Thursday, 21 January 2016

Wildlife and Weather Round-up 2015 - Part Two


While the UK may only have had a couple of hot days, July 2015 was the planet’s hottest month since records began. At the start of July, there was very hot air over the UK, with a humid southerly flow from the continent. This gave record-breaking July temperatures in parts of the southeast and the highest temperature anywhere in the UK since August 2003. After this, however, the month brought cool and rather changeable weather. There were some cold nights, especially in the last few days and overall it was rather a cool month, despite the hot start.

Konik Ponies at Amwell
I had to put the Factor50 on liberally this month, because it was scorchio. Even so, I only managed seven visits all month. Mainly because of a fantastic Odonata trip to the Camargue. Besides this, I paid visits to Amwell three times, twice to Cheshunt with one outing in Sawbridgeworth.

Broad Scarlet
Copper Demoiselle
The Camargue in France was by far the highlight of this month. It was my first non-birding visit overseas and I was highly impressed. Over 30 species were seen and photographed, including Banded Darter; Broad Scarlet; Copper Demoiselle; Green-eyed Hawker (the continental equivalent of our Norfolk Hawker); Robust Spreadwing; Violet Dropwing and Western Spectre. We saw other wildlife, of course, but the outstanding odonata took all the honours. Although it was also 40°C-plus and my health paid a heavy price, in an effort to get the photos.

Locally, the last Oystercatchers were seen in Amwell, at the end of the month. Redshank; Common Sandpipers and Common Tern were still about, as were lots of Warblers. However, it was starting to go quiet on the birding front and so I concentrated on other Fauna.

Migrant Hawkers
Banded Demoiselle
The first 5-spot Burnets were seen in Sawbo, at the beginning of the month. The first Essex Skippers and Gatekeepers started to appear, at Amwell. A lovely Marbled White was a surprise visitor on the River Stort. Banded Demoiselles were particularly prolific this month and continued to delight - I took hundreds of photos of these wonderful creatures. Small Red-eyed damsels joined their cousins at Amwell. The first Common and Ruddy Darter dragons were seen in Cheshunt, early in the month, while the first Migrant Hawkers were seen at the end of the month. The Norfolk Hawker was seen again and I managed to get even better photos, as it perched not 3 feet away from me! My first Roesel's Bush-cricket was seen in Cheshunt, towards the end of the month. The last of the Orchids finally died off.

Roesel's Bush Cricket
The weather during August was mostly unsettled and fairly cool, with the UK often under the influence of nearby areas of low pressure. Temperatures frequently struggled to reach average levels, although there were some warmer days, particularly across eastern England. However, frontal systems brought heavy rain and thundery downpours, particularly during the second half of the month. Some locations approached three times the monthly average rainfall and it was the wettest August across southeast England since 1977.

Broad-bodied Chaser
Pretty much like last year, only this time I paid seven visits, with 3 to Amwell, 2 to Sawbo and one each to Parndon Wood and Cornmill Meadow.

A family of Spotted Flycatchers were the highlight this month, showing well in Amwell, early on. A Marsh Harrier was also seen there, as was the first Hobby. More Common and Green Sandpipers were turning up. The last Common Tern departed from Amwell, towards the end of the month. Warblers also started to tail off and depart for the winter.

Willow Emerald
Blood Vein
Grass Snakes were still appearing at Amwell. A Shrew-type was seen at Thorley Wash, as was a cracking Water Vole. A project by the HMWT to release scores of these superb creatures this year, seemed to be paying dividends, as the Vole was the first thing I spotted when I entered the Reserve. A gorgeous Blood Vein moth, a Brown Argus and a few Small Coppers all showed well at Amwell on the seventh. The first Painted Lady finally made an appearance. It was quickly followed by several more. A Plume and a Snout Moth were spotted in Sawbo. A wounded Poplar Hawk moth greeted me at the train station at Amwell. Banded Demoiselles continued to thrill – I couldn't get enough of them! The first Emerald showed well at Amwell, early on, with the first Willow Emeralds appearing later. On the insect front, Forest Bug and Hawthorn Shield Bug were spotted in the Sawbo Marshes, while Kidney-spot Ladybird and Long-winged Conehead appeared at Amwell.

