11 Sep 2016

Difficult journeys

Catherton Common - Wednesday 7th September

I have a choice of two main routes to Catherton Common. The first is to pick up the A49 heading south then turn left at Ludlow to Doddington; the second is via Bridgnorth and Cleobury Mortimer. Both should take just over the hour. So why when I set off only a couple of minutes late should I arrive at the meet point over 20 minutes late with everyone waiting (thankfully) for me, including a couple who sent me a message to say that they had been delayed. Yes my mobile phone was on and accessible!

A choice had to be made. I chose the A49 - straighter roads, less junctions etc.

What a bad choice.

All was well until I got to the A49 when I was stuck behind a road tanker.

Obviously it was not this one as I was driving and not in a position to take photographs so this and all those that follow are examples taken from clip art to illustrate the tale. The one I was following was white.

But this vehicle had to slow down as we came up behind a tractor and trailer.

The tractor and trailer carried on its merry way between 20 and 30mph for many a mile before finally pulling over. After that I was happy to trail the road tanker until we came across a horse box.

The driver was being very careful not to jostle his charges so again the tanker had to slow down with me behind it. The horse box turned right, we went straight on. Hooray.

I celebrated too soon as the tanker soon caught up with a recreational vehicle. This was proceeding more slowly than the horse box. Thank goodness I am retired and can be relaxed about hold-ups!!

I think one of the occupants must have been making a cup of tea so slowly did it proceed. Fortunately it was not long before it called in at a garage, possibly to buy some milk.

The open road at last until we caught up just before the Onnibury level crossing not one, not two, but three tractors in convoy.


These tractors did not yield (*) and it was not until I had to turn left at Ludlow whilst, with huge relief, the tractors went straight on, that I was rid of them. A clear road to Catherton Common, almost, but over twenty minutes late.

* Highway Code Rule 169 - "Do not hold up a long queue of traffic, especially if you are driving a large or slow-moving vehicle. Check your mirrors frequently, and if necessary, pull in where it is safe and let traffic pass."

Time to get ready to explore but tales of the trip had to be told in order to attempt to extract some sympathy. None was given.

We crossed the road from the parked cars and set about looking for things of interest in the heathland. 

This was dominated by heather and low growing gorse whose intermingling of purple and yellow flowers was very pleasing on the eye.

Rocks were uncovered and inspected for lichens

An early find was a fox moth caterpiller.

We wandered on.

One advantage of arriving late is that there is a shorter time to wait for lunch. We found a spot under an old birch where the ground was sculptured providing places to sit. 

After lunch some of us inspected the tree to see what delights it held whilst others created a piece of art out of a brown birch bolete, a brown roll rim and a rabbit skull.

A couple of birch shieldbug nymphs were found in the birch.

And a couple of Small heath butterflies were observed.

We moved on from our lunch spot towards a marshy area. We passed several small bell-pits, signs of earlier exploitation of the common. Many had collected water and had nurtured sphagnum moss. Unfortunately someone had used at least one of them to dump some gorse brash. A fungus was spotted on the sphagnum and one intrepid member of the group tentatatively tried to reach it without getting too wet, whilst other looked on amused. 

The attempt failed.

However we did find a Pine ladybird in a neighbouring gorse bush.

A change in the flora announced that we had arrived in the marshy area as the gorse, heather and bracken gave way to swathes of rushes and grasses. A few clumps of Sneezewort were found.

Until this point we had been following well-used paths. Now the Dr. Livingstone of the group decided to follow a small path that skirted the marshy area and we followed, foolishly.

After a hundred yards or so the path gave out and we had to forge our own trail. Dr. Livingstone was delighted - "just like the old days" he was heard to say. The clumps of grass and rush made the ground uneven and a foot in the wrong place found water. We pressed on.

The flora changed to gorse and heather again as the area became drier but this was followed by more wet conditions and then a ditch that was just too wide to step across. Eventually we found a place to cross and were delighted to come across a colony of Bog asphodel displaying their orange seed heads in the sun.

From here it was uphill all the way to the road on drier but still uneven ground covered in heather and gorse. Progress was slow and hard but we made it. What a work-out - who needs to go to the gym? After a rest we made our way sedately back to the cars and set off home.

In case you are wondering ... the homeward journey reflected the day ... excellent.

My thanks to Shropshire Wildlife Trust for giving us permisiion to do what we enjoy doing; to Peter Hodgkinson for providing some of the photographs and to the anonymous photographers who contributed the clip art. 

