31 Aug 2013

Grimpo Nature Notes – September 2013 by Pete Lambert

Now that’s better, sun, occasional showers and a full month of moths. For the last month I have been recording the night time flutterers who have bumbled through the kitchen window to crash against the ceiling lights. A creamy, large, Swallowtailed moth, a member of the Geometer family of Lepidoptera order was my first confidently named visitor.  Geometer moths are rather flimsy and settle with their wings held flat, which helped me get a good view of the distinctive wing shape that gives the moth its common name. Moths and butterflies are an artificial separation of a large group of winged invertebrates, of which approximately 2500 species can be found in the UK, composed of numerous family groups.  Identifying moths and butterflies can in many cases be quite straightforward when tackling larger and more colourful individuals, though many of the smaller micro-moths are quite, if not very, challenging.  We live in an area that includes a network of hedgerows, damp grasslands, rough vegetated corners and not so many miles away, open country. My moth list reflected these habitat preferences and helped me understand more about the various families energised by the warm damp evenings.

Accompanying the Swallowtailed moth a further two Geometer moths were encountered in the kitchen, the Shaded Broad Bar, a lover of grassy places and a Bloodvein, the vein running across both upper wings, in this case more purple than pink.  A single Hawkmoth let itself into our middle son’s bedroom, was adopted and christened Reginald, but sadly expired before the week was out. Hawkmoths are stout and generally fast flying; our Reginald was an Elephant Hawkmoth, so called because the caterpillar has a trunk like snout, which if alarmed it sways menacingly to and fro. Reginald like the other members of his family was brightly coloured and large, though not the largest of his kind, this honour is reserved for the Deaths Head Hawkmoth, a summer visitor mainly to the south.  Numerous Footman moths busied themselves in the downstairs rooms, Common and Dingy Footman, the first a denizen of our local hedgerows and the second favouring wet woodland. Neat powder grey with pale yellow trim, I like the Common Footman, rescuing one from the bath last night I had a closer look at this tidy moth, admiring the way its elliptical wings lay flat over its back.

By far the largest family to send representatives to the house were the Noctuid moths, stout, cryptically coloured, wings held roof wise, and busy. The Antler, Great Brocade, Silver Y seem to be off piste from their favoured open country, though the Snout, Dot and Grey Dagger are more comfortably in reach of nettles, cultivation and hawthorn hedges.  Moths acquire their common names occasionally through obvious markings, antler shapes on the Antler moth, dagger patterns on the Grey Dagger and a silver Y on the Silver Y. How the Clay moth derived its name is obscure but I was pleased to be able to work out that it was a male from the dark, triangular patch of hairs on its underside. A couple of Underwing members of the Noctuids also turned up, the Large Yellow Underwing and the Lesser Broad Bordered Yellow Underwing.  Both have a fast erratic flight, flashing the bright yellow under-wing and then dropping to the ground to confuse and evade predators.

As the mothing month drew to a close I recorded a single Swift, this being a pretty little Orange Swift and the only Eggar moth of the period, a Drinker. The Drinker is so called because its larvae have the habit of drinking from water droplets on leaves. And finally of the eight families associated with the butterflies, a sunny day brought me Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Gatekeepers, a Red Admiral, Large and Small Whites and finally three pristine Commas, all gorgeous!

Happy wildlife watching, Pete.

19 Aug 2013

Rain, rain, go away - Keith Fowler

It is nearly two months since I last wrote about out Wednesday jaunts to try and find Shieldbugs and other invertebrates of interest. I apologise for this but I have been just a little bit busy. Fortunately a day off and a wet day have allowed me to catch up with my identifications and spend some time writing this.

I am sure you will be relieved to know that none of us seem to have suffered any long term ill-effects from the numerous mosquito bites suffered for the cause on our previous outing to the Hem.

