17 Sep 2019

Up, up and away

Linley Estate, Wednesday 11th September 2019

The Linley estate lies to the south (and slightly west) of the Stiperstones extending roughly from Black Rhadley Hill to More. The estate encompasses upland grassland, woodland, farmland, parkland and several pools. The River West Onny runs through the site.

A dozen of us met in the car park on a grey and damp morning. The forecast promised that the rain would move away quickly and be replaced by sunny periods.

So it proved but the wet conditions lingered longer than the forecast implied. Still, after recent very wet Wednesdays a bit a moisture in the air and on the ground was not going to deter us.

As Linley is such a big site where do you start?

The car park was in some woodland close to the main pool so that seemed a good place to begin.

A lane runs alongside the pool and we followed this towards a more open area of grassland that bordered the river.

The local tiger checked us out.

The tiger soon got bored and wandered off to visit other parts of its domain.

We met a lady who was interested in what we were doing. After a brief chat she told us that one of her jobs was to feed the ducks and swans and she started making duck sounds as she walked along the lane. She was answered by a cacophony of "quacks" as the ducks got very excited and started moving en masse to the feeding station.

The swans remained stoically where they were as though it was below them to be seen accepting free food.

Whilst all this was going on we did have some early successes in our search for invertebrates that we could identify:

A green shieldbug, Palomena prasina:

Photograph: David Williams
And a colourful spider, Diaea dorsata.

Photograph: David Williams
At the end of the pool, on both sides of the lane, was some uncultivated land that boasted all sorts of the types of wild flowers gardeners would regard as weeds. These were a magnet for us as we often find more variety of wildlife in these areas rather than pristine habitat.

In amongst these wildflowers we found a member of the daisy family - shaggy soldier, Galinsoga quadriradiata.

Photograph: John Martin
A patch of willowherb was being inspected by a number of the group who were looking for bees and other insects. All was going well until I blundered in with my net and disturbed the animals.


I was severely reprimanded!

With my tail between my legs I wandered away hoping that the insects would return. (I did not check if they did).

A forest bug, Pentatoma rufipes, was spotted and was kind enough to pose for a photograph despite a fly trying to muscle in on the action.

Photograph: David Williams
Our attention switched to the river.

The water was wonderfully clear and not very deep. This was too inviting for some of the group who descended the bank to sample the water and investigate the underside of the stones.

I resisted and stayed on the dry land.

Amongst the finds were a water measurer (sorry, no photograph) and a water cricket (photograph below).

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
Also found in the same area, but not in the water, were a couple of painted lady caterpillars.

Photograph: Nigel Cane-Honeysett
The river bank was the perfect location for a picnic so we had lunch.

Before I continue this fly was captured:

Photograph: Nigel Jones
I do not know when or where it was taken on the estate but it is the first time one of these has been recorded for a long time. It is Madiza glabra, a member of the Milichiidae family, the so-called "free-loader" flies.

Lunch over - where to go next?

After a brief discussion we decided to head for Heath Mynd. For us this was an ambitious objective as it was a fair distance away and involved going uphill for most of that distance.

We set off, initially on the level, then we started to go up.

Quite a lot of attention was paid to the wall, the overhanging trees and the ditch to the side of the track as we realised what lay ahead.

That  said, it was an interesting area.

We found a migrant hawker dragonfly, Aeshna mixta.

Photograph: John Martin
Up we went.

Here the path opened out on the left onto an area of damp grassland. Needless to say this area caught our attention as we paused to rest on our relentless ascent.

A thistle seed head provided a refuge for a hairy shieldbug, Dolycoris baccarum.

Photograph David Williams
Up we went.

Photograph: David Williams
As you can see from the above photograph we had gained a considerable height which opened out the view of the countryside around us.

And with a final effort we made our objective - Heath Mynd ...

... the foothills of Heath Mynd ...

the summit required a further ascent of 125 metres.

The foothills were good enough to say we had made it.

We rested by the pool.

Photograph: David Williams
Then set about exploring the area around the pond.

Alder tongue, Taphrina alni, a fungal gall was found on a catkin of alder,

And a painted lady butterfly was photographed on a thistle.

Photograph: David Williams
"It has got to be one of the most attractive pool settings in Shropshire" was the comment that came with this photograph of the pool.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
I agree with the above sentiment and make no apologies for including more than one photograph of the pool. Indeed there is one more to come.

But first our final beast of the day, the walnut orbweb spider, Nuctenea umbratica.

