14 Oct 2014

Pied Flycatchers on the Ercall - 2014 by Stephen and Margaret Mitchell

In the spring of 2013 Matt Marston and the Wrekin Forest Volunteers installed 30 nest boxes donated by C J Wildlife in the Ercall Wood.  The birds soon moved in and that year a number of Blue Tits and Great Tits used the nest boxes, but no Pied Flycatchers, the target species.

However all was not lost.  On 25 April this year a pair of Pied Flycatchers were heard, and then seen, in the wood, but there was no sign of them nesting.  Eventually on 15 May four pale blue eggs were discovered in one of the nest boxes and the adults were observed nearby.  To our delight they had taken up residence.

By then 15 nest boxes were in use by Blue Tits and Great Tits at various stages of development, many with adults sitting on eggs.  One Blue Tit clutch was well advanced with 9 chicks beginning to show their wing feathers.  Another nest box had an amazing 15 eggs and a total of at least 109 eggs had been laid at that time.

Eventually 18 nest boxes were used, containing a total of 166 eggs and producing 137 fledglings: 112 Blue Tits, 17 Great Tits and 8 Pied Flycatchers.

By now the Pied Flycatchers will have migrated to West Africa for the winter, an amazing feat for a bird slightly smaller than a House Sparrow.

Hopefully they will return to the Ercall next spring.

Stephen and Margaret Mitchell

6 Oct 2014

That’s all folks - Keith Fowler

Wednesday 24th September
Our last trip of the season took us to Colemere for a walk around the mere. The trip got off to a poor start as I was late getting to the site. (I could say for reasons outside my control, but I won’t as I do not want to embarrass the offender(s).) The situation got worse. 

We were due to meet a new recruit. We waited and waited in the car park but he did not “arrive”. However, he was already there! But we somehow managed to miss each other. 

My unreserved apologies go to this gentleman. 

Perhaps someone could invent a device we carry around with us to allow us to communicate when away from the home or office; that ought to prevent such misadventures occurring.

The skies were grey and threatening as we moved into the meadow alongside the east shore of the mere. Overnight rain meant that attempts to sweep the grassland or beat trees and shrubs left one with a sodden net or a swimming pool for a tray. This rather restricted our activities lest we drowned everything we found.

There are two features in the above photograph that I need to draw your attention to. First, the dark rain-bearing cloud in the middle just above the tree line; second, the small group huddled together on the right.

The dark cloud soon headed our way and emptied its contents upon us. We beat a hasty exit from the meadow to the shelter of the woods!

Several of the group have taken an interest in spiders and harvestmen recently. They have attended courses given by the Spider Recorder and Friends and are now keen to put their new found knowledge to the test. This leads to huddles as they peer through magnifying lenses into spy-pots and consult guides and a book affectionately known as “The Magnus Opus”.

I stuck to bugs and was very pleased to find a Gorse shieldbug.

Back to the rain. From the shelter of the trees we watched in some disbelief as a couple of ladies were walking their dogs around the edge of the mere. They had at least 10 dogs; it was difficult to know for sure as they kept running about making counting difficult. It was with some relief that one of the ladies was carrying one black plastic bag.

The rain precipitated an early coffee break.

The sun came out. Insects started to take advantage of any sunlight that pieced the canopy of the woodland. 

We continued our walk around the mere through the woods to the north of the lake pausing every now and then to search for invertebrates.

It was during one of these pauses that we saw amongst the low growing rhododendron scrub the large hoverfly Sericomyia silentis.

 In the north western corner of the mere we emerged from the trees into a small sunlit meadow.

With a bench.

We lunched. 

Then we spent some time looking around the area.

During this time we found an unfortunate fly that had been stricken with a fungus. Apparently if you can identify the fly then you can probably identify the fungus. Sorry, we did not try.

We left the meadow and continued through the woodland on the western edge of the mere. We considered but rejected an alternative route through the open access land bordering the woodland as it appeared to be partly rough pasture and partly holiday homes.

The path brought us to the boat house. Here the path was bordered by a large patch of Woundwort. Generally inspecting this plant does not yield any Woundwort shieldbugs but on this occasion we found about 20 between us. What better way to finish our last walk of the season?

