30 Jun 2013

The Hem - Keith Fowler

After a week off ICT meanders, moonlighting on Long Mynd, with the usual results – no Shieldbugs, normal service was resumed when we visited an ancient woodland in Telford called the Hem. The wood, situated on the edge of Halesfield, is owned by the council but they have recently agreed to it being managed by our friend and occasional colleague Mark Ecclestone.

Mark has started a coppicing cycle and is removing the wood for firewood and the other items that he likes to produce. And as Mark extended his hospitality to us I think it only fair that I give his website a plug – www.picsandsticks.co.uk.

Anyone who has visited Halesfield will know that it is a bit of a rabbit warren so we met Mark at one of the landmarks – the Recycling Centre. He gave us instructions of how to get to the car park. The instructions seemed straightforward – “follow the road left then right then take the third left into the car park” ... or so it seemed. We were in three cars and each of the cars ended up in a different car park. Eventually we all met up at the correct spot and headed for the wood.

Our host has built a woodman’s camp and the comforts it provided made us act like children in a sweet shop, we could not keep away. Any excuse and we were there lounging on the seats and logs. We had elevenses, lunch, early afternoon tea and somehow we were unable to identify any insect without resorting to its comforts.

We did explore the wood and found no shieldbugs but we did find lots of other things including three species of long-horn beetles, several micro-moths and lots of craneflies in addition to macro moths, beetles, spiders and bugs. On the downside we also suffered attacks by insect repellent resistant mosquitos.

We did explore the wood and found no shieldbugs but we did find lots of other things including three species of long-horn beetles, several micro-moths and lots of craneflies in addition to macro moths, beetles, spiders and bugs. On the downside we also suffered attacks by insect repellent resistant mosquitos.

Our star find was a huge long-horn beetle Stenocorus meridianus which had us staring at identification books for a while. Eventually, with some outside help, we were able to settle on what it was. The other long-horn beetles were the distinctively and aptly named Wasp beetle (Clytus arietus) and the commoner Gramoptera ruficornis, which can usually, but not always, be dislodged from Hawthorn.

Stencorus meridianus 

We eventually tore ourselves away from the comforts of the Hem, thanked our host for allowing us to visit and went home.

Keith Fowler

5 Jun 2013

Nature Notes – June 2013 by Pete Lambert

Most peculiar, I had hoped to enjoy the blousy froth of the blackthorn in flower but the usual patterns of spring had been disrupted. Before I knew it the sparrow colony had invaded the broken peg -mouthed brickwork of the barn, swallows were swooping up into the purlins and rafters of the open stable [the washing moved to avoid the pelting droppings!] and a raucous wren had set up a protective perimeter by the back steps.  In the field next door a skylark, as if filled with helium, rose and sprayed out its joyous song.  Weeks of dry days had slowed the breaking of the buds but the recent blustery days triggered the final arrival of the soft foliage of early summer.

The rocky amphitheatre captured the strange cry and had my head turning in all directions as I sought out its source. Directly above me one of the pair of Peregrines headed into toward the rocky ledge, another adult wheeled slowly out above the treeline. I could not make out whether they had chicks, but possibly it was too early. Peregrine falcons have been making a slow return to the West Midlands, at a rate of about a pair every two years. These high speed raptors favour craggy ledges and in our region these tend to be disused quarries. Sadly this iconic bird is still persecuted and I must be circumspect in my description and just share my pleasure and surprise in the encounter.

In search of an unusual tea and bun stop we cycled out of Wem and circled alongside the Sleap Brook towards the Aerodrome control tower cafĂ©.  The loping gait and dark tipped ears of the hare are so distinctive; this one had just crossed the lane ahead of us. The bulging staring eyes of the hare are set on the sides of its head so its field of vision is nearly 360 degrees, it ran straight down a furrow, pausing occasionally to size us up, but given the hare can run at up to 35 mph we were no real threat. The once common Brown hare has been in steady decline for many years, intensified farming leaves little food, pesticides poison leverets and some are killed during mowing for silage. The adult hare can elude and out run nearly all predators, so it sounds like it’s up to us to do the rest to conserve this king of the open country.

Aren’t the young vulnerable, loose limbed, uncertain and skittish. The Fox cub had been running up the lane and we had expected that they would veer away and take cover in the woods alongside the lane. Instead of this the youngster kept just ahead of the car, stopping occasionally to look at us and then run on, finally we found a driveway and we could pass this callow youth. We met him again on the way home and repeated the chase, this time downhill; we hoped their road safety skills improved rapidly. A short while later we spotted an adult fox, more assured, cannier and gone to cover in moments.  For some, parents are close by and periods of anxiety have a happy ending. The four ducklings were strung out in convoy, the lead chick making a piping call to keep the pace up and signal the clutches discomfort. I watched as they paddled past, the steady metronome call keeping the group steady, the tail-end Charlie seemed to lose steam and the little flotilla whirled in disarray, at this point the alarm call was finally answered. A female mallard splashed onto the canal surface and with a few nudges corralled her charges to safety.

Finally, a few woodland walks were well timed to capture the peak of the dog violet flowering, the glades and open paths at Llanmynech being particularly rewarding. Climbing higher on a trip to the Brieddens I stumbled into the breeding territory of a summer visitor. The open oak woodlands just below the heathland clad summit are the favoured spot for the Pied flycatcher, the male met me on the path and then again as I left their patch. This striking black and white bird has flown from Saharan Africa to nest in our steep western oaklands, its breeding season is short, it relies on the abundant insect life on the bark, leaves and stems of the trees, let’s hope the peculiar timing of our Spring will be in this nomadic  birds favour.

Happy wildlife spotting,

Pete Lambert