Abbey Wood 26th June

Abbey Wood is near Lilleshall in the neighbourhood of, not surprisingly, Lilleshall Abbey; it also borders the National Sports Centre. I was chatting to an attendee at an Hemipterists’ Day and it somehow emerged that he was part owner of this wood. He agreed to try to arrange access for us to visit, which he duly did.

The first challenge was access. There is very limited parking space at the entrance to the wood. We met in Lilleshall village, transferred to a couple of cars then made our way to the wood. The first part of the journey was along a tarmacked lane but this soon petered out into a rough track. Unfortunately one of the cars became the victim of a large stone.

Having arrived we inspected the damage, kitted ourselves out for the day and tackled the next challenge – getting into the wood. In our way was a locked five-bar gate. We overcame this barrier rather well and no injuries were sustained. Hold on a minute ... one of the party has decided to return to the cars ... on his return ... oh no! he has fallen victim to the gate.

The search started well with a long-horn beetle (Stenocorus meridianus), Red-headed and Black-headed cardinal beetles in the first 20 minutes. The path was clothed in orchids. By the time lunch was taken we had found a shieldbug (hooray!), three long-horn beetles, several micro-moths and craneflies and many other insects.

After lunch we ventured further into the woods. This took us through a rather bleak section of conifer plantation before it returned to a more open broadleaved section. Unfortunately the ground flora had taken advantage of the more open aspect and chest-head high nettles forced us to retreat. On our return through the conifers we chanced upon a Red-necked footman which caused our moth experts some consternation before it adopted the classic footman pose.

At the end of the day we scaled the gate with ease and returned home very carefully.

Shawbury Heath 3rd July

We sneaked our way into the Invertebrate Challenge Bee Group’s trip. As it turned out, apart from all parking in the same place, we split up and went our separate ways only meeting once, appropriately, halfway around. For the first part of the day we were in the illustrious company of the County micro-moth recorder who decided to join us for the morning. I have never seen our group find so many micro-moths.

Shawbury Heath is a plantation with a few wide rides and a couple of large areas that have been harvested and are turning to birch scrub. It was in one of these areas that we found the star of the day, possibly the year, a Blue shieldbug nymph.

On our return we chanced across several long-horn beetles feeding on Hogweed and we were treated to a demonstration of the latest piece of essential equipment – the Sprung Tea Egg. Not just any Sprung Tea Egg but an outsize one from Dunbar. Clearly they like very strong tea in Dunbar. As the picture shows – it works.

To cap the day we met a member of the bee group who pointed out Woundwort and Parent shieldbugs to us.

Little Wenlock 10th July
It was hot. That is my abiding memory of the day. Unrelenting heat. It was even too hot for the invertebrates to come out and play. So hot that it drove us from the field and into the pub.

We followed the route of the “Benches Walk” (see http://www.littlewenlock.org/j_benchwalks/benchmap.html) from the Village Hall down to Swan Farm Pool then returned to the village via Buildwas Lane.

Most of the walk is, unfortunately, fenced in so there was very little opportunity to look for invertebrates other than along the path and lane edges. Even so we managed a reasonable collection of records and there were a couple of more open areas that were explored.

We lunched by the pool where we met an angler who was so overwhelmed by our party that he packed up and left. Whilst lunching some of the locals sneaked up on us and barred our exit. Fortunately they got bored before we did and moved on allowing us to escape to the higher ground.

Did I mention the heat? No? It was very, very, very hot. We had to walk uphill to return to the village so every opportunity to stop and sit down to admire the outstanding views was taken. On regaining the village we had a quick look around the churchyard then sought refuge from the heat in the local hostelry.

Beckbury 17th July
We said goodbye to one of our regular members to-day as she departed Shropshire for more  southern climes. Tears should have been falling from the sky but it was HOT, possibly hotter than Little Wenlock the previous week.

We had our first shieldbug within five minutes of starting. A speculative tap of some White dead-nettle producing several distinctive nymphs. We even had a longhorn beetle and micro-moth within 10 minutes. Target species achieved, another tetrad ticked off, we could have gone home, but we pressed on.

