Saturday, 7 January 2017

Wildlife and Weather Roundup 2016 - Part Two

......Continued.

July:
Low pressure was again in charge at the start of the month, which began disappointingly showery, with cool westerly winds. Unsettled weather persisted for most of the first fortnight, with fronts frequently bringing rain. It was generally warmer and sunnier around the middle of the month, with a brief hot spell, which triggered thundery outbreaks. Changeable weather resumed during the last week, with further frequent belts of rain. I wasn’t sure whether to wear my flip-flops or my wellies!
However, I managed to get out 10 times this month, another high July total. I paid visits to Amwell x 3; Balls Wood/Hertford Heath x 2; Cheshunt; Cornmill Meadow; Paxton Pits; Rye Meads & Sawbridgeworth Marsh, with a trip to Waterford Heath tacked on to one of the BW/HH visits.
July is famously quiet for birds, as they start their moult after the breeding season. The highlights were few and far between. However, notable mentions go to Oystercatcher, Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Common & Green Sandpiper.
There were no mammals to speak of, this month. However, I managed to spot my first Slow Worms, as well as several sightings of Grass Snake and possibly the same Red-eared Terrapin as the previous month.
Butterflies and moths continued to prosper, with lots of species seen. The highlights, were my first Bird-cherry Ermine moth, seen at Paxton Pits – my first visit there; a Jersey Tiger, seen right outside my door and Marbled Whites at Waterford Heath – again another first visit. Cheers, Ron! Skippers, Ringlets, Meadow Browns and Red Admirals, among others, showed well on nearly every trip. Gatekeepers began to appear in some numbers, towards the end of the month. Second broods of Peacock and Speckled Wood also started to emerge.
However, as a result of the lack of birds, I usually and happily, search for Odonata. Last year, Amwell had its’ first Norfolk Hawkers. These Hawkers usually breed in two-year cycles so I wasn’t expecting to see any this year. However, one turned up, briefly around the middle of the month, while I was searching for a reported Lesser Emperor. July is usually the peak period for Odonata, but this year seemed to be disappointing, as the totals appeared to be slightly down on previous years. The weather had much to do with it, of course. It might well have been seen as a case of ‘Nodonata’! In the event, Amwell was quiet this year, with only brief showings. However, I was lucky enough to pay further visits to Balls Wood and Hertford Heath. There was much more Odonata action here, including more Scarce Emeralds. A visit to Cornmill Meadow also provided a memorable spectacle, with loads of Chasers and Skimmers, amongst others.
Other invertebrate sightings proved to be unusually quiet this month, for some mysterious reason. Although Longhorn Beetles seemed to have had a good season, with several seen on various Reserves. There were plenty of Crickets and Grasshoppers about, as well as Soldier Beetles. Bombardier Beetles were notable by their absence. Edible Snail, at Waterford Heath was a first, as was a Twin-lobed Deerfly, seen at Paxton Pits. My second Roessel’s Bush Cricket of the year was seen at Balls Wood. The ubiquitous Midge was a nuisance, as always. Maybe camouflage cream might work.
The continued mix of rain and sunshine fed the Flora explosion. My Botany lessons continued, with recognition of Bindweed and Goat’s Rue.





