2 Oct 2017

A fungi filled day

The Cliffe - Wednesday 27 September 2017

For our season's finale we visited The Cliffe an area of heathland overlooking the neighbourhood of Nesscliffe and westwards towards and into Wales. Unfortunately the weather did not enhance the experience by being rather hazy and overcast. Never mind, a good day was had by all with fungi being the stars of the show.

There is no convenient parking spot near The Cliffe so we met in the car park of Hopton Wood. My intention was to ferry the group to the site as I knew that the distractions of Hopton Wood would seriously delay our arrival at and limit our time on the Cliffe.

However, as always the group had other ideas and insisted on walking to the site. 

"Alright, but no stopping." was my grudging response. 

We set off.

To be fair we only stopped once and that was to look at several fungi that adorned the pathside vegetation including a blue one of which I have no photograph nor can I remember its name.

So we reached The Cliffe in record time. Our fist point of interest was the pool. When we visited last year we had our lunch here and were serenaded by frogs. Here is a reminder:

Imagine our surprise when we found no pool.

We did have a look around the area and the lack of water meant we could search where the pool had been. A find that excited our fungi hunters was Dog's stinkhorn, a small version of the Stinkhorn. (Sorry, no photograph - I'm not doing very well.)

A little way from the "pool" is an old quarry and this was our next calling point.

The walls were inspected closely for spiders

Photograph: Stephen Mitchell
And springtails, an insect that does not feature in these reports very often.

Sminthurinus aureus - Photograph: Ed Phillips
Springtails are very small and "spring" at the slightest threat which makes photographing them more an art than a science. Here is a master springtail photographer in action.

Unfortunately that one got away.

Our next fungi find was a pink one. I have done better this time; I have remembered the name it was given Mycena rosae and have a photograph:

Photograph: David Williams
One of the group picked up some wet debris and found a "thing" attached to it.

Photograph: David Williams
What is it? Any offers?

We moved on to the top of the hill and the view of Wales. One of the group is pointing to Wales just in case you cannot see it.

A picnic table and benches had been placed at this vantage point so we took full advantage of its presence and had lunch. 

Every now and then, to keep us entertained as we ate, a sweeper was sent out to check the heather and other vegetation around the picnic spot. On return the contents of the net were placed in a tray for inspection and identification. Two moth larvae were included in the catch.

A Beautiful yellow underwing

Photograph: David Williams
And an Oak eggar

Photograph: David Williams
After being photographed these were returned to the habitat from which they were brought.

Lunch over we moved on to the next viewpoint where, helpfully, there was a toposcope which pointed out all the features in the distant and not too distant landscape that we could not see, including, very optimistically, the "Source of the Severn" 40 miles away. (In case you cannot see it - it is just uder and to the right of the large SW.)

And here is a photograph of the Source of the Severn taken in the direction indicated.

More fungi were found in this area including a blackish one which has been identified, rather tentatively, as Mycena vitilis, possibly.

Photograph: Ed Phillips
A hairy beast was discovered in the vegetation - the larva of a White ermine.

Photograph: David Williams
We moved on through some woodland. Here again there was lots of fungi including a clump of Shaggy scalycap

Photograph: Ed Phillips
The quest for fungi continued as we wandered on. Eventually we came out of the woods and onto a large area of heathland. Unfortunately the misty conditions had not relented and the view was still very restricted.

Time was marching on so we started to make our way back. On the way we made a small detour to another clearing where we found several Fly agaric

Photograph: David Williams
Photograph: Ed Phillips

These were providing a feast for one hungry slug.

Photograph: Stephen Mitchell
Just as we were about to leave a nymphal Bronze shieldbug was found - well there had to be at least one shieldbug picture in this report!

Photograph: David Williams
It started raining. We returned, pretty promptly, to the cars and made our way home.

My thanks to Shropshire County Council for giving us permission to enjoy ourselves and to the photographers - Stephen Mitchell, David Williams and Ed Phillips for their wonderful photographs.

This is the last report I will be writing for a while as our programme of weekly walks has come to an end. My thanks to everyone who has attended the events and ensured that the "Joy" in the title of the programme is not just part of a catchy name.

