resident birds, but a winter visitor crept in towards the end of the summer season!
Our regular summer visitors, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, were present throughout the summer months, with a maximum of five Blackcaps on 13th June and five Chiffchaffs on 6th June. We had hoped for a breeding pair of Whitethroats, seen in May, but a single bird on 6th June was the last sighting. Overhead, Swifts were recorded on seven days, with two on 8th August, but a single Swallow on 8th August was our only record of this species this summer. 20 House Martins flew over on 15th August.
Other fly-overs included Canada Goose on 6th June, a Grey Heron on 4th July, and Sparrowhawks on 25th July and 1st August. We also recorded Common Gulls on 2 days and Herring Gulls on 8 days, and Jackdaws flying over on four days.
Back down on terra firma, Song Thrushes delighted us with their song on eight days, with up to four birds on 20th June. Our iconic St Nicks bird, Bullfinch, was seen or heard on all 13 days, with a maximum of five recorded on 25th July. Other finches included Greenfinch, bouncing back, with five on 25th July, Goldfinch, on 11 out of the 13 days, and a surprisingly early Siskin, a winter visitor, on 22nd August. Some of our resident birds, such as Blackbirds, House Sparrow and Wrens were seen on all Wildwatch Wednesdays, with five of the latter on August 25th.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen / heard on 11th and 25th July, with two on 8th August. Are we ever going to see these as a breeding bird at St Nicks? We’ve got the right habitat!
It is pleasing to find that after many years of insect recording at St Nicks new species are still turning up. There were 20 new records during the summer, more than one per week, including Waterscorpion Nepa cinerea found by our young Nature Explorers on 20th August.
Butterfly numbers were very disappointing during what turned out to be Britain’s warmest summer for many years. That said, we recorded 19 butterfly species during the three months June to August, including one new record for the reserve – a Brown Argus found by participants in a Pollinator Weekend run by St Nicks in early August. This brings St Nicks total butterfly species to 21. This was not a ‘good’ year nationally for the migrant Painted Lady, but one turned up at St Nicks on 25th July, and on the same day we were pleased to see Small Copper back after a three-year absence from our records. Speckled Wood was seen (often in some numbers) on every Wildwatch walk except one; and for six weeks from 11th July Gatekeeper was around in good numbers. However the Ringlet count was considerably down, and they were seen in only small numbers from 20th June to 25th July. Our first Large Skipper sighting was on 7th June and was seen most weeks until 18th July, but we had to wait until 11th July for the first of our Small Skippers, which were never numerous. No more were seen after 25th. Not a good Skipper year.
Only one Red Admiral was recorded during the period, and fewer than usual numbers of Small, Green-veined and Large Whites, Brimstone, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell. Peacocks and Holly Blues were fairly frequently spotted, but only one Common Blue, and just a few Meadow Browns.
Moths. With no facilities for night-time moth trapping, the only moths seen on the reserve were mostly day-flying ones, with six new species recorded: Timothy Tortrix on 7th June, Hook-marked Straw on 27th June, Small Fan-footed Wave on 4th July, Elephant Hawk Moth (caterpillar) on 19th July, Bird Cherry Ermine on 1st August and Dark Fruit-tree Tortrix on 29th August. In all, 25 moth species were found on the reserve during the summer. Towards the end of July the migrant Silver-Y seemed to be everywhere on the reserve, but a major disappointment this year was Six-spotted Burnet. This species was completely absent from one of its two main haunts on the reserve, and in alarmingly small numbers on the other. Notable sightings in mid-July were of Mother-of-Pearl in much greater numbers than usual, especially alongside Tang Hall Beck. It was good to find Yarrow Plume – our first sighting for three years.
Dragonflies. In spite of the sunshine it was only a moderate year for both Damselflies and Dragonflies, with just four species of each recorded: Azure, Common Blue, Large Red and Banded Demoiselle damselflies, and Broad-bodied Chaser, Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies.
Common Field Grasshoppers were seen on just a couple of occasions – surely there are more given our extensive areas of dry grassland?
True Bugs were found in good numbers during the summer, with eight shieldbug species recorded: Birch, Gorse, Green, Hairy, Hawthorn, Parent, Red-legged and Woundwort.
Birch trees on the reserve are notably host to both Birch and Parent Shieldbugs and to Birch Catkin Bugs. Female Parent Shieldbugs were frequently seen ‘parenting’ clusters of eggs and later their young. There was a good spread of other bugs, including Mirid Bugs, Groundbugs, Damsel Bugs, Grass Bugs, Flower Bugs, Froghoppers and Leafhoppers, with three new species: Mirid Bugs Deraeocoris flavilinea (13th June) and Orthops sp, probably basalis (15th August), and Cinnamon Bug Corizus hyoscyami on 8th August, which continued to be seen on many subsequent weeks into October. Cinnamon Bug is a striking sight, and has been gradually moving up from the south of England in recent years, no doubt helped by this year’s hot summer. The pictured Fine-streaked Bugkin, found on 6th June, has not been seen on the reserve since 2015.
Beetles were not as easy to find as the bugs on the reserve, but three notable records were of Alder Leaf Beetles in large numbers on emergent Alder saplings in the Environment Centre pond and Rosemary Beetles on their food plant in the Centre garden. Both these species were with us throughout the summer. Their close relative the Tansy Beetle was seen for the second year running in a particular place (not near water) out on the reserve, including mating pairs, but no larvae were subsequently seen. This rare species is mostly confined in Britain to the banks of the River Ouse around York, and it remains a possibility that someone unknown is transplanting a few of these insects from the banks of the Ouse to St Nicks reserve to see if they breed here successfully.
