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Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes March 2015

Common Frog at Freshfield Dune Heath (Phil Smith)

A pattern of dry spring months has been evident for over a decade, March having only 65% of normal rainfall in England and Wales. An unexpected deluge came on 12th-13th but a small recovery in the height of the dune water-table in mid-month was subsequently lost. The ponds at Freshfield Dune Heath Nature Reserve remained extremely low but still attracted lots of Common Frogs.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes August 2016

Portland Moth on Lichen (Phil Smith)

A rather unremarkable month for weather, August had average rainfall and a couple of short warm spells but was largely characterised by cool windy conditions. My frequent visits to the dunes revealed a surprising lack of large insects, especially dragonflies and butterflies. Thus, after a gale the previous day, I called in at our premier dragonfly site in the Birkdale dunes on 8th and was horrified to find not a single dragonfly or damselfly. This seems to have been a widespread phenomenon, local moth trappers also reporting a poor season.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes December 2016

Tulostoma brumale (Dr Phil Smith)

In complete contrast to last year, this desperately dry autumn and winter continued throughout December, with only nine days producing measurable rainfall. Much heralded in the media, two named storms were little more than damp squibs, producing an hour or two of light rain and a fresh breeze.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes February 2017

Phil Smith

The driest autumn and winter in living memory continued for the first part of the month with measurable rainfall on only three days up to the 17th. Finally, more normal Atlantic conditions reasserted themselves, with high winds of storm “Doris” rattling in on 23rd. At last, some proper rain fell on each day from 21st to 28th. Nevertheless, this had minimal impact on the depleted water-table. At the Devil’s Hole, I found the level had risen by only 4cm by the end of the month, being still 12cm below the ground surface. A Common Frog was hiding in my measuring hole!

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes January 2017

Mediterranean Gull, Southport Marine Lake (Phil Smith)

The driest autumn and winter in living memory continued throughout January with only six rain-days. Total precipitation for the Northwest was said to be 50% of normal but I suspect it was much less than that here. At the end of the month, the Devil’s Hole water-table was 16cm (6 inches) below the ground surface, a full 54cm (21 inches) lower than last year. Of course, this has major implications for our wildlife, especially the Natterjack Toad which will have very few places to breed unless there is a deluge in February and March.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes July 2016

Frog (Phil Smith)

Apart from a one-day heatwave on 19th when temperatures reached an oppressive 32oC, the month’s weather was unexceptional. Rainfall seems to have been about average but it was often cooler than expected in the first two and the last weeks. Predictably, the Devil’s Hole slack gradually dried up, though there was still a little surface water in the deepest parts (see below).

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes June 2016

Dark green fritillary (Phil Smith)

Although June was wetter than normal in most parts of the country, this was not the case here. The first rain did not fall until 10th and we missed most of the thundery downpours that caused flooding further south and east. Nevertheless, a few heavy showers and more unsettled conditions later in the month maintained enough surface-water in sand-dune wetlands for our Natterjack Toads to breed successfully in several places.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes March 2017

Common Toad (Dr Phil Smith)

In contrast to the previous six dry months, March had average rainfall with measurable amounts on 12 days, most notably on 22nd when several hours of steady rain was something we haven’t experienced here for over a year. Despite this, there was minimal recharge of the water-table, my measuring point at the Devil’s Hole dune-slack being still 5cm below ground by the end of the month. Breeding by Common Toads, Common Frogs and Smooth Newts was therefore restricted to the deeper wetlands on the coast. Common Toads were active at Cabin Hill on 4th, when about 100 batches of frog spawn had already been laid in the main scrape. Later, I counted 50 dead Common Toads at this site, only four of which had been predated. I have seen mass mortality of this species here before but those corpses had been partially eaten. This time, the cause of death remains a mystery. The Lifeboat Road Natterjack scrapes were almost dry but it was good to see many immature Smooth Newts under pieces of wood, reflecting last year’s better breeding conditions.

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