Saturday, 7 January 2017

Wildlife and Weather Roundup 2016 - Part Two


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.

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 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.

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 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 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 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.

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!