22 Dec 2010

Nature Notes - December - from Pete Lambert

Even the knobbly tyres of my friends Landrover failed to find purchase on the crumpled lumps of frosted slush. When he finally skidded back onto the lane I turned to inspect the lovely but daunting pile of logs and popped on my gloves. A half hour of happily tossing the split lumps noisily into the shed, scooping up a few strays and job done. Pausing I noticed the webs slung in varying patterns across nooks, stretched between beams and cleverly forming funnels of paralysing death in the gaps created by the old woodwork.

All spiders make silk, not only for web making but to cosset eggs or gift wrap prey. Amaurobius makes a lacy web in the crevices of window frames, crawling insects snared by the web are quickly grabbed by a leg and dragged to their death, paralysed  and savoured later. The nursery web spider, Pisaura mirabilis,  carries her eggs in a silken bag and on the point of hatching weaves a tent for her young, over which she will stand guard until they disperse through the shrubbery. Our friend the House spider creates a triangular web in a corner with a tubular retreat in the angle, it is this fellow that most commonly makes the family jump as it runs across the living room rug. Crab spiders save their energy, spinning no web, they lie in wait for prey and some species like the Wolf and Zebra spiders hunt. A Zebra spider can leap many times it’s own length holding down prey like Shirley Crabtree and then fangs out its curtains for the stunned victim.

The most beautiful constructions are the delicate orb webs, certainly a striking sight weighted as they have been by hard frosts, crystal suspensions shimmering in the cold morning air. Spiders have waxy hairs on their feet to prevent them sticking to their own silk. Some species like to pose in the centre of the web, others hideaway, one leg touching a signal thread, eager and quick when a tingle of food is detected. Intriguingly certain spiders include an extra weave called a stabilientum to strengthen the orb. Most spiders overwinter as eggs hatching as the days lengthen and the winter freeze is over. I know spiders make us jump and squeak but they are truly worth a little of our time and appreciation.

The roads have been capped in sheets of treacherous ice, even driving very slowly we still did a few dance moves during our comings and goings. A wood mouse sprinted from hedge to edge, briefly stopping in the lights as we urged him to complete his journey to a new hedge bottom haven. In very harsh weather they may slip into a state of torpor but do not strictly hibernate. The population hits a yearly low as the winter draws to a close. The average life span of the wood mouse is two years, normally less, but as the breeding season resumes the numbers recover. It is only a few animals that hibernate, the rest by hook or crook struggle through, and very occasionally we witness their frantic existence on the edge.

If you would to share your wildlife encounters please email me at petewoodman@thewoods12.fsnet.co.uk , take care and stay warm, Pete.

8 Dec 2010

Red Kites at Gigrin Farm - Keith Fowler

On the last Sunday of November Jackie and I went to Gigrin Farm near Rhyader to visit the Red Kite Feeding Station. The snow was on the ground; the sky was crystal clear and a wonderful shade of blue; the sun was shining ... and it was bl**dy freezing - who says watching nature is comfortable?

We arrived about half an hour before the feeding time to find the trees surrounding the feeding area packed with birds anticipating an easy meal. Nearest and boldest were the rooks and crows. Then a tree full of buzzards and a little further away several trees full of red kites. Kites were arriving in anticipation all the time.

When the tractor arrived with the food the kites took to the air; the others stayed where they were! As the food was distributed the sky was taken over by the acrobatics of the kites as they swooped down for the food. They take their food on the wing only landing by mistake. And they missed as often as they succeeded in picking up food.

Eventually as the kite feeding frenzy died down the rooks and crows moved in. The Buzzards never got a look in, nor did they try.

After the feed many kites settled in the nearest trees making spotting birds with wing tags and the leucistic ones easier.

The farmer reckoned that there were about 500 kites. Some travel up to 50 miles for this feed. The snow had prevented deliveries of meat so the kites were on short rations - probably the reason why the buzzards missed out.

The food is intended as a supplement to the kites' normal diet, it is not intended as a substitute for their natural diet. However, it does seem an artificial set up, but, I suppose, not really different to feeding birds in the garden.

Whatever your view on the rights and wrongs it was a fantastic sight, enhanced by the weather conditions. And one must marvel at the body clock of the kite that ensures it arrives at Gigrin at the right time!

I have posted some photographs in the album "Gigrin".

Clickety Click  (Login or register to the WFV forum)

Keith Fowler

18 Nov 2010

Grimpo Nature Notes November/December 2010

The turbulent gusts of November had finally stripped the leaves from the intricate architecture of their broadleaved woody hosts. For a brief while the discarded shapes stayed crisp and lifted easily in the lightest breeze, far too soon however dampened and trodden they began their return to the earth.  I enjoy the autumn for its fleeting character, it’s finest moments being sublimely transitory. My best moment of this year’s transition was an early evening journey back through Shrewsbury, the orange sodium lights igniting an avenue of golden flaring Lime trees, whilst the road was covered in drifts of molten almost sparkling leaves. 

The winter brings short days and new vistas. I was recently delighted to find that whilst chasing a sunset to get a better view, it was deliciously framed by an avenue of oaks, planted deliberately to enhance this natural wonder. The dark evenings have lead to other chance encounters, whilst driving through Maesbury Marsh our headlights picked out a Tawny owl, standing watchfully on a residents drive, foolishly I reversed to get another look, but of course he was gone. Driving on we illuminated a rat with its supper clenched firmly in it’s jaws, I know rats are a source of mixed feelings but this fella I am afraid to say was allowed to enjoy his supper and live another day. 

