Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife notes August 2020

Goat Moth (Dr Phil Smith)

On average, August is the wettest summer month, so it wasn’t surprising that we had rain on 14 days. Most of it was light but the second week was warm and humid, culminating in a thunderstorm on the 10th. The spring drought seemed a distant memory as late summer flowers like Grass-of-Parnassus proliferated in the damp conditions. Many of our dune-slacks didn’t dry up at all, my measuring point in the Devil’s Hole at Ravenmeols registering shallow water throughout.

Our concerns about the absence of Six-spot Burnet moths in July proved unduly pessimistic, their numbers rapidly increasing in early August, joining the second generation of Northern Dune Tiger Beetles. The latter seems to have done particularly well this year, Gems in the Dunes staff reporting hundreds in their usual bare sand habitat, mostly on the frontal dunes. A large area of flowering Apple Mint (the “mint patch”) at Ravenmeols attracted a wide range of insects, though the number of butterflies was down on last year. Even so, the glamorous Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell, accompanied more mundane Gatekeepers. I was especially pleased to find two Small Heaths, a butterfly that is declining nationally but is still plentiful on the Sefton Coast. Amongst a wealth of bees and flies on the mint, the impressive Tachina fera attracted attention. This is a large bristly fly that parasitises various moth caterpillars. The female lays its eggs on leaves. When the eggs hatch, the young larva enters the body of a caterpillar and eats it from the inside.  This fly is widespread and common throughout much of the country, having a successful life-style shared by a great number of flies and wasps. These include a group of flies known as “beegrabbers” from their habit of jumping on bees and laying an egg on them. The larva develops inside the bee and eventually kills it. I found the widely distributed Four-banded Beegrabber on several occasions but the much rarer Dark-cheeked Beegrabber was a particular highlight, two being photographed on Ragwort at Ravenmeols on 18th. Two Common Lizards basking on a nearby log pile was a distraction from the insects.

Families asked to monitor garden birds this summer - with the chance to get creative!

Blue Tit by Liz Cutting

Love birds? Love drawing? The British Trust for Ornithology’s summer project gives families a great reason to watch garden birds together, and the chance to win a pair of compact binoculars for the best garden bird drawing! Garden BirdWatch (GBW) is a scientific project that monitors birds in gardens, but it’s also a great activity for families to do together. The project involves watching, counting, drawing and writing, and is open to children aged 5 to 11.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife notes May 2020

Common Blue pair at Ravenmeols (Dr Phil Smith)

The spring drought continued and intensified during May, which was the sunniest and driest in England since records began in 1929.  By the end of the month, water companies were requesting cutbacks in the rate of water use, while some TV weather presenters were reluctantly admitting that “We might need some rain.” Meanwhile, vegetation on the dunes and road verges dried to a crisp, fires inevitably breaking out along the coast and on moorland. Fortunately, many of our dune wetlands, recharged by a wet winter, still had surface water, though the water-table at my Devil’s Hole measuring point fell 21 cm during May. This meant a rescue operation was needed to move large numbers of Natterjack tadpoles into deeper water. Mike Brown of North Merseyside Amphibian & Reptile Group kindly helped with this licensed work at short notice. One of the problems at the Devil’s Hole and elsewhere is owners allowing their dogs to play in the slacks and scrapes. This can strand Natterjack tadpoles which cluster in the warmest water at the edge. When asked politely, most dog-walkers comply but this is not always the case, as on 28th, when a prolonged stream of foul language and aggressive insults followed a similar request.   

Actor Martin Shaw teams up with ornithologists to support well-being and mental health; encouraging us to "stop and watch"

Actor Martin Shaw,  known for his roles in The Professionals, Judge John Deed and Inspector George Gently, has teamed up with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to promote the value of connecting with nature through mindful birdwatching, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24th May).

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