August:
The weather was unsettled at the start of the month, with low pressure yet again in charge, although the month as a whole was around the seasonal average. It was generally changeable during the first fortnight and windy at times in the first week. These frequent southerly winds brought a spell of high temperatures. It was more settled in the second half, although there was a notably vigorous depression which brought strong winds. Then again, that may well have been my diet.
Another productive month saw several trips out, not only to the usual places, but to yet another new venue – Danemead. There were 4 trips to Amwell; a combined trip to Balls Wood/Hertford Heath; Cheshunt; two trips along the River Stort, with Thorley Wash tacked on to one of them; Rye Meads; with the last visit of the month to Rainham Marsh.
Birds continued to remain elusive, as is their wont at this time of year. Most of the usual species were about this month, what there were of them. Common Snipe made its’ first appearance for quite some time. There were good views of Green and Common Sandpiper, Kingfisher and Treecreeper. Adult Terns, Warblers and Hirundines started to head off to their winter homes. However, the star spot of the month were a pair of Little Stint, at Rye Meads. Duck species started to return, Shoveler, Teal and Wigeon all began to show up.
It was again very quiet on the mammal front, though there were several more sightings of Slow Worms. The ever-expanding and growing flora being the obvious culprit.
Second broods of Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies appeared. Brown Argus, Painted Lady and Silver-washed Fritillary were all new-for-year. Several moth species were notable, with Elephant Hawk and Mullein caterpillars appearing. Jersey Tiger and Silver Y were seen on a couple of occasions. Brimstone, Marbled Beauty, Lesser Yellow Underwing, Yellowtail, Common Footman, Scalloped Oak, Single-dotted Wave and Silver Ground Carpet all showed up.
Several Southern Hawkers, male and female appeared this month. Increasing numbers of Brown and Migrant Hawker, as well as Common and Ruddy Darters started to run the show. Banded Demoiselles were still present, although not as numerous now. There were further Scarce Emerald sightings. Red-eyed and common Emeralds clung on, while the first Willow Emeralds appeared. A Small Red-eyed turned up at Rainham. Azures vanished, while Common Blues were still abundant.
It was another month for invertebrates. The stars were Figwort Sawfly, Edible Snail, Thick-headed Fly, Wasp Spider and Wasp Beetle.
With all of this going on, I only managed to learn one new plant species this month. However, I can now point out Purple Loosestrife with some confidence.





SUMMER:
Summer this year, presented a fairly typical mixed picture. In June, the north and west experienced the best of any fine, settled spells, while a brief hot spell in mid-July saw temperatures exceed 30°C. Although this warmth remained for a few days, a thundery break-down was followed by a resumption of cooler, unsettled conditions from a westerly Atlantic flow. Frequent humid and cloudy conditions led to high daily minimum temperatures. June was a wet month across the southern half of the UK. In July, often fine, dry weather in the south-east contrasted with dull, wet conditions in the north-west. Overall, it was a wet summer across much of the UK. August had some very wet days and also hot and sunny periods, but the season as a whole was around average. I was both sunburnt and soaked.

September:
At the start of September the weather was changeable with high pressure over the UK. Southerly incursions brought hot and humid weather, separated by a wet spell. The 13th saw the highest September temperatures since 1911, but at the same time there were widespread thunderstorms. The second half continued to be changeable, interspersed with brief fine interludes, but temperatures generally remained above the seasonal average.
An unfortunately short month, trip-wise, with visits only being paid to Amwell, Fingringhoe Wick and Rye Meads.
The autumn migration had started, with wildfowl arriving and the last of the warblers, Hirundines and Terns all departing. Kingfishers were the stars this month, performing well at a couple of venues. Waders were on the move, with most species seen at Fingringhoe Wick, another venue on the ‘first visit’ list.
Only 5 species of butterfly appeared this month, with Comma being the star spot. Species were few, but individuals were many.
Several Willow Emeralds finally appeared in the usual area, at Amwell. A lone Southern Hawker also appeared. There were numerous Darters and Hawkers about now, usual for this time of year.
The invertebrate front brought several exciting sightings. Roesel’s Bush Cricket, Dark Bush Cricket, Dock and Green Shield Bug, Mint Leaf Beetle and Wasp Beetle all appeared.




October:
October began wet with low pressure moving across the country, while the rest of the month had mostly easterly winds, bringing showers to many coastal areas. The weather turned even more unsettled during the middle of the month. The month’s temperatures were mostly near or a little below normal, but it warmed towards the end of the month.
It was another quiet month, trip-wise, as well as for wildlife. Three trips early on, to Amwell and Rye Meads, were followed by another visit to Amwell late on.
The star spot of the month was a Bittern, seen at Rye Meads, early on, which stayed in the area for quite a while. Green Sandpiper, Snipe, Water Rail and Kingfisher all gave very good, close-up views. More and more winter wildfowl started to arrive, turning into their gorgeous seasonal plumage.
The last of the butterflies appeared, before hibernation-mode set in. Odonata were also starting to disappear, with Common Darter and Migrant Hawker the last species to be seen. Invertebrates were also vanishing, until next season.