The first part of the walk took us through tall rough grassland close to the River Worfe and it provided a rich harvest of insects for us to chase, catch or miss. Two more shieldbug species quickly followed.

The grassland gave way to a field margin which provided little shelter from the sun. We made hastily for the woodland at the end of the field. We lunched. This was a mistake as the entire mosquito population of the area sensed our presence and descended upon us.

Lunch over for ourselves and uninvited guests we searched the woodland. The path through the wood brought us to a road. We had a choice – return the way we came or follow the road back to Beckbury? We chose the road – wrong choice the enclosed tarmacked road just magnified the heat. We trudged back looking forward to refreshments in the pub opposite where we had parked. Exhausted and parched we returned to the cars only to find the pub was closed. Disaster.

Plan B was implemented and we drove to Norton and wished Amanda all the best in the comfort of the Hundred House.

Granville 24th July
It was a huge surprise to find that there are no shieldbug records for the northern part of Granville so we attempted to redress the situation. This was achieved more quickly than normal as a Hawthorn shieldbug nymph was found before we left the car park.

This was to be a split visit with the first part in the northern end of the country park then to the tetrad to the south along Grange Lane.

We spent a lot of time in the clearing/picnic area between the Pump and Winding Houses. This was abuzz with insects and it had picnic tables so we could sit down to identify what we had caught – always a bonus! We spent a lot of time watching the activities of a dragonfly. Could we identify it? No. We tried looking, creeping up on it, binoculars and finally a camera. The photograph was sent to the County Recorder who identified it as a Common darter. Thank you Sue.

We transferred to the main car park and made our way to Grange Lane which runs from the country park towards Redhill. Although we found lots of insects in this area we failed to any shieldbugs.

We returned over the Western stockpile and were treated to the sight of Purple hairstreaks in the lower branches of the oaks that border the mound.

By the way it was hot.

Sutton Wood 31st July
It rained – so we stayed at home.

The Lawley 7th August

An away day to The Lawley and a three tetrad walk was our next outing. Parking at the north end of the Lawley and walking along the path at the foot of its western slope takes you through three tetrads none of which have any Shieldbug records. So the challenge was on.

Tetrad 1 – Green shieldbug nymph found in the car park. One down two to go. We also found a Mother of Pearl so that’s micro-moths done for this tetrad. We eventually left the tetrad and with nets for sweeping and trays for beating made our way into the second tetrad.

Tetrad 2 – Green shieldbug nymph located, micro-moth caught and identified: we even managed to identify a spider in the absence of our expert who was looking after his grandson (Araneus diadematus – the spider not the grandson). We lunched.

Tetrad 3 – Yet another Green shieldbug nymph was found. So we had a hat-trick of shieldbugs but were lacking species diversity – still better than none.

We returned to the car park content that we had achieved our objective, sad that we had not seen any longhorn beetles but rejoicing in the number of butterflies that were on the wing.

Sutton Wood 14th August
The Severn Gorge Countryside Trust very kindly opened up there car park for us so we were saved the long trek from the public car park in Coalport or negotiating spaces in the pub just across the bridge who were not very welcoming when approached for our previous (and abandoned) assault on Sutton Wood.

As seems to be the norm the car park provided rich pickings. Birch and Parent shieldbugs were found as well as several ladybirds and bugs. There were a mixture of shieldbug nymphs and adults, so the lifecycle is progressing. We eventually tore ourselves away from the car park and made our way along the lane at the top of the woods soon coming across a Green shieldbug nymph. So three species in the first 100 yards of our trip (or 90 minutes if you prefer).

A hornet was found chewing wood in the hedgerow. It was so engrossed in its task that it allowed us to get very close to photograph it.

We continued to explore the woodland some of which was rather dark and dingy – not good for insects but great for fungi – until it started raining, when we gave up.

So you and I are now up to date with our activities, until next week when I shall be behind again.

Keith Fowler