Well, actually, there was a better way!

To celebrate with a glass or two at The Burlton Inn.

The Future
All being well these walks will continue on a weekly basis from the beginning of April 2015 to the end of September 2015. If you cannot wait until then we will be continuing to visit Lea Quarry on the Wenlock Edge once a month and I hope (but do not promise) that there will be two or three other ad-hoc events all of which I will advertise in the usual way.

Thank you to those organisations who own or manage the land on which we have journeyed for allowing us to do what we have done.

Thank you to those of you who have contributed photographs to illuminate my musings.

Thank you to the blog master for taking the steps necessary to publish my words.

And most importantly, thank you to everyone who has come along to these events for their participation. I hope you enjoyed the locations, wildlife and company.

And finally
During this series we have accumulated over 1800 records covering more than 650 species of animals. All these records will be sent to the relevant county recorders, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, and other interested parties.

Keith Fowler

1 Oct 2014

What a nice cone-head you have - by Keith Fowler

Wednesday 17th September

The dry and warm late September weather provided an excellent accompaniment to another wonderful day at Devil’s Dingle for our penultimate walk of 2014. To my delight eight of us gathered at the gates to the site at the appointed hour despite the alternative attraction of a walk up the Wrekin with Pete Lambert of the Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

We started our meander by the corner of the eastern dam making our way along the lane that runs alongside its eastern edge. The County Orthoptera recorder had joined us and he was soon using his detector (a bat detector) to identify a Roesel’s bush-cricket. Unfortunately I could neither hear nor see it, but it was there.

I was lent a huge sweep net for the day and with one of my first sweeps of the vegetation edging the lane collected a Bishop’s Mitre. A good omen, if you believe in omens. And the omen proved to be correct as the shieldbug list was quickly bolstered with our first Gorse, Sloe (or Hairy), Dock and Green shieldbugs.

The orthopera list also grew to include a Dark bush-cricket, which I did not hear, but did see; a Meadow grasshopper and a Speckled bush-cricket. It is very unusual for us to take more than a passing interest in Orthoptera as we are not very good at identifying them and when we do it is usually a Common green grasshopper! It was good having an expert with us and his detection gadget to show us the varied delights of this order.

The vegetation bordering the lane along the side of the dam provided rich pickings and it was about coffee time when we reached its northern edge.

Orthoptera kept appearing and by lunch we had also found a Field grasshopper, a Common groundhopper, a slender groundhopper, a Common earwig (yes, earwigs are part of Orthoptera) and the curiously named Long-winged cone-head. 

What is a cone-head? Grasshoppers have short antennae, bush-crickets are superficially similar to grasshoppers but have long antennae, groundhoppers are like small grasshoppers, earwigs are ... well ... different, but what makes a cone-head? To me they look like a bush-cricket with a head in profile that is slightly more pointed.

After lunch we made our way over the less well vegetated ash mound to the western side of the site where there is a pool that feeds the western dam. Here we entertained by several Common blue damsel files and the occasional dragonfly. 

Following the edge of this pool and then the western dam we came back to the shores of the eastern dam which we followed back to the cars. On the way we encountered a Birch shieldbug and then in one last speculative sweep of some of the lusher grassland a Blue bug.

Unfortunately I have some bad news to impart. My stick (or more accurately my daughter’s stick), which has served me well and has featured in some of these reports, is no more. It has been ailing for a while following a “shortening” event a month or so ago, but it was still useable. Regrettably it is now in two bits after I stood on it whilst inspecting some Bulrushes to check for the presence of the bug Chilacis typhae. I found the bug then stepped back and ... disaster ... no more stick. Thank you for your excellent service.

Once again Devil’s Dingle had excelled. Thank you to E-on for allowing us to visit.

Keith Fowler

25 Sep 2014

Lea Quarry Spiderfest – 3 September 2014, by Margaret Mitchell

Five of us braved the Much Wenlock road works and arrived in the car park, undaunted by the cloudy, overcast conditions.  With much grumbling about the forecast being wrong, yet again, we set off on the long trek to the quarry regeneration area.  Within ten minutes, however, the sun broke through the clouds and we were soon stripping off fleeces and enjoying the warm sunshine.