Marsh Tit
Summer 2015 was mostly characterized by a cool, westerly Atlantic flow, with the UK often under the influence of low pressure systems. Eastern areas tended to fare best for warmth and sunshine. The summer was both cooler and wetter than the two previous summers. In June, there was plenty of dry, settled and sunny weather in the south. However, after a brief heat wave around the 1st July, both July and August were often cool, unsettled and with heavy rain at times.

At the start of September, northwesterly winds brought cool and showery weather. After this, the weather was dominated by high pressure. However, the weather was rather changeable and despite two fine spells, it was a generally cool month. The fine spell at the end of the month brought warm days, but also some notably cool nights. It was the coldest September in England since 1994.

Nine visits out this month and, thanks to friends, I put myself about a bit. Two to Amwell with a visit each to Cheshunt, Lemsford Springs, Sawbo, Kings Meads, Panshangar Park, Rye Meads and Rainham.

Fox with lunch
Sparrowhawks put the wind up the feeder birds, at both Amwell and Cheshunt. More Hobbys were about, although not in quite the numbers of last year. Barn Owl; Redshank and Stonechat were all seen on the Rainham visit. Common and Green Sandpipers continued to appear and entertain, with up to eight seen, close-up, at Lemsford Springs, my first visit. A lovely Winchat was seen at Amwell, mid-month. The last Swift departed from Sawbo on the 11th, while the last Sand Martin left from Amwell on the 18th. I saw my last House Martin and Reed Warbler at Rainham. The last Whitethroat was seen at Cheshunt. The seasons they were a-changing!

Southern Hawker
Bank Voles were still present at Amwell. They seemed to have only two speeds – 0 or 100 miles an hour! Harbour Seals; Marsh Frogs and Mink were all seen at Rainham. Sadly, the last Butterflies were seen this month. Willow Emeralds were seen twice more at Amwell, but they were amongst the last damsels. The last Brown Hawker was seen in Sawbo (11th). Southern Hawkers were seen 3 times, from the 18th, mainly at Amwell, including one that sat up and posed for me. Another, unseasonable, Black-headed Cardinal Beetle was seen at Lemsford Springs. Dock Bugs and Green Shield Bugs were seen again this month, while Mayflies made their final appearances. Wasp Spiders showed well at Rainham.

Wasp Spider
The weather this month was influenced by high pressure, bringing periods of dry, settled weather and some good spells of sunshine, but with some overnight frost and fog. This made it the driest October since 2007. The mean temperature was above the long-term average, although it was a rather cloudy month for many southern and eastern areas.

Orb Spider with Damselfly - it didn't end well!
The Dragonfly Trail was now unfortunately closed at Amwell and, as usual at this time of year, things started to quieten down. Depending on where you went. I paid five visits this month, with two to Amwell and one each to Cheshunt, Mistley and Rye Meads.

The biggest highlight this month was the appearance of at least four Bitterns, seen at Cheshunt on the 20th. I sat in the Bittern Hide for over 5 hours, watching them interact. Unfortunately, they all dispersed very quickly, a day or so later and were not seen again, by me, for the rest of the year. Plenty of Wildfowl were now starting to turn up. Red Kite continued to appear at Amwell. Black-tailed Godwit; Great White Egret; Marsh Harrier; Redshank; Rook; Ruddy Turnstone and Ruff were seen on my first visit to the Mistley area. Green Sandpiper and Meadow Pipits appeared at Rye Meads. The last Swallow surprisingly departed Amwell on the 8th.

Brassica Bug
Migrant Hawker
Ominously, another Mink showed at Cheshunt. Common Darter and Migrant Hawker were the last odonata to be seen. A cracking Brassica Bug was spotted at Amwell, on the canal path. However, it was the last interesting insect to be seen this year.

