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.

Nipstone Rock 150510 070
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!
Nipstone Rock 150510 046

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?


Nipstone Rock 150510 055


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.

Nipstone Rock 150510 089         Nipstone Rock 150510 093
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!

Muxton Marsh Moth Night 090410 043

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

Muxton Marsh Moth Night 090410 019

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!

Muxton Marsh Moth Night 090410 035

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