We were rather enthused by the recent spider course at the Field Study Centre and without Keith to keep us in check, having decamped to sunny Spain, we spent some happy hours identifying those spiders we could, with the help of Nigel and an excellent course handout.

The first to be captured and examined, using our new spi-pots, was Zigiella atrica, a male, conspicuous by his long boxing-glove palps.  The other species that is common is Zigiella x-notata but this is found on buildings, especially near windows.

Next Brian and I caught a male Dicranopalpus remotus.  We were able to identify it from the FSC harvestman card, the key features being forked palps and also its resting position with its legs spread out side-ways in two narrow fans.  It is to be found from late summer to winter.

I next spotted a Larinionoides species, possibly Larinionoides cornutus, a common orb-weaver, normally hiding during the day in a silken retreat by its web.

Steve was next to bring a find, convinced it was a crab spider as it was running sideways. Indeed it was confirmed as a male Philodromus species, a running crab spider, although it looked nothing like the illustration on the FSC spider card!

The next find caused lots of debate and consternation.  For a time we thought it might be the harvestman Opilis saxatilis but Jim and Nigel suspected it wasn’t quite right.  Then Nigel had his ‘eureka’ moment and identified it by the pincer-like operculum on the underside. Only the Paroligolphus argrestis has this feature.  Phew!

In the late afternoon Steve and I both caught a long legged spider, Tetragnatha species. This had a very long thin abdomen and large fangs.

Nigel’s final ‘hurrah’ was a nursery web spider - Pisaura mirabilis, often seen sunbathing on nettle leaves or in the long grass.  Although in this case it was one of many vacuumed up by Nigel’s giant spider-catching machine!

We did manage to record other species such as sloe bug, dock bug and green shield bug. Also a seven spot ladybird and a pill wood louse that did its party trick of rolling up into a ball.  Jim’s sharp eyes spotted a Peacock butterfly as it sped by, and later we recorded a very fresh Red Admiral and a Small White.

Botanically the grey wilderness of the quarry is now becoming peppered with small pioneer plants.  Sweet wild strawberries are everywhere, with Eyebright, Bird’s-foot-trefoil, St. John’s-wort, Basil, Thyme, Self-heal, Carnation sedge and the small yellow Lesser hawkbit making a tapestry of colour.  The wide variety of plants bodes well for next years’ further regeneration.

Against the blue sky, buzzards flew overhead and green woodpeckers made their presence known by yaffling loudly amongst the trees.  The weather was perfect and the company good fun as usual.  The balmy atmosphere encouraged a lazy pace and a peaceful, relaxing day monitoring Lea Quarry.

Margaret Mitchell

4 Sep 2014

Pleasant surprises by Keith Fowler

Wednesday 27th August
After the recent long trips to the south and south-west of the county we were closer to home this week with a visit to Apley Woods. On this occasion we were joined by the Friends of Apley Woods who had invited us to carry out an invertebrate and botanical survey in support of their bid for Wildlife Site status.

We parked and met on Peregrine Way. As we waited for late arrivals it was clear that we had been transported to the Arctic as the cold wind howled down the road with nothing to deflect it. Once again I was forced to root out all the clothes that get abandoned in my car boot to achieve a reasonable comfort level. “It will be warmer in the woods” I was optimistically promised.
Recently a plan has been released for the development of 540 houses on the land between and behind the Maxell works that borders the wood and pool. Naturally the Friends and others are concerned and want to ensure that a suitable buffer area is left between the housing and the woods and pool to ensure minimum impact on the area. You can view the plans at <https://secure.telford.gov.uk/planning/pa-documents-plans-public.aspx?ApplicationNumber=TWC%2F2014%2F0746>. (This link works for me; I hope it does for you!)

In the prevailing overcast conditions the path through the wood was rather gloomy and not much could be disturbed but a couple of beetles were teased from their hiding place in a damp moss covered log.

The meadow area offered a much brighter prospect and so it proved keeping us richly entertained and rewarded until lunch. The meadow is mainly grass but is surrounded by rougher vegetation and trees; within it there is an area that is rich in wild flowers and another that support an ephemeral pool. In addition there are several free-standing mature oaks.