Yet more tidying around the garden and before another frost cracks the lining I set about folding the paddling pool, unless we were contemplating ice skating of course! Staring out the window working myself up to dealing with the task I was taken aback to see a Grey wagtail working the edges of the remaining water pecking clean any bugs she found thereabout. The grey wagtail favours riversides; our crumpled plastic lookalike detained the bird only briefly. More regular if not insatiable visitors to our and other local bird-tables have included coal tits, nuthatch, long tailed tits, goldfinches and of course blue tits, the lucky few have also been treated to close up views of the Great spotted woodpecker. The great spotted woodpecker was among a clutch of sightings for a lucky cyclist recently whom whilst on a short jaunt down the canal sighted mute swans, heron, a pair of green woodpeckers, a kingfisher and a swarm of house-martins. [These being the ones that had got away from an eager Sparrowhawk hunting elsewhere in the area]

The longer evenings mean more time to sort out inside the house. Cleaning off a window ledge I scooped up the corpses of this years insect residents. A hoverfly, distinguished by the fused venation on the wings and wasp-like camouflage. A real wasp, Vespula vulgaris, one of roughly 11 species of social wasp found in the UK, it is only mated females that overwinter, the main colony like its paper nests disintegrating as the autumn turns to winter. A honey bee, a sad singleton of a close-by colony that can number upwards of 50,000 individuals. A crane fly, this one not much of a Daddy more a Diddly legs, though crane flies can range in size from mosquito titchy to the Tipula Maxima, which has a wingspan of nearly  3 inches. And finally an Ichneumon fly, parasitic, narrow waisted and glistening still.

The festive season is rushing towards my expectant young family, just to one side of all that glitters I can see winter wanders, chance encounters with hardy wildlife, wellies, fieldfares and redwings on the mosses, and fingers crossed I may get a glimpse of a twilight ghost as a Barn owl works the gloom of the winter day.

Happy wildlife spotting, Pete.

If you would like to share your wildlife encounters please email me at petewoodman@thewoods12.fsnet.co.uk 

29 Sep 2010

Grimpo Nature Notes September 2010

Wading through the piles of potential recyclables to clear a space for my split kindling in the log shed I paused a moment and glanced upwards. There in the old roof rafters the cups of this years broods remained stuck firmly in place. I briefly debated removing one to have a look but suspected I would be depriving a wood mouse of a winter snuggle pit.

As I write the swallows are limbering up for the long flight south, so we are not the only ones responding to the change of season.

Tidying the garden the frog gave us a start, his triangular head poking skyward from the water filled bucket, we knew how he got in but he was going to need some help getting out. Frogs only need pools to breed in, the rest of the year feggy, thick and tussocky grasslands will do, we flushed out a plague of the striped and spotted fresks when clearing a knotted patch of bramble. Our frog was carried carefully to the most tangled corner of the garden and gently slid back to freedom. Moments later a familiar nerve-jangling cry let us know that a toad had been found, this time in a watering can, for him a release spot near the veg. plot compost heap, bad luck slugs!

Adorning so many trees and woody shrubs are the long awaited fruits, the product of those delightful blossoms earlier in the year. Orange haws, rowan berries, red hips, elderberries and blackberries are steadily stripped from their stems by hungry birds. It is in the early autumn that the hideaway antics of birds following the annual moult come to an end.  For the migrant bird the moult, a steady loss of old feathers to be replaced with new, has to be a quick process, a blackcap replaces it’s plumage in 35 days before embarking for the southern Mediterranean and north Africa. The resident Bullfinch takes its time over a leisurely three months.

Birds tend to avoid moulting during the breeding season, when food-stocks are low or whilst migrating, though there are so many exceptions as to defy simple classification. At a critical point during the moult all birds will experience an impaired ability to fly, and for some such as the willow warbler this occurs twice a year. The willow warbler spends its days in thorny scrub and consequently needs to revamp its flight kit more regularly. By now though our resident birds need to be fluffing nicely there is much work to be done as the temperatures drop.

Trying to make the most of the shortening evenings I headed out on the cycle, I liked the rustle of browned leaves on the road and gave my appreciation to a handful of late blooming wildflowers.

A sweet gang of Common Toadflax, also known as ‘Bunny mouths’, sent a yellow and orange peal down a grassy verge and will with luck still be showing off in early November. By the canal I encountered a number of Trifid Bur-marigolds, a scary name, I watched them for a while to check how firm rooted they might be before studying the small fire orange flower head. On the homeward leg a small powder blue patch of Harebell nodded from the hedge-bank, the Scottish bluebell. Contrary to my long held belief the harebell is not confined to the drier swards of the UK mountain districts but  is found widely, avoiding damp conditions but held aloft on thin stems out of chalky or acid soils, lamp-like in a bracken forest or as mine were, dangling from the ancient grass banks of a raised field bounding hedge.

The end of summer is a slow affair, none of the urgency of the spring round of territory grabbing, display and procreation, but rather a gentler fattening up and hunkering down. The migrants will head off and our hardy residents will take up the sometimes unequal task of out-staying the winter. So after readying my log pile to keep the family warm I headed to the bird table topping up the nuts and seed to ensure this gardens feeding station was ready and waiting for custom.