Photograph: John Martin
I assume the small spiderlings to the right of the adult spider are its offspring.

Not content with all the up I had already done, I went up a bit more to and beyond a second, smaller, pool to take this photograph of the two of the most attractive pool settings in Shropshire.

Now for the "away".

But after all the "up" there is the same amount of "down". So down we went which was just as difficult, if not worse, than the "up" for those of us with dodgy knees. However, we managed it.

After exchanging farewells we got "away" to our homes after an exhilarating day on an excellent site.

My thanks to the owners of the Linley Estate for giving us permission to roam about doing what we enjoy doing; to Fiona Gomersall for suggesting we went to the site, and Rob Rowe for guiding us. This report would be very dull without the photographs so my thanks also go to the photographers David Williams, John Martin, Bob Kemp, Nigel Cane-Honeysett and Nigel Jones for allowing me to use their photographs.

8 Sep 2019

At last, the sun

Castlefields, Ellesmere - Wednesday 4th September 2019

Yes, after yet another disappointment the previous Wednesday when we met at St. Michael's Madeley at 10.30am just after the rain started at 10.29am, the sun did shine.

Not all day.

But enough.

However it was quite cold so extra layers were needed by some but not all.

Nine of us amassed in the massive car park.

As there was a black plastic bag over the parking ticket machine we felt free to park there for free.

Castlefields is an area of grassland split into two large grassland fields one of which I understand is grazed - but there was no sign of any grazing beats whilst we were there.

Climbing the hill which the cars faced in the above photograph you were rewarded with a an excellent view of the site:

And of The Mere with the Boathouse on its near shore.

Photograph: David Williams
(This photograph was taken much later in the day but this seems to be the most appropriate spot in this piece to place it.)

As usual we started our searches around the car park before ascending the hill to find some rather conveniently situated picnic tables which provided a suitable focal point for the morning's activities.

An early find was a lump of stone.

Clearly it was no ordinary lump of stone but a sculpture entitled "Rotation 2" created by Trevor Clark and formed a part of the Ellesmere Sculpture Trail. Other exhibits will follow.

In the animal kingdom we found a common darter dragonfly:

Photograph: David Williams
A hoverfly, Rhingia campestris:

Photograph: David Williams
This hoverfly is sometimes called the "Heineken" fly as, with its elongated face, it can reach parts of a flower that others cannot.

And finally in this initial burst, two for the price of one - a nymphal green shieldbug and adult dock bug.

Photograph: David Williams
Time for another sculpture. This is "Dialogue" by Pal Lakatos and is situated just down the hill from the picnic tables.

And now a plant. Not a nationally scarce plant or an indicator of excellent habitat but a common "weed".

A bindweed, I do not know which one, but it may be field bindweed.

So often only plants of special interest get a look in when reporting on sites but we should not always overlook the common plants. You never know, one day they may become rare. Let's hope not.

The picnic tables were a big draw so it was pointless trying to resist ... lunch was called.

Refreshed we trundelled down the hill towards the second field which climbs steadily uphill to the Motte and Bailey (and bowling green) in its north west corner.

Again we found a spot to establish a base camp, this time at the intersection of a couple of grassy paths, then dispersed to follow our own interests and occasionally coming together to discuss photography (inevitably) and other subjects fringing on our activities.

Our third sculpture of the day is "A prisoner" by Tom Gilhespy

Back to the wildlife. Another dragonfly was identified and photographed. This time a ruddy darter.

Photograph: David Williams
Other interesting finds were a field grasshopper.

Photograph: David Williams
And a tortoise beetle Cassida vibex.

Photograph: David Williams

Detailed searching of trees and vegetation can bring its rewards:

Photograph: David Williams
Eggs, painstakingly arranged.

But whose?

Consultation ensued and the decision was that these are more than likely the eggs of a noctuid moth, possibly large yellow underwing.

And this brings us to our last sculpture of the day "Puerto del Agua" by E Sacco.

Time to go, but to celebrate a day with sun and without (almost) any rain we retired to The Boathouse Cafe for tea and cake where we sat outside and got wet as the rain started. Fortunately it only lasted a few minutes and had cleared up by the time we walked back to the cars to return home.

My thanks to Shropshire County Council for suggesting the site and allowing us to do what we enjoy doing and to David Williams for providing his excellent photographs.

25 Aug 2019

Anyone for bread?

Mousefield and River Severn, Wednesday 21st August 2019

Our first challenge on arriving was to try and fit all the cars in a car park that was quite full. Thankfully with some friendly parking we managed it without blocking in any of the other users.

