Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Wildlife and Weather Roundup of 2014 - Part 1.

A few weather records were broken in 2014, where all months except August were warmer than average, making it the warmest year on record for the UK. It was also wetter than average for many locations, particularly in the south-east. The relentless storms at the turn of the year generated the highest tides, the tallest waves and the wettest winter months on record. This unprecedented weather was driven along by a Jet Stream, with its origins beyond the big freeze of the USA, coming from unusually high rainfall in the tropical Pacific. The mild weather kept away the snow storms of recent years but then brought warmer weather for most of the rest of the year.

Sunny Sawbridgeworth - you can't beat it!
January's weather was mild and fairly sunny but significantly wetter than normal. The rain broke records in parts of England, which had their wettest January since records began more than 100 years ago. Much of southern England saw twice the average rainfall. Which was probably why water levels outside my house were the highest since I had moved in, over 25 years ago. The main reason for this mild and wet weather was a predominance of west and south-west winds, bringing in mild air from the Atlantic, with the Jet Stream at a lower latitude than is normal.

I ventured out a total of 4 times in January. A low total mainly because of a holiday to Nepal towards the end. The other 3 times were to Cheshunt; Amwell and Rye Meads, in that order. I spent a fruitless few hours at Cheshunt, searching for Bittern, but I was fortunate enough to see Goosander and Water Rail. The Bittern actually turned up, briefly, at Amwell, where Goldeneye and Smew were also on show. Coal Tit was an added bonus. Lots of Jays appeared everywhere this month, a portent of things to come, as they were to have a very good year. A Bank Vole turned up as well, the first of many sightings this year. It was also the first of many sightings of Harry, the Grey Heron, who entertained me on the journeys down. Shelduck arrived at Rye Meads, but it was quiet otherwise, which, unfortunately, pretty much summed up the Reserve for most of the rest of the year. Over-wintering Thrushes were all still around. But, as to be expected, the holiday to Nepal was the highlight of the month, if not the year, with a total of 265 species seen, the star bird being a lovely Siberian Rubythroat, which showed up in the grounds of one of our camps.

During the first half of the month, the weather was dominated by a succession of major winter storms, continuing a sequence from late January. Although the exceptionally stormy weather ended on the 15th, the rest of the month remained very unsettled. It was the wettest month ever recorded, even in the first 10 days. I noted that the local Daffodils flowered 3 weeks earlier this year.

I paid two visits each to Amwell and Cheshunt this month, because it was another stormy, very unsettled and wet month. It was proper moist, as they say! It was also a fairly quiet month, not so much in species but in numbers. Although it looked as if Spring was early, as birds began to pair up. Coal Tit; Goldeneye; Kingfisher; Lesser Redpoll and Oystercatcher were all seen at Amwell, with Red Kite flying the thermals. Not to be outdone, a Peregrine flew over at Cheshunt, where Smew were still present. Fieldfare bade farewell towards the end of the month and headed back down to Europe. I also got my only other sighting of a Bittern, again at Amwell. This month saw the first of several sightings of Weasel, while Muntjac also began to show up again. Crocus had been blooming for a few weeks. Then my camera started to play up and I ended up purchasing and upgrading to a new one. Oh, the perils of being a wildlife photographer!

Winter 2014 was an exceptionally stormy season, with at least 12 major winter storms affecting the UK in two spells from mid-December to early January and again from late January to mid-February. When considered overall, this was the stormiest period of weather experienced by the UK for at least 20 years. Mean temperatures over the UK were well above the long-term average for all three months and there was a notable absence of frosts.

The month was quite warm overall, with a few intermittent rainy days. It ended with the warmest days of the year, giving an early taste of spring and things to come. It was quite a contrast to the three wet and stormy winter months which preceded it. At times, the weather was dominated by high pressure, particularly around the middle of the month and there were several, really nice, warm days.

Another 4 visits this month, two to Cheshunt and one each to Amwell and Rye Meads. The month started off overcast, some rain at first, but it soon started to turn mild and dry. Smew and Goosander were still present at Cheshunt, but with the added delight of Shelduck; Egyptian Goose and Treecreeper. Redwing were last seen here, in the middle of the month, before they too, like their Thrush cousins, the Fieldfare, headed back to spend the summer in Europe. Bullfinch and Goldeneye were seen at Amwell, which also saw the first appearance of Redshank. A pair of Redshank also turned up at Rye Meads, together with Shelduck, while Fox and Muntjac also showed. Most of the birds were now in their very noticeable summer plumage. Bees and Butterflies started to appear in some numbers. Trees and flowers were also starting to bud and bloom. Spring had sprung!

It was, overall, another rather warm month and was the fifth month in a row with UK temperatures above average. The month opened with a few days of unsettled weather, but after the first week high pressure dominated for a while and most areas remained fine. There were some pleasantly warm days at times throughout the month.

A very busy month saw a total of 9 visits, due mainly to the good weather. There were trips to the usual places plus the first of two visits, this year, to Rainham Marsh.  Amwell dominated again this month, with 4 visits.

Goldeneye were seen on the first two trips to Amwell, but then they disappeared for the year, probably off to Scandinavia. A pair of Oystercatchers had arrived instead and were busy scouting for a nesting area, as were Redshank and Little Ringed Plover, all eventually breeding successfully. There were appearances of a Spotted Redshank at the beginning of the month and a Ruff at the end. Common Tern turned up on the 16th, while my first Cuckoo of the season turned up on the 24th, which also saw the first Swallows. Sand Martins had already turned up on the 1st, quite early even for them. Warblers also started to show well this month, with Reed; Sedge and Whitethroat all appearing. Chiffchaff and Cetti's Warblers were now becoming very vocal, obviously marking out their territories and trying to attract a breeding partner.