If you would like to share your wildlife reflections please email Pete at petewoodman@thewoods12.fsnet.co.uk

27 Sep 2010

Extreme Moth-ing!

 Wrekin Moth and Small Mammals 100910 002

The night was cold. It was windy. And wet. Very wet. We’d chosen to do a moth night on the summit of Shropshire’s most prominent hill - The Wrekin!

September 10th, 2010 saw 4 intrepid Wrekin Forest Volunteers clamber aboard the Shropshire Wildlife Trust’s white Defender to drive to the top of the hill with all the equipment needed to set up moth-traps, small mammal traps and camping equipment.

Yep - we were there from dusk till dawn - or at least 2 of us were. Extreme moth-ing it may seem, but we were keen to find out what was flying up here at this time of the year. A similar exercise last year brought only a handful of moths but it wasn’t as cold then, or wet, or windy so maybe there’ll be nothing moth-ing at all tonight?! We’ll see.

So we set up camp attaching the Moth Pavilion to the jeep in an attempt to stop it from disappearing over the side of the hill in a gust of wind and secured our two small back-packing tents.

Wrekin Moth and Small Mammals 100910 018

We were soon joined by Ian, Andy and Carl; the Ricoh Small Mammals team who with Pete Lambert placed several traps out in an effort to find out what mice, shrews and voles may be living up here. They were softies though - they were walking back down the hill later for home, hot tea and warm beds, returning in the morning to check the traps.

Keith brought along his now legendary moth sheet and torch which often attracts a few interesting species, not necessarily all moths. Graham also attended to help with ID’s (should there be any moths!) and to impart some of his wealth of local knowledge with us.

Moth and small mammal traps were set-up just as dark fell and an eerie mist descended casting weirdly huge shadows as we moved around the summit site.

Wrekin Moth and Small Mammals 100910 003

Jenny (Telford Butterfly Group and Butterfly Conservation) climbed the hill with husband and dog to see what we were up to and helped when the generator died shortly after firing up. They pointed out that it might be something to do with the little breather-switch on the top that needed moving from ‘Off’ to ‘On’!   How did I miss that?  Thank you!

As predicted the bad weather kept most moths from flying but an Antler Moth popped in to see what all the fuss was about and somewhat later, after Graham, Keith and the Ricoh team had left, my first Autumnal Rustic of the year appeared.

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                                                                     Antler Moth
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                                                                Autumnal Rustic
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The gloom of the night moved in with yet more rain and stronger winds. Pete and I retired to our tents at around midnight and despite the foul night I managed to get a few hours sleep, faring better than Pete who struggled to push his way through the sound of rain and wind bashing the tents' fabric.
I was awoken a little after 6am with the sound of voices. It’s amazing the number of people who climb this most famous of Midlands hills from dawn to dusk and here were the first of the day.
It didn’t take too long to empty the two moth traps, identify and record the results:-
Large Yellow Underwing           Noctua pronuba            7
Antler Moth                           Cerapteryx graminis       2
Autumnal Rustic                     Eugnorisma glareosa      2
Lesser Yellow Underwing          Noctua comes              2
Silver Y                                Autographa gamma        1
Common Wainscot                  Mythimna pallens           1
Setaceous Hebrew Character    Xestia c-nigrum            1
Diamond-back Moth                 Plutella xylostella          1
Micro-moth                            Caloptilia betulicola agg  1

18 moths across 9 species with no big surprises but an interesting exercise nonetheless. Must mention that Keith had a minor success with his sheet and torch when a ladybird hopped on board.

Right on time at 8am the Ricoh lads returned having climbed the hill once more and with Pete did the rounds of all the small mammal traps
Wrekin Moth and Small Mammals 100910 028

And amongst the inhabitants was this little chappie and I’m afraid I can’t remember whether this was a Yellow-necked, Wood or Field mouse but there’s obviously a few little mammals around up here.

Wrekin Moth and Small Mammals 100910 033

Just time for a group photo and then a ride back down the hill again with a little delay caused by a tree that had fallen during the high winds of the night blocking the main path.

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Wrekin Moth and Small Mammals 100910 044

And I’m afraid I’ve no idea what was happening here but it certainly looks painful!

Wrekin Moth and Small Mammals 100910 045 

Catch you all soon

Paul Watts

22 Aug 2010

Grimpo Nature Notes – August & July 2010

Inspired by the extreme adventures of Bear Grylls my youngest was determined to have an adventure all of his own. Setting out to reconnoitre a likely spot for a bivouac [picnic] we headed for a nearby copse of trees. Along the way we skirted the headlands of a number of fields, there between the hedge and crop a few arable flowers put on a display. The most pleasing of the bunch being clumps of Field pansy. The Field pansy is an increasingly common annual wildflower finding easy purchase on arable and disturbed ground. Pansies can display a very wide range of colour variations, today we were treated to pale cream petals gently streaked with chocolate stripes.