The margin provided us with sights of Dock bugs, Hawthorn shieldbugs and other insects associated with Nettles, Brambles, Docks and so on. When the sun made brief appearances hoverflies and other flies became active.

Moving on to the “wild flower” area, considering the cool weather, this was a hive of activity with plenty of hoverflies, bees and other insects.

From the wild flower area I moved on to the Oaks where I found Fagocyba carri, a yellow leafhopper, which appears not to have been recorded in the county previously. The national distribution map shows that there are currently only 26 records for this species. Although this will not reflect the latest position it does show that this bug is poorly recorded. I do not think it is rare just that recorders are put off by it being a Little Yellow Job which requires effort to identify. 

We gathered for lunch around a handily placed log at the side of the pool. Here we had Pleasant Surprise Number 1. The Friends, who had disappeared, having to attend to other matters, had provided us with cake. An excellent Ginger Shortbread. Thank you it was splendid.

Lunch over, the Friends returned and we looked at what could be found in the vegetation around the edge of the pool. As we inspected some Water mint at the pool edge a male Banded demoiselle settled on an emergent stem.

We circumnavigated the pool finding as we went a Buff ermine caterpillar amongst the Ivy clinging to a poolside tree, a cluster delightfully marked late instar Parent shieldbugs clinging to Birch leaf and an oak tree which was the attention of a number of Buff-tip caterpillars.

Having completed our tour of the pool we made our way up the edge of the meadow where we observed a sapling that had been stripped of most of its leaves by Buff-tip caterpillars.

The area of the ephemeral pool drew my attention. It contained patches Forget-me-not (but no Forget-me-not shieldbugs were evident); a Bistort and Mayweed. I swept this area and had pleasant surprise numbers two and three. The first was an Adonis ladybird, a species I had not seen this year and the red and black Rhopalid bug Corizus hyoscyami. The photograph is of the C. hyoscyami in a glass tube as it flew away when I tried to photograph it “au naturelle”!

The day drew to a close. We gathered at the steps to the meadow for a last reflection and a cup of tea and there I had pleasant surprise number four. I realised that the sun was out and it was now pleasantly warm.

I unzipped my waterproof and fleece to celebrate.

Keith Fowler

29 Aug 2014

Common as muck! By Keith Fowler

Wednesday 20th August 2014
We travelled south to the Wyre Forest to join members of Invertebrate Challenge in a search for Long-horned beetles and bugs (and anything else that took our fancy). Nine of us made the trip, easily outnumbering the members of Invertebrate Challenge. We are not crowing; it was a team effort.

Not wishing to keep you in suspense we did find two long-horned beetles. Unfortunately both were the same species Rutpela maculata; the first insect was found feeding on an umbellifer, I am not sure where the second was observed. 

That is one of our target groups ticked off, what about bugs? In all we found seven species of shieldbugs and their allies and a reasonable selection of hoppers and other bugs. The star of the day (for me) was the Tortoise bug Eurygaster testudinaria. It is not a shieldbug I have seen before. Fortunately, we had a couple of the Wyre Forest group with us who were able to confirm that they are present in the forest. 

I found two adult and one nymph. The Great Spider Catcher, who had forsaken his mega-pooter (or “Spider-Vac” as he prefers to call it) in favour of a voluminous sweep-net, then proceeded to collect several more. Later as we lunched one of the Invertebrate Challengers found a rather fetching orangey-pink teneral nymph (which nicely matched her rainproof). This species of bug is clearly as common as muck in this area. 

Another interesting find was the Wood Dor Beetle Anoplotrupes stercorosus. We stumbled across these quite frequently as they bimbled about on the short grass and bare earth of the rides. We were treated to a demonstration of how to listen to a beetle “rasping” but many of us refused to have a go fearing the beetle would find the warmth and darkness of our ears too attractive to resist.

As we lunched, in the company of a Silver-washed fritillary, a curious looking beetle was netted. It was soon identified as a member of the Silphidae which are “burying” beetles. However our beetle was a “non-burying” member of the family Oiceoptoma thoracicum which is usually found in woodland attracted by dung, carcasses and rotting fungi – clearly our sandwiches were not as fresh as we thought. 