November:
November began quiet and mild, but colder air quickly spread via a slack northerly airflow. Northerly winds were frequent in the first third of the month. The weather turned even more unsettled around mid-month. Storm Angus brought wet and windy weather and flooding, while another system brought more rain and flooding. The month ended with high pressure in charge and, while it was mostly dry and sunny, it became increasingly colder.
The highly anticipated trip to Ghana was a disappointment, with birds being few and far away. It was only saved because of the wonderful invertebrates found there. Other trips out included Cheshunt twice, at the start and end of the month; Amwell and Rye Meads.
Although over 200 species of birds were seen in Ghana, they were mostly pixel-like in the distance. I only managed 3 or 4 half-decent photos. Gutted. The trip was saved by finding over 25 species of Odonata and over 30 species of Butterfly. There were also some fantastic invertebrates found there, too. So it wasn’t a complete failure.
Three Bitterns were seen coming in to roost at Fishers Green on the early trip to Cheshunt. A Stonechat was also present. Water Rails were good value on both trips, while a Kingfisher provided the only heart-stopping moment at the end of the month. In between, were trips to Amwell and Rye Meads. Goldeneyes provided the entertainment at Amwell, displaying, while RM was again the best visit of the month. Here, up to 6 Golden Plovers were seen, together with a Shelduck, a Water Pipit, several Snipe, hundreds of Lapwing and a few Green Sandpipers.





AUTUMN:
Autumn was warmer than normal. September began unsettled, but very warm and humid air moved in to give unusually high temperatures for the time of year. More seasonal conditions prevailed after that, with the weather quiet and anticyclonic for much of the time, allowing autumn fog and slight frost to occur. September was among the three warmest in a series since 1910, whereas all areas were closer to normal the following month. October was the driest in the UK since 1972. The last three days of October were unseasonably warm. Most western areas had rather a dull September but a sunnier than average October. November was often cold and sunny but had an unsettled spell mid-month, particularly in the south.

December:
At the start of the month the weather was settled with high pressure in charge and it was often cold and frosty with fog patches. The anticyclone pulled away to the east, where southerly winds prevailed, bringing very mild conditions. Although these brought some rain at times, for much of the time it remained quiet, with fog in places. There was an unsettled spell during the third week, which was stormy at times, associated with the passage of Storm Barbara and Storm Conor. It generally stayed mild during this spell. Settled conditions then returned, with cold and frost.
It was a very quiet month, with only 2 trips out. Partly due to the weather, partly due to losing my enthusiasm. Several very quiet trips in a row, meant a ‘damp squib ending’ to the year. While it didn’t rain very often, very cloudy skies meant there were very few opportunities. I was fast becoming a ‘fair-weather’ Birder! The visits I did make were to Cheshunt, late on in the month, after my final ‘first visit’ to Burwell Fen. There were chances to go out again, a few more times, but I was attacked by bursts of lethargy and torpor. I had also embraced the holiday season early. Ahem.
Burwell Fen had seen several Short-eared Owls out and about and, thanks again to Ron, I managed to see up to 4 of them, on a cold, grey day. Also seen there, were Stonechat, Fieldfare, Sparrowhawk and plenty of Kestrels. I visited Cheshunt specifically to look for Bittern and spent most of the visit at the aptly-named Bittern Hide. A few Bittern-less hours later I headed home. The only things of note were good views of a Water Rail and a Woodcock fly-by.




And so, onto the stats for this year:
I made a total of 78 trips out this year, slightly down on last year.
The commonest birds of the year were Woodpigeon and Carrion Crow. Again.
The commonest Mammal was the Muntjac, seen on 24 occasions.
The commonest Butterfly was the Small White, with 36 sightings.
The commonest Damselfly was again the Common Blue, making 30 appearances this time, with the Common Darter Dragonfly just edging the Migrant Hawker, with 25 views.
Outside of the general stuff, the most seen insect was the Red-tailed Bumblebee with 24 appearances.
The most interesting flower for me, this year, was the Snake’s Head Fritillary.