November was a generally mild and wet month, with an often-humid southwesterly flow bringing cloudy conditions. It was dry and exceptionally warm during the first few days, with record-breaking temperatures locally, but the rest of the month was unsettled and often windy. The autumn storms 'Abigail', 'Barney' and 'Clodagh' all caused some disruption. There was a notable absence of frost and it was the third warmest November on record.

The poor-ish weather restricted me to only four visits this month, shared equally between Amwell and Cheshunt. Hey, I'm nothing if not consistent!

Water Rail
The first Goldeneyes and Goosanders of the season turned up at Amwell, late in the month. Roosting Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls, together with up to 200+ Great Black-backed Gulls also started to appear. Fieldfare and Redwing made their first appearances at both venues. A lovely Water Rail appeared outside the James Hide at Amwell and then a female Bearded Tit appeared on the 23rd and hung around, on and off, for a couple of months. A Siskin flock also appeared and stayed for quite some time. They seem to have had a good year, as they were also seen at Cheshunt. As was a Kingfisher, who flew so close at one point it almost sat on my shoulder! Reed Buntings became more prolific, especially around the feeders. Bank Vole, Muntjac and Weasel all showed well.

September and October were generally quiet and settled, with high pressure, often bringing dry, sunny conditions. However, November was mostly very mild, dull and unsettled, with several autumn storms.

Rainfall for December 2015 - Source: MetOffice
December was a record-breaking month, smashing records for both heat and rainfall, with the mean temperature at 8°Cdouble the long-term average. The weather fronts brought an average of 211mm of rain through the month, making it the wettest since 1929. It was exceptionally wet and often windy, with frequent deep depressions. Frontal systems - including storms ‘Desmond’, ‘Eva’ and ‘Frank’ - brought record-breaking rainfall. There was a marked absence of frost, particularly in the south.

An exceptionally warm month allowed me to make six visits. Amwell won again, with 3 trips. I also visited Cheshunt, Rye Meads and Heartwood Forest.

Short-eared Owl
The highlight this month was my first trip to Heartwood Forest on the 4th, to see the long-staying Short-eared Owls. The Reserve Manager there had also thoughtfully laid on Kestrel; Red Kite; Skylark and Yellowhammer to entertain us in between SEO visits. Blackcap; Firecrest; Green Sandpiper and Shelduck were all spotted at Rye Meads, but I also bagged a lifer there, with a pair of Bramblings showing well, in amongst all the Chaffinches. More Goldeneye turned up at Amwell, followed by Smew and more Goosander at Cheshunt. A flock of Ring-necked Parakeet were a surprise to see at Cheshunt, where there was also a male Stonechat. More and more Fieldfare and Redwing were appearing, stripping all the berries. I had Goldcrest on two occasions - but it didn’t affect me too much! Coat Tit; Marsh Tit; Siskin; Treecreeper and Bank Vole, at Amwell, rounded off another very successful year.


So, onto the stats for this year:
The commonest bird(s) of the year were the Woodpigeon and Carrion Crow, appearing on every trip. Inevitably.
The commonest Mammal was the Grey Squirrel, seen 36 times.
The commonest Butterfly was the Large White, with 37 sightings.
The commonest Damselfly was again the Common Blue, making 33 appearances this year, with the Migrant Hawker Dragonfly being seen on 24 occasions.
The ubiquitous and annoying Midge was the most seen insect, with 52 appearances. I hope to see less of it in 2016.

180 bird species were seen in total this year, in the UK, of which 58 were the most seen on one day, at Amwell (15th May). I saw 111 species on my overseas trips.
The most Mammal species seen on one trip was to Amwell with 7 (14th April).
14 species of Lepidoptera were seen visiting Amwell (7th August).
13 species of Odonata were seen visiting Amwell (25th June).
23 insect species were seen visiting Thorley Wash (18th June).

I visited Amwell a record 36 times in 2015. Surely the jewel of Hertfordshire!

Another fantastic year! The Dark Lord wins again. The Force was indeed strong with me!

That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.’ Albert Einstein

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.