After lunch we continued to wander about and spotted a collection of Buff-tip Phalera bucephala caterpillars on a birch. According to the UK Moths website “the yellow-and-black caterpillars live gregariously and feed on a number of different deciduous trees, sometimes defoliating entire branches.” They were certainly making short work of this unfortunate tree.

Birch shieldbugs Elasmostethus interstinctus were also in the “common as muck” category. They were all over the place - on oak, bracken, heather and just about every plant and, yes, birch. I found one birch leaf, which you must concede is quite small, supporting a group of seven late instars and adults. Unfortunately my photograph of this leaf and its supporting cast was not in focus so you will have to imagine the scene.

Our final significant find was neither a beetle nor a bug but a Golden-ringed dragonfly Cordulegaster boltonii resting on Bracken that had grown up alongside a fallen Silver birch. It seemed quite content for us to look at it and patiently posed for photographs even ignoring a slight jolt that I gave it when I got too close with the camera. 

During the day the Great Shieldbug Finder took my photograph. Thank you; it will redress the balance for all my photographs of others within the group. Here it is:

We returned to the cars (uphill most of the way) in good spirits.

What a good day.

Friday 22nd August 2014
The second trip of the week was a day out in the south west of the county in the wilds to the west of Clun. I did warn drivers that they needed a good map as it is easy to go astray on the narrow twisting and frequently un-signposted roads of this area ... and so it proved as both drivers managed to take at least one wrong turn during the journey to Lower Shortditch Turbary.

Four of us assembled at the lay-by opposite the Shropshire Wildlife Trust’s site. The weather was dry and sunny with a few fluffy clouds scudding across the sky in the stiff breeze that felt as though it came direct from the Artic. This forced the Arranger to don every layer of clothing he could find in the back of his car. 

The site looked a picture with the heather in full bloom, surrounded on two sides by conifers. Photographs never capture the true impact of such landscapes but here is my effort. Please use your imagination to enhance the image to realise its true impact.

We set off across the heather and wet grassland. The ground was very well vegetated hiding very uneven wet ground underneath. It was a struggle to keep upright. The first thing I spotted was dog poo. What is the point of bringing your dog all the way to here and then just leave its waste products behind? Soon my mood was lightened as we found, in very quick succession, a Hieroglyphic ladybird and what, after considerable fumbling through guides and discussion, we decided was an instar of the Heather shieldbug (this identification will need to be confirmed by the National Recorder).

A path was found and we followed it. Unfortunately this soon disappeared but the ground was dryer and more even making progress less hazardous. Common heather was the dominant plant but, if memory serves me correctly, Bell heather and Cross-leaved Heath were also present (but don’t quote me on that, I am not a Botanist!). Bilberry was abundant and there were some Gorse and Broom bushes. The only trees I saw were Rowan and these were youngsters that seemed to be struggling to survive.

A track was found so we had a coffee break that continued into lunch. Lunching with our backs to the wind we did not notice the dark clouds gathering behind us. After lunch it started to rain, annoying but not threatening. We carried on assuming it was a passing shower and found a Painted Lady butterfly. 

And the shower did pass. To be replaced by a downpour. A tactical retreat to the cars was accomplished rapidly.

After a while the rain stopped and we drove to Rhos Fiddle. Unfortunately we did not have long there so saw very little of the site which did not do it justice. All being well if these “walks” continue next year I will try to schedule a return visit in late spring or early summer. 

Keith Fowler

23 Aug 2014

“Isn’t she a beauty” by Keith Fowler

Wednesday, 6th August 2014

Welcome to the wilderness that is the Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses National Nature Reserve, or at least the Whixall part of it. Thanks to Natural England we had permission to visit the site as a group and collect a small number of insects for identification purposes.

In the days leading up to the trip I paid great attention to the weather forecast as the moss is not a place to be if it is raining. You get very wet very quickly. On Sunday the prospects for Wednesday were very poor, solid rain. On Monday the dire forecast had eased a little and on Tuesday it was rain early moving east followed by brighter periods and showers. My pessimism of Sunday had changed to determination by Tuesday. As it turned out the weather was wonderful, breezy but that kept the temperature reasonable in almost unbroken sunshine. What a waste of time packing my waterproof and carrying it around all day!

