Observations about and from Nature

There are certain things which make me tick when it comes to following events from the Natural World. One is the enjoyment of being out in the wider countryside or even in the garden and observing nature in the raw. After all, I am a keen tracker of natural phenomena and how they interact under specific climatic conditions over a number of years (phenology). A few recent highlights are shown below.

These were captured on 29th December, some 14 days ahead of the long-term average.

Woodland Snowdrops (Galanthus_nivalis‎) – These were captured on 29th December, some 14 days ahead of the long-term average.

These were captured on 15th January, a day after they were first witnessed in bloom, some 3 days behind the long-term average.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) – These were captured on 15th January, a day after they were first witnessed in bloom, some 3 days behind the long-term average.

The not so rare, in fact annual sighting of wintering Blackcaps in our garden, a male has since joined her.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) – The not so rare, in fact annual sighting of wintering Blackcaps in our garden, a male has since joined her.

The above sightings represent just a tiny fraction of recent phenology events. Another topic which enthuses me is how we can all learn from other’s tales from the world of nature conservation and even its politics. Much of this information can be gleaned from online sources and below I will share with you some of my personal favourites. *in each circumstance, if you hover over said link before clicking, it will reveal the owner of the blog

http://anewnatureblog.wordpress.com/about/

http://gailqb.wordpress.com/

http://ecologyescapades.com/about-me/

http://biodiversitygatwick.blogspot.co.uk/

http://manuelinor.wordpress.com/about/

http://solitaryecology.com/about/

http://writingfornature.wordpress.com/

http://freshfromthefield.blogspot.co.uk/p/about.html

These are simply a select few and I will have to revisit this post in future and bring your attention to the many other hard-working ecologists and conservationists or put simply nature lovers that are out there for us all to discover, go follow them!

What I find fascinating about us conservationists, is the fact that we won’t always see “eye to eye” on matters pertaining to effective nature conservation, in spite of this we all share one united passion. We care, we each possess amazing knowledge of our core subjects and we have an unrivalled will to succeed for the creatures with no tongue or voice with which they could communicate their story. Back to us, what’s your story? Please tell.

and

The vital role of citizen science

Tony:

The best way to observe nature is to follow the changing seasons. I subscribe to many blogs, of which the Woodland Trust is one. Their latest post reblogged above, illustrates how many folk are becoming highly valued citizen scientists.

Originally posted on Woodland Matters:

Dog rose – one of many species recorded by Nature’s Calendar enthusiasts

For the past 14 years, enthusiastic volunteers have been helping track changes in seasonal natural events through Nature’s Calendar, adding thousands of records to the UK Phenology Network database. Faithfully, they have observed and recorded when trees come into leaf or flower in spring, when migrant birds arrive and leave, and have spent their autumn days noting when leaves change colour, then fall, or when fruit ripens. The data is being used by students and scientists across the UK, and even further afield, to research the implications of climate change for our natural world.

These recorders are part of a tradition that goes back much further, starting with Robert Marsham, who began recording his ‘Indications of Spring’ back in 1736 on his family estate near Norwich, Norfolk, and continued to record for 62 years. From 1875…

View original 248 more words

Bird Surveys, ill health and horrendous weather

Why the hiatus, I hear you ask. Well, let me explain if I may.

My current job role as a Bird Surveyor/Researcher allows me to intimately follow our feathered friends and log their breeding success. To best illustrate the differing roles out there, I will direct you to a couple of blogs. For example, Lewis Yates, whose exploits this birding season come from Skomer in Wales? Another equally interesting blogging view of things is available from Annette Fayet’s blog from the same Island. Who knows, maybe I will start a blog covering my exploits one day in the future too. As well as my fortunate paid position, I have been putting my experience to good use for the following survey, which is tracking Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) as shown here. In fact, having previously referred to my volunteering exploits, I would say there is no better way for improving your self-esteem.

Due to the busy schedule, I may have suffered a bit of burn out in recent weeks, which resulted in a cold and finally horrible chest pains. Sparing you any further details on that particular subject, I must say the recent weather has not exactly helped my cause, either. Since my last phenology related post, I would say I have added another 25 or so events. Eighteen having Ornithology as a background theme, a further four, flora related, two strictly weather related and the final one having an insect theme.

Insect sightings from Mid April to the end of the first third of May

Only the one addition being a First Holly Blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus) was in the form of a flying individual during the brighter spells of 30th April. Based on a useful sample of 17 records, the usual flying date is 26th April. 

Thunder days since the last update

At Newbury, Berkshire we bore witness to another 2 Thunder days, making these the fourth and fifth respectively. The dates concerned were 19th April and 22nd April. Considering the more usual period for these phenomena (fourth and fifth dates of Thunder) covers the period between 30th June and 11th July, it does seem exceptionally stormy this season so far.

Trees and similar things from Mid April to the end of first third of May

During Mid April, I truly believed trees were budding and leafing well ahead of schedule, has this since changed?

