Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes March 2019

Don's Willow (Dr Phil Smith)

The exceptional warmth of February soon gave way to typical March weather – windy with occasional rain, the latter falling on 13 out of the first 18 days of the month. Inevitably, the Atlantic then ran out of energy, with high pressure and the usual spring drought taking over. Much-needed rain led to the dune water-table rising by 13 cm by mid-month but this was still 27 cm below the same period last year and insufficient to flood the Natterjack Toad breeding areas at the Devil’s Hole. Elsewhere on the coast, however, water-levels rose, Natterjacks emerging much earlier than usual on 15th, followed by spawning at Ainsdale and Hightown. My first monitoring visit to the southern Green Beach at Ainsdale on 19th found no Natterjacks but a few Common Toads were breeding and Common Frogs had produced over 100 spawn masses. My second survey on 25th found 15 Natterjack spawn strings, these being only a few days old. All were laid in shallow water which may not be viable if the drought continues. Our research shows there are now about 70% fewer Natterjack Toads on the Sefton Coast than there were 30 years ago, the reasons being a combination of vegetation overgrowth, competition from Common Toad and Common Frog tadpoles and spring droughts.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes February 2019

Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Phil Smith)

These notes have highlighted many examples of crazy weather over the last decade but February 2019 really took the biscuit. Only eight days had measurable rainfall but all-time record temperatures in the last week were unprecedented. An extraordinary 21oC was recorded in southern England on 26th when the thermometer soared to about 18o here. Such extremes are consistent with recent research into long-term global warming trends.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes January 2019

Little Egret (Phil Smith)

A gloomy month, January was dominated by thick cloud and poor visibility. Persistent high pressure meant hardly any rain in the first couple of weeks, continuing last year’s dry theme. Overall, measurable rain fell on 11 days, though only 29th produced a reasonable soaking. The water-table rose by 12cm at my monitoring point at the Devil’s Hole, but the dune-slacks here remained dry, the water level being 30cm (a foot) lower than at the same time last year. Although there was a cold snap latterly, the early part of January was relatively mild, the first Snowdrops appearing along Range Lane, Formby, on 15th, becoming abundant by the end of the month.

As usual, it was a relatively quiet period for wildlife sightings, not helped by the dark conditions that did not encourage me to venture outdoors much. At least I had my garden birds with a regular flock of about a dozen House Sparrows, several Starlings and daily visits from a splendid Song Thrush as well as the usual Blackbirds, Robins, Blue Tits, Great Tits, etc.

BTO: Britain's owls need twenty minutes

Tawny Owl (Howard Stockdale)

Evidence suggests that our Tawny Owl population is falling and it might be that we are losing them from our towns and cities. Taking part in the BTO’s Tawny Owl Calling Survey will help make this clearer.

Tawny Owls are very difficult to monitor, as they live their lives during the hours of darkness, so we often hear them rather than see them. We want people to listen for the distinctive ‘hoot’ calls of the males and sharp ‘kee-wick’ of the females. Anyone can take part and the BTO website has a series of Tawny Owl recordings for people to familiarize themselves with the various calls.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes December 2018

Petalophyllum ralfsii (Dr Phil Smith)

After months of dry weather, December returned to something like normality, measurable rain falling on 15 days, including the wettest day since August on 3rd. This helped the severely depleted water-table, my measuring point in the Devil’s Hole blowout showing a rise of 13 cm by the month’s end. Despite this, most of our dune-slacks remained dry. It was also a relatively warm month with hardly any frost.

The moist, mild conditions were perfect for bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), which rapidly recovered from brown, dried-up remnants to brilliant emerald-green patches on both the open dunes and the limbs of older broad-leaved trees. Josh Styles and I continued our study of the critically endangered Large Hook-moss, visiting the large slack south of the Ainsdale Discovery Centre where Des Callaghan reported this species in 2010. Sure enough, it was still there, with several colonies, especially on a lightly-trampled path through the slack where the vegetation was shorter. We recorded quadrats and took soil samples to describe the habitat.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes November 2018

Pseudocalliergon lycopodioides (Dr Phil Smith)

It has been known for centuries that rainfall on the coast is much lower than a few miles inland, yet I have never heard this reflected in regional, let alone national weather forecasts. So yet again, the default forecast for the Northwest of “frequent heavy showers” was wrong day after day. The result was another dry month here with measureable rain on 11 days but not in sufficient quantity to recharge the sand-dune water-table which remained static throughout.       

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