It is an undeniable fact that as a nation, or even across the globe, we are largely failing to look after the Natural World. With this in mind, here is a chance to engage in conversation about conservation. What do you believe to be the biggest reasons for the demise of many wildlife species*.
To kick things off, please would you be so kind to participate in a poll, as laid out below. Please vote for the options which you consider are the most relevant. You are allowed to supply multiple answers, should you wish. In turn, I will let you know my thoughts and will search for appropriate topics to comment on in the future of this blog.
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 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.
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 19thApril 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 Apriland 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 MaySeven 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 Aprilsaw 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 Aprilproved 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 WishesTony PowellPosted by: Tony William Powellon
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 April, it 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.
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
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?
Having previously mentioned here, my passion for tracking Europe’s returning African visitors, I recently attempted an analysis of the latest data from the Gibraltar region. To do this, I reviewed a spreadsheet, set up in previous years that use the First dates of migrant bird sightings, sourced from Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society. Having gone through my seven randomly chosen bird species’ arrival dates (on return from Africa), they were to reveal some intriguing trends.
Below you can see a link to a copy of the above-mentioned spreadsheet.
What does this data tell you? To me it hints at a good pattern match to 2010, when looking at the First known sightings of the seven listed bird species. Later, I will refer to the actual climate of two years ago. Meanwhile, a question arises. When looking at these bird arrival statistics, is it possible to predict the future climate for the United Kingdom, i.e. what will spring and summer weather be like? Currently, the latest news from Gibraltar indicated a relaxation of the High Pressure areas that have largely plagued that part of Europe since last autumn. Furthermore, it is a fact that Low Pressure systems with their associated weather fronts can move the migrant birds on mass, which sometimes result in bird falls (exceptionally large numbers). What effect if any, will this have on the United Kingdom, being that it is still under the firm grip of High Pressure and has been for several weeks now?
Has the current atmospheric situation resulted in a lack of bird movement? Oh, no! With quite a few spring overshoots such as Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) and Hoopoes (Upupa epops) already in, you can add to the mix the more usual Cuckoos (Cuculus canorus), Willow Warblers (Phylloscopus trochilus), Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe) and Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla)*. Is it possible we could be having an early migration season this year?
2010′s weather for the UK, based on my local data proved a dry and rather warm spring (March through May) and cool wet end to summer (June through August). The official data from the Met Office shown here – Spring 2010 and Summer 2010 roughly correlated to mine.
Newbury 2010 climate
As you can see from the above, spring came early, as did autumn in 2010. Watch this space for further news of any resemblance with that particular year.
*Should you decide to subscribe, please inform the recipients of my situation, as there is currently an offer in progress.
Some belated highlights of mine were further Brimstone Butterflies seen on the wing during the sunnier days. On the local downs, some gatherings of Northern Lapwings(Vanellus vanellus) hereby shown courtesy of Finn Holding’s thenaturephile. In addition,a couple of sightings of Grey Partridges(Perdix perdix) being very special as both of the aforementioned iconic bird species were frequenting potential breeding areas. Whilst undertaking my March WEBS survey, I also saw the amazing structure that is a Long-tailed Tit’s (Aegithalos caudatus) nest being built. You can see a typical Long-tailed Tit’s nest illustratedhere. Woodland Snowdropswhich were mentioned in a previous post of mine, are generally going over now but new plant and tree life is on its way. I will elaborate further on this, below.
As of 15th March, I observed my first Wood Anemones (Anemone_nemorosa) in flower. Intriguingly, the first instances of Wood Anemones were on this exact date last year.In 2010 they were a full two weeks later. The flowering Wood Anemones returns an average date of 14th March, based on a strong sample of 16 records. Of the trees, showing signs of springing to life on my countryside patrol were the Horse Chestnut(Aesculus_hippocastanum). One particular Horse Chestnut was in budburst and the more usual date for this to occur is the 21st March, based on 13 records. There have been reports of Ashes (Fraxinus), Oaks (Quercus) and other specimens of trees and shrubs being further forward than is normal for the time of year.Therefore, it does seem that many trees will unfortunately be budding earlier this year adding further stress to nature’s imbalance.
That is about all the news from me as the phenological year continues unabated.
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 Februarysaw 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 of6th 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 on6 records. An enlightening observation was of a nest-building Robin (Erithacus rubecula). With weak evidence of this phenomenon, I only possess4 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.
I love life. I wish to fathom how and what it is, that makes our natural world tick. We need to understand it and cherish it. Amongst my many differing interests, I would include blogging, citizen science, ornithology, phenology, biodiversity, climate change processes and more. The list goes on.