Phil Smith

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes November 2021

Portuguese man o war Ainsdale by John Dempsey

November is generally a quiet time for wildlife. However, Ian Wolfenden reported a huge movement of winter thrushes at Hightown on 4th. He estimated an extraordinary number of 5000 Fieldfares and 2000 Redwings flying north. Strong winds from the southwest on 6-7th brought in an unusual bounty from the tropics, John Dempsey finding a colourful Portuguese-Man-of-War and several By-the-wind-sailors on Ainsdale beach.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife notes October 2021

 Furry Dronefly, Eristalis intricaria, Crosby, Dr Phil Smith

October had a total of 16 rain-days, being wet and windy early and late in the month, with a dry 10-day period in the middle. Gales in early October blew in masses of sand, deeply burying the rich strandline vegetation at Ainsdale that I highlighted in the September notes. The associated 10m high-tides washed up drifts of seaweed, presumably from North Wales, which will provide the nutrients for next summer’s strandline plants.

As in October last year, the relatively warm weather kept insects going longer than usual.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife notes August 2021

Broad-leaved Helleborine Epipactis helleborine Ainsdale NNR 1 08 21.jpg

My month with nature started well when Joyce and David Jarvis showed me two flowering Broad-leaved Helleborines at Ainsdale National Nature Reserve. I hadn’t seen this orchid on the Sefton Coast since 2008.  Other notable plants during the month included a small colony of Whorl-grass that I found on a freshwater seepage zone on Hightown beach. It turned out to be the rare variety uniflora, largely confined to Western Scotland with only two known localities in England. While listing the associated species, I came across a plant that I couldn’t name but which seems to be Touch-me-not Balsam (Impatiens noli-tangere), not previously recorded for the Sefton Coast.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife notes July 2021

Birch Sawfly Cimbex femoratus pair Freshfield Dune Heath 13 7 21

Extreme heatwaves and prolonged spring and summer droughts are a predicted consequence of climate change. Fortunately, most of our sand-dune specialist flora and fauna seem able to cope at present, being adapted to life in harsh conditions.

 A loud hum preceded the arrival of two enormous, tropical-looking insects that crashed into the grass a few yards away; each was over an inch long and their identity had me foxed until my photographs confirmed a mating pair of the Birch Sawfly. I've never seen one before and I was able to trace only a single previous Sefton record of a really impressive creature.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife notes June 2021

Wasp Beetle Clytus arietis

Following one of the wettest Mays on record, June turned out to be one of the driest, with sparse rainfall on only four days. Fortunately, the damp weather in May and a legacy of the wet winter meant that the impact of the drought on duneland plants was less than it might have been. Nevertheless, the vegetation of road verges and other dry habitats was soon burnt to a crisp.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife notes April 2021

Wheatear Ainsdale LNR

According to the Met. Office, April was: “An incredibly notable month in terms of statistics.” It provided the lowest average minimum mean temperatures for the country since 1922 and was one of the sunniest and driest Aprils on record. Here, not a drop of rain fell for 30 days between 28th March and 27th April. As reported last year, these spring droughts are known to be linked to climate change but the general public is not being told this.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife notes March 2021

​  Large Bear-hoverfly (Criorhina ranunculi) Ainsdale NNR  ​

March was a relatively dry, settled month with measurable rain on only 10 days. However, wetter conditions from 9th to 16th raised the water-table at the Devil’s Hole to the highest level since I started measuring it in October 2015. The usual spring high pressure became established towards the end of the month, the warmest ever March temperature of 24.5 degrees being recorded in London on 30th. In Formby, it peaked at more reasonable 20 degrees. These spring heat-waves are becoming more frequent, as a predicted consequence of climate change.

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