Other beetles found include a click beetle Denticollis linearis on 6th June, Adonis Ladybird in early August and leaf beetle Chrysolina brunsvicensis at the end of August. These three are new records for the reserve. Welsh Chafer Hoplia philanthus was only our second sighting of this species. Six ladybird species seen, in addition to Adonis, were Two-spot, Seven-spot, Fourteen-spot, Twenty-two Spot, Cream-spot and Harlequin. Three kinds of longhorn beetle were found: Golden-bloomed Grey, Black-and-Yellow and Wasp Beetle.
Hoverflies are a St Nicks speciality owing partly to the variety of habitat on the reserve. These lovely insects, excellent pollinators, were seen in good numbers this summer, 23 species from June to August and 27 for the year so far. Three new species were recorded: Eupeodes latifasciatus, Helophilus hybrydus and Callicera aurata, bringing our total on the St Nicks hoverfly list to 53. Hornet Hoverfly Volucella zonaria was a significant find on 27th June, being a southern species increasingly appearing in the north. First seen in 2015 this was only our second sighting of this striking large yellow-and-orange hoverfly. A great many other fly species of various families, from large Crane Flies to tiny Gall Flies were seen, too numerous to mention but recorded in the archives.
Sawflies, wasps, bees, and various other invertebrates, including spiders, harvestmen, woodlice and similar kinds are also duly recorded as they are identified, among which were three new records for St Nicks: a sawfly Arge ochropus, and two solitary bee species found during St Nicks pollinator weekend in August: Furrow Bee Halictus rubicundus and its parasite the Blood Bee Sphecodes gibbus.
By June, the flowering season of native trees was over – except for the Limes which as always produced their beautifully scented flowers towards the end of the month. Dog Roses gave a beautiful display throughout June. Buddleia, one of the few non-native species encouraged on the reserve because of its value to butterflies, started to open in July and an unusually long flowering season continued to the end of September. Some of the early summer shrubs – Elder, Guelder Rose and Dogwood continued into June, flowering quite prolifically but apparently not setting fruit particularly well.
The species count for herbaceous plants in flower rose to 59 in the first week of June, with species like Garlic Mustard, Horseradish, Germander Speedwell, Ox-eye Daisy and Ribwort Plantain, first recorded in May or even back in April, lasting well into the Midsummer season. This turned out to be our highest weekly count: although we recorded 109 confidently identified species across the quarter, we never succeeded in monitoring the whole reserve in a single morning.
The warm dry weather didn’t necessarily bring Midsummer flowers out earlier than usual but many species seemed to go to seed more rapidly. In the Meadow, we were delighted to find that previous years’ plantings of Yellow Rattle, Ragged Robin and Meadow Cranesbill had become established, but the Red Clover, Tufted Vetch, Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Meadow Vetchling that made such a bright display last year quickly disappeared into the drying grass. Hopefully they will have seeded themselves ready for next year. In the rougher grassland and wood verges it was mostly the same story, with plants like Ribbed Melilot, Goat’s Rue, Soapwort, Knapweed and Willow-herbs flowering brightly but briefly before going to seed.
Last year’s patches of seeded annuals produced varying results. Cornflowers, Corn Marigolds, Corncockle, Chamomile sp. and a few Poppies returned here and there, but these need regularly tilled soil to germinate well. Their seeds will of course lie dormant until conditions suit them. Bristly Ox-tongue reappeared near the scrapes, but again didn’t last long. The lasting success story was Wild Carrot, which re-seeded itself well and stood up to the drought. Its characteristic folded-in seed heads are currently providing lurking places for Earwigs, Ladybirds and a variety of smaller invertebrates. Recently seeded areas were largely disappointing, but provided the seeds hadn’t started to germinate before the soil dried out, anything could happen next year. One welcome new find was Devil’s-Bit Scabious. The plant first recorded in 2014 near the Sustrans entrance is still there but not at all happy: at the time of writing it was still in tight bud, so it would be good to get it established in a more promising site.
Plants that thrive in shadier places – Red Bartsia, Hedge Woundwort, White Bryony – and late flowering species like Field Scabious seem to have had a fairly normal season, though there seems to have been less Yarrow and Common Ragwort than usual, and possibly even a little bit less Large Bindweed. The less obviously robust Field Bindweed is apparently drought resistant and has done better than usual. Sadly, though it’s supposed to need damp conditions, the drought seemed to have no effect on Indian Balsam.
One possible effect of the dry summer combined with routine path work might be to be a second season for some earlier species. If you visit the reserve in October, look out for late Buttercups, Clovers, Cranesbills, Sow Thistles and Salad Burnet. You never know with plants!
Mite-induced galls on Sycamore (Aceria cephaloneus), Field Maple (Aceria myriaeum), Alder (Eriophyes inangulis and Eriophyes laevis) and Lime (Eriophyes tiliae) and Sawfly Pontania Proxima Bean galls on Willow were easy to find from early in the season. It has also been a good year for wasp-induced Rose galls Diplolepis rosae (Robin’s Pincushion) and Diplolepis nervosa (Pea and “Sputnik galls”). The handsome galls caused on the stems of Creeping Thistles by the picture-winged fly Urophora cardui were also plentiful (see Spotlight). So far it has been a surprisingly poor year for Oak galls – a full report will be included in the autumn blog.
A Smooth (Common) Newt was seen in the Environment Centre Pond on June 13th, with a Common Frog there on July 25th.
Rabbits were seen on six out of the 13 days, with Grey Squirrels recorded on June 13th and July 18th (3). Two Brown Rats were seen on June 27th.
All photos were taken at St Nicks between June and August 2018, mostly by volunteers with one exception taken by staff. Text was written by St Nicks Wildwatch members who meet every Wednesday to record wildlife in the nature reserve.