Eight of us met at the National Nature Reserve (NNR) Base where ample car parking and toilets were available. Actually seven of us met there and one met no-one else at the Morris’s Bridge car park. I do not want to embarrass him (too much) but he received two calendar reminders, a group email and an acknowledgement from me all pointing out where we were meeting. Ah well, we all make mistakes and he joined us a little late. He was pleased with the two fungi that were given to him – wait a minute, didn’t he lose one of those, oops.

It is a fair walk from the NNR Base to the entrance to Whixall Moss and we managed it in record time. Clearly the potential delights of the moss outweighed our desires to explore every umbellifer, nettle bed, cypress, oak tree, etc. on the way.

We plunged off the main path into one of the compartments. [A compartment is a small numbered section of the moss and consists of a mixture of water filled ditches, damp ditches, heath, grassland, scrub and firmer ground on which you can walk safely.] The Shropshire Arachnologist had never seen the raft spider Dolomedes fimbriatus, so I beat a bit of the grassland and found one for him.

In fact just about everyone in the group found the spider within minutes of starting to look. They were everywhere! But they were all juveniles and not fully grown – not the real deal for an arachnologist. However he was so busy confirming our finds that he did not have time to look for one himself. We shall return to this spider later.

Another sweep turned up a lovely caterpillar that was later identified as the aptly named Beautiful Yellow Underwing Anarta myrtilli.

We returned to the main path and some decided to take a coffee break while others decided to have lunch, then those who decided to have a coffee break decided to also have lunch.

It was not quite that clear cut as while some sat down for the break of their choice two others were about 100 yards away peering at the ground. A toad had caught their attention. It showed no intention of moving and even posed for photographs.

All the while that this was happening the Shropshire Arachnologist had disappeared into another compartment.

Soon whoops of joy were heard as he came bursting back through the bracken with mega spy-pot in hand. [Note: the garden vac, or “Spider-vac” as it is known, that crops up occasionally in these ramblings is now recognised as a valuable piece of entomological equipment and is known within the community as a “Mega-pooter”. I thought you would be interested!] 

“A fly went down my boot, I tried to remove it before it bit me, and there on the heather in front of me was this. Isn’t she a beauty!!!!” Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder but she was quite attractive (for a spider) and very large, the sort of spider you have nightmares about if you suffer from nightmares about spiders. The Shropshire Arachnologist was very pleased. An adult Dolomedes fimbriatus.

We wandered on after lunch and were treated to sights of various damsel and dragonflies, shieldbugs and other insects of interest. 

Our senior member demonstrated for most of the afternoon how to attract the extremely attractive horsefly Chrysops relictus

The netting of a Southern hawker allowed me to demonstrate my newly acquired skill of how to handle a dragonfly. Regrettably the dragonfly did not co-operate and flew off. 

And finally, as we are helping to compile records for the Shropshire Long-horned beetle atlas, we even managed to record one of this family: Leptura quadrifasciata.

Our final “discovery” was a couple of extensive patches of the Round-leaved sundew Drosera rotundifolia. I never fail to be amazed by how small these plants are. Mindful of the permission condition we did not try to feed the sundew with any insects.

This brought to an end a very pleasant day in the wilderness. My thanks go to Natural England for allowing us to visit the site and do what we do.

Keith Fowler

8 Aug 2014

Sun, sea, sand and ... insects by Keith Fowler

Sunday 27th June

We went to Harlech to explore the dunes and foreshore in the company of Invertebrate Challenge. 

The weather forecast, which had caused the earlier postponement of this trip, was not great but acceptable, bright but cooler, showers in the afternoon, rain later. So, two of us set off very early from Telford. The plan was to breakfast on the way. The traffic was light and good progress made and breakfast in Barmouth seemed a good idea. Unfortunately Barmouth was shut as was Llanaber, Tal-y-bont, Llanbedr and every other settlement in between until Harlech.

A minor misinterpretation of a road sign took us through Harlech and out the other side. We took the scenic route back to the car park, which was by the Dunes and the Royal St. David’s Golf Course. We walked into (lower) Harlech. Nothing was open. We walked at great pace, driven on by hunger, UP to (higher) Harlech where we found a coffee shop (but no breakfast) selling poor coffee but an excellent Eccles cake (rated later at 9/10). The shop did direct us to another that was open and doing food. Sated by an excellent bacon and egg bap and drink we returned to the car park to meet five other members of the Invertebrate Challenge project.