5 Sep 2016

Are we still in summer?

Severn Valley Country Park - Wednesday 31st August

The last day of August! Tomorrow is the first day of the meteorological autumn - why do they have to have different season for meteorology? I suppose it is easier to remember the number 1 rather 21. 

I have now looked at the met office's website and it is all explained. All those years at school learning that the seasons start on 21 March, 21 June, 21 September and 21 December is wrong. The seasons can start on different days, eg. the 20th depending on solstices and equinoxes, which complicates things for the meteorologists so they base their seasons on the temperature cycle (!) and align them with the calendar.


On the last day of meteorological summer but still in the height of summer we travelled to Alveley and visited the Severn Valley Country Park. Eight of us gathered in the car park on a pleasant day. Showers were promised but they looked a distant possibility as we assembled. We were given a demonstration of the latest piece of essential entomological equipment.

We have seen similar devices before but this was camouflaged and will surely confound any insect that comes close.

The former resident of Alveley in our group volunteered to be the "leader" for the day - a role he took on with great enthusiasm keeping us informed of the park's history and development since it was the site of a coal mine, which closed in 1969.

We headed fairly promptly to a large meadow with anthills towards the eastern end of the site. This is where a globally important fungus grows. Unfortunately I cannot recall its name but it is a fungus that is a parasite of a second fungus. It was not there. We were too early. It appears in October, unless the sheep graze it. 

In the meadow stands a hawthorn. And on the hawthorn there is a cascade of mistletoe. Now mistletoe is a big draw for a couple of us as we have visited several orchards with mistletoe in the last couple of years looking for mistletoe specialists.

Regrettably this mistletoe yielded none of the specialist but a small caterpillar was discovered in a tray after a beating which came from the mistletoe or the host hawthorn. It was later confirmed to be a Yellow-tail moth larva.

At some point we found a very common harvestman, Dicranopalpus ramosus, which we usually identify quickly then return to wherever it came from. But on this occasion it was photographed.

A lot of time was spent in the meadow surrounding the mistletoed hawthorn and the anthills provided suitable seats to be taken whilst studying an insect.

And lunch.

After lunch we moved to one of the pools in the meadow. 

Here dragonflies and damselflies went about their business whilst we watched trying to keep up with their sudden movements, defying all attempts to photograph them.

The pool was bordered by bulrushes and on the bulrushes we found the ground bug Chilacis typhae. This week we managed a close-up.

Time was slipping past and all we had visited was a single meadow - and interesting as it was it was not representative of the whole site so we moved on. We passed a slug on a fungus. I stroked it to make it dance - it refused.

We passed a second pool which attracted a host of honey bees.

And descended into the woodland where the stream has built up tufa deposits.

The tufa is very difficult to make out in the photograph but is the brown shaped material through which the stream is running and consists of the calcified remains of various organic objects such as twigs.

From here we headed down to the river and followed the path close to the river's edge. We passed a "greenbottle" clearly enjoying the sun as it sat on the leaf in the full sun for the few minutes that I took to get one reasonable photograph. It did move in that time - to a neighbouring leaf.

Somehow I became detached from group. This was not an issue until the path divided. Which way did they go? I plumped for the path by the river. I still could not find them so I tried ringing one of them - no answer (his phone was in the car). What should I do?

Then I heard a familiar voice - I followed it and found the group on the other side of the hedge.

Reunited, we headed back to the Visitor Centre for a refreshing drink and excellent cake.

My thanks to Shropshire County Council for giving us permission to visit the site and do what we enjoy doing. And to Jim Cresswell, Stephen Mitchell and Bob Kemp for providing most of the photographs.

27 Aug 2016

Lots of gall

Stoney Hill, Telford - Wednesday 24th August 2016

We finally made it. 

After months of emails to and from me and Telford and Wrekin Council, with considerable help from Shropshire Wildlife Trust, to arrange access seven of us assembled close to the entrance to the site on a lovely summer's day. With no car park to inspect we made haste and walked the fifty yards or so to the fence that stood between us and Stoney Hill.

To be fair the fence was not a great obstacle, but it had to be negotiated. Once in we were greeted by a sea of healthy looking heather. The only concern being the amount of birch scrub and bramble that were springing up, but some timely judicious "conservation" work should reduce their threat. But can this be arranged?

We were soon "at work" looking for things that were of interest to us.