Pendunculate Oak (Quercus robur) was first observed leafing on 23rd April and subsequently Beech (Fagus  sylvatica) budburst was on the 9th May. So how do these events appear in the general scheme of things?  Their averages based albeit on small samples, cover 19th April and 14th April respectively. So there is a clear difference between the timing of the two events with it seems, the colder April weather having particularly affected the Beech. With regard to flowering trees and shrubs, Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) was flowering on 22nd April, which compares to its normal emergence date of 27th April. Hawthorn (Crataegus) being first observed flowering on 8th May, near to its average date of 5th May.
 
Bird sightings from Mid April to the end of the first third of May
 
Seven down, Eighteen to go. Okay, to save this post from being too long-winded, I will only inform you of local events. After all, the birds on our own patch are of most interest!
 
Back on the 18th April, I had my first sighting of a House Martin (Delichon urbicum), matching well with the more usual date of 17th April. The local Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) came next when heard singing on the 22nd April. With a healthy sample of 14 years of records, you can normally expect this event around the 28th April. Come the 27th April, I recorded a Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis), Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) and a Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) all for the first time on a local level. The respective mean dates work out at 23rd April (Whitethroat), 29th April (Garden Warbler) and 18th April (Redstart). The Redstart is a case in point for a lack of records, although as it is a rare bird in Berkshire, even on passage, I should not be disheartened. The 27th April saw the arrival of young Blackbirds (Turdus merula) in my neighbourhood for the first time this year. The mean expected date for these being the 21st April, so I would say it was feasible that some Blackbird have seen their first broods fail. The 29th April proved a rare day out for me, with a trip to the River Kennet. There, in the space of no more than five minutes, I came across firsts in the form of Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus), Common Swift (Apus apus) and Hobby (Falco subbuteo). The Sedge Warbler proved to be a bit later than is usual with its average date being 20th April. The Hobby witnessed dashing ferociously at the Swifts does represent a smaller sample with an average arrival date of 28th April. Likewise, the Swift shows a similar expected arrival date of 30th April.
 
Finally, the 7th May brought about some more young bird activity to my garden in the form of Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). To this end, I can be extremely proud of myself having witnessed the first nest building of Starling on the 29th March. A whole 39 days later, it is just possible I witnessed the return of the same bird and its fledglings. Is this a careless assumption? Is there any significance to the quoted dates? Hell yes! The B.T.O’s Field Guide to Monitoring Nests suggests a period of 38-40 days from the end of actual nest building to free-flying young. You do the math! From my phenology record point of view, these young Starlings were observed 10 days earlier than in 2011 and are more normally seen for the first time around the 18th May.
 
 
My only other sightings relate to non-local events and are of limited interest at this time. I look forward to updating you further in the busy days and weeks ahead. Being back to full health, I will have no excuses and with this dull weather hopefully in the past, there will be many more tales to tell.
 
Best Wishes
 
Tony Powell
 

Early April offerings from nature

Here are my latest offerings from my Phenological sightings.

I first witnessed a Pendunculate Oak (Quercus robur) in budburst on the 3rd April. This matches quite closely to last year’s date of 7th April but is well ahead of 2010’s date of 24th April. The average date on which this bud bursting happens is 14th April, based on a sample of 11 records. Another similar observation being European Larch (Larix decidua) seen leafing. Being the 6th Aprilit matches 2011’s date and is four days behind 2010. The average date for European Larch leafing comes out at 1st April. As to the reliability of the aforementioned sighting, it is often difficult to separate leafing from budburst, when it comes to European Larch. *However, my keen eye also allowed me to witness Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) in budburst on the 8th April.* This particular event was very early when compared with other years. 2011 being the 24th April and in 2010 it was later still at 6th May. If compared to the average, Ash budburst normally takes place around the 23rd April, albeit based on only seven personal records. A final tree related offering, arrived in the form of European Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) budburst, which I observed for the first time on 9th April. This event ties in nicely against the average observation date, also of 9th April. Now on to some insect related phenomenon.

The 6th April saw a further two annual butterfly sightings with Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) and Orange-tip(Anthocharis cardamines) being seen. The Speckled Wood sighting tied in nicely with last year with the 8th April. The average date of first emergence returns the 15th April. As for the first Orange-tip sighting, this year’s emergence is remarkably consistent with last year’s date, the 7th April. Once again, the average date of first emergence returns a date very similar to that of the Speckled Wood in that it is 16th April. Both samples are very healthy at 16 and 18 years of data respectively.  News on flowering plants and bird activity to follow. Interestingly, I have not to date, noted Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in flower which happens to be the food plant for the caterpillar of the Orange-tip butterfly.

Flowering Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) was to be in a very early state of emergence in the gloomy weather of yesterday (9th April). This particular event occurred on the 17th April last year and not until 9th May in 2010. I have noted the first emergence of flowering Wild Garlic on nine occasions and this year’s date is the earliest in that dataset. The more usual date for flowering Wild Garlic returns the 24th April. Now some birding activity at last.

