6 Nov 2018

Grand Finale

Eardington Quarry Nature Reserve, Wednesday 31 October 2018

This was our 31st and last outing of the season which started way back at the beginning of April. Now I can have a short rest before preparing to start all over again at the start of April 2019.

But first I must report on our visit to this former sand and gravel quarry. 

The target for this outing were fungi and Lesne's earwig. We found very few fungi and none of the target earwigs so it was a bit of a failure but we did find plenty of other mini-beasts of interest.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
We started out from the car park and moved about 10 yards before setting up camp to explore the scrubby gravelly ground and trees that were nearby. This us brought us early reward by uncovering a small yellow leafhopper with a broad dark stripe down its back.

Photograph: David Williams
This was Zygina hyperici and this was the first time it had been recorded in the county. We found several more. As its name suggests it is associated with St. John's wort, more specifically perforate St. John's wort.

After half an hour or so we moved about 50 yards and repeated the exercise as well as inspecting the area around the pond.

From here we moved into an enclosure that is more of a scrubby grassland.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Whist our arachnologist vacuum sampled the grassland I wandered over to the trees at the top of the above photograph and gave them a gentle tap.

Out fell a shieldbug. A Juniper shieldbug.

Photograph: David Williams
My second effort dislodged a ladybird we do not see very often. A Cream-streaked ladybird.

Photograph: David Williams
My success rate dropped a little after these two excellent finds but our Orthopterist was all ears as he stalked a Field grasshopper.

Photograph: David Williams
Surprisingly lunchtime was fast approaching. One of the benefits of Eardington Quarry Nature Reserve is, thanks to the very active Friends group, a plentiful supply of seats dotted around the site and several picnic tables. We made for the one overlooking the Sand martin pool and nest boxes and enjoyed a leisurely lunch.

Photograph: David Williams
Not too leisurely as we made the occasional foray into the neighbouring vegetation and sifted the finding whilst taking in our refreshments.

Some of the insects that came our way at this time were an Ant damsel bug:

Photograph: Bob Kemp
A 22-spot ladybird:

Photograph: Bob Kemp
And a small planthopper Conomelus anceps:

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Nearby a Common darter was keeping an eye on us.

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
We were joined by a couple who had visited the bird hide and were now looking around the site at the other wildlife. They had seen a hawker not far from where we were so we moved to where that sighting had been. Unfortunately the sun had gone in and the temperature had dropped drastically. There was  no sign of any hawker. But we did find …

Another picnic table!

So we dumped our stuff there and looked at the vegetation in its vicinity.

The micromoth Carcina quercana was found in an oak.

Photograph: David Williams
If any of you possess the "Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland" by Sterling, Parsons and Lewington then you may recognise this moth as the one on the front cover.

We also found a pirate spider Ero furcate:

Photograph: Bob Kemp
I am informed that pirate spiders get their name as they specialise in entering the webs of other spiders and either stealing their prey or preying on the spiders themselves.

The temperature continued to plummet. The sun had gone behind thick cloud. We were getting cold. Alternative entertainment was sought.

We moved on to the Station pub at Bridgnorth for an end of season celebration. We were delighted to find the pub sold "Reg May" pork pies.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
As our aficionado of "Reg May" pork pies was not able to be with us we just had to have a couple in his honour (and to make him jealous).

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Time to go home and rest.

My thanks to Shropshire County Council for giving us permission to survey the quarry, to the Friends for providing plenty of seats and tables, to the photographers for their excellent pictures and to everyone who has attended any of these events over the past seven months.

Finally, thank you readers for showing an interest in what we do.

Winter well. All being well I will be back next year.

30 Oct 2018

Making history

Bwlytai Wood, Wednesday 24 July 2018

After an uneventful but long trip to the north west of Shropshire we gathered in the car park of the village hall in Trefonen and readied ourselves for the visit to the Shropshire Wildlife Trust reserve.

Bwlytai Wood is a small woodland that was given to the Trust by a former resident of Trefonen. The Trust website states that "the bluebells and wood anemones that spill over the ground in spring testify that this is an ancient woodland site".

Unfortunately we were not visiting in spring. 

We were hoping to find fungi.

And we had some early success with a couple of finds on dead wood that we could identify and one that we could not.

Dead moll's fingers:

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
Candle-snuff fungus:

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
And on live wood, a nice lichen - Candelaria concolor.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
But after these early finds fungi were hard to find.

As were invertebrates. There was a long walk (by our standards) from the car park to the wood so we did not take the vacuum sampler with us. A decision that we regretted almost immediately as the more traditional methods of sweeping and beating were ineffective. There was very little ground level vegetation and most of the trees had no low branches that we could reach to beat!

We did manage to find some larvae which we decided were hoverflies, but we had no idea of the species. Here is a photograph of one:

Photograph: Bob Kemp
One curiosity of the wood is a beech tree

As you walk around it you can see a "window" close to the ground formed when branches have fused.

We lunched and took the decision to go elsewhere. This was the first time in the history of the Joy of Wildlife programme and its predecessors that we had failed to stay at the nominated site.

Nantmawr Quarry and Jones' Rough were just down the road and this is where we went.

I thought that the quarry was now unused and accessible but when we arrived we saw the notice on the gate "Keep out". This confused us as we had been following "brown signs" to the site. What do the brown signs indicate?

No matter, we decided to have a "real" walk by following the first public footpath off the road which would, eventually, take us to Jones' Rough, another Shropshire Wildlife Trust reserve. Before we left the car we did a quick scan of the parking area and found several Large willow aphids sitting on stones.