One target species for the day was Roesel's bush-cricket. With the help of a bat detector to track the song of the male, a long monotonous mechanical sound, which is audible to youngsters but not we oldies, some were soon located.

The early sighting of a Brown hawker reminded us that the site contained several pools and may be a good one for damselflies and dragonflies. So it proved and thanks to the brilliant photographic skills of some of the group (I exclude myself here) some excellent images were captured.

Emerald damselfly (male).

Emerald damselfly (female)

Common hawker (female)

Common darter (female and male, busy making the next generation)

The pools contained bulrushes ...

and on bulrushes you often find the bug Chilacis typhae on or in the seed heads.

Our spiderman was stumped identifying a tricky species of spider and was found reading a field guide for inspiration.

Time was passing quickly, we must have moved about 50 yards from the entrance when lunch was declared, not by me for once as I was engrossed in my searching.

By the time I decided to eat lunch the others had finished and decided to move on.

As I had missed, obviously, the usual engrossing talk about cameras I was left this to read.

I gave it a miss! Instead I watched a spider start to build a web. Unfortunately it chose the path where we were walking for its construction. I did try to warn it but it took no notice.

After lunch we switched our attention to an area of more established heather and woodland habit at the other side of the site. But three of the group had wandered afar so I set off in search of them. Eventually the heather gave way to rough grassland.

Here the dominant flora was fleabane. On the fleabane we found a common blue butterfly ...

and a lucerne bug.

But the most exciting find, not on the fleabane, was lesser marsh grasshopper. This is only the second site in Shropshire where it has been recorded.

The other site? 

The Coalmoor landfill site about 300 yards to the west.

Having reassembled the group we walked 100 yards or so to the other area. Here the trees and heather are more mature and there are several bare areas. We continued our search for things of interest. A male oak bush-cricket was found on oak and photographed on the sleeve of the Orthoptera recorder.

By now, in the heat of the day, fatigue had begun to make its presence felt.

We prepared to return home when a bug was noticed scuttling across the ground. It was another exciting find ... a heather shieldbug. I have been given two excellent photographs and cannot choose which to use, so have included both. Please indulge me.

The best I could manage was this ...

Beware! Photographers at work.

This brought an end to an enjoyable day on an excellent site, well worth the effort of gaining permission to visit. Thank you.

Thank you also to David Williams, Bob Kemp and Jim Cresswell who provided many of the photographs.

Dothill LNR - Friday 26th August 2016

On this occasion four of us gathered on Donnerville Close where the site can be accessed through a small plantation. Heavy overnight rain had left the ground very wet so wellingtons were the order of the day.

The plantation gives way to a large area of rough grassland which we spent the next couple of hours exploring with our usual diligence. 

One worrying feature was the bank of Himalayan balsam that borders the grassland. The Friends of Dothill mount regular "pulling" sessions so get in touch with them if you want to help. That said the flowers are very attractive and frequently visited by bees.

The area is a dog-walkers paradise and, regrettably, not all dog owners are good at clearing up after their pets and the paths and their immediate borders are strewn with the after-effects of dog food. I had several near misses where I did not spot the offensive remains; fortunately I was lucky - I am not sure about the others. Please, please CLEAR UP AFTER YOUR DOG.

Rant over.

Early finds were dock bug nymphs.

Dock bugs were found frequently throughout the day so they are clearly at home on this site.

Many spiders were found. We managed to identify some of the easier ones including this Araneus quadratus (I hope that is correct) a relation of the familiar garden spider

A common sight amongst the thistles were the galls of the picture-wing fly Urophora cardui. These are large and easy to spot.

A pale tussock moth larva was found.

We lunched within sight of the Wrekin ...

with a Buzzard keeping its eye on us.

Lunch over we moved through a rather gloomy plantation to another area of rough grassland.

Here I found an oak that was festooned with galls. I found six species amongst the low branches and there were probably many others that I did not spot. Here are the ones I photographed.

Artichoke gall, a gall of the bud caused by the gall wasp Andricus foecundatrix.

Knopper gall, a gall of the acorn caused by the gall wasp Andricus quercuscalicis.

Silk-button galls, a button-shaped gall of the leaf caused by the gall wasp Neuroterus numismalis. Also a single common spangle gall (see the next photograph).

Common spangle galls, caused by the gall wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum. And in the top left hand corner the downward fold, which I did not realise was a gall until I was checking the names of the other galls, caused by the fly Macrodiplosis pustularis.

We looked around the grassland for a while before returning to our cars after a successful day.