The copse lay in a characteristic damp North Shropshire hollow, inevitably we were quickly covered in mosquitoes and beat an orderly retreat. But before departing the hostile wood I spotted a peculiar buttercup-like flower. The five petals were the usual glossy bright yellow but the thin straggling stems lacked rigidity making the plant crawl across the ground. A buttercup, yes, but neither Creeping, the gardener’s terror nor Meadow, but the Lesser spearwort. The scientific name being Ranunculus flammula, the first meaning ‘frog like’, and the second referring to the ‘flame’ shaped leaves. A good number of the buttercup family such as Lesser celandine like damp conditions which possibly explains the frog like appellation.

Elsewhere in the wood Soft rush and Broad buckler fern crowns sent up their varied spikes and fronds. Damp pocketed woodlands like this have been preserved against agricultural advance growing as they do on difficult to drain land. The hollows are the result of the action of a great ice sheet that over lay the North Shropshire and Cheshire Plain 10,000 years ago. Varied deposits of glacial till have left behind peat lands, mosses and meres. Over towards Baggy Moor this low lying landscape has proved the haunt of our smallest bird of prey, the Merlin. It has a characteristic low, fast flight hunting down small song birds. The breeding pair numbers in Shropshire have been less than double figures for a long time, so a sight of this skilled pilot is a thrill. The Merlin lacks the moustaches of its bigger relative the Hobby and has distinctive black streaks on its brown chest.

Our wetlands generate swarms of insects and their accompanying bird predators. Making our way to another likely jungle setting, swooping streamer tailed air athletes feasted. At first we marvelled at the Swallows, but our accolades were saved for the Swifts. Matt black and uncompromising in the power of their curving progress, we were spared the slightly unnerving scream they make when flying over the breeding colony. Elsewhere a deep blue Emperor dragonfly was mesmerising a wildlife watcher with its pulsing hunting patrol flight. The last few months have been better for butterflies, Ringlets, Meadow browns and Gatekeepers all flying in good numbers. The Ringlet appears quite dark in flight but up close the female carries the most delightful eyed spots on its wings, rather like a half dozen RAF roundels. A darkening sky forces most of these tender creatures to ground, today’s weather was mixed and thoughts turned to home.

We gathered the first blackberries on our way back,  fat purple drupes, sweet washed by a brief shower. Some of the runners were still in flower ensuring a long season of pies, crumbles and red stained lips. Closing the door behind us we began planning for our next adventure, maybe this time we’ll go out for the whole afternoon!

Happy Wildlife Spotting, best wishes, Pete.

If you would like to share your wildlife sights I would love to hear from you, my email is:  petewoodman@thewoods12.fsnet.co.uk

Grimpo Nature Notes July 2010

PB had suggested I take a walk along the canal and down to visit the Aston Locks nature reserve. Very good advice I concluded after a delightful stroll beside the beautiful and diverse bankside flora. I had hoped to catch a flash of azure, as reports of kingfishers had been made from both Heath Houses and the Boneworks.   I was not so lucky either in hoping to see curlews on my visit though they are around, my first encounter being the frothy cream heads of the Meadowsweet, confirmed by its red stems. Meadow sweet was used in mediaeval times to flavour mead though it’s name over time evolved to reflect it fondness for damp meadows, various parts of the flower carry different scents from the honey tinged flowers and the sharpness of the leaves. In stark contrast further along I spied the drooping purple flowers of the Bittersweet, also known as Woody Nightshade. Despite an attractive climbing habit the Bittersweet leaves smell of burnt rubber and of course the red berries are poisonous.

Wildflowers adopt a fantastic range of forms to take advantage of soil, sun and water. Birds Foot trefoil or more commonly called Eggs and Bacon, tends to grow low on disturbed soils, its yellow and red tinged flowers making a show of a plain area of grass. Along the towpath it is joined by red and white clover, now past their best but still contributing a bobble head of colour. With my eye trained into to spot the yellows, I realised I was a little early for the full show of the water lilies but they were on their way, and a little late for the flag iris who’s bulging seeds pods were ripening on the stem. But just in time for the silverweed, the flower is mildly similar to buttercup but with a livelier edge to the keenly coloured petals.

I had to reach for my plant book for the next few yards, a group of medium tall plants that all looked like nettles but the varying colour flower heads said different.  Finally I was able to distinguish Gipsywort, from which a fast black dye can be produced. Then White deadnettle, non stinging, propped up the left hand side of the stand of imitators. The square hairy stems of Purple loosestrife with its towering spike of red/pink whorls of flowers were next. Loosestrife derives its name from the Greek belief that it had a powerful calming effect on oxen.

Tangled through the plants invasive tendrils of Goosegrass or cleavers, bullied their way to the light. For such a vigorous plant it has such insignificant white flowers. I was pleased that as I moved towards the waters edge a finer and more delicate cousin of the Goosegrass was in flower, the Marsh bedstraw, it’s white four petalled blooms held by a thin tracery of stems and whorls of leaves. The bedstraws all have the characteristic whorl of leaves, along some of our local lanes I have seen the yellow flowered Lady’s bedstraw and in the Berwyns can be found the tiny Heath bedstraw.

Just before I turned for home I spotted a tuft of blue flowered plants which on closer inspection I recognised as Skullcap. The name derives from the shape of the flower which is reminiscent of a Roman soldier’s leather helmet. The skullcap ironically is a member of the same family as the deadnettles that had caused me problems earlier; we have another, Black horehound growing by the compost heap in the garden.