Firstly, the birds are a-singing more and more each day now. Mind you, it is not just the singing, which is increasing, so too is the breeding activity. I am pleased to report that on the 5th April, I was fortunate enough to observe a Blackbird (Turdus merula) with food in its beak. The significance of this event of course being that it is most probably feeding young. If this is to be the case, this event is actually behind schedule with the 31st March being the more usual date, albeit based on a rather poor sample of garden records of 6 records. With Red Kites (Milvus milvus) appearing each day above our estate and a flyby Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) being recently added to the garden list, things ornithological wise are very good. Further news from a local woodland patch of mine were groups up 10 Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) seen feeding by other birders but personally, a new migrant arrival pleased me the most. The first returning Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) heard singing came about on the 8th April. This event closely matched last year with 6th April being the date and the average returns the 8th April too.

More next time.

Kind Regards

Tony Powell


EDIT: Apologies, the reference to Ash budburst was incorrect, this realated to an instance of Ash flowering. Subsequently there have been many more occurrences.

March and April Phenological madness

I have recently updated my natural events calendar to reflect all the activity since Mid March. So where are we now?

Unseasonably warm temperatures and a continuing drought have dominated the UK weather headlines from the past couple of weeks. The drought area recently increased in size to cover a larger area of the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, snow and rain is imminent and as I type this, it is affecting large parts of Northern England and Scotland. Here is further news, which illustrates the impressive climatic differences between late March and early April. So what of the phenology?

Being an interested observer of natures ways, I have managed to add a further sixteen events since my last post on phenology related matters. Rather than go into the specifics of each one, it is possible to see these events by looking at the aforementioned calendar. However, I will also provide some evidence below.

9 events were insect themed with a further 6 differing butterfly species witnessed on the wing, either locally or further afield. The non-butterfly event was a local Red-tailed Bumblebee, the subspecies of which was unknown.

A further 3 events were three differing tree species in bud or full leaf. These again all coming from my home area.

2 bird related activities were a nest-building Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) and a brand new migrant for the list, a Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) seen on a local trip to the nearby downs.

Finally 2 final phenological highlights arrived in the form of flowering Cowslips (Primula veris) and Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta).

Spring is most certainly springing into action and for a little more detail of my sightings; you should look no further than at the attached.

PHENOLOGY UPDATE NATURESTIMELINE

PHENOLOGY UPDATE NATURESTIMELINE

When you analyse the data more precisely you will see of these latest sightings the following becomes apparent. 8 events are earlier than 2011, 5 are either later or on the same date and 3 were unobserved last year. However, an entirely different pattern becomes apparent, when compared to the long-term averages. There is an amazing tally of 12 of the 16 phenological indicators being ahead of the long-term averages. So it does seem on albeit early evidence, that 2012 is so far hinting at another dose of climatic shift for the natural world. What will the weather do next I wonder?

Best Wishes

Tony Powell


Late Winter or Spring? more evidence of climatic shifts besetting nature.

Do you remember this?

The effect this upcoming spell of weather will have on Phenology events will be most interesting. Some potentially record-breaking Temperatures could occur in the South of the United Kingdom. Given some sunshine, Bees, Butterflies and Blooms will be the most likely candidates, alongside the early migrant birds brought in by the Southwesterly flow.

As ever when sticking your head above the proverbial parapet, certain things can go awry. However, did any the above happen? Nature as ever, is NOT standing still and I hereby make no apologies for the length of this post.

The 20th February saw the emergence of Seven-spot Ladybirds (Coccinella 7-punctata) and the usual date of occurrence for this bug is now 8th March, albeit based on only 6 records in my dataset.

Come the 23rd February, the Temperatures soared as anticipated and many more events came to the fore. This date saw the emergence of the first Bumblebee in my garden, most probably a queen of the Bombus terrestris variety. The rolling average date for this, based on a sample of 16 records, actually returns this very date. Remarkably earlier than usual however was the queen Wasp, given my 14 records now indicate a date of 5th April. The 23rd February also brought about the appearance of a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) which was ahead of schedule by some five to six weeks, the usual date being around the 30th March, based on 15 individual records.

The 24th February provided evidence of first locally flowering Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and this is on record 14 times with a normally flowering date of 6th March. Also in evidence were nest-building Blackbirds (Turdus merula). The 6th March being normal for this event, based on my 15 records sample.

The 25th February proved a date for a First lawn cut which normally returns a date of 13th March based on 6 records. An enlightening observation was of a nest-building Robin (Erithacus rubecula). With weak evidence of this phenomenon, I only possess 4 records with an average date of 25th March. The same day (25th February) produced another wonderful event of a singing Woodlark (Lullula arborea). I have 9 records of this phenomenon, which tends to happen for the first time around the 7th March.

This concludes a busy period of observation and with the United Kingdom’s weather remaining mild; you can safely predict more Phenology events to be forthcoming.

Kind Regards

Tony Powell