11 Jun 2018

The Scottish hoverfly

Lake Vyrnwy RSPB Reserve, Tuesday 5th June 2018

Five of us made our way to Lake Vyrnwy on a cloudy day. We met with our hosts for the day and discussed what sort of habitat we would like to visit.

Moorland was agreed. We returned to one of our cars and the RSPB land rover and made our way along the western shore of the lake then taking the Dinas Mawddwy road. We were joined for the first part of the trip by a Rhagionid fly, probably Rhagio scolopaceus, which clung to the window of the car.

The road to the moorland took us alongside the Eunant Fawr and passengers in the car had a splendid view of the stream as it tumbled down the valley and over the waterfall. The drivers on the other hand needed to keep their eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead.

We climbed steadily until we reached the slopes of Waun Drawsfan where we parked.

It was at this point that our hosts declared that the Land Rover had "pinged" indicating low fuel. Fortunately it was downhill all the way back so no panic ensued.

This excellent aerial photograph show the area we were in.

Photpgraph; Bob Kemp
We forded the Eunant and made our way onto the moorland.

The moorland was dominated by heather and common heath and latticed heath moths flitted about. However it proved surprisingly difficult to find a lot of things of interest.

A Bilberry bumble bee, Bombus monticola, was spotted on several occasions

Photograph: David Williams
We managed to find a couple of moth larvae

An Autumnal rustic

Photograph: David Williams
And an Oak eggar.

Photograph: David Williams
And an adult Mother Shipton moth named after the hag-like profiles that can be made out in the wing pattern.

Photograph: David Williams
This lack of invertebrate activity gave us plenty of time to catch up with old friends in wonderful scenery.

Photograph: David Williams
We continued to clamber over the heather and gain altitude passing small clumps of cranberry.

Sorry not the best photograph but as good as I could manage.

Eventually we reached an area where the ground descended slightly into a very wet area. Here the ground was bouncy and it was easy to step from comparatively dry land into a boot overlapping puddle.

The clouds had cleared and the sun was beating down. Just the time and place for lunch.

We felt isolated from the world.

Lunch over we return to the cars. As always the area around where we parked proved to be of interest. A pair of mating picture wing flies were photographed.

Photograph: David Williams
As we returned the flies to a thistle head a large click beetle was seen - Ctenicera cuprea.

Photograph: David Williams
The Bog beacon fungus was found. This is a fungus that occurs infrequently in very wet places.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
It was time to move on. We followed the Land Rover as it descended down the lake shore then a little way further until we came to a parking and picnic area shown as Llechwedd-dû on an OS map. There was a splendid view across the lake.

Photograph: David Williams
But it was not the view that we had come to see, it was the meadow on the other side of the road.

This area was cloaked in lush vegetation; a complete contrast to the moorland. Invertebrate life was far more abundant. 

Two species of Sericomyia hoverflies were recorded

Sericomyia silentis

Photograph: David Williams
And S. lappona.

Photograph: David Williams
The area was so well vegetated that lichens and plants took advantage of any outcrop.

Parmelia sulcata and Usnia - Photograph: Bob Kemp
Photograph: Bob Kemp
It  was getting late; time to move on but not before reproducing a tourist leaflet photograph of the dam wall.

Photograph: David Williams
My thanks to the RSPB at Lake Vyrnwy for giving us the opportunity to survey on their site and to Sue Loughran for making the arrangements and providing excellent cake and tea when all the refreshment options of the site had closed. As always my thanks to David Williams and Bob Kemp for their excellent photographs.

Haughmond Hill, Wednesday 6 June 2018

The following day found us at a more local site - Haughmond Hill. After gathering in the car park we set off on the gentle but lengthy ascent to the viewpoint pausing every now and then to check out the vegetation bordering the path for invertebrate life.

An early find was a pair of mating Woundwort shieldbugs.

Photograph: David Williams
The sun was shining and it was hot making the ascent seem endless.

An insect we do not see very often is a snakefly.

Photograh: David Williams
This is Xanthostigma xanthostigma one of a few species that make up the snakefly family in Britain. I assume the term snakefly comes from the extended head and thorax.

A sawfly larva was photographed

Photograph: David Williams
We have no idea what species this is which is a pity as such a brightly coloured larva deserves to be identifiable. If you know what it is please let me know.

A sweep of some dry sparse grassland captured a Bishop's Mitre.

Photographer: David Williams
It was well past our normal lunch time when we arrived at the viewpoint. So we immediately sat down and consumed our refreshments whilst enjoying the view.

Lunch over we made our way to the north west of the viewpoint to see if the "Scottish hoverfly" was still in residence.

In 2011 I photographed on Little Hill a foothill of The Wrekin what I thought was a bee. It turned out to be a hoverfly. And not just any old hoverfly but one that is was known only in the Caledonian pine forests of Scotland. The hoverfly was Callicera rufa.

It was then found on Haughmond Hill and Nesscliffe. Each of these sites has been checked each year since to ensure that the colonies are surviving and, I am happy to report, they seem to be.

