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