Saturday, 31 January 2015

Wildlife and Weather Roundup of 2014 - Part 2.


The month opened with a spell of fine, warm weather and this continued through much of the month although there were some showers and thunderstorms at times. There was a dry, hot spell around mid-month with temperatures reaching 30°C in London and East Anglia. It remained very warm or hot until the last few days, which brought further localised thunderstorms and downpours.

This month was the most productive, with 12 visits. 3 each to Amwell and Rye Meads; a couple to Cheshunt and 2 local visits, one to Sawbridgeworth Marsh and one to HMWT Thorley Wash; another visit to Rainham Marsh and my only visit of the year to the Wetland centre down in Barnes. First up, on the 1st, was a walk around my local SSSI marsh. Although lacking in bird species, it was memorable for lots of Banded Demoiselles, many of which allowed me to get quite close. As did Dock Bug; Scorpion Fly and Spotted Crane Fly. The visits to Amwell this month gave me Oystercatcher; Little Ringed Plover; Common Sandpiper and Garden Warbler. Further down in Cheshunt I saw Swallow; Whitethroat and Blackcap. The Black-necked Grebes continued to thrill visitors to Rye Meads and there were also sightings there of Little Egret; Garganey; Marsh Harrier; Green Sandpiper; Common Snipe and Ring-necked Parakeet, which turned up for the first time. The visit to WWT Barnes was at the wrong time of year, with bird species scarce, other than the captive ones: to paraphrase Charlemagne - 'To possess a bird is to possess another soul'. IMHO! But it did give me Small Red-eyed damselfly; Ruddy Darter dragonfly and Poplar Leaf Beetle.

Then it was my first visit to Thorley Wash, a few miles up the river from me. I was very pleasantly surprised to find a lovely little Reserve, not too big but also large enough to spend a nice couple of hours. On the Reserve and the walk up the canal and back I saw Green Sandpiper; Common Tern; Kingfisher and Treecreeper, amongst others, giving me a very respectable total of 37 species. I was also delighted to find lots more Banded Demoiselles here and on the trail. The trip down to Rainham saw around the same number of species as at Thorley Wash, a surprise in itself, with Marsh Harrier; Black-tailed Godwit; Green Sandpiper; Bearded Tit and Linnet the stars.

Bank Voles showed well at Amwell again this month; Lizards and Marsh Frogs were at Rainham and the first Water Voles of the season appeared at Rye Meads. I spotted an Essex Skipper on the trail up to Thorley, while the first Gatekeeper butterflies turned up. Holly Blues showed at Rye Meads towards the end of the month. Painted Lady appeared twice, at Amwell and Rainham. It was the best month for dragons and damsels, with Brown, Common, Migrant and Southern Hawkers all appearing. Common Darter showed in several places. And there was also a possible sighting of a Red-veined Darter at Rainham. Insects included Common Green Grasshopper; more Mayflies and Wasp Spiders at Rainham.

August’s weather bucked the trend this year and was an often unsettled month with some large daily rainfall totals. Ex-Hurricane 'Bertha' passed over the UK on the 10th and 11th bringing some unseasonably windy and wet weather, before moving into the North Sea and maintaining a cool and showery regime. The second half of the month saw some notably cool days and nights with some early ground frosts and remained unsettled, resulting in a cool and wet month overall.

The poor weather curtailed my visits this month, after a brilliant July. After the ‘Lord Mayor’s Show’, so to speak. I only managed one visit, to Cornmill Meadow. With bird species quite low, at this time of year, I concentrated instead on the specialities of the area – dragons and damsels, with Banded Demoiselles again starring. There were still quite a few of them around. In total I saw 9 species of Odonata, with increasing numbers of Migrant Hawker to the forefront. Not too many butterflies about, only 5 species were seen. It was also quiet on the insect front. Among the birds that I did see were Little Egret; Sparrowhawk; Lapwing; Green Sandpiper; Common Snipe and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

The summer months were generally warmer, drier and sunnier than average. There were several spells of fine, settled weather in both June and July but no major heat-waves overall. A few locations in East Anglia were rather wet. Much of the rain came in the form of thundery outbreaks, resulting in intense downpours and flash-flooding at times, in both June and July. Temperatures for July were above average across the UK, due mainly to the many warm days. However, night-time temperatures were closer to average. July 2014 was the 8th consecutive month with above average temperatures for the UK.

The month was dominated by high pressure, bringing plenty of fine and settled early-autumnal weather, with only a few short interruptions. This meant that rainfall was limited in most regions and temperatures were generally above average, though with no exceptional warmth on any particular day. It was the equal-fourth warmest September for the UK since 1910.

I made it out a total of 6 times this month, with Amwell dominating on 3 occasions. I paid a visit to Cheshunt and Rye Meads and also met up with a few friends for a visit to Regent's Park. It was a fairly quiet month but there were sightings of Green Sandpiper and Common Snipe at all 3 Reserves with Meadow Pipit showing well at Amwell. The first of a series of sightings of Stonechat came at Cheshunt, mid-month. Most Warblers and hirundines made their last appearances of the year, flying back down to Africa. The visit to Regent's Park proved more fruitful as we spotted a pair of Wheatear. Plenty of other birds on show included Goldeneye; Smew; Peregrine; Ring-necked Parakeet plus Whooper Swan; Barnacle Goose; Shelduck; Red-crested Pochard; Mandarin and Wood Ducks; Argentine Teal; Bufflehead; Chestnut Teal; Hooded Merganser and Ruddy Shelduck.

