18 Jul 2012

Nature Notes July 2012 by Pete Lambert

As a school child in suburban south-east London I remembered listening with mild scepticism as an adult told me that the leaves of the May thorn growing around the tarmac playground tasted like ‘bread and cheese’, I tried a few leaves and remained unconvinced. I was startled into this memory by an encounter in the car park of Montgomery Castle, deep scarlet double flowers adorned what turned out to be a cultivar of the Midland hawthorn, known as ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ or the ‘Pink May’[Though this is the proper name of a Common Hawthorn variety].  The abundance of flowers and their rich hue are most satisfying in such a modest sized tree.  The Midland hawthorn easily hybridises with the Common hawthorn and they are distinguished by the leaf shape, the Midland shallowly lobed as against the deep cut of the Common hawthorn leaf. Later when the haws are present you can split the flesh and if a single pip is found then the thorn is the Common, 2 to 3 pips then usually you have found a Midland [ though beware of all the hybrids!]The thorn at the Castle had been planted, native Midland thorns not being found in great quantity in the north, but in the southern counties associated with old hedges, ancient woodland and clay soils. ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ first originated in 1858 at Waltham’s Cross and now a popular suburban favourite which I think, brings me back to my school day memories.

Just above the garage project, and tucked under the eaves stuck by some ingenious birdy glue were slung a set of mud- cup nests. The human engineers craned their necks to admire the avian master builders, but also wonder why the entrance hole had been made so small that the adult bird had great difficulty in getting back out of the nest once the internal brood had been fed. First a wing, then the head but not both and finally an ungainly squeeze to swoop and soar to find more insect sustenance for its gaping young, who could be seen in a partially completed nest a few joists down.  The bird had white under-parts and a white rump, the tail was short and mildly forked a House martin.  Other birds have learnt to appreciate the advantages of the built environment; recently a Grey heron caused a stir in a local garden as it landed heavily on the tiled roof ridge. We have a brick walled old barn opposite the house and as the aged mortar has dislodged, a sociable flock of breeding House sparrows has taken up all available resulting holes for nesting caverns. Sadly not all birds appreciate the benefits of our construction projects, windows being clear and hard proved fatal for a male chaffinch last week, the paper-lad placing the still warm body in a more respectful location than its poignant falling place in the centre of the gravelled path below the glassy panels.

For a brief while the early summer lifted and with a clatter of aluminium we set up our stove to brew up atop Pole Bank, the summit of the Long Mynd. The long walk up from Bridges had been pleasantly cool and the views were easy over the short, stiff, heather moorland. We had found a patch of dry acid grassland, short cropped, spongy and in no time at all covered in a disturbing number of millipedes.  I tried to rationalise, the millipede unlike the centipede, has two legs per segment and importantly are a vegetarian species feeding on living and dead plant matter. Our lunch spot was being invaded by a black millipede, Tachypodoilus niger; occasionally they would curl like a watch spring when disturbed by our attempts to avoid them. I learnt later that the Tachypodoilus will climb trees to feast on mosses and algae, so they climb too! I think it’s the movement of all those legs that creates our irrational response to this essentially harmless arthropod. At the end of the day emptying our rucksacks, I took the mugs down to be washed and yes, a millipede, we did laugh, nervously!

Over the last few weeks I have found myself back at Nant y Arian in the Pumlumon and this time clear skies allowed a clear view of the feeding Red kites. Better still a recent birding trip to Dolydd Hafren, a Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, and a quiet half hour in their high hide was rewarded by the another Red kite encounter, a looming shadow the first sign of the raptors presence. And finally a week later, as we had trekked down the Portway at the northern end of the Long Mynd, the same giveaway shadow alerted us to another Red kite sighting, nice!

Happy Wildlife spotting, Pete.

14 Jul 2012

Rain, rain, go away...

Last night - Friday 13th - saw the wettest night out for the WuFuV MuGs (Wrekin Forest Volunteers Moth Group) at Apley Castle.

The rain started as a drizzle just as we were setting up and then just got worse! It never really stopped from 8pm and was still there when we left at midnight, so the moth count was dismally low.

But there were some personal successes: I didn't lose my car keys and I only managed to leave one item behind on site; my big black Audi umbrella, so if anyone sees it rolling around somewhere you'll know whose it is!

