23 Apr 2019

The cats have turned

Crickheath Meadow, Wednesday 17th April 2019

OK, I arrived one minute late.

Yes, a whole sixty seconds after the declared meet time.

And did everyone wait for me (as I would have waited for them)?


As I turned the final corner of the lane leading to the site a number of the group were seen disappearing onto the meadow.

The cats had turned!

Obviously they were extremely keen to get on with it and make the most of the clement April weather. 

And who can blame them? It promised to be an unseasonably warm day.

Crickheath Meadow is part of Crickheath Hill above Pant that has recently been acquired by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust to extend their Llynclys reserve. The meadow consists of two connected grassland areas with a few scattered trees bordered by hedgerow trees.

At this point I would normally include a photograph of the site but my camera is broken and none of the other photographers had the right camera lens on to take general views. Sorry.

There had been a heavy dew overnight making sweeping for insects in the grass difficult but abundant numbers of the planthopper Euscelis incisus were found in the longer grasses and rougher vegetation.

In the shorter vegetation we found solitary bees looking for nest sites / nesting / searching for mates / feeding. Some of the ones we saw were:

Andrena chrysosceles:
Photograph: David Williams
Probably another Andrena chrysosceles:
Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Andrena nitida
Photograph: David Williams
Bombus sylvestris:
Photograph: David Williams
Amongst the others seen were tawny mining bee, Andrena fulva, the ashy mining bee, Andrena cineraria, and several bumble bees.

A stone was turned over to reveal a nest of common earwigs, Forficula auricularia.

Photograph: David Williams
The female earwig can be seen on the left hand side of the photograph and the nymphs to her right. The female tends the eggs during their development, cleaning them to ensure that they do not become prey to fungal growth. Once hatched the female will remain with the nymphs as they develop. A close up of the nymphs is below.

Photograph: David Williams
There was not a great deal of floral interest showing in the first grassland but the second was littered with cowslips just about to flower. There were also emerging leaves for twayblades and possibly common spotted orchid. Another plant in flower was wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa.

Photograph: David Williams
Vacuum sampling the grassland and areas around the trees captured a carabid beetle:

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
And a hoverfly which is probably a Brachyopa scutellaris.

Photograph: David Williams
We also found the spider with what appear to be two cones disfiguring its abdomen Gibbaranea gibbosa.

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
It was time to move on and as I tried to round everyone up for the second part of our day's adventure I noticed that there was considerable interest in one particular tree trunk. When I ventured over to look I was shown two hoverflies of the species Fernandea cuprea, mating. Fortunately we were able to record the event.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Crickheath Meadow borders Blackbridge Quarry and whilst it was not my original intention to go to the quarry on this trip I had been able to make last minute arrangements with Shropshire Wildlife Trust to gain access to the quarry.

We have visited Blackbridge Quarry previously and it has proven an excellent site for invertebrates. 

First things first, however, lunch was consumed.
The omens were good for our post-lunch activities as a 7-spot ladybird and a number of Sloe bugs, Dolycoris baccarum, appeared at our feet as we ate.

Photograph; David Williams
Photograph: David Williams
Unfortunately this early optimism was not matched by reality and finding spiders and insects was surprisingly quite difficult. We tried various excuses - it's too dry; it's too early in the season; etc. but there was just not much about. I do hope that this is not a foretaste of how it is going to be throughout this summer.

Back to what we did find and photograph. A jumping spider - I have not been told the species but looking at the pictures and the characteristics in Britain's Spiders (*) it may be Euophrys frontalis. I look forward to being corrected!

Photograph: David Williams
And a rather attractively marked common groundhopper, Tetrix undulata:

Photograph: David Williams
To remind us that we were in a quarry and that old quarries can be dangerous we noted that since our last visit a huge slab had detached itself from near the top of one of the quarry faces and crashed to the floor.

Nearby a thrush had set up its restaurant leaving the remains of snails scattered about the place.

