Dr Phil Smith’s Wildlife Notes
Rather like the previous month, September provided a “normal” mix of dry, sometimes warm, weather and wetter periods, about 14 days having measurable rainfall. As usual, we missed the torrential downpours late in the month that caused flooding elsewhere. North-westerly winds in the first few days produced Leach’s Petrels and other seabirds offshore, while the wind direction was also favourable for Pink-footed Geese migrating south from Iceland. The first reports on 5th were earlier than usual, record numbers being present from mid-month.
A stroll down to the Devil’s Hole, Ravenmeols, on 1st produced a late Swift overhead, while the mint-patch at the end of Range Lane still had five Red Admirals and three Painted Ladies, the latter reflecting the nationwide influx earlier in the summer. At the “Hole” my long-term study of the rare hybrid willow Salix ×friesiana continued, over 120 bushes being recorded by the month’s end. This plant occurs in only a dozen places in Britain. I also spotted a Common Groundhopper, always hard to find because of its small size and effective camouflage. The following day, Gary Hedges of World Museum Liverpool dropped off a specimen of the very rare weevil Bagous lutosus which he had found in a dune-slack at Ainsdale. I had the job of trying to get some decent photos of a very active creature that was only about 2 mm long!
On 7th, I travelled a few miles inland to Haskayne Cutting Nature Reserve, where butterflies included Comma, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Small Tortoishell, Green-veined and Large White. The star find, though, was two male Southern Hawkers, one of which perched nicely on a Hawthorn. More insects were targeted on 8th, following up Pete Kinsella’s report of Ivy Bees at Crosby again. Sure enough, the western end of Blucher Street produced three of these recent arrivals from the south. They were nectaring on Ivy spilling over from the Coastal Park gardens, while nearby Buddleja attracted three Small Tortoishells, once a common butterfly but now increasingly scarce. Crosby is becoming a real hot-spot for the Ivy Bee; by the end of the month Pete had mapped it at 12 sites between Blundellsands and Waterloo, though where they breed is still a mystery. It hasn’t yet turned up in Formby.
It was back to botany again on 14th when Josh Styles joined me at Hightown to search for Glassworts on the shore. These are tricky to identify but we soon pinned down four species, including a few of the nationally scarce Yellow Glasswort, which develops a distinctive golden colour when mature. Nearby, I showed Josh the superb coastal sub-species roseata of the Hedge Bindweed. These large pink-and-white blooms have been a feature here since the early 1980s. Two days later, I visited Hall Road dunes at Blundellsands, the home an important colony of Isle of Man Cabbage. It was doing well, many large individuals being seen. Less welcome, however, was an infestation of Broad-leaved Everlasting-pea, a garden escape that is spreading rapidly on several duneland sites. Three Wheatears were on passage south while hoverflies on Ragwort included the attractive Large Tiger Hoverfly, also known as a migrant. Travelling on to Blucher Street, I scored a hat-trick – three Ivy Bees on the same Ivy flower!
The Indian Summer on 19th saw Trevor Davenport and me heading on Birkdale Green Beach. A roost of 110 Sandwich Terns was on the shore, 12 Northern Dune Tiger Beetles taking advantage of the sun-warmed sand. The famed slack no. 47 produced as many as seven Migrant Hawkers, including a mating pair, while the New Green Beach Alders sheltered numerous Common Darters, a Comma and a Painted Lady. Best of all, Trevor pointed out a completely black shieldbug, later determined to be a melanistic Gorse Shieldbug, one of very few ever recorded. Walking back along the “New Green Beach” I spotted a small patch of Orange-peel Clematis, a second record for the dunes of this garden flower.
Yet another trip to Crosby on 20th was rewarded with more Ivy Bees and three spectacular Hornet Hoverflies, the largest of their kind. Hoverflies also featured closer to home when the Ravenmeols Ivy finally came into flower. I found over a dozen different kinds late in the month, including the brightly marked Broad-banded Epistrophe, a woodland-edge species most frequent in northern and western Britain.
By 30th, Devil’s Hole was just beginning to re-flood, surface water appearing in the deepest areas. Range Lane’s Black Poplars had shed most of their leaves and two self-sown Apple trees along the track were laden with fruit. The old asparagus fields still had plenty of flowering Ragwort, a crucial nectar source for late-flying insects, while lilac-pink flowers of the hybrid between Common and Sticky Stork’s-bill featured on areas of shorter vegetation. Belying its abundance here, this is one of the rarer dune plants nationally, being confined to the Sefton Coast, Wirral and Anglesey. Another of the many Sefton Coast jewels.