17 Jul 2017

Close encounters of a fritillary kind

Dolgoch Quarry SWT Reserve - Wednesday, 12 July 2017

As there is no car park for this site we parked and met in the lay-by on the A495 just after the Llynclys crossroads. This is a public space so there is always a worry that there will be no room but, fortunately, there was just enough space for our cars.

Kitted up we started the long (for us) walk to the site.

Needless to say we were distracted on the way. Indeed on the road that led to the path that led to the quarry we found early instar woundwort shieldbugs in the bordering vegetation. 

Close to the gate to the path a common froghopper was photographed. 

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Common froghoppers come in a wide range of colours and patterns. This was one combination that I do not recall seeing before. Fortunately their other features are distinctive making identification reasonably straightforward.

The first part of the ascent to the quarry starts through pleasant woodland which gets increasingly dense. It is a bit of a surprise therefore when the path suddenly opens out into a clearing with a distant view of Llanymynech rocks.

This was a wonderful spot and we spent some time seeking out things of interest. One special sighting was a Silver washed fritillary. It was very flighty but eventually it settled and posed for photographs.

We watched the butterfly for ages. So transfixed were we that the butterfly clearly thought that we were part of the scenery. It circled around us getting closer and closer until it chose the ideal spot to land - the left eyebrow of one of the watchers.

Regrettably I muffed my chance. I was not quick enough with my camera to photograph the event. The butterfly took off. Then it checked my pocket. Finding nothing of interest it flew off.

What an experience!

To reach the quarry we had to re-enter the wood.

And make our way up a muddy, rock and wood strewn path, through the "Stygian gloom" of a wet, wet wood.

Do not be fooled by the brightness of the photograph - it was much darker.

Eventually we could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Where the path opens out into the first of the two quarries.

This is a delightful place and looking around it took us until well after lunch time.

Here are photographs of some of the things we found. There is no need for words to distract you!
Migrant hawker -  Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Volucella pellucens - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Evarcha falcata - Photograph: Bob Kemp
Robin's pincushion - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Narrow-bordered five spot burnet - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Ruddy darter
Meadow grasshopper - Photograph: David Williams
Eristalis interruptus - Photograph: Bob Kemp
Xanthogramma pedisequum - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Aphrophora alni - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Small skipper - Photograph: David Williams
 As I was climbing out of the quarry I heard the shout "TIGER". 

Bravely, as it may have been an escaped big cat - you must have heard of the Telford puma - I returned - to find several people staring at a clump of meadowsweet. 

One of them pointed to a moth.

Photograph: David Williams
A scarlet tiger. To confirm its name it flew off displaying a vivid scarlet hindwing.

We left the quarry to visit the second quarry and the land that lies between.

It was a bit of a climb.

A pause for breath was needed. As our heart rates returned to normal someone noticed a Six-belted clearwing moth on a flower head. This was such an exciting find it is worth two photographs - the second showing a bit of technological wizardry.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Photograph: David Williams
A few of us descended into the second quarry - the rest "busied themselves" at the top. The descent was worth it as we were met by a large number of orchids when we reached the bottom. This one is a Fragrant orchid.

Photograph: David Williams
Time, as always, was marching on. We made our way back to the clearing where we were met by a friend

Silver-washed fritillary - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Whilst a few of us had a sit down to enjoy the afternoon sunshine and the view others were restless and set about exploring the area beyond the clearing.

They came across a "nest" of sawfly larvae:

Neurotoma saltuum (?) - Photograph: Bob Kemp
And a few more fluttery things:

Comma - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Shaded broad bar - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Meadow browns - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Time to go.

What a splendid day!

My thanks to Shropshire Wildlife Trust for granting us permission to do what we enjoy doing. Once again I am indebted to the photographers Jim Cresswell, David Williams and Bob Kemp for taking such wonderful pictures and allowing me to to use them to illustrate this piece.

Finally a big thank you to everyone who reads this for showing an interest in what we get up to.

8 Jul 2017

Forgotten Triangle

Apley Woods - Wednesday, 5th July 2017

During the winter Friends of Apley Woods approached me to see if I would bring the Joy of Wildlife group to the woods, especially the "Forgotten Triangle". This is a small wedge of woodland that lies to the west of the Pool and is wedged between the A442 and the grounds of the former Maxell factory.

As Apley Woods is almost on my doorstep it was easy to agree to this request. A benefit of this, of course, is that I could have a lie in as I would not have to leave home until 10.15am. Luxury.

Unfortunately the rival attraction of a spider course at Preston Montford and holidays in Lulworth reduced our number to a half-dozen. The absentees missed a good day in lovely weather.

We were met with chocolate cookies as we parked and got ready - an excellent start! Then we made our way to the main meadow where we split into two with the "botanists" doing hedgerow surveys

Whilst the entomologists explored the meadow

Actually we split into three as our elder statesman, making a welcome return after a long absence doing other things, spent the next hour removing grass seed, acquired walking across a field, from his socks and boots.

He showed remarkable patience in this task.

An early find amongst the nettles bordering the grassland was the ground bug Heterogaster urticae.

We were drawn to an area of ox-eye daisies and knapweed

This area was a magnet for flying things, mainly bumble bees

But also butterflies

A white - Photograph: Jim Cresswell

Cinnabar - Photograph: Jim Cresswell

Narrow-bordered 5-spot burnet - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
And hoverflies

Eristalis sp. - Photograph: Jim Cresswell

Nearby a Ragwort plant stood tall having escaped the notice of a local resident who removes the flowers to stop them seeding. Lower down the plant Cinnabar caterpillars were nestled on a leaf

And on top the flowers attracted more hoverflies

Another Eristalis sp - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Amazingly it was time for lunch. How time flies when you are enjoying yourself! It took a few minutes to find somewhere in the shade but eventually we settled down to eat our supplies and have a chat.