At Cheshunt, Goosander made its' last appearance of the season on the 2nd, probably heading back to Scandinavia as well, a favoured area. An Oystercatcher also showed up here too, on the 15th. Shelduck also said goodbye, from Rye Meads, this month. A pair of Garganey showed up instead and decided to stay for the summer, while a pair of Black-tailed Godwits showed well in the middle of the month, en-route to their breeding grounds. Common and Green Sandpipers had started to appear. The resident pair of Kingfishers laid their first batch of eggs, the first of 4 broods this year, a record for the Reserve. While down in Rainham, Shelduck; Peregrine; Redshank; Skylark and Bearded Tit all showed well.

There were more sightings of a Weasel at Amwell and Cheshunt while a Bank Vole showed up again at Amwell. A Red-eared Terrapin appeared at Cheshunt.

Butterflies started to show in some numbers this month, led by Brimstone; Orange Tip and Small Tortoiseshell. The first damselflies of the season showed up at the end of the month, at Rye Meads - Blue-tailed and Large Red, a few weeks earlier than last year. On the insect front, Ladybirds started to show and, in fact, seemed to have a better year than last year, as numbers and sightings increased. They were followed quickly by Bee-fly; Cardinal Beetle; Dock Bug; Green Shield Bug; Nettle Weevil and Scorpion Fly. Finally, Bluebells and Primrose bloomed early in the month.

May was another warmer than average month. There were some spells of dry and warm weather for many areas of the county. The latter part of the month was less settled, often overcast and brought abundant rainfall, some of it in the form of thundery showers for many areas, especially East Anglia. The month opened with a few days of scattered showers, but after the 5th it became much more unsettled. A return to high pressure then resulted in some fine and warm weather mid-month. The 20th saw a return to unsettled conditions with showers, scattered thunderstorms and some more prolonged spells of rain. The last two days were mainly dry and bright.

Five visits in month five this month, all to differing locations. The big three, of course, but I also took a walk along my local river. I also spent a few lovely days up in Norfolk, with my friend Shan, seeing well over a hundred species, including Avocet; Bearded Tit (of course!) and Black-winged Stilt. The first visit of the month, Cheshunt, saw the appearance of Hobby; Common Tern; Cuckoo and Nightingale. The one and only visit to Amwell saw 60 species with Hobby; Oystercatcher; Ringed and Little Ringed Plover; Redshank; Common Tern; Swift and Lesser Whitethroat the highlights. The visit to Rye Meads was again uneventful.

But the walk along my local river proved more fruitful, in as much as I spotted the first Banded Demoiselles of the season. In fact, there were scores of them along this stretch, so much so, that I paid several more visits here later in the year. Tadpoles appeared at Amwell early in the month. On the Lepidoptera front, Drinker Moth and Green-veined White appeared locally, with Brown Argus; Cinnabar and Garden Tiger the stars in Norfolk. More Odonata action this month saw the addition of Azure; Black-tailed Skimmer; Broad-bodied Chaser; Four-spotted Chaser and Hairy dragonfly, to the list. On the insect front, Crab Spiders; Harlequin Ladybirds; Soldier Beetles and plenty of Bee species showed well. Mayflies lived up to their name by appearing this month but St. Mark's Flies were a tad late. Fields of Bluebells continued to delight, while Early and Southern Marsh Orchids started to bloom.

Following an exceptionally wet and stormy winter season, the spring weather was much more benign. Temperatures remained broadly above average. It was the minimum temperatures that were most above average, particularly in April and May. The season brought a mix of settled spells of weather, most notably during mid-March and mid-April, but also some wetter spells.

Temperatures for June were above average across the UK, with warm days and mild nights, although there were no spells of exceptional warmth. It was rather unsettled early and late in the month, with localised thundery downpours on several days, but there was a period of fine anti-cyclonic weather around the middle of the month, bringing plenty of warm, dry, sunny weather. High pollen levels associated with the dry, warm weather around mid-month caused lots of hay-fever problems, for me especially. I had also used up a bottle of sun-tan lotion already.

Only 4 trips out this month, with visits to Amwell; Rye Meads and the local river. Primarily because of a holiday to Madeira in the middle of the month. Although I didn't see a very high bird species count there, I did see the Island's specialist birds like Cory's Shearwater; Bulwer's Petrel; Fea's Petrel; Madeiran Storm-Petrel; Zino's Petrel and Trocaz Pigeon. I also spotted Atlantic Canary; Berthelot's Pipit; Common Waxbill; Madeiran Chaffinch and Firecrest; Plain Swift and Rock Sparrow. Whimbrel and Quail appeared too. Visits to Amwell and the local river were quiet this month but the star birds were at Rye Meads, with a family of Black-necked Grebes, which eventually produced 3 young.

It was fairly quiet on the mammal front. That is, apart from lots of whales; dolphins; turtles and lizards in Madeira. Butterflies continued to appear, with Comma; Common Blue; Burnets; Meadow Brown; Skippers; Ringlet and Speckled Wood all showing well. I even spotted a Monarch butterfly in Madeira. Banded Demoiselles were again the stars this month, again down along my local river. Red-eyed damsels showed up on the lilly pads at Amwell, which also gave me my first sighting this year of the majestic Emperors. It was quite an interesting month for insects, seeing Chequered Beetle; Hairy Shield Bug; Southern Green Shield Bug and Spider Wasps in Madeira. Elsewhere, locally, I saw the first Cuckoo Spit of the year; my first Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn beetle; Mint Leaf Beetle; Ruby-tailed Wasp; Sawfly and Thick-kneed Flower Beetle.

Watch out for Part 2 in a few days time!

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site!