Then as we were getting ready, having a general chat, and doing all the other things that we always do when we first meet for the day we were presented with a tray of bread.

Photograph: Rob Mileto
The bread was apparently surplus to requirements and needed to be disposed of in the best possible way, i.e. offering it to the group. The offer was accepted with thanks.

And so to the business of the day...

Our first site was the Mousefield Countryside Site, an area of rough grassland providing a buffer between housing and a large area of parkland.

In the main the vegetation had been allowed to grow without any obvious maintenance, except for a small area that had been sown with wildflowers.

The wildflower area had been cut well before we arrived and it was just an area of stubble with little interest on the day. However the long vegetation and shrubs provided us with plenty to look at even if it was difficult negotiating our way about.

A large broom and other shrubs grouped near the entrance attracted a lot of early attention as we found the rhopalid bug Rhopalus subrufus:

Photograph: David Williams
Gorse shieldbug:

Photograph: David Williams
And a Speckled bush-cricket.

Photograph: David Williams
In the meantime the vacuum sampler was put to work searching the grassland.

Early finds were Bishop's Mitre:

Photograph: David Williams
And a 24-spot ladybird.

Photograph: David Williams
After all this initial excitement things quietened down a bit as we went about exploring the further reaches of the site.

A flock of young Dock bugs was discovered on bramble (at least that is what it looks in the photograph).

Photograph: David Williams
We worked our way to the middle of the site and to a crack willow that had a number of strange growths on it.

The initial assumption was that it was a gall caused by an insect as is the case with Robin's pin cushions and Oak apples. But in this case we believe that the gall is caused by a virus.

This year has seen a huge number of Painted lady butterflies flying about. And one decided to call in at Mousefield.

As you can see it has had a hard life. Not one for the "I only want a photograph of a perfect specimen brigade".

I found myself at the far end of the site and battling my way through long thick grass, brambles and other vegetation.

I looked around to see where the others were only to find them all seated in a group close to the entrance having lunch.

How could they have started without me?

I gave up trying to force my way though the untrampled grassland and returned, slowly, back to join the others and take on refreshments.

Lunch over, it was time to move on to the second site which was an area of grassland and woodland at the side of the River Severn about 200 yards from Mousefield.

Alongside the path to the site, which borders the parkland, there is a row of conifers, possibly Wellingtonias. In November 2017 a casual beat of one of these trees yielded the first record for the county of the tiny "inconspicuous" ladybird Rhyzobius lophanthae.

Would they still be there?

Only one way to find out.

I beat a tree (not the same one as in 2017) and out fell a dozen or so moving little black dots.

Photograph: David Williams
OK! It is brownish-red and black but they are only about 2mm long and to the naked eye they looked black.

And, by the way, what a wonderful photographs of such a small animal.

The ladybird originates from Australia but was introduced to mainland Europe as a biological control agent. It is now widespread around the Mediterranean region. It was first found in Britain in Surrey in 1999 and is now steadily expanding its range.

As far as I know it has only been found in this one location in Shropshire. It is often found in parks and gardens and is associated with cypresses particularly Leyland Cypress. Keep an eye out for it.

The path provided other diversions for the group as a couple of dead water shrews and a mouse were found. The mouse was bundled up and taken home to see what animals of interest might emerge from it!

The grassland is a long strip running alongside the River Severn from the footbridge to the railway arches. Here is a view from one end.

And here is the River Severn.

Yes ... it really is there.

Again the vacuum sampler was brought into use in the vegetation at the edge of the grassland and checking the catch proved as popular as ever.

More shieldbugs were found. An late instar nymph Green shieldbug in the nettles:

Photograph: David Williams
And a Hawthorn shieldbug nymph attempting to conceal itself behind some hawthorn berries.

Photograph: David Williams
Beating a maple dislodged an Oak bush cricket.

Photograph: David Williams
More careful searching of leaves revealed a magnificently neat collection of eggs.

Photograph: David Williams
As on the other site I meandered to the far end. Unfortunately I found a Japanese knotweed plant growing alongside the edge of the path.

Then I turned around and noticed a bigger outcrop.

And turning the corner at the end of the site there was a veritable hedge of this invasive plant.

Despite its attractive flowers this needs to be eradicated before it spreads further.

Yet again time caught up with us and we returned to the cars and made our way home.

My thanks to Shrewsbury Town Council for giving us permission to visit and survey these sites and to the photographers David Williams and Rob Mileto for providing the additional photographs.