In other local gardens, treats from the last month include Bullfinches, Long tailed tits and broods of blue tits, fledging now, so fingers crossed. Finally an intriguing report of a Nightjar has been received near Threadneedle Street, this secretive nocturnal bird has a distinctive frog like call and a wide gaping mouth to catch moths on the wing.

As ever a jam packed month, make sure you spare at least one balmy evening to commune with nature at her brightest.  

Happy Wildlife Spotting, best wishes, Pete.

21 Jul 2010

Last of the Summer Wine - Coalmoor

 Or maybe that should be ‘Last of the Summer Rain’. Our visit to Coalmoor last Friday (July 16, 2010) ended in a sudden downpour just as we arrived back at the mini-bus after a day’s surveying this Veolia owned site.

Traveller's Joy
Traveller’s Joy   Pic: Keith Fowler

I call this post ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ because, sadly, it is the last of our organised summer excursions onto the green spaces of Telford & Wrekin with the Wrekin Forest Volunteers. We still have our summer BBQ on the Top of The World, however, this coming Friday so let’s hope the rain stays off for then - it’s raining as I write.

So we now await the Autumn/Winter programme that I guess Pete at SWT is already working on and simultaneously grappling, no doubt, with the funding for it and other projects.
Seems odd I know to be talking about winter in the middle of summer but then it doesn’t seem to bother Selfridges - I’ve just heard they’re already selling Christmas baubles! Now that’s got to be so wrong on so many levels. There should be a law against it championed by perhaps The Christmas Police or maybe The Crackers & Bauble Bobbies.

Here I go drifting off on a massive tangent again, so steep we all have to dig our finger nails in!

Coalmoor 160710 001

So… yes… the Coalmoor site is owned and run by Veolia the waste and recycling experts, part of which is being turned into a natural habitat with pools and woodland mainly interspersed around its perimeter. Which is what we were there for, of course, to see what flora & fauna were colonising this charming little spot.

There’s still a lot of work to be done and much of the central part had seen recent and necessary activity and is at the moment what I’d call ‘brown’. But around the edges we saw many promising signs including a fine Fallow Deer who poked his head over the hill-top to see what the commotion was about and then he was gone! Buzzards circled majestically overhead whilst Magpies squabbled endlessly and lots of little things were on the wing too.

Small Skipper, Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Green-veined White and Comma were amongst the butterflies recorded. And I managed to pot a rather worn moth - the Shaded Broad-bar.

Shaded Broad-bar Coalmoor 160710 023

A few weird and wonderful creatures were also enjoying life at Coalmoor such as these small larvae feeding on Alder.

Coalmoor 160710 010

It was Tony who led me in the right direction when he said he felt sure they were a species of Sawfly, prompting me to investigate further using that magnificent resource; the interweb.

Oh, by-the-way; not wishing to run too far behind the times my long-standing friend (I do wish she’d sit down) Vera Wayfrommer recently bought a laptop. I called round the other day to see how she was getting on. Confused would have been the nicest way of putting it. The terminology had sent her into a right tizz. She was just placing a small piece of cheese at the side of the keyboard mumbling almost incoherently about feeds and mice and complaining she didn’t realise she had to do this! There’s no hope. I left quietly.

Ooops! Have I digressed again?

Anyway, little white fluffy caterpillars. Yes... turns out they’re White Alder Sawfly larvae - Eriocampa ovata - confirmed by the fact they were feeding on alder. The white fluffy stuff that covers them is something I haven’t come across before - it’s apparently called ‘flocculence’ and is a form of camouflage - makes them look like bird droppings. As they get bigger and closer to pupation the flocullence is shed and left dangling from the leaf. So there you go, every site we go to I find out something new, like how to use Graham’s monocular.

Coalmoor 160710 003

Actually that’s not me using Graham’s monocular, it’s Graham and he’s using his camera.

I didn’t realise we were so close to the power station but there it is with the cooling towers just poking above the tree-line.

Our foray brought many interesting flowering plants and grasses. Bristly Ox-Tongue and Ribbed Melilot to name but two.

 Bristly ox-tongue     Ribbed melilot 
Pic: Keith Fowler                         Pic: Keith Fowler

And more caterpillars… these are the very common Cinnabar moth larvae on Ragwort.

Cinnabar caterpillars
Pic: Keith Fowler

And a 10-spot Ladybird.

10-spot ladybird
Pic: Keith Fowler

Tea-break ran into lunch-break and then the dark clouds descended and we headed back to the bus.

Coalmoor is a very interesting site with lots of plant & creature potential over the coming years. Worthy of another trip next spring/summer.

Coalmoor 160710 015


Did you know that Shropshire Wildlife Trust has its own Facebook page? Neither did I till Pete phoned me yesterday to ask if I could make a connection with our blog and forum. So I’ve done that and wondered if you’d like to join the group too? If you don’t have a Facebook page yourself you’ll need to set one up in order to connect but it’s free, quick, simple and painless. And if you already have an account then you just need to log in. This link will send you straight to the SWT group. Leave a message to say hello from the WuFuV's, etc.

Here’s the direct link:-
SWT Facebook Group (opens in a new window)

I will also place a link on the blog and the forum.

That’s all for now folks. Catch you all soon.