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Well, it was now that time again. The time to take our leave and return home. So we did.

My thanks to Shropshire Wildlife Trust for granting us permission to visit these sites, especially as one of the requests was made two days beforehand. Thank you to the photographers, Nigel Cane-Honeysett, David Williams, Bob Kemp and Jim Cresswell for providing the photographs that I have used.

* Britain's Spiders, A Field Guide - Lawrence Bee, Geoff Oxford and Helen Smith; published Princeton University Press as part of the WildGuides series.

14 Apr 2019

Herding cats

Corbet Wood, Grinshill - Wednesday, 10th April 2019

Corbet Wood is situated on the slopes of Grinshill. The site has been quarried extensively in the past and has now developed into a mixed woodland with a number of paths weaving between the old workings allowing exploration of the site.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Fourteen of us met up in the large car park amusing other visitors as we kitted ourselves out with all the paraphernalia required for our activities and caught up with colleagues that we had not seen for a while.

After a brief look around the car park we moved into an area to the east of the wood dominated by tall Scot's pines or similar. The area was very dry and yielded very little of interest but did provide a splendid view.

Photograph: David Williams (click on the photograph for a larger image)
The sight of these tall pines suggested that they may be a suitable site for the "Scottish" hoverfly Callicera rufa which we have found in similar habitats on Little Hill, Haugmond Hill and Nesscliffe. We must remember to come back and check in mid-May to mid-June to check.

Everywhere was downhill from here, a prospect not pleasing to everyone, but who said entomology is easy?

We descended down a sunken path to the next layer of the wood. As it happened we stayed on this layer, more or less, throughout the day, allaying the fears of those concerned by the sight of the slopes within the wood. The only other serious climb was back to the car park at the end of the day.

But I get ahead of myself.

At the bottom of the path we came to a dapple-shaded clearing where there was emergent vegetation attracting a number of hoverflies. 

Eristalis pertinax - Photograph: David Williams
As we watched, a bee-fly put in a brief appearance before disappearing. 

Moving on we came out onto a ledge that was in full sun. Here we saw a green shieldbug seemingly going through a warm-up exercise as it prepared for the day ahead.

Photographs: David Williams
It was lunchtime, so we took a leisurely picnic in this spot.

Lunch over we continued our wanderings keeping as much as possible in the sun and out of the bitter wind.

In amongst the abundant hoverflies which were dominated by Syrphus species that must have had a recent "mass emergence" a Scaeva pyrastri was spotted

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Another hoverfly had become lunch for a spider.

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
Whilst some of us were busy looking for spiders and invertebrates others were inspecting the rocks for lichens

Photograph: Bob Kemp
After a while we chanced upon another ledge where a large clump of bluebells were beginning to flower. On the trunk of a sycamore we found two cigar shaped objects.

Photograph: David Williams
These were later identified as the larval cases of the moth Taleporia tubulosa which has, according to the County Micro-moth recorder, "a very distinctive elongate tubular case which tapers to a triangular point". The triangular point at the end is clearly visible in the photograph.

The path we were following lead back to one of the main paths through the woods. We were faced with a choice. Follow the path down towards the bottom of the wood or back towards the car park. Guess which way we went.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
It was not down.

Although one did wander down and was rewarded with sight of the rare hoverfly Cheilosia semifasciata which is associated with Navelwort, their larvae form leaf mines in the leaves as it feeds.

Photograph: David Williams
He returned to the main group and announced his find, so a few of the others accompanied him to the spot where he had found it to have a look.

They were further rewarded by sight of another infrequently seen hoverfly Criorhina ranunculi

Photograph: Bob Kemp

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Whilst all this hoverfly tourism was taking place a Bronze shield bug was dislodged from a cherry. After photographing it was returned to its original resting place.

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
And so another splendid day had to come to an end. We plodded our way back to the car park but our leader (me) took the wrong path which lead to a difficult short descent so we had to retrace our steps. This was serendipitous as it gave us another chance to see a Criorhina ranunculi which posed briefly on a tree trunk next to the path.

