Phil Smith

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.       

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes October 2018

Fly Agaric (Dr Phil Smith)

After the great drought of 1976, the heavens opened in September and October of that year, rapidly replenishing ground-waters, rivers and other wetlands. In complete contrast, following this summer’s comparable drought, September 2018 was dry, while October was even worse, with measurable rain on only five days, a named storm on 13th producing the only really wet day. Average October rainfall for Formby is 84mm (3.3 inches); we probably had half that. This is important because, apart from impacts on farmers, gardeners, water-supply, etc., so much of our special duneland wildlife depends on recharge of the water-table to produce seasonally flooded slacks. Instead of rising in October, the water level dropped by about 3cm at the Devil’s Hole measuring point.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes September 2018

Yucca (Dr Phil Smith)

September was another relatively dry month. Although measurable rain fell on 12 days, there were significant amounts on only three dates. As a result, the sand-dune water-table at my Devil’s Hole measuring point continued to fall when it would usually be starting to re-charge. I had a letter published in the Radio Times pointing out that TV weather presenters are supposed to be educated people and should be aware that this country is only habitable because of regular reliable rainfall. Perhaps, therefore, they should stop perpetuating the myth that rain is bad. Evidently, they didn’t read it!

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes August 2018

Bishop's Mitre (Dr Phil Smith)

In this driest and hottest summer since 1976, the blessed relief of at least some rain on 12 August days helped to temper the worst effects. However, the damage and costs to the country became increasingly evident, with agriculture reporting production losses of 50% or more. Not to worry, rather than celebrating desperately needed rainfall, the TV weather presenters described the only really wet day during the month (26th) as “Soggy Sunday”!

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes July 2018

Coastal fire damage (Dr Phil Smith)

With the countryside in flames, farmers losing millions and the water-supply industry in turmoil, the TV weather presenters finally acknowledged the longest summer drought since 1976 and started to talk about the “chance” of showers, rather than the “risk”! We actually had six days with measurable rain during July but only on 29th was there enough to make a difference to the parched landscape. A spate of fires along the coast seemed inevitable. The biggest at Hightown dunes, Altcar Training Camp and Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve each destroyed several hectares, while several smaller blazes were also reported. Further afield, about a third of Lytham St. Anne’s Local Nature Reserve went up in flames. These fires can kill small mammals, reptiles and invertebrates but most plants usually recover quite quickly. Thus, after three weeks, the Hightown fire site was already showing regrowth of vegetation.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes June 2018

Maiden Pink (Dr Phil Smith)

Reports of Red-eyed Damselflies at new localities in Merseyside led Trevor Davenport and me to visit the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Aintree where this distinctive species can be found perching on Fringed Water-lily leaves. We logged about 25 Red-eyes, including several pairs, as well as four other species of dragonfly in this exceptional month for these ancient insects.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes May 2018

Large Red Damselflies (Dr Phil Smith)

The Met. Office reckoned it was the warmest and sunniest May on record; it was also dry with measurable rainfall on only eight days. Forecasts of torrential thunder-storms came day after day during the last week but all we got were a couple of brief showers on 30th and 31st. The duneland water-table therefore fell rapidly, the Newest Green Beach at Ainsdale with 1000+ small Natterjack tadpoles on 2nd having completely dried up by 13th. Fortunately, tadpoles at several other sites, including the Devil’s Hole, survived until at least the end of the month.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes April 2018

Natterjack Toad (Dr Phil Smith)

April 2018 really broke the mould. Since the millennium, we have got used to prolonged droughts, with April showers a distant memory. This month, measurable rain fell on 12 days and, although it was mainly colder than average, there was a heatwave from 18th to 21st with the highest April temperatures (in London) since 1949. Remarkably, the dune water-table actually rose by 4.5cm during the month. The result was the best Natterjack Toad activity for several years. For the first time, these rare amphibians spawned in the youngest section of the Green Beach at Ainsdale. Although usually nocturnal, some amorous male Natterjacks started calling during the afternoon of 9th and I found three pairs as well as ten Smooth Newts, while Skylarks were singing their hearts out overhead and 18 migratory White Wagtails foraged on the shore.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes March 2018

Juniper Shieldbug (Joyce Jarvis)

With a few snow flurries at times, and a “mini-beast from the east” on 17th, March was certainly colder than average, while measurable rain on 17 days kept the water-table topped up. The Devil’s Hole at Ravenmeols was impressively flooded, though well below levels seen in 2008, 2013 and 2016. Despite the low temperatures, a few Common Frogs and Common Toads were out and about from about 10th but peak activity was much later. On 21st, I counted 70 batches of frog spawn and the first spawning of Common Toads at Birkdale Green Beach. Earlier, Cabin Hill produced a few Common Toads but no Common Frogs or spawn were seen, probably because the water was too deep to explore effectively. Two pairs of Lapwings were displaying over the fields behind the reserve, their characteristic “pee-wit” call bringing back memories of my childhood when these now uncommon breeders were ubiquitous

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes February 2018

Metzgeria fruticulosa (Dr Phil Smith)

There was measurable rain on 10 days in the first three weeks of the month – about average – after which the “Beast from the East” set in, with exceptionally cold dry easterly winds from Siberia. This unusual weather pattern was due to warm air and high pressure over Canada and Greenland, leading to a blockage of the North Atlantic Jet-stream which should bring us rain-bearing fronts in February. Researchers have linked this to a warming trend in the Arctic, itself a consequence of rapid climate change.

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