8 Jul 2010

Grimpo Nature Notes from Pete Lambert

Grimpo Nature Notes July 2010

Recently my young family encouraged me to join them in a Canadian canoe trip down the Montgomeryshire Union Canal. Leaving the main waterway we diverted down a shady arm to fetch up in a long deserted basin and wharfage. The children called it the Rat Pool, I believe there was a bone factory there at one time, the rotting stumps of the docking stages the only evidence left of busier times. Hanging my hand over the side of the boat I could trail it through the warming water and more fun still scoop up tadpoles who were browsing on the broad water lily leaves that floated just below the surface.

Beneath the surface we could see water boatmen powerfully swimming to and fro. They have an adapted pair of legs with broadened ends like oars, to breathe some carry bubbles of air and some swim upside down surfacing occasionally to capture a breath. Busy above them cleverly skimming across the surface tension we spied Pond Skaters, Water Crickets and Measurers.

The real treat of this new water level perspective was the Mayflies, not only did they fill the sky in their adult flying form but there on the emerging vegetation we found the discarded skins of the aquatic larvae. Mayfly adults live so briefly, their ditched forms beloved of fish and painstakingly copied by anglers. Mayflies enjoy a long life span beneath the waters but above the un-feeding adults flourish so briefly earning the scientific name of Ephemeroptera. Amongst the emergent Mayflies we encountered Common Blue damselflies, many already joined in a romantic s-shaped breeding embrace clumsily still flying while guaranteeing the next generation’s place in the waterside calvalcade.

Earlier that day we had flushed a Heron lazily into the sky and on the more fly filled stretches were grateful for the work being done by the swooping feeding flight of swallows. A pair of swans hissed protectively as we gave them a wide berth and that evening whilst cycling at Rednal I stopped to take in the rising song of some very loud skylarks. The most exciting bird report over the last month was a Dipper at Weston Rhyn. This delightful chocolate brown and cream bird lives by rivers, foraging up and down it’s home reach. The Dipper has a unique ability to move about, even ‘fly’ underwater while looking for the aquatic invertebrates it feeds on. Dippers have declined in numbers in the UK due to declines in water quality affecting the range of river life available to eat, I do hope that these trends can be reversed. If you would like to set out to see your own Dipper a good start is the bridge parapet at Chirk and the clear waters of the Ceirog.

I am still getting reports of birds in houses, a lucky Blue Tit was carried to safety after entering one local home. Other features of the warmer lighter evenings include good views of feeding bats. We have Pipistrelles and Brown Long eared bats feeding outside the back door and an evening walk around Tedsmore lanes will also be accompanied by bats. Bats can be attracted to the back door by a low light which brings in insect prey and of course a well stocked wildlife friendly garden will also make a welcome feeding station for our most endangered British mammals.

I do hope you too find time to enjoy the summer buzz ,

Happy Wildlife Spotting, yours Pete.

31 May 2010

Nipstone Rockers Get High on NMN!


Don’t worry! NMN is not some new mind-changing drug used by ageing rock fans. It’s simply an acronym for National Moth Night and the Wrekin Forest Volunteers, contrary to popular belief, do not need any sort of drug to get high! We simply drag ourselves up to 1400’ above sea level, which is where we found ourselves on the night (and ALL night!) of Saturday, May 15th, 2010 to trap, identify and record the moths that frequent this fascinating upland heath habitat.

Nipstone Rock is owned and managed by Shropshire Wildlife Trust and although it doesn’t fall within the Wrekin Forest Volunteers remit as far as area is concerned (which is Telford & Wrekin) it was the group that organised the event and we were there to hopefully record the presence of the fabulous Emperor Moth. An earlier recce a few weeks ago, however, showed no evidence whatsoever that this attractive species was colonising here this year as there were no large brown cocoons to be seen anywhere on the reserve. This is how the Emperor pupae spend their winter - wrapped up in a silk cocoon - waiting for April/May when they emerge to mate, lay eggs, hatch into caterpillars, gorge on heather and repeat the process.

Not one to be put off I reasoned there may be a chance that a few would migrate across from the nearby Long Mynd where they had recently been seen in their adult form.

Tony Jacques (County Moth Recorder) arrived in the afternoon to do a survey on what was flying or crawling during daylight hours and came across a very fine Puss Moth freshly emerged from its cocoon.

Puss moth M

Apart from recording an impressive 70 Common Heath moths which are obviously thriving well on the remote and exposed hillside, Tony also found a Garden Tiger Moth larva.

Garden tiger

These quite large caterpillars used to be abundant and familiar up to a couple of decades ago, in fact those of us who can remember the 50’s and 60’s may recall many fully grown ‘woolly bears’ crawling across open paths in June when they were searching for suitable places to pupate. Owing to a sharp decline for a number of reasons they’re quite a rarity these days although I have a theory (not shared by others I have to say!) that due to agricultural pressure and the increased use of sprays in our gardens they’ve simply moved habitat which is why they rarely appear in and around our gardens these days. They seem to be living the highlife on upland heath. This may be borne out by the fact that Tony trapped 6 adults last summer on the nearby and similar habitat of the Long Mynd. Time and further research will no doubt reveal more.

So, as evening approached we set-up 5 Skinner traps, a Heath and Liz’s ‘Moth-Box’ (a small box with torch), watched a fabulous sunset and then waited for the moths to arrive.

