26 Apr 2013

Where are all the Shieldbugs? Keith Fowler

This is a question we ask ourselves each week as we venture out on Invertebrately Challenged Tetrad meanders. So far we have found two shieldbugs in five trips. “Is it worth the effort?” you may ask.

Last year the challenge concentrated on the tetrads around Telford that had the fewest invertebrate records. This year we are concentrating on supporting record collection for the proposed Shropshire Atlases for “Shieldbugs and allies”, “Micro-moths”, “Longhorned beetles” and “Bees, Wasps and Ants”. We are targeting tetrads in the region that have no or few records for these groups.

We started at Venus Pools. No shieldbugs here but we did find the Broom psyllid Arytaina genistae (see: http://www.britishbugs.org.uk/homoptera/Psylloidea/Arytaina_genistae.html) that does not appear to be have been recorded in Shropshire before. So a promising start, all we needed now ere the target species.

Our second trip was to Timlet Bridge on a fairly warm day at the start of April. We ambled along the bridle path searching sweeping and beating the vegetation as we went. We did find our first shieldbug (Hawthorn) tucked up in the Bramble and a flock of 100+ Fieldfare.

Flushed with success our next trip was to Broseley. Again the weather was fine but it was not very warm. Unfortunately there were very few invertebrates around so we amused ourselves by recording the birds and flowers making the very significant find of Taraxacum officinale agg. (Dandelion!).

The following adventure was down the Severn Way from Coalport. This is in a Wildlife Site so we expected great results. But again the Invertebrates let us down. Still, a nice walk in pleasant surroundings.

The latest instalment was to the Wenlock Edge to the east of the Harley road from Much Wenlock. We set off confident of shieldbug finds. And we found one within 10 minutes. A Hawthorn shieldbug beaten from Holly (well you did not expect it to be on Hawthorn did you?). That find cursed us for the rest of the day as we found no sign of any others. We did find a couple of micro- moths (Agonopterix arenalla and Eriocrania sp.) and a cranefly (Symplecta stictica) and a few ladybirds (2-spot, 7-spot, 10-spot and 14-spot) . We lunched overlooking magnificent views from the Edge and watched a group of 6 deer make their way across the fields.

So has it been worth the effort? The answer is “Of course it has”. Nice walks, pleasant surroundings and good company. What more could you want (except a few shieldbugs etc.). Come and join us. There are walks most Wednesdays throughout the spring and summer.

Some people search ....


others look ....

.... whilst the rest look on.

Post from WFV Member Keith Fowler

19 Apr 2013

The Wrekin Forest Volunteers go Kick Sampling by Nigel Cane-Honeysett

A valiant band of would be kick samplers comprising members of the WFV along with some SGCT volunteers,  a local resident and a mature (so he claims) student congregated at the Sambrook Centre in Stirchley clad in various rubbery items of clothing.  Oblivious to the stares of other folk who probably thought it was a convention for fetishists we signed the volunteers form and the risk assessment (at least that’s what Matt said they were !) and trooped out to the Land Rover to get kitted up. 

We donned yet more rubberware (gloves) and decided to split into two groups and when Steve said “I know where those dots on the map are.” the other WFV members joined his gang and set off. 

“Don’t we want some buckets and trays and spoons and bowls and dip trays and nets and other stuff” I said.  Sheepishly they returned to the Land Rover and collected said necessary equipment.  Rather like the Famous Five but under the pseudonyms of Penny, Margaret, Liz, Steve and Nigel we set off again.

Steve got rather excited on seeing a drain cover (!) and we fully expected him to disappear down it and pop up half a mile away smelling of.....roses ?
We finally reached the furthest sampling point and Steve said “It looks like it’s got a soggy bottom so it’s probably a waders job”. All eyes turned to me as I was the only one with waders and a history of having a soggy bottom – having sat on my stool on a previous outing after a dip tray had mysteriously leaked all over it. I duly stepped into the shallow water and promptly sank up to my knees in ooze the water lapping gently half way up my thighs and threatening to provide another soggy bottom.

As I moved into the centre of the brook a large number of bubbles rose to the surface and, upon bursting, released a noxious effluvium of Hydrogen sulphide and Methane. We decided to ask Matt to add “Possible presence of dangerous gases” to his risk assessment to which the amelioration appears to be, judging by the actions of my colleagues on the bank, bravely running away whilst chortling !

After a 20sec riverdance (which turned out a bit like slow motion alternate legged pogo-ing) I overcame the suction of the swamp and finally got some ooze into the tray whereupon we desperately started to look for signs of life. Liz spotted a 2mm diameter water mite and we thought that was it but then found, to our surprise a caseless caddis. Moving upstream a bit to where there was sparse vegetation I varied the technique and let one leg sink ever deeper into the ooze whilst trying to skim the silt at the top with the other; quite balletic in comparison to my previous efforts. Better results were obtained so, for the third 20sec burst I moved further upstream into the abundant and appropriately named Fool’s Watercress and decided it wasn’t so deeeeeeeeeep – (it was). Whilst everyone clustered around the tray perched upon my portable folding picnic table (it will never be the same again) armed with plastic spoons and a tea strainer, that Penny produced with a flourish, I “swept” the water trying not to disturb the sediment. Lo! The bucket into which I emptied the net was teeming with small cased caddis which had all made their cases out of pieces of Fool’s Watercress stems. It seems that the aquatic life in this part of the brook shuns an oozy existence and, sensibly, inhabits the actual watery bits. We also found a mystery creature which, after much debate, we finally decided was a kind of water louse (but not the common hoglouse) - but more of this anon.