163 bird species were seen in total this year, in the UK, again down on last year.
64 of which were the most seen on one day, in Amwell, in late April.
The most Mammal species seen on one day was 7, again at Amwell, in early March.
14 species of Lepidoptera were seen on three separate occasions during the year.
14 species of Odonata were also seen, visiting Hertford Heath and Balls Wood, during late June.
32 insect species were seen on one memorable day, visiting Cheshunt, in mid-May.

The Annual Bearded Tit Awards (ABTAs):
Bird of the Year: Roast Chicken St. Kilda Wren!
Mammal of the Year: Mongoose Weasel!
Lepidoptera of the Year: Silver-washed Fritillary
Odonata of the Year: Scarce Emerald
Invertebrate of the Year: Ruby-tailed Wasp
Flora of the Year: Snake’s Head Fritillary
Birder of the Year: The Bittern Whisperer (aka Amwell Watcher)
Photographers of the Year: Mary & Katy




Amwell was the most visited Reserve again this year, this time with 27 visits. Jenny and her band of volunteers and helpers have again done a wonderful job there. However, this year saw visits to several new Reserves, thanks to friends, but mainly thanks to their cars! Although visits and totals were slightly down on last year, it was pleasing to note my photographic efforts have slightly improved. I think. A few of which were even published. Autographs later, please.

And finally, a respectful thumbs-up to all those fellow Birders this year, who, like me, spent hours and hours mainly watching tall trees and empty ponds. A special ‘thanks’ goes to Ron, Mary, Katy, Barry, Andrea, Marianne, Shane and TJ, for putting up with my poor moods, poor jokes and general curmudgeon-liness, while out and about. Don’t worry, nothing is going to change! Roll on 2017!

'Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt!'


For more of my photographic efforts, please visit my Flickr site.
I also joined Twitter this year!


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Wildlife and Weather Roundup 2016 - Part One


 Notice:
This is a Brexit and Trump-free zone! No celebrity obituaries here. And no, there isn’t a ‘hidden message’ this time. It’s just an end-of-year round-up - fat-free; vegan-rich and wildlife-friendly. I can also confirm that no wildlife were hurt during the creation of this report. Move along, please!

The Weather:
2016 was the 13th warmest year in the UK, in a series going back to 1910. All UK regions recorded higher than average temperatures for the year, but East Anglia was among the warmest. The warmest months included September and December. The wettest were January and June. There was no really cold month. If that’s not odd, I don’t know what is. Overall, for the UK, 2016 was warmer than average, but close to average for rainfall.

The most extreme weather events of the year were a series of winter storms which occurred at intervals between January and mid-March, bringing damaging floods in certain areas. Much of the rest of the year was relatively benign, with some settled spells.

The weather forecasters managed to get it spectacularly wrong this year, for the most part. Even the usually reliable, but gorgeous Carol, couldn’t be totally dependable.

Globally, 2016 beat 2015’s record-breaking temperature and so, for the first time in the past 150+ years, three consecutive years have set a new annual global temperature record.

A strong El Nino, which lasted from May 2015 to May 2016, was the cause of much of the abnormal weather events and weather watchers are now predicting more abnormal weather in the years to come. It might just become the new normal.


'Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.'
George Orwell 1948, in an essay in the Socialist Leader.


This was another great year for wildlife watching. Even though the totals were down, both in species and visits, it was nonetheless a very satisfying year. I concentrated mainly on quality rather than quantity, this year, which probably reflects the low totals.

A new camera and lens combo seems to have improved my photo efforts, but was somewhat tempered by the usual lack of field-craft skills. However, unlike others, I didn’t attempt any underwater photography.

The highlight, this year, was a wonderful trip to St. Kilda, a personal goal achieved. However, it was mitigated by a disappointing trip to Ghana. Note to self: must read the paraphernalia before choosing trip.

