Natural History

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.

Rob Duffy: Sidewalk Botanist Goes Brookside: A short excursion down Court Hey Brook

Pools of the Brook, Court Hey Park (Rob Duffy)

Court Hey Brook is some 680 metres long within its Park and is crossed by two footbridges, one in the “middle” and the other at the southern end. It was never a boundary within the Victorian estate which ran uphill to the present Rimmer Avenue and it barely appears on any maps. It is hard to believe that its hydrology was significantly altered about a decade ago (United Utilities); designed to protect the east bank’s back gardens from being undercut by waters that have subsequently failed, the remnant sandbanks seem now arcane relics.

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.

Rob Duffy: Sidewalk Botanist-June Notes

(Rob Duffy)

The “scrapes” in Court Hey Park are as dry as a bone and can be traversed to inspect the wetland flora-the flora of the pavement cracks too has altered completely under the unrelenting Sun but, with the disappearance of the widespread Thale Cress, many species, particularly Willowherbs, are surviving. Perhaps this is the time to get to grips with this common garden weed? Identification is not too difficult, depending on the shape of the stigma, whether there are ridges on the stem, the length of the petiole, or the length of the leaves and pods, to name but a few features. But, beware of hybridisation!

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.

Rob Duffy: Sidewalk Botanist gets close and personal with a saxifrage and illustrates the tribulations of using

I borrowed BioBank’s copy of “Poland” to try and resolve the mystery of its identity from a
fragment I had taken - comprising fully intact leaves- and found myself keying out Saxifraga
umbrosa (Pyrenean saxifrage) , or Saxifrage nivalis (Alpine saxifrage). I was really attracted to the
latter because “Poland” refers to “the long wavy cilia near the base” (of the petiole).

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.

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