22 May 2012

Granville Country Park Butterfly Count - May 17, 2012. Keith Fowler

We were pottering around on the Western Stockpile at Granville in the early afternoon on a day that had improved steadily. A small group were studying the dominant lichen – Cladonia sp; others were searching the silver birch scrub and heather for signs of life; Graham was having a quiet moment leaning on the fence and Matt had disappeared.

A shout was heard from behind a screen of Silver birch. “Graham, Liz – over here”. No-one moved. Liz and her little group continued to study the lichen, others continued their searches, Graham was unmoved and Matt was still missing.

The call was repeated, a little more urgently this time, “Graham, Liz – over here!”.

This time one or two of us, with reluctance, heeded the call and made our way, leisurely, over to the source of the frantic call. What we found was Matt crouched down holding his net over a patch of ground.

“It’s in there”

We peered and saw nothing, unimpressed. “What’s in there?”

“Dingy skipper!”

Our attitude changed immediately; Matt had done it; he had actually managed to find and capture the target species – but we still could not see it under his net.

Carefully, very carefully, Matt inserted a pot under the net and fiddled around for a while before producing the elusive butterfly. Well done Matt.

Now, of course, everything changed, the small group abandoned the lichen, the searchers of Silver birch and heather appeared and Graham decided to let the fence hold itself up. The butterfly was handed around, studied, photographed, handed round again and more photographs taken. Finally it was released and, as if in gratitude, posed on a sprig of heather while even more photographs were taken. Eventually it got bored of all the attention and flew off.

This was, more or less, the finale of a day in Granville counting butterflies. It started off in the rain and cold when a group of half a dozen or so of us met at Granville’s car park. Matt briefed us - although we were unlikely to see butterflies we would survey the site looking for food plants.

We started off in Waxhill Meadow. The rain had stopped. We soon realised that searching for food plants without a competent botanist (or, dare I say it, a Vegetative key) was pretty difficult. Arguments over Common and Bush vetch raged but eventually we got our eye in for a few plants.

It did help that Liz found Grapholita jungiella, a micro-moth whose food plant is Bush vetch, so we knew it was there – somewhere.

From Waxhill we inspected the Dingy skipper bank and noted that it needs some attention during the winter. We paused for lunch, perching on the dragonfly, then made our way to the Western stockpile via the “Top of the World”. The clouds were thinning and it was getting slightly warmer.
In the eastern corner; was that a glimpse of a Dingy skipper? Desperate searching yielded no butterfly.

We moved on along the southern slope. The sun started to break through. A few gathered around a lichen; others went off to search the Silver birch and heather; Graham decided to check the fence and Matt disappeared.

Keith Fowler

19 May 2012

Nature Notes May 2012 by Pete Lambert

I had set myself a challenge to identify the differences between Reed mace, the familiar cigar-tipped wetland plant and its fellow water hugging species. To help I had cycled along the towpath to the new nature reserve adjacent to the lower Aston lock. A solid wooden bench beckoned, I gave up on the botanical test and merely listened in to the wildlife around. Honking Canadian geese, a peewit, the bang and clatter of a snipe from the ditch alongside the main canal, eager drumming by a Great spotted woodpecker [a slower, lower pitch than its rarer cousin the Lesser spotted woodpecker] and a chorus of crows and rooks, singular and in mobs. A pheasant raucous against the tuneful noodlings of the hedgerow bound blackbird. I enjoyed the sizzle and plosh of mallards landing for a lazy feed on the open water and finally a reedy rustle of the coots tending to their nest. My hearing may not be great but enough of an aid to enhance a quiet ponder on a warm bench in a delightful spot.

The network of roads, tracks and pathways that allow us to travel around appear to be a fixed web, unchanged for centuries, but nothing could be further from the truth. On a recent ramble around the Ceiriog valley we had crossed a lane called Hen Fford, the Old Road, a little higher up the valley side than the current modern road which follows the route in the main of the now lost tramway. Returning with our bikes a few weeks later we cycled up to Glyn Ceiriog and took the old road back. The verges were resplendent in primrose, violets, nodding bluebells, wood anemones and many other wildflowers, at that moment mere rosettes of leaves or pale green shoots.