January:
The month could be summed up in one word: Mild. The Arctic was in positive temperature territory, unheard of in winter. At the start of January, the UK was very unsettled, dominated by low pressure, with frequent active depressions and fronts. It was generally mild, but it turned colder for a few days around mid-month, with widespread frosts. The last third was generally very mild and wet with strong winds. Storm Gertrude caused widespread disruption, with damaging winds. It was the 4th wettest January, on record, in the UK. Sorry, did I say ‘one word’?
Visits this month: Somerset Levels. 2 trips to Amwell, 2 trips to Cheshunt.
The stand-out trip this month was a short foray to the Somerset Levels. I have always wanted to see a Starling Murmuration and they didn’t disappoint. It was quite a spectacle and I heartily recommend a visit. Other birds on show down there were Great White Egret, Common Crane, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit and Barn Owl. Not only did we see a Starling Murmuration, we also saw a Duck Murmuration! It was very good for raptors, with 6 species seen. The first Daffodils and Snowdrops of the season were seen here, on what was a fantastic 2-day trip.
Shelduck, Goosander, Ring-necked Parakeets and Stonechat all appeared at Cheshunt. At Amwell, I had a close-up Sparrowhawk sighting. All the Gulls showed again this year, including Caspian and Yellow-legged. Well, it was a Gull and it had yellow legs. A Coal Tit showed briefly, while the female Bearded Tit was still present and there were also good views of Treecreeper and Siskin. Both venues also provided good views of Water Rail, Smew, Goldeneye, Goosander and Goldcrest. There were lots of wildfowl & Thrushes about.
The first Bank Voles and Fox were seen at Cheshunt, while Muntjac started to appear regularly.




February:
February began unsettled and wet, with westerly and south-westerly winds. A bit like how I felt, at the time. Storm Henry brought widespread gale-force winds early on and then Storm Imogen brought further strong winds soon after. It turned colder around the middle of the month with some scattered wintry showers and sharp night frosts. After some further rain, there was a mild interlude towards the end of the month, but the remainder was generally dry, sunny and cold.
Quite possibly a record 11 visits were made this month, despite the poor weather and being the shortest month of the year. 5 trips to Amwell; 2 to Cheshunt; 2 to Mistley Walls; 1 to Rye Meads and 1 to a new venue, Hartham Common.
Lots of wildfowl were still about, although not quite in the numbers of recent years, possibly due to the abnormal weather. More and more Thrushes continued to turn up. Shelduck & Pintail were the stars at Mistley, as were lots of waders, including Knot, Redshank and Blackwits. Also seen there were Red-breasted Merganser, Avocet, Oystercatcher, Curlew and Turnstone. One of the ‘local yokels’ also pointed out a Mongoose. Eh? Lots of Goldeneyes were still at Amwell, but the Smew was elusive. Not so at Cheshunt, where I had a close encounter with 3 redheads. Unfortunately, they didn’t give me their phone numbers. Surprisingly, there was no drake Smew seen at all, this season. Goosander and Stonechat showed well at Cheshunt, as did a pair of Great Crested Grebes, doing their courtship dance. This time, I checked for dogs. Ahem. Great Spotted Woodpeckers were now starting to drum. Ring-necked Parakeets appeared on every visit there, with upto a dozen present – now probably a permanent fixture in the LVRP. A lovely Cetti’s Warbler, Lesser Redpoll, Bullfinch, Siskin and a pair of Marsh Tits performed well, late in the month, at Amwell. Goldcrests and Treecreepers were seemingly everywhere. The Bramblings were still around at Rye Meads. There was a close encounter with a Kingfisher, at Hartham Common, thanks to a tip-off by Mary & Katy. Shush, don’t tell anyone!
Bank Voles performed well at Amwell and there were plenty of mammals to be seen around most places. However, the stars were the plentiful Muntjacs, with a record 12 seen on one visit, at Cheshunt.
Midges continued to be a nuisance. I think it was my new aftershave. Pollen spewed forth towards the end of the month, causing sneezing fits. Daffodils and Hawthorn flowered early again this year, while there were goods shows of Snowdrop and Crocus.




