25 Mar 2014

Return to Lea Quarry

Rather like ants emerging from their nest when the weather warms up the recent mild dry weather encouraged ten “entomologists” to emerge from their wintering quarters and congregate at Lea Quarry for another rummage around this site.

After suiting, booting and equipping we were ready for the off – or were we? No. We spent the next half hour in the car park not searching for those elusive bugs but chatting. 

Eventually sense of purpose took over and we made our way to the area that we are surveying more systematically than usual. We noticed changes to the site immediately as the path we used had been developed into what felt like a motorway as the owners continue to landscape site. 

The pit fall traps were emptied and refreshed and then Nigel decided to start spring cleaning the site. The targets of this effort were tiny “money” spiders. And the method works. He was rewarded with several spiders which were all covered in grey dust but, hopefully, were not juveniles but adults and identifiable.

The machine is a garden leaf-blower but the tube is attached to air intake making it act like a vacuum cleaner. A net is put over the end of the tube and anything unfortunate to be sucked up is caught in the net. At the end of the operation the contents of the net are emptied into a tray and we all gather round to see what emerges. It keeps us entertained.

Whilst this was going on others wandered around the area seeing what they could find by more conventional means – looking, listening, sweep netting and beating. And to be frank there was not a great deal to be found. It was too dry!!! But, out of what looks like a lunar landscape, life is emerging.

All this activity was exhausting so a coffee break was called. I cracked, I felt the urge to have my sandwich. The rest followed like a line of dominoes in a domino rally – coffee-break turned into lunch.

Refreshed we decamped rather raggedly to the other end of the site which has more vegetation and a number of pools. Or so we/I thought. In the relentless lack of rain they had all but dried up. Still we were able to rummage in the undergrowth sifting moss and dead leaves to see what turned up.

Nigel’s bag is like Hermione Grainger’s bag or Doctor Who’s TARDIS – it’s bigger on the inside than out. Over the years I have never failed to be astounded by what he pulls out of it. Today he produced - a trowel, not just any trowel but a stainless steel depth measuring saw-edged trowel. This turned out to be another piece of essential equipment for the serious arachnid hunter. He used it to dig into a bank of earth and, hey presto, spiders were found. Amazing.

Our final stopping point was an area of established grassland. After a bit of sweep netting the urge to have a go with the vacuum was too great to be ignored. So a couple of us vacuum sampled small patches of grass then we all gathered round the tray to see what we had found. This party was brought to an end when a member of the party who shall remain nameless but I shall call “Tray Breaker” managed to make the machine fall apart.

Well it was time to go home; so we did.

Once again thank you to Edge Renewables for permitting access. And to the members of the group who make these little expeditions so enjoyable.