‘Redhead’ (female or immature) Goosander on Pond, 5 December 2016. Photo Robert Mill.

December 2016 swung between cold and mild, with some hard frosts near the beginning and an exceptionally mild Christmas Day. It was again fairly dry for the most part although there were squally conditions just before Christmas and again between Christmas and New Year. Two records were added to the Garden’s wildlife list, taking it from 856 to 858, although one of these was a late identification of something originally seen in August.
Birds December 2016 was a really good month for birds at the Garden, both in overall number of species seen and the number of unusual sightings. No fewer than 45 species were recorded – easily the highest monthly total for the whole year, and in recent years bettered only by January 2011 (46). Britain is experiencing a Waxwing irruption from Scandinavia this winter, and these lovely birds visited the Garden on at least four occasions (19th–21st, and 29th) with up to about 30 being seen. A Dipper was seen on the Rock Garden stream on 22nd. A ‘redhead’ (female or immature) Goosander was on the Pond on 5th while a rather lost-looking Greylag Goose, and also a Coot, were there on 30th. Kingfishers visited both main ponds, but chiefly the Chinese Hillside one, on at least 12 dates spread throughout the month, with both male and female individuals being seen (sometimes both together). Both Grey Wagtail (10th, 12th) and Pied Wagtail (28th) were recorded. Small numbers of Redwing were present throughout the month, including one bird with unusual plumage resembling Dusky Thrush (a very rare visitor to Britain). Wintering Blackcap were recorded on five dates, including a male and a female fighting near the East Gate! For the fourth month in a row Feral Pigeons were absent, but House Sparrow was present on 30th. The complete list of 45 species recorded during December was: Blackbird, Blackcap, Black-headed Gull, Blue Tit, Bullfinch, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Coot, Curlew, Dipper, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Goosander, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, Greenfinch, Grey Heron, Grey Wagtail, Greylag Goose, Herring Gull, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Kingfisher, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie, Mallard, Mistle Thrush, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Oystercatcher, Pied Wagtail, Pink-footed Goose, Redwing, Robin, Siskin, Song Thrush, Sparrowhawk, Stock Dove, Tawny Owl, Tree Creeper, Waxwing, Wood Pigeon, Wren.

Forest (Red-legged) Shield-bug nymph on birch trunk, 8 December 2016. Photo Robert Mill.

Insects and other invertebrates: Invertebrate activity in December was more or less confined to small creatures found on the trunks of trees, such as barkflies, springtails and harvestmen. No butterflies, moths, bees and wasps, or hoverflies were seen. The only fly record in December was the late-flying small crane-fly Tipula pagana. However, one other fly, Peplomyza litura, was added to the Garden’s list in December based on a sighting on 23 August that was eventually identified during the month (see separate Botanics Story: http://stories.rbge.org.uk/archives/23236). Shield-bugs were still out and about, with Forest (aka Red-legged) Shield-bug being seen from 6th–8th, remained active, while the unrelated Birch Catkin Bug and Common Flower Bug were recorded on 12th and 19th respectively, both on birch bark. A 10-spot Ladybird was seen on 1st. The springtail Orchesella cincta was found on 8th and 15th, and four species of barkfly were recorded. As well as the previously recorded Ectopsocus briggsii, Ectopsocus petersi and Graphopsocus cruciatus, they included Valenzuela burmeisteri, found on 8th and the second of December’s two new Garden records (see separate Botanics Story: http://stories.rbge.org.uk/archives/23238). Finally, three species of harvestman were seen during the month: Leiobunum rotundum (6th and 14th), Oligolophus hanseni (5th) and Oligolophus tridens (16th and 19th).

Cranefly Tipula pagana, on birch trunk, 13 December 2016. Photo Robert Mill.