Eventually we regained the car park and after lengthy good-byes went home.

Ah.... Herding Cats

Why that title?

With such a large group in hilly woodland it was difficult to keep an eye on everyone and get them to move in roughly the same direction at about the same time, allowing for everyone's particular interests and rate of progress. It was definitely more difficult than herding cats.

My thanks to Shropshire County Council for granting us permission to survey and to the photographers Bob Kemp, Nigel Cane-Honeysett and David Williams for allowing me to use their photographs.

5 Apr 2019

A damp squib

Rea Brook Valley, Wednesday, 3rd April 2019

The Rea Brook Valley is a local nature reserve that follows the course of the Rea Brook from close to the centre of Shrewsbury out to Meole Brace and beyond. It consists of grasslands, woodlands and plantations and is punctuated by a play ground and playing field. Housing is never far away; from the grander older houses close to the centre to the more modest modern estates of the outskirts. It is a popular area used by walkers, dog-walkers and runners.

We were full of hope and enthusiasm. A new season was about to begin. What would we find? What would be missing? 

Ah! The anticipation.

The weather, unfortunately, had other ideas.

We assembled in a cold wind and drizzle. Not an auspicious start.

Still if it is one thing that defines this group it is our persistence in adversity.

We made for the first area of grassland and set about doing our thing. Sweeping with nets was pointless, the wet vegetation drenched the netting. Beating trees was not much better usually dislodging enough water to create a pool in the tray as well as soak the beater. The most suitable options were observation and the vacuum sampler.

An early find was the weevil Ceutorhynchus pyrrhorhynchus. 

Photograph: Bob Kemp
This species is widespread in England and Wales and is found on hedge mustard plus various brassicas.

We moved on to an area where there is a small pool and spent time rummaging in the vegetation around its border. A curiosity:

Photograph; Les Hughes
What is this? It was found on top of a dead hedge at the end of the pool. One thought was amphibian entrails but this was cast into doubt by a local expert. If you know, we would be delighted to hear from you.

While some puzzled over the above others were making use of the vacuum sampler and one session caught three larvae.

A scarlet tiger (we think)

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
An unknown larva (again any suggestion gratefully accepted):

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
And finally possibly a staphylinid beetle larva, its sizeable jaws clasping a springtail:

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
The rain was persisting, if anything getting heavier. But we pressed on. Pausing close to the river where Ramsons was beginning to flower.

A brief respite was had from the heavier drizzle as we passed through a subway under a road. Some paused for longer than others pretending to search every square inch of the corrugated iron that lined the subway for creatures of interest.

The hardier souls had found their way to a small plantation where an inspection of a bird cherry revealed a cream-spot ladybird.

Photograph: Maria Justamond
Lunch beckoned and there was, close by, a convenient picnic table. It was absolutely drenched. So, rather than eat soggy sandwiches in the rain sitting on a soggy seat at a soggy table, we stood around it in the now very heavy drizzle, chatting. One or two ventured off to entomologise but soon returned.

Still smiling - Photograph: Charlie Bell
Enthusiasm started to wane and two or three drifted off as they had other things to do. And after a short while the remainder decided to do the same. We made our way slowly back to the cars. Believe it or not as we were getting close to where we had started the rain stopped.

This encouraged us to dally a little and gave a chance for our ace shieldbug spotter to demonstrate her skills, finding a hawthorn shieldbug in the vegetation at the side of the path.

Photograph: Maria Justamond
Despite the cessation of the water droplets from above we were cold and wet and took the sensible decision to abandon the day and go home.

My thanks to Shrewsbury Town Council for granting permission for us to do what we enjoy doing. To the photographers Nigel Cane-Honeysett, Maria Justamond, Bob Kemp, Charlie Bell and Les Hughes for taking photographs and letting me use them. But most of all thanks to all who turned up and making the best of it in the bad weather.