Tempting as it was to lie in the long grass for the rest of the day we moved on around the pool to the object of the outing - the "Forgotten Triangle".

This area used to be very dark and dingy - a fitting home for Eeyore. During the winter many trees were removed which provided light, hopefully, to enable the ground flora to re-establish. A dead hedge was constructed along the boundary with the ex-Maxell factory grounds and hedgerow plants put in place alongside the road to screen the area. Local schools created insect refuges and these had been installed on some trees.

There had been a good covering of bluebells earlier in the year but nettles were the main plant for our visit. More "management" is required but it is a start.

Like iron filings we were attracted back by the magnetism of the meadow. This time we concentrated on an area that is an ephemeral pool. For our visit it was a mass of bistort, mayweed and cudweed.

We saw several adult dock bugs apparently enjoying the sun

Learning from the photography masters I adopted a prone position to get this shot. Fortunately the ground was dry - I did check beforehand!

A neighbouring umbellifer provided food for another hoverfly, known by us as the "scruffy" one

Cheilosia illustrata - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Another, more handsome, hoverfly, Eristalis intricarius, was seen on the seed head of yellow rattle

Photograph - Jim Cresswell
Finally I found an interesting looking (as it was not black or green and it had a bit of a pattern) weevil amongst a tray full of grass seed 

I have no idea what it is. Any offers?

Once again time caught up with us and we made our way back to our cars and returned home after another satisfying day.

My thanks to the Friends of Apley Woods for arranging this visit and to Jim Cresswell for supplementing my photographs.

5 Jul 2017

Rain and Cake

Newport Canal - Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The week since we visited has flown by. 

My attempt to do this report last night was thwarted by a Windows update so now during a brief interlude between getting up and preparing for our outing to Apley Woods here, in an attempt to avoid yet another "multiple-header" report of our recent activities, is a brief account of our visit to this site.

Five of us met in the car park.

It was raining but quite lightly.

We walked to the canal from the car park, down the tow path to the west.

Lunch was taken at a picnic table. Cake to celebrate my impending birthday was consumed.

We walked a bit further, turned around and walked back to the cars and went home.

Here's a picture of the canal

That's it in a nutshell. O yes, I almost forgot - we looked at the flora and fauna.

Here's another picture of the canal.

Time to get ready for our next outing.

Ah! I have a little more time so I can provide detail and pictures.

After a little confusion about which car park to use we made our way to the canal. We spent quite a while in the area shown above. Firstly as it was raining and we did not want to go too far in case we decided it was too wet and secondly we were waiting for a (planned) late arrival. 

Just to the right of the second picture above was an area that looked extremely interesting but it was fenced off and we could only peer in.

Eventually we moved on coming to the first lock just before the canal goes under the main road that runs through Newport. Here a Flowering rush was in flower.

As the canal goes under the bridge its width is reduced to a narrow channel

They must have used very narrow boats on this canal!

This fly was caught. It was photographed in the glass pot in case it flew away.

Photograph: David Williams

At the time we had no idea what it was, but some considered research later identified it as a soldier fly Oplodontha viridula which has been allocated the common name "Common green colonel" - who makes up these names?

One less welcome sight was a dead rat

Photograph: Les Hughes
Our meander down the canal towpath continue, as did the light rain.

Our observations included a blue-tailed damselfly

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
A longhorn beetle Leptura quadrifasciata

Photograph: David Williams
A bur-reed

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
And a Vapourer moth larva

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
We were also finding quite a number of a second soldier fly Oxycera rara

Photograph: David Williams
This fly is "commonly" named a four-barred major. 

Lunch was taken at a convenient but wet picnic table. As mentioned above, birthday cakes were provided and consumed. All of this was under the glare of a mute swan and begging calls of cygnets.

As we consumed our lunch, bravely ignoring the swans' pleas, a local resident appeared and put our a bowl of grain which the cygnets set about consuming. He then threw in lots of bread that the adult swans feasted upon!

Our meander continued. I cannot recall if it was still raining.

An early spot after lunch was a common darter

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
In this part of the canal there was quite a lot of bindweed and many of their flowers were being fed upon by the hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus.

This fly has been assigned the common name "Marmalade fly" which is a little more understandable than the others mentioned above.

(Am I ranting? Why? I use common names more often than not. Did the ones I use arise through common usage - or are they just the fantasy of some person sitting over a pint with nothing else to do which have worked there way into common usage? I am very inconsistent!)

On with the walk.

We reached the next lock

The decision to turn back was made.

But not before we had taken a look just a little bit further on.

Our persistence was rewarded with sightings of very young Parent bug instars packed together on birch leaves with an adult nearby.

Photograph: David Williams
Here is a close up of one of the leaves

Photograph: David Williams
Just above these were mating Birch catkin bugs with an onlooker in very close attendance!

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
As we left this part of the site we noticed a wasp nest on a fence post. Bravely photographers queued up to take a snap!!

Photograph: Jim Cresswell

Photograph: David Williams
Note: No animal or photographer was harmed in taking these photographs.

My thanks to Natural England for granting us permission to do what we enjoy doing on this excellent site and to the photographers Jim Cresswell, David Williams and Les Hughes for letting me use their photographs to illuminate this report.