28 Sep 2013

It’s All Over... by Keith Fowler

Yes, after 6 months and more of weekly Invertebrately Challenged Tetrad perambulations the sequence was brought to an end last Wednesday in the welcoming confines of the Bridges Inn.

I would like to thank Margaret, Stephen, Jim, Nigel, Gwyn, Sue, Amanda, David, Brian, Les, Liz, Godfrey, Yusef and Paul (have I forgotten anyone? – if I have, sorry and thank you!) who have joined me providing their time, spotting abilities, identification skills and petrol to the overall effort. Thank you to all who have provided photographs to provide the main interest. 

And so to catch up on our activities...

Firstly, I understated the results of the trip to Broseley (which I missed). It was a brilliant – 11, was ELEVEN, shieldbugs and allies – easily the record for the series – well done everyone. There were even 8-legged beasts to interest our Arachnologist, who has now added Harvestmen identification to his skill set.

Secondly, an apology to our fitness guru. I stated that we walked a record two miles at Little Wenlock – in fact we walked three!!! I feel fitter just thinking about it.

Chestnut Coppice
Once again we were joined by the County micromoth recorder, so once again our interest in this species family was inflamed. Lots of inspection of leaves for mines, pupae, larva, and lots of head scratching when we found them.

Chestnut Coppice is on the banks of the River Severn above Bridgnorth. Fortunately, although the access road was narrow, there was an area where four or five cars could park close to the bridle path that we intended to follow. As always we inspected the area around the parked cars and lo and behold a Hawthorn shieldbug was found on Hawthorn. Those of you who have searched for these bugs will know many seemed to be named after the plant with which they are associated. But, very frequently they turn up elsewhere and the associated plant is bugless.

We eventually traversed the 200 yards or so to the coppice which not surprisingly contains a lot of Sweet chestnut as well as conifers and other broadleaved trees. There are a couple of paths that lead to the disused Buildwas – Bridgnorth railway line and beyond that to the banks of the River Severn.

After elevenses (and lunch for some) in the coppice we made our way slowly (as always) to the banks of the River Severn and lunch (for those who had not already eaten theirs). We ambled along for a while travelling north admiring the Himalayan Balsam and Japanese knotweed, scaling rickety stiles and trying to avoid losing boots in the mud. We looked for invertebrates but did not find much variety of species. Then time caught up with us so we returned to the cars determinedly but with the occasional tap or sweep just to keep our eye in. It was on one of these late speculative taps that we uncovered an Eighteen-spot ladybird.

Little Hill and White Cottage Coppice
"According to the new hoverfly book Callicera rufa has a second peak in September, so let’s go and see if it’s there.” Suggested one of the group. So we did and it wasn’t. 

It was a bit cloudy and windy so, maybe, it was keeping out of the way, or, more likely it had done its job of producing the next generation and gone the way of most satisfied insects.

For those of you wondering what on earth I am writing about – Callicera rufa is a Nationally Scarce hoverfly that is normally found in the Caledonian Pine Forests of northern Scotland. For some reason it has popped up south of the border with single records in Nottinghamshire and Bedfordshire, but it seems to be breeding successfully on top of Little Hill, where it has been present for at least three years, and probably, Haughmond Hill.

As we did not see it on the day here is a picture I took earlier in the year.

Despite the disappointment of our failure to find the hoverfly we had a wonderful time collecting fungus much to the delight of our Mycologist. Normally when he joins us there are none to be found but this day proved highly rewarding as well as providing some food for his table.

As for insects, we had some interesting finds, including a cabbage white larva that had been parasitized by a Braconid wasp and Little Hill was alive with Sloe/Hairy shieldbugs but finding any in our target tetrad for the day (White Cottage Coppice) was more taxing. Eventually we did find a Green shieldbug so we returned home satisfied.

Our last trip was to the north west end of the Long Mynd. We set off in fog and rain but by the time we arrived at Bridges the fog had lifted, the rain had stopped and the clouds were lifting.

We were greeted by the sight of a Dipper in the stream by the car park. This was balanced by a not so good sight in the same stream later – but more of that later.

Our search of the car park yielded a beautifully marked Herald moth but, for once, no shieldbugs – the pressure was on.

We wandered along the Shropshire Way, which at this point is the road, tapping away at the verge and hedge but to no avail. A lady from the YHA chatted to us and gave us permission to check out her garden – no shieldbugs – the pressure was increasing – we could not, must not finish with a blank.

The Shropshire Way left the road and headed across a pasture and wood with a stream running through them but still no shieldbugs. Did I mention pressure?

The sun came out so we found a spot for lunch and, hey presto, the last beat before eating produced a shieldbug, and not just any old shield bug, but a very handsome, shiny Blue shieldbug. No pressure.

After lunch we raced through more woodland which was rather bleak (from an invertebrate point of view but would have been of interest to our Mycologist had he been present.

As the woodland took us into a second shieldbugless tetrad the hunt was on again. Fortunately a Bronze shieldbug turned up quite early. But we found no more despite attacking large numbers of Nettle clumps (ow!) grass tufts, Hawthorn and Gorse bushes.