WINTER:
It was the second wettest winter for the UK and the warmest on record going back to 1910. December 2015 was one of the most extraordinary months in the UK's observational records, being both exceptionally mild and wet, with several storms bringing record-breaking rainfall totals. A brief cold snap in mid-January brought a welcome respite before further stormy weather brought widespread disruption at the end of the month. Overall, January 2016 was slightly milder than average across all areas. February was dry, sunny and cold, but with some bright, sunny spells particularly during the second half of the month. Thank God for thermals.

March:
At the start of March, the weather was dominated by low pressure, bringing wet and cold weather. There were strong winds associated with Storm Jake, while it was very wet across the country. However, high pressure became established from mid-month, bringing dry, settled weather, often with plenty of sunshine. More unsettled weather then returned during the final week, while Storm Katy brought damaging winds, particularly in the south-east. Locally, I was ok, but I think a stiff breeze knocked down next door’s garden gnome.
7 visits were made this month. I went to Amwell 3 times, with one each to Bramfield; Lemsford Springs; Cheshunt and Thorley Wash.
Despite the poor weather, both at the beginning and end of the month, I managed to get out and about seven times. Migration began, but there still wasn’t much coming in. I felt like migrating myself. A Bittern finally showed itself, twice, at Amwell, thanks to the ‘Bittern Whisperer’. Smew, Goldeneye and Goosander made their last appearances of the season. Redshank turned up at the end of the month, at Amwell, as did Barn Owl, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaff, Marsh and Coal Tit, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and lots more Thrushes. It was turning out to be quite a good year for Goldcrest. Elsewhere, there were Green Sandpipers at Lemsford Springs, which also saw Snipe and Treecreeper. On the same day, I looked for Hawfinch at Bramfield, although unsuccessfully this time. However, it was quite good for raptors, including Red Kite. Cheshunt saw just the usual stuff this month, but did include several Call Ducks. I also paid a visit to Thorley Wash, attending a HMWT Water Vole event. We didn’t see any - the weather put paid to that - but there was Buzzard, Kingfisher, Woodpeckers, Wagtails and Chiffchaff to be seen. Sadly I didn’t see any Water Voles all year.
However, Bank Voles continued to delight at Amwell. Then a Weasel promptly showed up and took one of them. It was a very exciting and close encounter. The Muntjac population seemed to be increasing. Don’t they have hobbies?
Insect sightings were also increasing; mainly Queen Bees but March saw the first of the Ladybirds, a 7-spot. Flora began to bloom more and more, with the first Primroses at the beginning of the month. Buds were sprouting everywhere.




April:
April began unsettled, with frequent showers and some longer spells of rain and this unsettled theme persisted for most of the first half of the month, although it was quite warm in the south. The second half was often cool and showery, but with a warm sunny interlude between the 19th and 21st. Sleet and snow fell unusually late in the month.
Despite the poor-ish weather, I managed to again get out 7 times. Visits to Amwell (3); a day trip combining Abberton, Mersea and Mistley, another to RSPB Lakenheath Fen, SWT Lackford Lakes and, finally, a visit each to Cheshunt and WWT Barnes.
It was unseasonably cold and wet for most of the month and I had to pick and choose my days out carefully, at times visiting several places on the same day.
There were plenty of raptors about, especially at Amwell, notably a Marsh Harrier at the beginning of the month. Hobbys started to appear at the same time. The increase in migration brought in a fair few Waders, as well. Oystercatchers, Little Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and Redshank all made appearances. However, the best visit for Waders was to Mersea, which also brought Ringed Plover, Knot, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit and Turnstone. There was even a Common Sandpiper seen at Cheshunt, towards the end of the month. Common Terns started to appear. The first Cuckoo could be heard calling. Hirundines began turning in some numbers. Fieldfares and Redwings made their last appearances of the season. On the Warbler front, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Reed, Sedge and Willow Warbler all showed up and showed well. The other notable sighting this month, was at Lackford Lakes, with a long-staying Long-tailed Duck. It was my first visit there, thanks again to Ron and I came away suitably impressed with the place. I also made my annual trip to Barnes, seeing all the usual birds there, but all of which gave great close-up views. The LWC is always a great place to hone your photography skills. However, I think I still need a bit of honing.
There wasn’t much to shout about, mammal-wise this month. However, the first butterflies appeared, including Brimstone, Orange Tip, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. Incredibly, despite the poor weather, a few Large Red damselflies were seen at Lakenheath Fen and Amwell.
The best insect sightings of the month were Bee-fly, Dock Bug and St. Mark’s Flies, all early detections. There was an invertebrate explosion as the month went on.
Bluebells and Daffodils continued to flower throughout the month, while the first Forget-Me-Knots appeared. I forget exactly when. There was a lone Periwinkle and Tulip found at Amwell, while my first sighting of Snake’s Head Fritillaries were a delight to see, down in Barnes.




