9 Aug 2018

Time flies

Rough Park, Wednesday 1st August 2018

Time flies at this time of the year. It is over a week since we visited Rough Park so I had better get on with the report.

A short trip for most of us. So short that some of the group walked to the site although one took a rather circuitous route to get there.

The grass had been cut where we met at the entrance to the site which made me think that we may be visiting the site too late in the year if the whole site had been given the same treatment. But as we made our way on to the site I was reassured to find the grass was still intact. Very dry, but uncut and interspersed with plenty of other vegetation.

We set about investigating.

The youngest member of our party with almost his first sweep with his net found one of the target species for the day - a tortoise shieldbug.

Photograph: David Williams

Last year as we returned from a visit to the neighbouring Dale Coppice we did a speculative sweep of some of the grass in Rough Park and to our great surprise and delight found a tortoise bug nymph. 

This is one of Shropshire rarest shieldbugs having until recently only been found in Wyre Forest and for some reason at the opposite corner of the county in Dolgoch Quarry. Last year further populations were found at Cramer Gutter and Rough Park. So it was good news to find one today to confirm that the Telford colony had survived for another year. Where will it turn up next?

Other inhabitants of the long grass that we found around the same time were a common blue butterfly.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
The hoverfly Sphaerophoria scripta

Photograph: Bob Kemp
And a Sloe bug nymph (also known as a Hairy shieldbug for the reason that can be seen in this photograph).

Photograph: Bob Kemp
The nymph is a bit of an "ugly duckling" as it will grow up into this:

Photograph: Bob Kemp
We left this grassy area and climbed a small hill that was a reclaimed spoil heap. On top the vegetation was still grassland but dominated by taller vegetation. There was a splendid view from here which is not done justice by the following photograph.

The vacuum sampler came into its own here as it was used to get to any beast that lurked at the base of the vegetation.

One unlucky character that was captured by the device was the attractively marked Labyrinth spider:

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Another good "shieldbug" find was a Small grass shieldbug nymph:

Photograph: David Williams
This is another shieldbug that is found infrequently in Shropshire so its presence at Rough Park is to be celebrated.

We descended the far side of the hill. We went down and down, then down still further as we moved from the summit of the hill into a pit that was about as deep as the hill was high.

Lunch beckoned so we climbed out of the pit and found a couple of seats to rest on and take on refreshments. As we lunched we saw two air ambulances fly over and land behind some trees about a mile away. We later learnt that there had been a road collision involving a car and a van. Two children from the car were seriously injured and had to be airlifted to hospital whilst three other injured adults were taken in road ambulances. A stark reminder of how easy it is for things to go wrong extremely quickly.

The pit and the area where we lunched were grassland similar to the area where we started and the vacuum sampler was re-employed to aid our searching. It turned up a couple of moths - the rather scruffy looking Ochsenheimeria taurella:

Photograph: David Williams
And the more sleek but, in this case rather worn, Ancylis badiana:

Photograph: David Williams
It also captured several tiny shieldbug nymphs which we believe are early instar nymphs of Small grass shieldbugs.

Photograph: David Williams
You can gauge how small they were from the finger-tip behind the bug.

Time to move on. We started the return journey walking along a path through the main area of grassland, pausing periodically to search for things of interest.

Along the way we found a Meadow grasshopper:

Photograph: David Williams
And a common green grasshopper:

Photograph: David Williams
Although you often find grasshoppers and their allies just passing the time of day in the grass they can often be very tricky to find. The males can be heard singing by some, generally younger people; but as you get older and your range of hearing shrinks then artificial means are required.

Help comes in the form of a hand held bat detector which can be used to pick up the calls. Then by careful stalking the grasshopper can be located and, if it poses long enough, photographed.

Other things of interest that we found as we meandered our way back to our starting point were:

A tortoise beetle - Cassida vibex

Photograph: David Williams
A magnificent Vapourer moth larva:

Photograph: David Williams
A spider - Enoplognatha ovata (I think!).

Photograph: Bob Kemp
And my favourite shieldbug - Bishop's Mitre

Photograph: David Williams
So, another lovely day on an excellent site came to a close.

My thanks to Telford and Wrekin Council for giving us permission to do what we enjoy doing and to the photographers Bob Kemp and David Williams for allowing me to use their excellent photographs.

31 Jul 2018

Wild Teams on the Long Mynd

Batch Valley, All Stretton - Wednesday 25th July 2018

The phone rang as I was just leaving Wellington.

My passenger answered it.

"We are stuck in a traffic jam and will be 30 minutes late." we were told.

Thanking them for the information the call ended.

It was only a few minutes later that I realised we were heading in the same direction and would end up getting stuck in the same traffic jam!

And we did!

Roadworks just outside Dorrington.

Actually they were path-works as the work force were clearing vegetation that had grown over the existing path in order to reclaim the full width of the path. It needed to be done; but to do it safely they had to close one of the lanes and use traffic lights which caused a log jam on this busy road.

We got to the car park in All Stretton about 10 minutes late.

Six of us met in the bottom car park before making our way up to the second car park where we were joined by members of the Shropshire Wild Team.

The Shropshire Wild Team consists of volunteers who are involved in landscape management projects as well as other outdoor activities. A little while ago members of the team attended a "Learn to Love Spiders" course and had come along for the day to reinforce this training.

Our spiderman was in his element as he was able to talk about spiders all day long to a really attentive and appreciative audience!!