We returned to the car park at the Bridges Inn which had a sign at the entrance inviting us to park there whilst we walked and suggesting that we may also like to enjoy a pint in the bar afterwards – so we did.

But that is not the end of this tale. Refreshed and with the sun shining we wandered over to the stream. Whilst staring into the water thinking deep thoughts as one does after a pint we noticed movement in the water – crayfish. Unfortunately not our own but the Signal crayfish, introduced from North America in the 1970s to provide an additional source of income for farmers. Unfortunately some escaped and established populations in our rivers and lakes. Even more unfortunately they carry a disease which is having catastrophic effects on our native crayfish.

Apparently they are very tasty.

We returned home. 

---   The End   ---

Keith Fowler

Well not quite...

Next Year
I hope we can do something similar next year. The Shropshire atlases will have been or will be well on their way to completion, so we have no externally determined target species. So we will need a theme (other than just enjoying a day out – but perhaps there is nothing wrong in that as a theme!). Does anyone have any suggestions? Does anyone else want to facilitate the perambulations? Is Wednesday the best day? Etc.? Let me know your thoughts.

And really finally ...

A competition

What is he doing? 

9 Sep 2013

Raining shieldbugs by Keith Fowler

The year is progressing. All the shieldbugs that we could not find earlier in the year have produced offspring which are now maturing and allowing themselves to be found by our intrepid searchers. Soon their thoughts will be turning to overwintering and repeating the cycle next year. Hopefully by then the Shropshire shieldbug atlas will be well on the way to publication.

Since my last posting there have been three further forays into deepest Shropshire continuing our hunt for invertebrates.

The first of the three trips was to Tasley on the north west outskirts of Bridgnorth visiting Trinity Wood, the imaginatively named Brick Kiln plantation and a neighbouring field. This area covered two shieldbugless tetrads. The weather was sunny and hot (in contrast to the weather at the moment which is wet and cold). Trinity Wood is a recent plantation with a mixture of broadleaved trees clearings and wide pathways. Brick Kiln plantation is mature woodland. The field seems to have been left to grow whatever seeds were lying in the soil.

After months of trips finding the odd shieldbug we were overwhelmed. It seemed that every sweep or beat of the vegetation produced at least one shieldbug, perhaps this is where most of the Shropshire bugs had been hiding. We recorded 9, yes nine, species of shieldbug and allies. As this was a remarkable achievement for this group I am going to list them:

Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale
    Hawthorn shieldbug
Coreus marginatus    Dock bug
Corizus hyoscyami   
Dolycoris baccarum    Hairy/Sloe shieldbug
Elasmostethus interstinctus    Birch shieldbug
Elasmucha grisea    Parent shieldbug
Eysarcoris venustissimus    Woundwort shieldbug
Palomena prasina    Green shieldbug
Troilus luridus    Bronze shieldbug

However the find of the day was a beautiful cranefly (yes such things do exist) Pedicia rivosa.

This is one of the largest craneflies we have and it has wonderfully patterned wings and abdomen as I hope you will appreciate from the photograph.

Overall we added 93 invertebrate records to the Shropshire database. All that remained was to pose for the group photograph. Unfortunately the photographer was not quick enough to get into the picture!

I did not go to Broseley as I was on holiday and my wife would have been very upset had I popped back for the day. Shame as by all accounts it continued to rain shield bugs. The site visited was a patch of private land that had been turned into a nature reserve and was now looked after by a Friends Group. I had visited the site earlier in the year and found... you guessed it, NO shieldbugs. But in my absence the group did a wonderful job, perhaps I should go away more often.

I was on my best behaviour whilst away, no pots, no nets, no reference books but insects had a way of finding me. This turned up on my fleece in the middle of a busy pedestrian area in Vienna. I am not familiar with species found on the continent but it looks a bit like a Western conifer seed bug.

And joining us on a car we hired was what looked like a Pied shieldbug but is probably Rambur’s pied shieldbug which has only recently appeared in Britain in Kent.

So as I have no more to say about Broseley here are a few more pictures of as yet unidentified insects in Austria and the Czech Republic.

Wenlock Edge
Our latest trip was a return to Wenlock Edge where on our first trip we found a Hawthorn shieldbug within a few minutes of leaving the car park but no more. Unfortunately this record was not in our target tetrad so we returned for a further try.

The weather was fine but being on top of the Edge a little breezy. However our optimism was raised as we found three species of shieldbugs on the way to the recordless tetrad. But was our optimism going to be dashed?

We took elevenses before we had entered our target area; and as I was still on Central European Time I had lunch. This proved to be catching as I noticed one other person tucking into his sandwiches.

Refreshed we quickly entered the shieldbugly challenged tetrad. Beat, sweep, look, sweep, search, beat ... were we to be denied again? Of course not. Although we did not find a lot of bugs we did locate five species.

At the end of the day our resident keep-fit expert told us that we had walked a record 2 miles in the 5 hours we were out. So, shieldbugs, over one hundred invertebrate records and improved fitness, what more could we want? Well we did not find any longhorn beetles and micromoths were few and far between – ah well, you can’t have everything.

Keith Fowler