In defiance of the weather forecast the sun was shining and it was very warm. In fact the sun shone for most of the day with no hint of a shower, who’d be a weather forecaster? It was not long before we were peering into alien habitats looking for insects that we do not usually find locally. And we were soon rewarded by the discovery of a sandy coloured shieldbug nymph. This elicited great excitement but on very close inspection turned out to be a Hairy/Sloe shieldbug.

This was followed soon afterwards by several sightings of the Rhopalid bug Corizus hyoscyami in both its adult and nymphal forms.

We wandered deeper into the dunes and further off the beaten track. One of the most common insects we found was the Bishop’s Mitre shieldbug. 

Amongst the Restharrow we found the rather bizarre looking stiltbug Gampsocoris punctipes and the mirid bug Dicyphus annulatus. The photograph is G. punctipes, not the best, but does show why it is called a stiltbug.

We lunched, rested, talked, then searched some more. Amongst the finds were 11-spot ladybird, the cranefly Nephrotoma scurra and the huge fly Tachina grossa

As some of the group wandered off to return home we lingered. As we wandered along the Great Stick Finder saw movement, after a bit of searching by binocular and eye he found a well (but not too well) camouflaged Grayling resting up in the vegetation. 

We made for the beach. We came across Sea spurge. Beating of several stands of this plant eventually yielded a nymph of the spurge bug Dicranocephalus agilis, which is associated with Sea spurge and Portland spurge.

Satisfied with our day’s exploring we returned to the car park, had a cup of tea, did not have an ice-cream and then made our way home.

Wednesday 30th July
Eight of us gathered by the ex-Nedge Tavern which has re-emerged as the Boscobel Tavern to explore the southern reaches of Randlay Valley. A request by the Chairman of the Friends of Hollinswood and Randlay Valley to the landlord to allow us to use its car park was met by a negative response so we parked on the roadside next to the newly erected (and disputed) fence.

Unfortunately bad health prevented the Chair of the Friends from joining us but he did suggest a route, which we followed.

We started out on the bridle path than passes through woodland. We had early success finding three shieldbugs in the first 100 yards or so. We also found stands of Hogweed which are always worth checking for the fauna they support, especially hoverflies. In this instance I found a white butterfly which seemed to be glued to the plant as it allowed me to get very close.

Apart from a few open areas the path was a bit gloomy but where the sun got through there were rewards. One example was the large black and yellow soldier fly Stratiomys potamida which has been allocated the strange common name of “Banded General”. 

Many of the soldier flies have been given militaristic common names. One of my favourites is Beris chalybata which is known as the “Murky-legged Black Legionnaire” Other members of the Stratiomys genus are known as the “Clubbed General”, “Long-horned General” and “Flecked General”. Amongst the names of other flies in the family are “Ornate Brigadier”, “Round-spotted Major”, “Delicate Soldier” and “Iridescent Centurion”.

I do not know what plans the Friends have for managing or improving the site but opening up this bridle path to allow more light in and encourage a lower layer of vegetation may be an option.

The bridle path led to a meadow. Earlier in the year this meadow is awash with orchids. At this time of year there is still evidence of the orchids but grasses and knapweed are the dominant plants. And this mixture combined with the surrounding trees and taller vegetation such as Hogweed and Willowherb yielded a rich collection of invertebrates for us to study and identify. This area is a gem. 

A seat is located next to this meadow so this naturally became our base camp for morning coffee, lunch, sorting and identifying the “catch” and catching up on the latest gossip.

With reluctance we left this meadow and followed the tarmacked path back towards the cars. On the way we passed another excellent stand of hogweed then an area of grassland. 

We paused in both these areas to see what we could see but the lure of the cars and home was getting stronger and eventually overcame our desire to stay and explore.

Thank you to the Friends for arranging the visit and Telford and Wrekin for giving us permission to do what we do. We will reward the Friends with 107 invertebrate records for the day.

Get well soon Graham.

Keith Fowler