Thank you also to all of you who have read these offerings I hope they have been informative and entertaining.

As for the future, there will be monthly walks over the next six months and then, all being well, it will all start again next April.

25 Sep 2017

Better than anticipated

Halesfield 24, Telford - Wednesday 20 September 2017

On the face of it a site named after a road in a large industrial estate in Telford has little going for it. And looking at the map does not whet the appetite. A patch of land sandwiched between industrial units and the railway line that runs down to the power station.

However, a small party from the moth group visited the site last year and recommended it as a place to visit. So, always welcoming recommendations, we descended on the site.

The first issue was - where to park? Halesfield 24 and the equally unimaginatively named Halesfield 21, which are closest the site, are busy thoroughfares that abound with large vehicles - not ideal places to park. 

A suitable spot was found in a residential area on the other side of the railway and Eastern Primary (which runs parallel to the railway at that point) to the south west of Holmer Lake. (There is a car park on the north side of the lake which would have been a better place to park - but did involve a longer walk to the site.)

No matter, suited and booted we set off for the site.

First impressions were not good as the path we were taking descended and went through a gloomy underpass under the Eastern Primary. Its walls, of course, were covered in graffiti but for once, in amongst the drawings and words of crudeness there were some attempts to be humorous and artistic including a fine painting of a peregrine's head.

No sooner had we emerged into the light than we went under a second underpass to cross the railway. The path then took us through some woodland before opening out onto mown grassland. The grassland was surrounded by trees and a reasonable buffer of rough grassland.

We did not stay here but made our way to a wildflower meadow. As it was late in the year it had been cut, so we were unable to appreciate this area.

Like the first grassland this area was surrounded by trees and rough grassland. In addition there was a circular path worn, not by walkers doing laps of the site, but by bikers. When we arrived there were a couple revving up but, thankfully, they soon left.

We set to work looking, beating, sweeping and vaccing.

A beat of bramble disturbed an aggregation of 16-spot ladybirds. There were more than thirty in the corner of the tray with some bramble leaves. They soon dispersed. Here are a couple who posed for a photograph together with a money spider.

Photograph: David Williams
Another find was a red weevil. It may be Apion frumentarium, normally found on dock, but as we were not sure what plant it came from, it may not.

Photograph: David Williams
And vaccing a patch of rough grassland that had escaped the mowing revealed a hair caterpillar, later identified as a Ruby tiger

I wandered around the edge of the site beating the odd tree, oak, alder, scot's pine and grey poplar to see what I could find. The Grey poplar came up trumps by hosting the planthopper Viridicerus ustulatus. This a recent arrival to these shores and its first record in the county. Sorry, no photograph but you can see it on the British Bugs website here.

The bramble around the edge of the meadow was the main nectar source and attracted insects to feed including this Eristalis tenax.

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Lurking amongst the undergrowth was a Pisaura mirabilis carrying her egg-sac.

Photograph: David Williams
We lunched then made our way back to the first grassland we had come across when entering the site. We found that a wide strip of rough grassland and been left between the mown area and the surrounding trees. I am not sure if this was deliberate or the ground was unsuitable for powered mowers. Whatever the reason it proved to be rich in things that interested us. 

Stars of the show were long-winged coneheads.

Photograph: David Williams
The photograph shows a female but there were also males present who were "singing"; one agreeing to be videoed in mid-song.

A spider Araneus quadratus was photographed on her web

Photograph: David Williams
A second patch of rough grassland, this time on a slope, was the home of a Roesel's bush-cricket with its striking pale band around the sides of its pronotum and pale dots on its thorax 

Photograph: David Williams
Eventually we reached a third and more extensive and varied patch of rough grassland in the north west corner of the site. We spent the rest of the day there.

An alder tree yielded the large colourful  mirid bug Pantilius tunicatus.

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
I was very excited to find the large silverish planthopper Athysanus argentarius. Unless someone else has seen it this year then this is only its second sighting in Shropshire. Yes, it does have a seed stuck to it.

Photograph: David Williams

No shieldbugs?