May:
The month began unsettled and windy with low pressure in charge, before becoming warmer and more settled with high pressure. For much of the rest of the month an easterly flow prevailed, bringing plenty of fine, warm and sunny weather, with scattered thundery showers, which affected western and southern areas. It was particularly warm in the second week. This pattern was interrupted by a brief colder interlude mid-month and an unsettled spell, but warm and sunny weather re-established itself in many areas during the final week. It was time to break out the sun cream.
It was another 7 visits this month – 3 to Amwell and 1 each to Rainham Marsh; Sawbridgeworth; Cheshunt and lastly, to Rye Meads.
Although not one of the great months, weather-wise, early on, I managed to pick out the sunnier days. However, it was another record hot month for the planet, another in a long line of record-breaking months. This trend would continue.
Shelduck appeared at both Rainham and Amwell. There was another spectacular sighting of a Sparrowhawk at Amwell, at the end of the month. Marsh Harriers were at Rainham. Hobby appeared several times, at several venues. Waders continued to prosper, with the usual Oystercatcher, LRP, Lapwing and Redshank, all showing well at most places. There was also another visit by a Dunlin, this time at Rainham, which also had Greenshank present. Common Terns were now plentiful. However, 4 Black Terns also arrived, at Amwell, setting the pulse racing. They were also seen at Rye Meads. A Cuckoo was finally seen, at Amwell, while others were heard on nearly every subsequent visit everywhere else. Hirundines increased in number, with all of them crowding the skies. The Kingfishers seemed to have disappeared from Amwell, but they were seen at Rainham early on, before showing well at Rye Meads, where the first of 3 broods fledged. Yellow Wagtails appeared at Amwell over the course of a few days, delighting everyone at the Watchpoint. A Wheatear also turned up there, again delighting everyone. It was my first sighting of the year and a first at Amwell. Warblers had now arrived in huge numbers and were very vocal before pairing up and nesting. All the usual suspects, of course, but I was delighted to see a Grasshopper Warbler in the Sawbridgeworth Marsh. I was also lucky enough to find a Treecreeper nest, near the James Hide, at Amwell. They only managed to fledge one youngster, but it gave great, close-up views. Linnets appeared at Rainham.
The now overgrowing flora started to obscure mammal sightings. However, the star spot of the month was a Water Shrew at Rainham. It was my first-ever ‘live’ sighting of a Shrew. Redpoll cattle were introduced at Rye Meads, while a Grass Snake appeared at Amwell. A Red-eared Terrapin turned up at Cheshunt, near a Great Crested Grebe nest.
Butterflies and Moths started to come into their own this month, as more and more species started to appear. Orange Tips did well this year, as did Peacocks and Red Admirals. Although very few Small Tortoiseshells were seen. The star this month, on the Lepidoptera front, was a Poplar Hawkmoth.
Odonata exploded, a little earlier than in previous years. There were plenty of damsels, with a sighting of Red-eyed later in the month. The dragons appeared late on, with Hairy’s leading the charge. I was quite pleased; I was starting to have withdrawal symptoms.
Invertebrates started to explode too. Of the many species seen this month, the stars were Bee-fly, Dock Bugs, Green and Hairy Shield Bugs, St Mark’s Fly and Wasp Beetles.
The Bluebells bade us farewell for another year. However, they were replaced with lots of lovely Orchid species.