There was a large patch of thistles by the second car park.

This patch attracted a lot of butterflies including Gatekeepers.

And this fly with an extremely long proboscis which can be seen probing the thistle in the following photograph. It is a tachinind fly - Prosena siberita.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
After spending a long time around the car park I found that most of the group had gone on ahead and were disappearing into the far distance.

The process of catching up began. Unfortunately it is difficult to just catch up. Things of interest that "must" be investigated get in the way. If anything along with a couple of other stragglers I was getting further behind.

In the end a determined effort was required to rein in the others. It helped that they had come to a split in the path and were wondering which one to take. I solved the problem by declaring lunch-time. This decision was greeted favourably and we settled in the shade of a tree by the stream.

A Golden-ringed dragonfly was photographed as it rested on the vegetation at the side of the stream.

Photograph: David Williams
One of the group wandered off further up the valley and having checked there was no-one in his vicinity took a few photographs from the air.

Photograph: Bob Kemp

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Lunch over we enjoyed watching a toddler being allowed to be a toddler by letting him jump into the (very shallow) stream. We then made our way past an avenue of trees to a large area of grassland.

As with most areas at the moment it was showing the effects of the lack of rain for an extended period.

Just to the left of the photograph a pool had been excavated. It was dry but the vegetation around it was lush and green!!

We spent quite a bit of time searching in this area before the heat of the day began to make itself irresistible.

Although it was still quite early we all decided that we were happy to return to the cars and go home.

So we did.

On the way we found a very hairy caterpillar; the larva of the White ermine moth.

Photograph: David Williams
My thanks to the National Trust for giving us permission to survey, to Shropshire Wild Teams for joining us and giving us the opportunity to introduce them to our activities and to Bob Kemp and David Williams for allowing me to use their photographs.

23 Jul 2018

Sockless in Prees Heath

Prees Heath, Wednesday and Thursday 18-19th July 2018

I need to get the embarrassing part over with.

Yes, I had another sock incident. 

I forgot them on the Thursday. I got them out ready to take with me but unfortunately they remained at home whilst I was at Prees Heath. 

Thankfully I managed without them.

A curious week in the Joy of Wildlife programme. At the request of the warden we attended the "Chris Packham" bioblitz on the Thursday. As we thought it would be rather busy on the day we decided to make a "pre-visit" the day before to optimize the list of species that we found.

And as it was a curious "event" I will get the boring text out of the way first then treat you to some photographs.


Five of us made the journey to Prees Heath. Needless to say it was dry and very warm.

After some initial dithering we marched to the further end of the site as this was an area that we seldom visit and as it had no orthoptera records this group became the focus and were duly recorded along with numerous other insects and arachnids.

On the way we met a group from the Worcester Camera Club who were curious as to what we were doing. ("Curious" is clearly the word of the day!). They assumed that we were catching butterflies with our nets. 

After reassuring them that we were looking for smaller beasts we showed them the catch from the vacuum sampler. At this point one of the group made a rapid departure being afraid of spiders, but the others maintained their curiosity as the catch was sorted out.

From the further reaches we returned via the pool where we watched the dragonflies and damselflies over and around the water and did some pond dipping.

Our reverie was interrupted when a dog decided that it needed the pool and went into the water. It did not stay long but then it decided to wander around us dripping water in places we would have preferred it not to.

From the pool we meandered  back to the car park carefully avoiding the copious amounts of "dog waste" on the path which was easier than normal to spot as it had been sprayed pink.

Near the end we met Nigel, who is you'll all be surprised to learn "Only a puppy". 

A very yappy puppy; who insisted on following us rather than its owner. Eventually he got bored with us, thankfully.


More curiosity. Two of us were at Prees Heath just after 8am!

Overnight a marquee had been erected so after some initial entomologising close to the entrance to the site we went over to investigate it. It had tables and chairs, the official recorder for the day, drinks and cake! 

We made the marquee our base and ventured from it for entomological sorties, returning to look at our specimens, report our findings and take in the occasional refreshment.

At 10.30am we met the remaining Joy of Wildlife attendees, but the nature of the day meant that we did very little as a group.

There is not much more to add and the early arrivals left at 1pm.

Did we meet Chris Packham?


But it was his bioblitz.

He was also doing these events at several other sites and he was scheduled to get to Prees Heath at 5.30pm. 

We did not wait.

The BBC Midlands news carried a report of the day and, indeed, the great man did make it. If you watched the report you would have noticed my starring role as I entered from stage right, took a few steps, turned thoughtfully, then retreated from whence I came.

I am available to sign autographs.

Humbly I leave you with some images from the two days.

The long march

Silver-studded blue; Photograph: Ed Phillips

Meadow grasshopper; Photograph: David Williams

Cinnabar moth larva; Photograph: David Williams

Field grasshopper; Photograph: David Williams

Small copper ovipositing - an egg is circled in red;
 Photograph: David Williams

Common green grasshopper; Photograph: David Williams

Six-spot burnet; Photograph: Ed Phillips

Mottled grasshopper; Photograph: David Williams

The control tower

Pond dipping

The Marquee

My thanks to Stephen Lewis, the warden at Prees Heath for Butterfly Conservation, for inviting us to do what we enjoy doing and permitting us to visit on the previous day; to David Williams and Ed Phillips for allowing me to use their excellent photographs and especially to the cake makers.