This is the tree on Haughmond Hill on which you may find them.

On this occasion we found a couple, possibly three. Whilst we watched two seemed to spend their time fighting each other, resting a short while on the trunk then resuming their scrap.

I managed an indistinct long distance photograph which is good enough to confirm that one of them was Callicera rufa.

We mooched around the area for a while finding a Wall butterfly, a sand wasp identified as Ammophila sabulosa.

Photograph: David Williams
And a Mottled grasshopper nymph.

Photograph: David Williams
After all this excitement we decided a cup of something was in order so we made our way back to the car park where a café is situated.

My thanks to The Forestry Commission for giving us permission to do what we enjoy doing and to David Williams for allowing me to use his excellent photographs.

4 Jun 2018

A punnet of spiders

Wyre Forest, Wednesday 30th May 2018

The fates and weather were not kind to us for this last visit in May. There were several absentees due to accidents, hospital appointments, reaction to insect bites etc. and it was raining.

Three of us met with our hosts for the day in Earnwood Copse car park and remarkably quickly we were ready for the off.

We made our way along the main ride from the car park and soon came to a clearing with good lush but very wet vegetation.

What is going on in the bottom left-hand corner of the above photograph?

It turns out to be our Spider-Man adopting one of the main photographic positions (in the long wet grass) to take a snap of something.

What was it that had caught his attention?

A "green huntsman spider" Micrommata virescens.

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
This is a nationally scarce spider but it seems to do very well in the Wyre. It is well camouflaged for sitting motionless in the foliage to ambush passing insects. This also make it very difficult to spot!

Another find in this area was the larva of the Common quaker moth.

Photograph: David Williams
As we moved on we found an early Lurid bolete fungus.

One of the many things we check routinely is the underside of oak leaves. It is here that you may find the distinctive sputnik shaped egg-sac of the spider Paidiscura pallens. The photograph below shows the egg-sac and also the female spider that constructed it. It is quite an achievement for such a small spider.

Photograph: David Williams
A rather beautifully marked moth was found in a tree - a Scorched wing.

Photograph: David Williams

By now the rain had stopped and, apart from a few spots every now and then, the weather stayed dry. Unfortunately this could not be said of the vegetation. This remained wet all day making sweeping with a net difficult as it and what it swept became waterlogged. Beating had similar results with pools of water forming in the tray. Our best investigation technique was using our eyes.

We continued along the ride and came to the pipeline. Here a juvenile slow worm was located, looked at, not photographed, then returned from whence it came.

Shortly after the passing the pipeline we dived into the wood along a small path. One of the many features of the Wyre Forest is the abundance of wood ants. These are large ants and not to be messed with. Most of us leave them well alone but one, made of sterner stuff, braved their fury to photograph a worker.

Formica ruf - Photograph: David Williams

As we descended through the wood to the deer hide a male longhorn moth Nemophora degeerella was spotted on a leaf.

The deer hide resembles a bird hide except this one is glass fronted floor to ceiling. It is, however, unused at present. It overlooks a clearing with a wet flush in the valley leading to a small pond by the trees at the lowest point. Unfortunately it is now plagued by bracken.

But that bracken supports insects including the common moth Brown silver-line. A fine piece of observation spotted the treehopper Centrotus cornutus on the stem of one bracken shoot.

Photograph: David Williams
Although it remained at its post whilst we inspected and photographed it, it appeared to be aware of what was going on as each time it was approached it moved around the stem to hide. The photographer did well to get a shot.

Nearby in a small patch of heather two spiders were mating. These were identified later as Neriene radiata.

Photograph: David Williams
This is another rare spider.

No butterflies were flying but we did chance upon one in the vegetation - a Small pearl-bordered fritillary.

Photograph: David Williams
At the back of the deer hide we noticed several egg-sacs hanging from the wood cladding.

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
These were produced by a Liocranidae spider, but it is not possible to identify which species.

We left the deer hide and clearing and made our way back along the path and ride to the pipeline. Along the way we encountered the Green cucumber spider Araniella cucurbitina.

Photograph: David Williams
We meandered along and across the pipeline inspecting the edge vegetation, occasionally beating it, rarely sweeping it. One casual beat of some heater tucked under a birch elicited a cry of disbelief from our Spider-Man. 

"Strawberry spider!!"

This is a species he has been looking for, for a long time. It is known in the forest but it was a first for our man - and found by his own hand. Here it is, the (yet another nationally scarce spider) Araneus alsine.

Photograph: David Williams
Time had sped by and it was well past our normal finish time but who cares, we were enjoying ourselves. One last beat produced a bristletail. A cool dude with large black eyes resembling sunglasses. Unfortunately we were not skilled enough to identify it beyond its genus which is Dilta.

Photograph: David Williams
Yes. We eventually went home.

My thanks to the Forestry Commission for giving us permission to survey; to John and Denise Bingham for showing us the sights and to the photographers David Williams and Nigel Cane-Honeysett for taking such excellent photographs and allowing me to use them in this report.