Deciding that we had spent more than enough time on one sample we collected all the gear intending to head off for the “onion” picnic area for lunch but Steve said “We’ve only got two blue spoons”.  So Margaret and I pushed through the hawthorns and quartered the muddy banks until Steve said “Mind you, I think we only had two to start with “. Margaret and I said nothing but, for some reason an illustration from The House at Pooh Corner sprang into my mind:-

Matt had said that the next sampling point was marked by a yellow spot on a tree. Well, on the way to the picnic area, we found a red spot on a tree and agreed that when Matt says yellow he really means red (or blue, or green etc.). Sitting in pleasant sunshine eating our lunches, supplemented by biscuits from Liz (chocolate fingers no less), we saw a buzzard on the ground apparently feeding but we were not close enough to make out on what. A peacock (we think) butterfly fluttered by and sundry warblers warbled. We also saw some geese !

Returning to the red yellow spot it was Margaret’s turn to sample the stream where there was a much more stable bed to the stream. A good collection of aquatic creatures was decanted into the tray including the largest number of stonefly larvae we have yet encountered – a good sign. At one point Margaret complained of backache so Steve advised a better posture so Margaret said she couldn’t adopt that posture because so .........bicker, bicker, all was well with the world.

Just before we left, Penny skilfully intercepted a Hairy shield bug by sitting in its path and the rest of us expressed our frustration that we’d been actively looking for shield bugs for weeks without finding so much as an instar and all Penny had to do was just be there for it.

We packed up again and moved out – well all bar Liz who was trying to photograph the shield bug. I hung back to bridge the gap between her and the rest of the gang who knew where we were supposed to be going. “Come on Lizzie”. Eventually she caught up and we arrived at the next sampling point.  As Steve performed the ritual wellie dance it began to rain but we didn’t care !
Amongst the creatures in the tray this time were two fishes. Someone muttered something about five loaves and I waited for the thunderbolt.  Also in the tray was another mystery “water louse” and a water cricket which caused much excitement.

The rain stopped as abruptly as it had started and we wended our way to the next sampling point hoping that the other group had got there first as it was getting a bit late for a day’s WFVing.

Sure enough there they were with a great collection of aquatic creatures (but no shield bugs !) including three(!) water scorpions and a red and a green leech. It was decided that the red leech was red because it had just had a meal of blood and the green leach was just jealous!

We returned to the Land Rover and agreed, yet again, that there are very few better ways of spending a day than mucking about in the water with good friends.

The sessions are not just for those who did the training a while back but are open to all WFV & SGCT as well as local residents so why not come along to the next one on 10th May – details in the WFV diary.

Oh and that water lousey thing – we now believe it is the aquatic larva of a terrestrial beetle Helodes minuta.

See  http://www.biopix.dk/helodes-minuta_photo-51959.aspx



8 Apr 2013

Nature Notes - April 2013 - Pete Lambert

I had leapt with legs virtually straight out, welly clad they entered the soft silt of the bank like fingers into baggy old gloves.  Unbalanced and leaning backwards the horror of my situation began to grow on me, I made futile pawing attempts to grab the soft mud and haul myself onto the firm grass above but in doing so the suction on my boots increased and with balletic grace I flopped sideways into the water filled ditch. Gloopy noises at my feet indicated I had now lost both wellies to the smelly maw of the mud. Trying to laugh my way out of the situation helped as I rolled and floundered to final safety clinging to the barbed wire ahead.  Not only was I wet, the ditch had been for weeks the scene of untreated sewage pollution and the temperature was well below freezing. Cold and smelly I returned quickly home where I had left less than an hour earlier intent on a long day out!

On my staggering return to the car I spied a bold Goldcrest in a wet woodland, all part of a busy chorus of pre-breeding resident birds.

Later in a new set of clothes I flushed a large flock of fieldfares out of a copse, not many weeks left before they leave again having enjoyed our milder winter.

A few days later exploring another ditch, this time from the banks, I spotted my first Lesser celandine in flower. This yellow buttercup like plant with its heart shaped leaves grows in profusion on the damp floors of wet woodlands. Uncurling on drier ground I observed the green stalks of the Dogs mercury, an ancient woodland indicator plant like wood sorrel and when in its native variety, the bluebell. Along the A5 I had bagged my first primroses, a plant in sore decline being much favoured by wild plant collectors. The loss of our primrose from the hedges of the UK is such as shame as they are so cheap in garden centres and also cultivated varieties come in such wonderful colour combinations.  A particular colour that I not seen yet this Spring is the sulphur yellow of the Brimstone butterfly. The over-wintering adults are the first to emerge from their winter roosts tucked behind ivy bindings or a clematis tangle. Large and bright they are easy to recognise and a sure sign of winters end.

I had been meeting a group of students on the floodlands near Melverley when I had been overflown by a 20 strong flock of lapwing. For now as the flood pools recede the adult waders can fill up on tender morsels winkled out from the soft mud. Later the young will need mixed ground to thrive but last year the flood prone lowland nesting sites were inundated during the breeding periods and many clutches were lost. Let’s hope that a more favourable year lies ahead.  A grey wagtail followed the hollow of the running brook, its bobbing flight interrupted by occasional stops to flick its tail and feed. I had been following the Weirbrook just after it had passed under the A5. At this time of the year the aquatic plants had not obscured the softly sorted gravels and sands on the brook bed, home to aquatic invertebrates like freshwater shrimp and caddis fly.

At home I washed off my boots and then turned the hose on my muddy trousers from my earlier misadventure. Two rooks busied themselves reaching through the wire of the chicken run to feed on the spilled seed, the bantams keeping a wary distance from these heavier, bolder birds. The turned soil of the veg plot adding to the sense of an end of winter, though the spindrift late snow was teasingly keeping my daydreams of sunny warmth in check.

Pete Lambert