Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes August 2017

Dr Phil Smith with TV presenter George McGavin

The unsettled weather of July continued into the first half of August with measurable rainfall on 11 days up to 18th but then hardly any for the rest of the month. This meant that the dune flora recovered somewhat from the severe early summer drought, this being reflected in a fantastic display of Grass-of-Parnassus, especially on the New Green Beach north of Ainsdale-on-Sea. Even I baulked at trying to count them but there were certainly tens of thousands in what is probably the largest British population of this nationally declining plant. Thousands more were at the Devil’s Hole, though this colony was down on the numbers present a few years ago.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes July 2017

Forester Moth (Dr Phil Smith)

July is usually a great month for wildlife along the coast and this one was no exception, though the early season meant things were already looking rather autumnal by the month’s end. The Devil’s Hole blowout at Ravenmeols is a must in high summer, treats on 1st including the first flowering Grass-of-Parnassus and thousands of Marsh Helleborines. Shocking pink Pyramidal Orchids lined the dune ridges to the west. As usual, Northern Dune Tiger Beetles scurried about on the bare sand slopes, while two spectacular Dark Green Fritillaries and a Spiked Shield-bug added further interest.

Hugh Harris: Introduction to Grasses

Museum Meadow (Hugh Harris)

The aims of the workshop were to develop skills in identifying British native grass species, recognise the most widely occurring grasses and to familiarise ourselves with reference book keys and herbarium specimens.

Peter Gateley, local Ecologist recommended at least 2 guides for starters in grass identification:

  • FSC “Guide to Common Grasses”
  • C.E. Hubbard, “Grasses”, Third Edition, 1984 Penguin Books

We started with naming of parts of live specimens and photographs which are diagnostic in identifying the grass; Inflorescence (flower head), florets, awns, spikelets, ligules, leaves and growth forms

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes June 2017

Early Marsh-orchid (Dr Phil Smith)

There could hardly be a greater contrast; Edinburgh had the wettest June ever, while desperately needed rain fell here on only eight days during the month. Though limited in quantity, it allowed some recovery of sand-dune vegetation and even stimulated a little Natterjack Toad activity, a few late spawn strings being found, though they didn’t survive long. The dune water-table continued to fall, partly due to a heat-wave from 17th to 21st, including the hottest June day nationally since 1976.

Aquatic Symbionts: Assessing the Abundance of Torix Group Rickettsia in Aquatic Insects around the World

Symbionts are known to be an important aspect of almost every living organism. Invertebrates are no exception. They display a remarkable range of symbiotic relationships with bacteria, which are capable of altering reproduction, defence against natural enemies, and play a role in nutrition. Up until now, most work has centred on a bacteria called Wolbachia which is commonly found in insects.

Wolbachia is relatively rare in Odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) and other aquatic insects, but recent work has suggested the presence of another similarly pervasive microbe. Our work has revealed that the bacterium Rickettsia is carried in 40% of midge species, and the Azure Damselfly (Coenargrion puella) can carry one or two strains of infection. Data suggests that Rickettsia is a common but underrepresented feature of freshwater invertebrates and our aim is to see how true this theory is.

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