We had 6 traps out last night and I'm guessing there were less than 50 moths trapped between us - if you could all let me have your very small list asap I'll pop them all into a spreadsheet and publish them out once Tony has verified everything, which should take him all of 30 seconds.

Disappointing for 2 of our visitors who were new to an organised (organised?) moth night - Andy and Janet, but Rosemary and David from Friends of Apley Castle looked after us and kept our spirits up by feeding us some of Rosemary's home-baked fayre - those feta cheese with mint mini-pasties and sponge cake sumptously filled with damson jam were fabulously delicious! And the wine - oh yes - sitting under the gazebo eating and drinking with the rain descending heavily, we almost forgot what we were there for!

There were a couple of moth highlights with Liz's lovely Buff Arches

and an Elephant Hawkmoth, although quite a common species to traps at this time of the year, I don't think any of us were expecting to see it on such an awful night, but it arrived, shortly before I called it a day, in Tony's trap.

Other than that and a few Small Fan-footed Waves (and waves are the last thing you want to see when it's raining heavily), a miscellany of micro moths and a handful of macros, there was not a great deal more to report, apart from Keith's really trendy hat of course, Liz's random photos of people and moths, Andrew's motorbike and Nigel's new home-made trap. I'm hoping the weather hasn't put Nigel off entirely - it was only his second night out with us over four years - it's not always like this Nigel - honestly - sometimes it's warm and dry with more moths than you can shake a trendy hat at.

Anyway, it was a great get-together, with lots of miscellaneous chat, a bit of banter, food and wine - who needs yet another comfy night in watching reality TV when you can escape to the woods even if it is in the very wet stuff!

Catch you all soon

Paul Watts

6 Jul 2012

Watchmound, Stirchley and Fletcher's Meadow

My long-standing friend (I do wish she'd sit down!) Vera Wayfromer is, like many of us, on a cost-cutting mission but I do wonder about her sometimes...

A conversation we had yesterday went something like this:-

"When I've finished planting the carrot tops back in the ground I'm going to fill my car up" said Vera

'Does that work?' said I innocently.

'Well of course it does you silly man, how can I get around if there's no petrol in the car?!' she retorted.

'No... I meant the carrot tops!"


"Planting carrot-tops... do they grow again?" I asked.

"Dunno - but it's worth a try, it's such a waste otherwise"

"Well, in your quest to save the planet and your bank account I trust you're combining the petrol trip with another in the same area - it's a 10 mile round-trip isn't it?" I said.

"I'm doing even better than that" said Vera "Don't forget I've got my free bus-pass - I'm going on the bus! Won't cost me anything!"

There's really no answer to that is there?

Anyway as I write, the rain continues after cancelling yet another moth night but last Friday the WuFuV's dodged the rain (well mostly dodged the rain) to carry out another of our Heathland Project Surveys, this time led by Margaret, which necessitated several of us having to remind Steve that this was led by Margaret! In fact at one point we had to stuff an Elephant Hawkmoth in his mouth and cover his head with a net!

We know how to treat persistent offenders!

It was an excellent day out - always good fun and we managed to not only survey the areas in the remit but had time left over to amble and bimble through Fletcher's Meadow - a place often talked about yet seldom found - you have to enter through a secret doorway midst the hazel and hawthorn - there's even a man stands the other side with a funny handshake and a wheelbarrow made of stone

On leaving the site a lady with a flat-pack bottle of milk counts everyone out, no-one is allowed to stay for more than an hour. It's a very secret place and I doubt that anyone who was there that day will ever be able to find it again. Great mystery surrounds it still.

Even attempting to disguise yourself doesn't help...

There must be something in the water!

We managed to ID all the micro-moths on site which must have been a first - Keith and I usually end up with pockets full of them to ID (or attempt to) later. Spiderman Nigel had committed himself to not looking at spiders for the whole day as he didn't want his backlog of 125 to build anymore so he only took 23 away today!

Although the heathland areas we surveyed proved to be virtually non-existent as heathland areas it was nonetheless an excellent day out between the showers.

And if you see a lady on the bus struggling with 2 dozen jerry cans don't apprehend her - she could be dangerous!

Paul Watts