Were'n't there any?

Of course there were.

Here are a few of what we saw.

Spiked shieldbugs - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Dock bugs - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Hairy (or Sloe) shieldbugs - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
We retraced our steps back to the cars band returned home.

The main grassland areas of the site were really of no interest as the grass had been cut but the transition areas between the grass and the trees and the uncut rough grasslands proved to be very productive and provided some unexpected finds. The site turned out to be far better than I had anticipated.

My thanks to the Shropshire Moth Group for suggesting the site, Telford and Wrekin Council for permission to do what we enjoy doing and to Jim Cresswell and David Williams for their excellent photographs.

16 Sep 2017

Going ... Going ... Gone

"Lot 15", Prees Heath - Wednesday, 13 September 2017

"Lot 15" is a parcel of land close to Butterfly Conservation's Prees Heath Reserve. It recently came up for sale at an auction, hence the name, where it was purchased by local residents. They in turn have handed over responsibility for its management to Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

It is situated on the opposite side of the A41 from the reserve, sandwiched between Hospital Lane and an unnamed road (on the maps I have looked at) which may be Ash Road, Ash Lane or even Tilstock Lane.

I would include a "proper" map but I am not sure of the copyright issues - advice readily accepted - here is my effort (not to scale).

There is no car park but there is an area opposite the entrance large enough to get four cars off the road. Fortunately only four cars turned up.

Aerial photographs show well worn paths around the site. These appear to have been caused by bikers using the area for off-road activity. Posted at the site entrance is a notice from the trust saying the use of the land by motorised vehicles is forbidden.

It is a small notice, I have no idea whether it is heeded.

The site, where the paths have not been kept clear is dominated by bracken.

There are a few bushes and mature trees scattered around the site but very few areas of grassland where more timid plants can thrive. In one of these areas we found a few small clumps of heather hinting at what the site may have been like in days gone by.

An early find on the entrance path was the was the wasp Mellinus arvensis.

Photograph: David Williams
As we progressed along this path we came to a large area where human activity has kept most of the vegetation at bay.

The margins of this area held our attention for quite a while.

A comma butterfly was enjoying the sun.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
A gorse shieldbug nymph was located

Photograph: Bob Kemp
In amongst the broom we found several Arytaina genistae, one of the two psyllid species that are found on this plant

Photograph: Bob Kemp
"Mothvac", a converted garden leaf blower, was used to assist our searches. This is an easy way to extract mini-beasts that live deep down in the vegetation. Amongst the several species found was a Denticulate leatherbug adult and nymph. When I have come across adults of this species in the past they have been very flighty but this one just sat in the tray and waited to be photographed. The flightless nymph, of course, had little choice in the matter.

Photograph: David Williams
Another "poser" in the tray was the bee Halictus tumulorum.

Photograph: David Williams
We moved on to a small patch of sparse grassland. A few plants made an appearance here including Haresfoot clover which was one of the commoner plants on the site.

And Centaury

Close to this grassland was another area of rough grassland where the aforementioned heather was clinging on. Amongst the taller vegetation we found several stems of toadflax.

Close by was a mature pedunculate oak. On the trunk, sitting on the lichen, we found the planthopper Alebra albostriella.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
I have only one photograph left to include. One of the group has taken a fancy to photographing jumping spiders. Searching "Lot 15" provided him with several opportunities. Unfortunately he never names his photographs. So, this week's quiz is - "Name this spider".

Photograph: Bob Kemp
There is a small patch of woodland in the north western corner of the site. We made two attempts to reach this but in both cases the paths we were following met a wall of bracken which only the most determined explorer, with suitable slashing tools, could have made progress through. We gave up and went home.

"Lot 15" needs a lot of care and attention if the bracken and bramble are to be prevented from suffocating it. The paths are clear but provide little marginal habitat. However, the paths will soon disappear if there is little or no activity to keep them open.

My thanks to Shropshire Wildlife Trust for drawing my attention to the site and granting permission to survey. My thanks as always to the photographers David Williams and Bob Kemp for allowing me to use their excellent photographs to supplement my own.