Sefton

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes June 2019

Bee Orchid (Dr Phil Smith)

After one of the driest winters and springs in living memory, twelve days with measurable rain in June were riches indeed. While some parts of the country were flooded, we had just enough to reverse earlier drought conditions. There was even some late spawning by Natterjack Toads, though the tadpoles are unlikely to complete their development. The extent to which our wildlife is impacted by weather condition was graphically illustrated. Rainfall in the first half of the month had a spectacular effect on the sand-dune flora with orchids appearing in fantastic abundance. Pyramidal and Bee Orchids were everywhere. Joshua Styles reported driving past Bee Orchids on a Southport roundabout, so Trevor Davenport and I braved the traffic to count a remarkable 210 flower-spikes. Green Sefton’s John Dempsey arranged for mowing to be delayed so they could set seed. Ironically, however, a letter to the local newspaper complained about grass being uncut on a roundabout – you can’t please everyone!    

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes May 2019

Iron Cross - Oxalis tetraphylla (Dr Phil Smith)

It’s becoming repetitive, but May 2019 was yet another dry month in Sefton. Only eight days had measurable rainfall, none of it heavy or persistent. Like last year, duneland vegetation was looking parched by mid-month, attempts to find our rare clovers on road verges at Ainsdale and Hightown being thwarted as the plants were dried up.

However, drought conditions could not prevent May on the Sefton Coast producing a wealth of wildlife as usual. Altcar Training Camp proved a case in point. This large (620 acre) estate is normally off-limits for security reasons but, each spring and summer, a series of popular guided walks and research visits is arranged by kind permission of the Commandant, Col. Gordon Black. Altcar’s amazing Green-winged Orchids have featured annually in these notes. This time, Steve Cross counted about 24,500; fewer than recently but still one of the largest populations in the country. As well as rare colour-forms of salmon-pink and white, I found a few orchids with strange variegated flowers. Although about 430 higher plants have been listed for the estate, we still found several new species, including the uncommon Knotted Clover, Spring Vetch and Rat’s-tail Fescue. Specialists from Liverpool Museum’s Tanyptera Project recorded a new parasitic wasp for Britain, the Bordered Shieldbug which was new to South Lancashire and Merseyside and no fewer than 111 beetles!

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes April 2019

Sand Lizards (Dr Phil Smith)

A frequent refrain in these notes since 2000 has been spring droughts. April lived up to its reputation, only nine days having measurable rainfall. Strong drying winds from 5th to 16th didn’t help, these being followed by a heat-wave with temperatures up to 25oC and the inevitable moorland fires. Whatever happened to April showers? As usual, a named storm on 27th produced hardly any rain here. What little we did get stimulated a few Natterjack Toads to spawn. I counted 14 strings on the southern Green Beach, adding to 15 in March. However, a total of 29 spawn strings hardly compares with 274 at the same site in 2008. Even more concerning is that I didn’t see a single adult Natterjack during March and April.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes March 2019

Don's Willow (Dr Phil Smith)

The exceptional warmth of February soon gave way to typical March weather – windy with occasional rain, the latter falling on 13 out of the first 18 days of the month. Inevitably, the Atlantic then ran out of energy, with high pressure and the usual spring drought taking over. Much-needed rain led to the dune water-table rising by 13 cm by mid-month but this was still 27 cm below the same period last year and insufficient to flood the Natterjack Toad breeding areas at the Devil’s Hole. Elsewhere on the coast, however, water-levels rose, Natterjacks emerging much earlier than usual on 15th, followed by spawning at Ainsdale and Hightown. My first monitoring visit to the southern Green Beach at Ainsdale on 19th found no Natterjacks but a few Common Toads were breeding and Common Frogs had produced over 100 spawn masses. My second survey on 25th found 15 Natterjack spawn strings, these being only a few days old. All were laid in shallow water which may not be viable if the drought continues. Our research shows there are now about 70% fewer Natterjack Toads on the Sefton Coast than there were 30 years ago, the reasons being a combination of vegetation overgrowth, competition from Common Toad and Common Frog tadpoles and spring droughts.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes February 2019

Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Phil Smith)

These notes have highlighted many examples of crazy weather over the last decade but February 2019 really took the biscuit. Only eight days had measurable rainfall but all-time record temperatures in the last week were unprecedented. An extraordinary 21oC was recorded in southern England on 26th when the thermometer soared to about 18o here. Such extremes are consistent with recent research into long-term global warming trends.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes January 2019

Little Egret (Phil Smith)

A gloomy month, January was dominated by thick cloud and poor visibility. Persistent high pressure meant hardly any rain in the first couple of weeks, continuing last year’s dry theme. Overall, measurable rain fell on 11 days, though only 29th produced a reasonable soaking. The water-table rose by 12cm at my monitoring point at the Devil’s Hole, but the dune-slacks here remained dry, the water level being 30cm (a foot) lower than at the same time last year. Although there was a cold snap latterly, the early part of January was relatively mild, the first Snowdrops appearing along Range Lane, Formby, on 15th, becoming abundant by the end of the month.

As usual, it was a relatively quiet period for wildlife sightings, not helped by the dark conditions that did not encourage me to venture outdoors much. At least I had my garden birds with a regular flock of about a dozen House Sparrows, several Starlings and daily visits from a splendid Song Thrush as well as the usual Blackbirds, Robins, Blue Tits, Great Tits, etc.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes December 2018

Petalophyllum ralfsii (Dr Phil Smith)

After months of dry weather, December returned to something like normality, measurable rain falling on 15 days, including the wettest day since August on 3rd. This helped the severely depleted water-table, my measuring point in the Devil’s Hole blowout showing a rise of 13 cm by the month’s end. Despite this, most of our dune-slacks remained dry. It was also a relatively warm month with hardly any frost.

The moist, mild conditions were perfect for bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), which rapidly recovered from brown, dried-up remnants to brilliant emerald-green patches on both the open dunes and the limbs of older broad-leaved trees. Josh Styles and I continued our study of the critically endangered Large Hook-moss, visiting the large slack south of the Ainsdale Discovery Centre where Des Callaghan reported this species in 2010. Sure enough, it was still there, with several colonies, especially on a lightly-trampled path through the slack where the vegetation was shorter. We recorded quadrats and took soil samples to describe the habitat.

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!

Pages

Subscribe to Sefton