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Keith, Graham, Les and Mark (West Midlands Co-ordinator for the Garden Moth Scheme).

As the night spookily closed in around us, the temperature dropped to 3.9 deg C accompanied by a light breeze, which kept most of the expected moths tucked up in their little beds and us in our Moth Pavilion!
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As a further aid to keeping warm Liz wrapped herself in a big white blanket and kept eerily appearing out of the dark gloom. Scary moments indeed!

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At around 12:30 am we retired to our tents leaving the gennies running which allowed a full night of recording but it was a very low count. Did the elusive Emperor appear?


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This was the closest we got I’m afraid… a photo taken from the Reserve’s notice board!

We did, however, manage 3 Glaucous Shears which were new to most of us and a Dark Brocade.

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Glaucous Shears                                                                  Dark Brocade

A further 30 individuals across 5 species also popped in to say hello including Clouded Drab, Water Carpet and Muslin Moth (the latter trapped in the Moth-Box). A Hebrew Character and a Scorpion Fly were all to be found in Graham’s Heath trap and a small slug found its way into my sleeping bag!

Our bat detector also picked up a lone Common Pipistrelle which moved on swiftly presumably to a more moth-friendly environment.

We awoke to a fine morning with a stunning view east over the Long Mynd hill range and the sound of the cuckoo in nearby woodland. Les, reporting a count of zilch in his Skinner trap and still feeling the cold remarked, ‘Remind me again why we do this Paul’ to which I replied ‘It’s just such a great way to spend a Saturday night!’. He had to agree and putting aside the fact that our count was low it was still a worthwhile exercise with some useful data recorded and a pleasant evening spent chatting high on a cold, windy hill in convivial company. Must do it again sometime!

11 May 2010

Nature Notes from Pete Lambert

Thanks again for your wildlife sightings over the early Summer. I know spring is well gone now though it remains cold. Small signs such as clusters of Wych elm fruits creating a shaggy head to this small woodland tree mean the flowering that heralded them was at least two months ago. 

I have been ending each day recently with a walk down the classic country lane that takes me home. Each traverse of this greening mile leads to a new discovery, roughly a new plant per trip. Hedges are at their most dynamic in the Spring and early summer, putting on a grand frothy cow parsley flourish just before the first topping of the year. I am particularly fond of the common name for the Garlic mustard, Jack In the Hedge, a tall and pretty lane-side feature. The nettle type flowers have revealed themselves in turn, Red and White deadnettle and the ancient yellow archangel. Straggly stands of Greater Stitchwort have added their white cut petalled flowers to the show, sitting below unexpected blossoms of wild apple. I must also remember the single spot where a gooseberry bush at first puzzled and then revealed it’s tiny green fruit and protective thorns. 

A single patch of white Campion, was matched elsewhere in the village by a proud show of Cowslips. Other days brought the untidy leaf whorls of wood avens to my eye. Wood Avens have strawberry like yellow flowers and whilst pondering this I found a sprawling area of Wild strawberries for real. The purple hooded flowers of the ground ivy added early colour though common, still a native and providing nectar for the insect community. A short stretch of wider verge promised a late summer show of toadflax, just for now grey green needle like leaves standing above the cocksfoot grass. Ancient hedges are very similar in many ways to old woodlands harbouring bluebells, dogs mercury and dog violet, remnants in many cases of woodlands lost.

We had goldfinches raid the old seed-heads in the yard, and a close encounter as a swallow acrobatically swooped through our front door and fluttered against the window, till carried safely back to the open air. Other bird news includes sightings of Tree sparrows in Twyford, calling Blackcaps, returning House martins, and proudly nesting Mallards. A heron has been seen quartering it’s breeding territory, somewhere nearby a nest I am sure. On a recent ramble exploring the Offa’s Dyke I came across a Mute Swan nest. The large island of reeds and plant matter had been built at the edge of the Montgomery canal at the end of a garden, what lucky people to witness at such close hand the immense care invested by the adults in their young.

A last hedge row addition needs mention the Cuckoo flower or Lady's smock, it has pink tinged flowers, usually fond of wetter patches and the food plant of the Orange Tip butterfly. It is only the Orange Tip male who flashes the orange blazes at the end of his wings, the female shyly waiting in shelter. A similar relationship is found between the Speckled Wood butterfly males, just like the one near the School jealously guarding a sunlit glade against all-comers. Who knows what the weather will bring but regardless I look forward to my next wildlife ramble, I hope you enjoy yours.

Happy Wildlife Spotting, yours Pete.

3 May 2010

Muxton Marsh Moth Night

The first of the Wrekin Forest Volunteers Moth Nights saw us arrive at Muxton Marsh, Shropshire on April 9, 2010  to set up our base camp and prepare for a full night of moth ID and recording. Note our new ‘Moth Pavilion’ which acts as a base to congregate, share stories and perhaps enjoy a glass of wine. Sophistication and comfort in moth recording is definitely the way forward!

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I’m not sure how Liz managed it but she arrived on site carrying not only her camping equipment and her own moth box but enough food for everyone - and all this on the bus! What a star!
Although not billed as a public event, the leaflet-drop and posters at the site boundaries warning residents that the bright lights they may see wouldn’t be little green men landing, brought in a handful of welcome guests who seemed very interested in what we were doing and it wasn’t long before they were sharing our enthusiasm.

