Sefton Coast

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife notes May 2020

Since they began in 2007, these notes have repeatedly described spring droughts but this year’s was a real humdinger! For 40 days, from 18th March to 27th April inclusive, no measureable rain fell in Formby. It was also the sunniest and fifth warmest April on record. Climatologists have shown that these droughts are associated with a warming trend in the Arctic that leads to persistent high-pressure systems over Greenland. These disrupt the North Atlantic Jet Stream, which brings most of our rain. Apart from having serious implications for agriculture and water-supply, largely ignored by politicians and the media, these changes in our climate are having major impacts on wildlife.  

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes March 2020

The first half of the month continued the trend set earlier in the winter of repeated low-pressure systems driven on a particularly vigorous North Atlantic Jet Stream. Measurable rain fell in Formby on 13 days but the last 12 days of March were completely dry as the strongest high-pressure system ever recorded dominated the Atlantic and the usual spring drought set in. The month was also windy, with particularly fierce blasts on four days. One of these on the 12th coincided with 10.2 m tides, amongst the highest we get, adding to the damage caused to coastal dunes during a similar coincidence of storms and spring tides in February. I managed to get a photographic record of the losses to the dune frontage, this being not quite as bad as the massive storm surges of the 2013/14 winter.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes January 2020

January was remarkably mild with early-morning frost on only three days. It rained on 14 days but most of it was light and patchy, being concentrated in the first half of the month. Accordingly, the water-table rose by 6.5 cm in the first two weeks but fell by 1 cm in the next fortnight. The unseasonal conditions resulted in some remarkable insect sightings. Pete Kinsella emailed on 15th to say that he had found a Green Shieldbug sunning itself on Ivy at Crosby and then as many as six on the 19th. These were the brown hibernation form but should not have been out and about in January. Even more surprising, I was struggling up the steep sandy slope to the Devil’s Hole on 29th when I spotted a familiar shape on the sand. It was a large sand-wasp. Expecting it to be dead, I picked it up only to discover it was still alive, despite having lost its black-and-red abdomen. I took it home and identified it as a Hairy Sand Wasp Podalonia hirsuta, a familiar summer duneland species. Online research confirmed that mated females often over-winter. Perhaps this one ventured out in the mild weather and was attacked by a bird. I hesitate to make false accusations, but there was a perky male Stonechat flying from bush to bush in the Devil’s Hole.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes December 2019

Could I find any insects, other than Winter-gnats, in December? A visit to the Holden Road, Crosby Ivy patches on 1st provided the answer. Sure enough, I spotted two each of the two common Drone-flies and a Green Shieldbug of the brown pre-hibernation colour-form. This bonanza couldn’t last; the following day I had to break ice 1 cm thick at the Devil’s Hole to measure the water-table. A trek down to the shore to look for long-gone Snow Buntings was poorly rewarded by a male Stonechat, three Pied Wagtails and a Turnstone flipping over seaweed on the tideline looking for Sand-hoppers.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes November 2019

My month began with a trip to Marshside where there was also plenty of surface water. Distant grey masses proved to be Black-tailed Godwits in flocks totalling 2700. This sounds a lot but wasn’t unusual for this reserve. These Iceland-breeding waders travel remarkable distances across Western Europe, as shown by repeated sightings of colour-ringed individuals. More surprising were 13 Cattle Egrets under the feet of cows on the reclaimed marshland. I had never seen so many of these small, yellow-billed egrets, whose status has changed dramatically since the first Lancashire record as recently as 1999. Crossens saltmarsh produced 32 Whooper Swans and a remarkably large flock of 225 feral Canada Geese. Finally, I called in at the Hesketh Road viewing platform where the Cetti’s Warbler I heard in October was still singing loudly from a nearby reed-bed. It was reminiscent of Mallorca but a bit colder.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes November 2019

My month began with a trip to Marshside where there was also plenty of surface water. Distant grey masses proved to be Black-tailed Godwits in flocks totalling 2700. This sounds a lot but wasn’t unusual for this reserve. These Iceland-breeding waders travel remarkable distances across Western Europe, as shown by repeated sightings of colour-ringed individuals. More surprising were 13 Cattle Egrets under the feet of cows on the reclaimed marshland. I had never seen so many of these small, yellow-billed egrets, whose status has changed dramatically since the first Lancashire record as recently as 1999. Crossens saltmarsh produced 32 Whooper Swans and a remarkably large flock of 225 feral Canada Geese. Finally, I called in at the Hesketh Road viewing platform where the Cetti’s Warbler I heard in October was still singing loudly from a nearby reed-bed. It was reminiscent of Mallorca but a bit colder.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes October 2019

It’s supposed to rain in October and this year it did, 18 days having measurable rainfall, though in no great quantity. Nevertheless, it raised the dune water-table by about 15 cm (6 inches), with plenty of surface water at last in the Devil’s Hole. These damp conditions proved ideal for fungi, a highlight being the discovery by Trevor Davenport of the extremely rare Stereopsis reidii on the edge of a woodland path at Ainsdale National Nature Reserve. This caused a lot of excitement amongst mycologists, as there are few locations for the fungus in Europe and this was only the second British record, the previous also being at Ainsdale NNR.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes September 2019

Rather like the previous month, September provided a “normal” mix of dry, sometimes warm, weather and wetter periods, about 14 days having measurable rainfall. As usual, we missed the torrential downpours late in the month that caused flooding elsewhere. North-westerly winds in the first few days produced Leach’s Petrels and other seabirds offshore, while the wind direction was also favourable for Pink-footed Geese migrating south from Iceland. The first reports on 5th were earlier than usual, record numbers being present from mid-month.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes August 2019

Although, it felt quite autumnal by the end of the month, August on the Sefton Coast was brilliant for wildlife. The first day found me on Ainsdale Sandhills Local Nature Reserve, where butterflies abounded. Lots of Painted Ladies reflected the earlier invasion, while Graylings jostled for the best position on Sea Holly flowers, showing off their rarely seen upperwings. As expected, the big Natterjack scrape had several dragonflies, including a single Red-veined Darter left over from the July influx. A huge male Emperor caught a Grayling in mid-air, eating most of the body before dropping the head and wings.

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