SPRING:
Spring was fairly wet and slightly colder than normal, across eastern England. March brought some very wet and windy weather from Storm Jake early on, as did Storm Katy toward the end of the month. However, the middle of the month saw two weeks of fine, settled weather, with high pressure establishing itself over the UK. In April, a mixture brought some spring sunshine, fluctuating temperatures and above average rainfall. Temperatures in March were below normal in the south, while all areas were colder than normal in April. However, May saw a slight improvement.

June:
At the start of June, the weather was dry and settled, but often cloudy, with north-easterly winds bringing low cloud in from the North Sea. Showers and thunderstorms increasingly broke out inland after the 5th. From the 10th onwards, the weather was generally unsettled, wet and cloudy, with low pressure often in charge. There were also thundery downpours at times and heavy rain and thunderstorms caused significant disruption in the south-east. It was the dullest June on record in the south-east, as well as quite a showery month, with very few sunny spells. I had to break out the wet weather gear!
All of which limited me to only 4 visits, but one of them was a short cruise around the Outer Hebrides, encompassing a much-anticipated visit to St Kilda. One day was spent visiting Balls Wood/Hertford Heath/Amwell. There were also visits to Thorley Wash and London Zoo.
The holiday to the Outer Hebrides was memorable not just for setting foot on St Kilda, but also for the sight and sounds of thousands of seabirds. Not forgetting the smells, too. Too many wonderful bird species to name, but a special mention goes to the endemic St Kilda Wren. Again, I heartily recommend it. Don’t forget to bring your seasickness tablets.
Unfortunately, it’s that time of year again, as birds now start to disappear for a while. However, there were still a few special sightings. Oystercatcher, Little Ringed Plover and Redshank were still about at Amwell. Common Terns and loads of Warblers were all busily raising youngsters.
Mammal sightings were down even more, as the lush flora now started to obscure nearly everything. The mix of rain and sun, sun and rain was obviously taking effect. However, this meant, of course, that invertebrates started to prosper. Butterflies now started to come out, in force. The first Skippers, Meadow Browns and Speckled Woods appeared. As did more moths, with Cinnabar and Yellow-tailed showing well.
More and more species of Odonata started to show up. There was an incredible 14 species seen, during one day, at BW/HH and Amwell. I had my first-ever sighting of Scarce Emeralds at HH, together with first showings, this year, of Common Emerald, Black-tailed Skimmer, Ruddy Darter and Emperor. Banded Demoiselles were now out in some numbers, always a delight to see.
The star insect of the month was undoubtedly a close encounter with a Ruby-tailed Wasp. New-for-year sightings included Black-headed Cardinal Beetle, Longhorn Beetle, Mint Leaf Beetle, Speckled Bush Cricket and Thick-kneed Flower Beetle. Other star spots, this month, were Dark Bush Cricket, Dock Bug, Green Nettle Weevil, Scorpion Fly, Soldier Beetle plus loads of Mayflies, Midges and Bees. It was a veritable invertebrate nirvana, definitely a month to be wearing kevlar-enforced trousers!

I tried to learn a few new flower species this month, as well. Although it was quite odd to see Primroses blooming right next to Bluebells, up in the Hebrides. It was the month to see Orchids. More Forget-Me-Knots, Foxgloves and Ragged Robin all bloomed.






END OF PART ONE - PART TWO TO FOLLOW SOON!


Friday, 16 December 2016

A Happy Christmas & a Merry New Year to all my readers!

Season's Greetings!

My best wishes to all, have a great festive time!


May your God go with you.


NB: As I haven't been out this month, there will probably be no 'December Highlights'. This is mainly due to the weather, which doesn't look as if it will improve anytime soon. :(

Thanks for all your support over the past year. Hopefully, 2017 will be just as good a year, for wildlife watching, as 2016 was.

The 2016 Wildlife Round-up will be posted early in January. However, here is a taster of how the year turned out.