Here we see Leon at the back with I believe his 2 daughters. They live in one of the houses overlooking the meadow.

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It was a cold night with a low of 1.6 deg C but we were blessed with a few interesting moths like this Water Carpet for instance Lampropteryx suffumata

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Along with a slightly tattered Oak Nycteoline Nycteola revayana
Oak Nycteoline Nycteola revayana

In Les’s trap a fabulous micro-moth Acleris literana


and 7 Diurnea fagella micro-moths also popped in to say hello.

663 Diurnea fagella

Nigel Hall came along to see what we were up to along with Jeff who I met last year whilst walking near home and just got chatting to as you do.

Fellow Wrekin Forest Volunteer Keith Fowler also joined us for around 3 hours and then came back early the next morning to help pack up. It was Les that called the gazebo a pavilion in order to make Keith feel a little more at home as he’s a big cricket fan - that’s cricket with stumps not crickets with legs!


Later on Shropshire’s County Moth Recorder Tony Jacques potted up a wonderful over-wintered Tawny Pinion Lithophane semibrunnea. We didn’t manage to take a pic of our specimen so I’ve borrowed this from www.ukmoths.org.uk

Tawny Pinion
Around 1pm not long after Liz took a tumble face down after tripping on bramble Les, Liz and I took to our tents and Tony decided to spend a shivering and sleepless night in the Moth Pavilion keeping watch on the equipment and leaving his nice warm tent neatly packed up in the boot of his car. Liz’s sleeping bag turned out to be not that warm either so she failed to sleep too.

For those of us (i.e. Les and me!) who managed forty winks or so dawn soon came with the sun rising beautifully over the trees atop the pitmound.

All that was left to do was to do the final ID’s and count, pack up and head home to grab some breakfast with lashings of hot tea!

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In total within the 4 traps we recorded 235 individuals across 21 species. Not bad for a dry but very cold early April night.

To see the full species list please visit the FILES section of the  Wrekin Forest Volunteers forum  (If you’re not already a member please feel free to register).

Our next Moth Night is this coming Saturday - May 8 at The Green Wood Centre and if you’d like more details please email me at paulewatts@gmx.com

Catch you all shortly

14 Apr 2010

Wild In The Woods

This is a re-visit to the Shropshire Wildlife Trust campsite at Dairy Pit in The Ercall Woods to celebrate the end of The Wrekin Forest Volunteers winter programme and to herald in the new spring and summer events for 2010 with a 3-day camp Thursday - Saturday March 25 - 27, 2010. And a great time we all had too!

Although not everyone is pleased all of the time!

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“Never mind Kevin, I’m sure there’s another cuppa in the pot!”

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He’ll get over it!

So… first thing to do is put up our ‘tarp’ as shelter, light the campfire and get another brew on… whilst others get stuck in with the real work; sawing, cleaving and generally tidying up the bottom area of Dairy Pit.

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While Rob gets ‘geared up’ for some serious stuff Nigel gets stuck in with the bow saw and Les… well Les does what Les does best of all - watches others! Sorry Les - just a joke (only just!)

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“Sometimes I just don’t know my own strength”

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Returning to run another of his now legendary charcoal burns Granville is here with us again - otherwise known as ‘King of Kilns’ but Rob has designs on the title as he attempts to knock him off his lofty perch!'

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But what’s this? Another contender? “Take that you young pipsqueak, you’re no match for the mighty King of Kilns!” Actually, that’s not even Granville’s arm reigning the deadly blow on ‘Les The Optimistic Challenger’. He must have employed a posse to help him guard the kiln and his title!

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Rhona looks on in bewilderment “What on earth have I let myself in for here?”

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Sorry about that! Just got carried away for a few minutes there, but then my long-standing friend (I do wish she’d sit down) Vera Wayfrommer would say I should be carried away more often!

Anyways…back to the plot…

I think there’s someone here who can’t wait for the working horse to arrive! (Bloggers’ grandson Kieran)

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‘Maybe I can impress a few people with my vast knowledge of moths while I wait for horsey’.

“Now, this is what my gramps caught in his trap last night. I mean it’s so obviously a Small Quaker I don’t know why he struggled to find its name, it’s so simple!”

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And here he is - here comes Domino!

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He’s a gypsy cob led by his owner Alan Williams. They’ve travelled from Cheshire to be with us today to move the logs from site down to the road for onward transport. It’s far kinder to the habitat to use a horse for this work rather than a huge tractor and much quieter. You can also make friends with a horse. Most of us did! Try doing that with a tractor!
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“OK Mr Williams… I’ll take over now !”

Meanwhile, Liz finds a Cardinal Beetle larva... 

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and a fabulously well-camouflaged Two-banded Longhorn Beetle -  
Rhagium bifasciatum

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Identified with help from our friends at Wild About Britain  A website well worth visiting (link opens a new window so you won’t be taken away from this fantastically informative, witty and entertaining blog!). If you register you can upload pics of anything wild that you may come across and there’s usually someone there in the forum ready to suggest an identification.
All in all an excellent 3-day event getting back to nature once more and practicing our newly-found woodland skills. Thanks to Pete, Granville and Alan for supplying all the expertise and knowledge and for all the woodland stories they relate - a few of them we actually believe!

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Please click the collage below to view more pics from the event:-

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