Monthly Archives: June 2013

Less predictable ramifications of global warming

This all seems a mite anachronistic now, but at the end of March when things appeared to be warming up and becoming rather more in keeping with the calendar this happened:

Snow capped post box at the front of my garden on March 23rd!

I often here folk grumbling that global warming often doesn’t feel that way, and, of course, the reason for that is that the average global temperatures are rising which can result in higher highs, but also lower lows, as more heat energy is sequestered in the atmosphere and the oceans causing altered patterns and much greater unpredictability. ‘Climate change‘ therefore seems the more accurate description.

From the point of view of the UK, our weather system is complicated because we are at the edge competing systems, from the south and west Atlantic, east from Europe and north from the Arctic. A major determinant of which of these systems dominates is the jet stream. This is a ribbon of fast flowing air, around 100mph (160kph), formed at the barrier between cold arctic air and warmer mid-latitude air, around 6-6.5miles (11000m) up, and moving from west to east. It’s position can wobble northwards and southwards and in the winter it tends to be south of the UK so we are dominated by cold polar air and in the summer it migrates further north so warmer conditions can predominate. But due to climatic variability in recent years the position of the jest stream has not conformed to tradition and has remained much further south so our summer weather has been much colder and wetter in the last few years.

Hence snow at the end of march…

A male great tit, Parus major, wondering what’s going on!

The unseasonal weather over the last few years has caused real problems for wildlife. Numbers of bees and butterflies have been down and hibernating creatures such as hedgehogs can struggle to find food when they eventually arise from the winter slumber.

A male blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla, nibbling on frozen fatballs

The blackcap pair which arrived in my garden in January made their last appearance during the March snow and then disappeared. I think they must have been overwintering here in the UK and when the really cold weather finally ended they headed back on their long flight to central Europe in time for the breeding season.

We’re now at the end of June and the jet stream has moved north allowing high pressure systems to move in from the Atlantic to the west and bring some warm weather. Long may it last!

Whitethroats and Awards

The common whitethroat (Sylvia communis, Dansk: tornsanger) is a warbler which arrives here for the summer from Africa and frequents the undergrowth and bramble thickets. It used to be prevalent in my local meadow but for the last 2-3 years I’ve only seen a few there. But they have been nesting in hedgerows and drainage ditches in other fields, so it seems they are here just not in the same place. Their conservation status according to the British Trust for Ornithology is amber, indicating their numbers are declining so it may be that there just aren’t as many making it back here.


Male whitethroat (my best whitethroat picture to date!)

The males perch on top of brambles, as he’s doing here, singing their distinctive song, and they occasionally flit vertically up in the air in a very jerky pattern and drop back down again to land in the same spot, and that activity is also very disctinctive. It’s definitely summer when the whitethroat arrive in the fields!

I want to finish this minipost with a word about WordPress awards. Several fellow bloggers have been kind enough to nominate ‘The Naturephile’ for a WP award in the recent past. A couple of years ago when I received several  nominations in quick succession I found myself inundated and decided not to take part in the awards. I had insufficient time to do the award and insufficient time to write my posts, so it wasn’t through curmudgeonliness but because I think that if someone is generous enough to nominate me then I owe it to them to reciprocate accordingly, and I simply didn’t have time to do that.

So instead of accepting awards I’m going to show my appreciation by writing a post for everyone who  nominates me, so this whitethroat is for Petrel41 at the terrific blog ‘Dear Kitty. Some blog‘. Please click the link and go and have a browse, there is lots of good reading there!

The birds and the bees

Insects have been hit hard by climatic aberrations in recent years and on my meanderings around the Cambridgeshire countryside this year numbers of bees and butterflies sightings have been down compared to previous years. It’s now the middle of June and I saw the first dragons of the year today; two damselflies. I also read this week in ‘The Guardian‘ newspaper that a third of managed honeybee colonies in the USA were wiped out in 2012. This article makes very sobering reading. And it’s a similar story in Europe, but in Europe neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been implicated in colony collapse disorder, have been banned for two years to evaluate their effect on honeybees. My concern is that the onslaught on the bees is complicated and removing one variable may not show a significant effect in the limited two year duration of the ban. But I hope it does!

Early last month the sun finally broke through and gave us some insect friendly weather and it was remarkable how quickly the microfauna emerged.

Beefly – Bombylius major

Beeflies are found over large parts of the globe and can be seen hovering in sunny glades from the springtime. The narwhal of the Dipteran world, the spike looks fearsome but is only used to probe flowers for nectar, there is  no sting. Beeflies procreate by flicking their eggs into the entrance to the burrows of wasps and bees where the larvae feed on the grubs of the occupants.

A pair of hoverflies doing their best to rectify the decline in the insect population

I think these hoverflies are ‘Eristalis pertinax’ but I’m not certain. It was good to see them though, especially as they were taking their biological responsibilities so seriously.
Addendum: on the subject of climatic aberration mentioned at the top of this post I just found and read with increasing concern this link:

http://robertscribbler.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/human-climate-change-is-wrecking-the-jet-stream-uk-met-office-calls-emergency-meeting/

which my blogging buddy Sam posted on her excellent WP blog ‘Science on the Land‘. This provides a chilling insight (in every sense) into why the weather in the northern hemisphere is behaving the way it is. And it doesn’t look as though it’s going to get any better folks.