24 Nov 2013

Moth Night at Coalmoor

Welcome to the first post by a new contributor and one of the most consistent members of the Wrekin Forest Volunteers in recent years - Margaret Mitchell - who, with husband Stephen, form that formidable couple endearingly known as The Bicker Twins!

So... over to you Marg...

July 5th, 2013

The weather was warm and still with wispy clouds, good conditions for a busy ‘mothing.’

We arrived at the site by 8.30 pm with plenty of time to set up our moth traps.  On previous occasions access had only been to the old coal-washing site of two small lagoons with sunny banks, fringed by surrounding trees.  But this time we were also able to explore the restored landfill site.  It was very atmospheric, if not a little scary to pass the vent where the escaping gas was being burnt, later to be seen as a deep blue plume against the night sky.  As we walked up the stony track it was strange to feel the heat emanating from the ground, warming our cheeks.

The hillside was awash with colour from wild flowers.  These included birds’ foot trefoil, buttercups, self heal, tufted vetch, common spotted orchids and most special of all, bee orchids.

Bee orchid
Photo by David Williams

The night’s catch proved to be the best this year so far.  The daytime temperature had been in the high twenties and did not fall below 14C until midnight.  There were many ‘firsts’ for this season, such as the spectacular Drinker moth. - a rich chestnut brown with a hugely thick body, a very feisty moth doing a whirling Dervish impression at the bottom of the trap.

The Drinker
Photo by Stephen Mitchell

Other highlights were Peach Blossoms with their distinct markings of cream and brown circles.  Many moths have such intriguing names conjuring up delightful mental pictures.  Pale Emerald, Brimstone Moth, Beautiful Hook-tip, Dusky Brocade and Beautiful Golden Y were all caught.

Between 11 and 12 o’clock we had over 40 moths across 30 species in one trap alone (four traps operating in all) and we were reluctant to pack away and leave this very special and remote location, impatient to visit again in what is now proving to be a great summer for British moths.

Margaret Mitchell
Wrekin Forest Volunteers


6 Nov 2013

Death's-head Hawkmoth

It's always exciting when an unusual record of any sort pops up and October 31st saw one of the greatest finds in the Shropshire moth world for many a year! 

A live Death's-head Hawkmoth was discovered at the Telford Ricoh plant and later formally verified by Tony Jacques who recognised it instantly as a female. It now resides at Jacques Towers where it has since given birth to a handful of eggs. Time will shortly tell whether these are fertile or not and whether we will eventually hear the patter of tiny caterpillar feet. I popped over to Tony's yesterday to take a couple of pics - it's a bit of a beast (the moth not Tony!)!

And these are a few of the eggs laid which Tony is nurturing and keeping a very close eye on... 

The Death's-head Hawkmoth is the largest moth to appear in Britain with a wingspan up to 130mm. It's a migrant that can't survive our winter and may have arrived here on the winds heading this way from southern Europe - Tony is doing some research on weather patterns around the date it was found.

The moth is rarely found in Shropshire - the previous record was September 2006 at Ellesmere and according to records I hold, there have only been 84 records since 1895, so it's a bit special.

Well done to the crew at Ricoh!

Paul Watts

1 Nov 2013

Grimpo Nature Notes – November 2013 by Pete Lambert

He had heard the soft whoomp of the impact against the rear window and when I returned I found the stunned victim head down in a crack in the concrete. The wren was still dazed but alive, just.  Its fine clawed feet clung to my fingers and palm and I gently cupped it in my hands to prevent it falling whilst it recovered composure. We had an extended moment to admire the incredibly fine beak which is used to pick off small insects to sustain its eager and busy lifestyle. It stubby, cocked tail was laid crookedly across its chestnut back but steadily straightened as strength returned. We decided to pop the bird on the bird table but by now it seemed to like hanging onto our fingers, then suddenly a flurry of wing-beats and gone. As a child I remember being given a farthing with the image of a wren on the reverse, but why the wren. A little reading reveals that for over 2000 years the wren has featured in myth and legend. St. Stephen’s day [26th December] was and is notably celebrated by a Wren hunt particularly in Ireland and the Isle of Man. Live or dead wrens are the centre of elaborate rituals with songs and costumes. Over the latter part of the twentieth century the wren cult has declined though the plucky, and at times loud, bird has not, being found commonly in deep hedges and shrubs all over the UK. 

Like the most dynamic inch-worm ever the Stoat looped pell-mell across the Rednal Straight. Lithe, quick and aggressive, stoats eat voles and other small mammals. Stoats have slim bodies, chestnut brown above and white beneath, with a characteristic black tip to the tail.  

They nest in burrows or tree root tangles. Stoats remain widespread despite persecution including at times hunting with dogs. Young stoats stick together in playful groups and eventually disperse to take up their own hunting territories. Stoats can catch and kill rabbits despatching the victim with a deadly bite to the neck.  This attractive member of the mustelid family which includes weasels, tracks by scent and once on the trail is relentless and invariably successful. A stoat territory is about 50 acres [20 hectares] and having seen stoat like animals crossing in the same location over the years it is a fair chance that the territory bounds are drawn by the canal and include the mix of fields, hedges and wet woodland to the south.  In the north during the winter the stoats coat will turn white bar the tail which remains white. Less often now this white coat or ermine was used for ceremonial robes. I prefer my ermine alive and looping rapidly for cover. 

A slow seamless lowering of temperatures, shortened sunlight hours and a deciduous downfall of redundant leaves has softly marked the transition of the season. The garden feeding station has gradually grown busier and lights puncture the hedges as the foliage departs ground-ward. Brilliant Autumn light took   us out to take in a stunning view above Trevor taking in the Pontscyllte aqueduct, Dee crossing , north Shropshire plain and there far away on a smudged horizon The Wrekin. A short trek took us across rough upland moor , spikes of seed laden thistle were being raided by a 30 strong flock of goldfinches. Goldfinches have the most striking of colours, a tricolour face of scarlet, white and black, is set off by the golden flash on its wing. The collective noun for a flock of Goldfinches is a ‘charm’, a sixteenth century derivation from the meaning of charm as a ‘blended noise’. Certainly our whirling ‘charm’ was noisy enough. The bold colouring is reflected in some of the Shropshire names given, such as King Harry redcap or Spotted Dick.  Thistle, teasel and other tall seed heavy plants of neglected places are favoured by the goldfinch, a lover then of untidiness and I imagine staying our tidying impulse in garden and wider countryside will bring us with luck our own ‘charm’.

Wrap up now and head out for you own wildlife encounters, best wishes, Pete.