Photograph: David Williams
The footpath took us up a steep sided pasture. We paused awhile near the top to take in the view, regain our breath and do a bit of entomologising.

Photograph: David Williams
Amongst the grass we noticed some craneflies with "under-developed" wings. These were female Tipula pagana.

Photograph: David Williams
On we went. The footpath brought us out at the top of the quarry. Did we take a look? I'll let you decide.

From here the footpath levelled out taking us through another pasture where the views were spectacular even in the hazy conditions of the day.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Photograph: David Williams
Finally we got to Jones' Rough. The main interest here is a scree slope which is very attractive to butterflies. 

It is a bit late in the season for butterfly watchers but we did espy a faded Wall and a Small copper posed very nicely in front of a camera.

Photograph: David Williams
Amongst the rock we noticed Field grasshoppers.

Photograph: David Williams
Time was passing quickly. It was well past our normal going home time. But, hey, what does it matter when you are enjoying yourselves. 

One last find to report before we made our way home after this historic, curious but enjoyable day. This was the rather elongated beetle Oedemera femoralis.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
My thanks to the Shropshire Wildlife Trust for permitting us to survey and to the photographers David Williams, Bob Kemp and Nigel Cane-Honeysett for allowing me to use their photographs.

22 Oct 2018

Any old iron?

Furber's Scrapyard and Whixall Flood Fields, Wednesday 17th October 2018

What are we doing looking at a scrapyard?

Surely there cannot be anything of interest there. An even if there was, there will be nothing left at this time of the year. If you believe this do not bother reading on.

A couple of years ago Shropshire Wildlife Trust acquired Furber's Scrapyard and several fields that border Whixall Moss, Llangollen Canal and Moss Lane with the long term aim of extending the moss, providing a scrape for wintering birds and providing facilities for visitors such as a bird hide and a small car park.

The scrapyard, being a scrapyard, needed clearing of the accumulated scrap. Most of this has been done and we were granted the opportunity to go take a look.

The site looks barren.

But is it?

The site is surrounded by trees and is a neighbour of Whixall Moss. Even within the area bounded by the trees there are patches of scrubby grassland.

Is it safe?

Only a few items of scrap remain but away from the concrete areas the ground is littered with fragments of car components. And strands of razor wire can be found along the boundary.

It is safe but you must exercise caution when walking about and especially if examining things on the ground.

But what is there to find?

Well, when faced with an area apparently bereft of living things Moth Vac comes to the fore.

What did we find?

This first vacuum sample proved very fruitful.

Adonis ladybird.

Photograph: David Williams
Common striped woodlouse.

Photograph: Susan Loose
 A pair of harvestmen that took advantage of their close proximity. Unlike many species harvestmen mate head to head.

Photograph: David Williams
And something we rarely see even in the "best" grasslands, a Small grass shieldbug

Photograph: David Williams
That's a pretty good start for this "barren" landscape.

After this we moved on to exploring the bordering trees and associated vegetation. There were a lot of alders and many were infested with the blue alder beetle Agelastica alni.

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
And the larva of what we think is the alder sawfly Platycampus luridiventris.

Photograph: Susan Loose
Another sawfly larva was spotted although we do not know the species, but the larva is similar to those of the rose sawfly.

Photograph: Susan Loose
The rust gall Puccinia poarum was found on the underside of a colt's-foot leaf.

Photograph: Susan Loose
Another gall was found in some mugwort. This has been caused by the aphid Cryptosyphum artemesiae.

Photograph: Susan Loose
Other insects making use of the vegetation within the site were:

A common carder bee;

Photograph: David Williams
Ichneumon sarcitorius, as its name implies an ichneumon wasp and one that is, apparently, identifiable by mere mortals;

Photograph: David Williams
A caddis fly, sorry but I do not know the species

Photograph: Susan Loose
Finally, an oak eggar caterpillar.

Photograph: David Williams
The photographs above document a selection of what was observed, there was plenty of other species that were found, recorded and released but not photographed.

So, is the site barren?

I think you now know the answer to that question.

Time had marched on and lunch was taken. After lunch we visited four of the fields that the Trust has acquired but only did cursory searches for invertebrates whilst we looked at the sites and considered their potential.

In the last field we met a representative of Natural England who just happened to be there discussing work with fencing contractors. He then spent a while with us discussing the plans for the sites that we had been looking at.

Amongst the species we encountered in the afternoon were:

Two more galls, both on willow species;

Rabdophaga salicis - Photograph: Susan Loose

Pontania bridgmanii - Photograph: Susan Loose
The hoverfly Eristalis tenax;

Photograph: Susan Loose
Two Scathophaga flies who were clearly confused by the Autumnal sunshine;

Photograph: Susan Loose
As were these common froghoppers;

Photograph: Susan Loose
The rather splendid wolf spider Arctosa perita;

Photograph: David Williams
Finally one of my favourite beetles - a water ladybird.

Photograph: David Williams
We enjoyed a good day in an unusual habitat and I hope that we are able to return at a time of the year when there is something about for us to find!

My thanks to the Shropshire Wildlife Trust for giving us permission to visit the scrapyard and fields and to the photographers David Williams, Susan Loose and Nigel Cane-Honeysett for allowing me to use their photographs.

I have one more photograph to share. A fungus - Boletus concretus!

Photograph: Susan Loose