Nature is irresistible and will return relentlessly when man’s presence slackens, but real quality takes time and ease. The lack of disturbance on the verge had allowed the soil to re-arrange its profile, rainwater percolating nutrients downward, a thin layer of organic matter building on the surface and the relationship between the sub surface geology intimate and familiar. Our native wildflowers are unused to highly fertilised and enriched soils, they have happily adjusted to thrive on low nutrient levels and on admittedly man made features such as a verge will, if allowed to, dominate and flourish.

Spring has returned, the first swallow being seen at Haughton on 27th March by a meticulous observer of the local bird scene. He has also noted that the cuckoos tagged last year in the Thetford Forest are now attempting to cross the Mediterranean, that is 14th April, fingers crossed they make it across the indiscriminate guns of the southern European shooter. Last year the hirudine pair that occupied our barn fledged a small brood, time for me to start looking out for the familiar white splashes on the laundry that hangs there during damper days!

In Knockin a few weeks ago I spotted a bobbly mass of frog spawn in a bramble shaded ditch. Each gelatinous bauble contained a black squiggle, motionless, though it would only be a matter of time before the transformation into tadpole would make a mockery of this quiet pensive scene. Less than a week later over 2000ft in a broad col of the Aran ridge, Snowdonia, a similar tapioca lump caught my eye, this time a much larger mass of spawn in the centre of a tiny flushed pool. Frogs when breeding gather in quite impossibly small bodies of water, the males and females mating in a seething orgy of frog-kind. The spawn though comprising hundreds of viable individuals now begins a terrible attrition as predator and environment takes its toll and finally a few lucky froglets enjoy the precarious joys of adult life and a year later a return to the breeding puddle for the frantic process to begin again. 

The hedges are now more green than brown and the verdant herbage at their bases is rapidly thickening. The spring seems to be full of close encounters, a startled fox down by the Perry or today driving down Grug Hill towards Ruyton, I noticed too late that the thick ryegrass and burgeoning cow parsley had concealed a buzzard and its recently seized prey, a juvenile rabbit. Standing on the brakes I tried hard to avoid the bird as it tried to lift clear of the sunken lane, despite the power of its downward wings the raptor choose to drop the meal rather than hit the car, the limp carcass narrowly avoiding bouncing off the bonnet. We came back the same way, the coney had gone, I just hope it was the buzzard that had claimed back its kill and not some casual feathery passer-by.

Enjoy your spring encounters, take care, Pete.

2 May 2012

An Oswestry Monster!

Three Wrekin Forest Volunteers (Liz, Keith and me) had an excellent day with Pete Boardman around Oswestry searching for Shieldbugs today.

Alan, Jim, Ian and Sue also joined us.

We found a monster beetle, which I'm guessing not many people reading this would have ever seen - certainly not as large a specimen as this one but before I show you this fabulous beast let me tell you we also had 5 species of shieldbugs:


Plus: Drinker Moth Larva

and a Common Footman larva

But have you ever seen anything quite as spectacular as this in the beetle world? None of us there today had! What an amazing creature. 

Found at Oswestry Hillfort, we knew pretty soon that it was an Oil Beetle but it wasn't until Pete had managed to get a decent 3G connection on his phone that we were able to positively ID it - with the help of  buglife.org.uk - we nailed it to species: The Violet Oil Beetle Meloe violaceus

They are apparently hugely variant in size but this has to be right at the top of its range. As adults they gorge themselves on celandine and soft grasses. The Buglife website states 'their abdomen becomes distended and can extend some way beyond the tip of their wings' I reckon that's an understatement with this particular one - its wings are tiny in comparison to its body.

Just to give it some scale here it is seen crawling out of a 60mm diam pot and then sitting on my hand. This thing is 35mm in length and 10mm wide. Now that's a BIG BUG!

And who found it? If you're familiar with the names of the attendees mentioned at the start of this post who would you select? You got it - it was none other than Liz again! So well done for a fabulous find Liz. Keep 'em coming!