No new mammals to add to the list this month. Butterflies started to disappear, with Large White; Red Admiral and Speckled Wood being the most common still present. Dragon and damsel numbers also started to fall away, with Darters and Hawkers now being the most prominent. But the really exciting news was the discovery of at least 2 pairs of Willow Emerald damselflies at Amwell, a first for Hertfordshire! Evidence of egg-laying has since been found and it is hoped that they will make another appearance in 2015. Dock Bugs and Shield Bugs began to vanish but I did get my second sighting of Hairy Shield Bug at Amwell. Mayfly were still around, at Cheshunt. Despite their name, the Mayfly season lasts from April through to this month.

October came as quite a contrast to the previous month, as the weather became unsettled and wet by the 3rd and remained so through the majority of the month, interspersed with only short periods of drier weather. With winds frequently from the south, bringing mild air, it was another month with well above average temperatures. Rainfall was also above average but with less in the way of rain during the final third of the month.

Despite the inclement weather this month, I managed to pick and choose my days and made it out 9 times. Amwell and Rye Meads were prominent with 3 visits each, 1 each to Cheshunt; a local walk down the Stort and a new venue - Abberton and Mersea. There was nothing new to report from Rye Meads, other than the 4th Kingfisher brood had failed. The big news at Amwell was an early sighting of a Bittern, towards the end of the month. Although I spotted it 3 times that day, unfortunately no one else saw it. Red Kite was also seen there, along with other notables such as Skylark; Meadow Pipit; Stonechat and the first Redwings of the season. Stonechat and Goldcrest were seen at Cheshunt.

But the outstanding visit of the month was at Abberton/Mersea. I was given the opportunity of visiting these areas by a friend. On an outstanding day we spotted 63 species, including Great White Egret; Brent Goose; Pintail; Red-crested Pochard; Marsh Harrier; Golden Plover; Grey Plover; Dunlin; Curlew; Black-tailed Godwit; Redshank; Ruff; Ruddy Turnstone; Mediterranean Gull; Rock Pipit and Linnet. Plus the resident Bar-headed and Snow Goose. Amazingly, we even saw very late Common Tern and Swallow.

The usual mammals were seen but there were 2 very good sightings of Water Vole at Rye Meads. Not too many Butterflies around this month, as to be expected, but I did see Clouded Yellow at Mersea. Common Darter and Migrant Hawker were the last of the dragons to be seen. Most insects dropped off the radar this month. The interesting ones, anyway.

The generally unsettled and mild theme of October continued throughout most of November, with only short periods of drier weather. Low pressure was often over the UK for the first half of the month bringing rain and strong winds at times. However, with these winds frequently from a southerly direction, the month again saw well above average temperatures. This made it the fifth warmest November for the UK since 1910. Rainfall was well above average in many areas. A maximum temperature of 18.7°C was recorded in Essex on the 1st. The second half of the month was less unsettled, but lighter winds and moisture from the previous falls of rain readily allowed fog to form. The weather remained unseasonably mild with few air frosts.

I only made 2 visits this month, both to Amwell. Goldeneye delighted me by turning up, towards the end of the month, with Redwing and Coal Tit adding to the notables. A Bank Vole made yet another appearance, with a last sighting of a Common Darter dragonfly at the beginning of the month.

September was dominated by high pressure, bringing plenty of fine, settled early autumn weather and little rainfall. In contrast, low pressure was a significant influence through October and November. Both months saw more typical autumnal weather with unsettled conditions bringing periods of heavy rain and some strong winds at times but interspersed with some drier, brighter days.

For much of December the weather was from the west, giving milder, wetter spells. Although it was unsettled for much of the time, rainfall totals were mostly below average. The moist, mild Atlantic air gave some notably high temperatures but there were colder spells too. The month comprised alternating spells of colder and milder weather, with frosts common. It was the equal-sunniest December for England since 1929.

Taking into account the few outings of last month and the surprisingly mild weather this month, I took the opportunity of heading out 10 times. The score this month was Amwell 4; Cheshunt 3; Rye Meads 2 and a visit to Braughing to see the long-staying Rough-legged Buzzard. The Goldeneye count at Amwell rose steadily this month, while Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls started to appear. Indeed, it was quite difficult to pick these Gulls out over Great Hardmead Lake, with over 2,000 other gulls out there, at roost. Kingfishers were surprisingly still around, probably due to the mild weather. Goldcrest was seen, as was Marsh Tit and Bullfinch. Fieldfare showed up this month, in all areas, with accompanying Redwing. There had been a notable influx of Blackbirds over recent weeks. It was still fairly quiet again at Rye Meads, but large numbers of wildfowl were now appearing, notably Shoveler and Teal. A drake Pintail had turned up and stayed on for a number of weeks. Lapwing and Common Snipe numbers started to increase, with Lapwing numbering into the 300s.

A friend and I made a pilgrimage, just up the road, to Braughing, to see the RLB. We were fortunate enough to see it almost as we arrived in the area. We didn't stay very long, just an hour, as it looked to have settled in to the area for the winter. Apart from the Buzzard, there were large numbers of Thrushes about. Other notable birds on view were several Common Buzzard; 3 Red Kite and a couple of Kestrel, giving us an impressive raptor total, in just one hour. An equally impressive 4 Bank Voles were now present at Amwell. Fox appeared on several occasions, possibly because of the Voles! Muntjac started to appear regularly again this month.

So, the stats for 2014:
The commonest bird(s) of the year were the Woodpigeon, Magpie and Carrion Crow, all appearing 68 times.
The commonest Mammal was surprisingly the Muntjac, seen 21 times.
The commonest Butterfly was the Small Tortoiseshell with 24 sightings. Indeed, it was a good year for these overall, throughout the country.
The commonest Damselfly was again the Common Blue making 24 appearances with the Common Darter dragonfly being seen 26 times.
Bee species were again the most seen insects, with 45 appearances.

Visits this year were down on 2013, reflecting a smaller total of UK bird species seen.

All things considered, it was another fantastic year. Hopefully the trend will continue.

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