29 May 2014

Doctor Kildare to the Rescue - by Keith Fowler

A new venture for the Wednesday “walkers”, rather than journeying to record deficient areas in the hope of finding invertebrates and other things of interest, we went to a Shropshire Wildlife Trust Reserve. We travelled to Hope Valley reserve. The reserve is now and area of mixed woodland on the side of a hill. It was originally oak woodland which was replaced by a conifer plantation. The oaks fought back by regrowing! The Trust recognised the potential and bought the site. They removed many but not all of the conifers allowing the woodland and its flora to recover and thrive. 

Arrangements for getting there worked liked clockwork and half a dozen of us gathered in the car park where Orange tips greeted us. Next to the car park was a small area of attractive looking grassland. It was on a slope and was dry at the top and very wet at the bottom with a generous sprinkling of spring flowers and other emergent vegetation. We were in invertebrate heaven. 

Little did this Tipula submarmorata know that we would make her a star.

It took a great deal of will-power to leave this area and explore the rest of the site. But we managed it just. We took the flight of steps to what was, according to the information board, advertised as the view point on the south west corner of the site. It was a fair climb so we paused after a while to draw breath. I took the opportunity to discuss drains and sewers with our expert following an unfortunate and very smelly incident with mine at home.

At this point my stick decided to extract revenge for continually being forgotten by inserting a large splinter into my thumb. Tantalisingly a small tail remained protruding from the skin. I now regretted cutting my nails as I was unable to get sufficient grip on this tail to pull it out. The others were also well manicured; then our “sewer” expert (I will not name him in case complications set in) produced a knife and to my horror started sticking it into my thumb and within a few seconds which seemed like minutes had removed enough skin to grip and extract the splinter. He then produced a plaster to cover the evidence. Thank you Dr. Kildare.

We gained the viewing point which seemed a lot further than the information board suggested only to find most of the view obstructed by Birch scrub. Clearly some work needs to be done by the Trusts’ volunteers in the near future. 

Some of us had late “elevenses” others had early lunch and our minds drifted back to thoughts of what may have happened to my thumb had the hand of Dr. Kildare not been steady. 

On the one hand we had those who were concerned: -

On the other we had those who were not quite so concerned:-

Whilst the third thought, shown by this Noon-day fly, was total indifference:-

Lunch over, we explored the area around the viewpoint. I was attacked again. Not by my stick but by a long-horn beetle that flew into my hair. It was a Rhagium bifasciatum which was our first long-horn of the season and will provide another record for the atlas that is currently in production.

We now walked to the other end of the reserve which took us through areas that were covered in flowering Bluebells, Lesser celandine, Wood-sorrel, Greater stitchwort and more that I could not identify. Some areas were dry but the path was crossed at several places with run-offs from the neighbouring fields that created small streams and wet areas. It was a delightful stroll.

So back to the car park where we could not resist one last “go” at the grassland before we returned home contented.

20 May 2014

A sunny day in Shrewsbury - 16 April 2014 Margaret Mitchell

The day was the warmest day of the year so far with blue sky, wispy clouds and warm sunshine. Jim, Nigel, Liz, Brian, Les, Steve and myself set off to explore the Rea Brook Valley minus our leader Keith, who was enjoying the sunny skies of Norfolk.  It was ideal conditions for spotting bees and butterflies.  On our first site, intriguingly called ‘Cinema Field and Big Horse’ in Pete Boardman’s briefing notes, we saw peacock, small tortoiseshell, green veined white, small white, orange tip and comma, all within half an hour’s observation.

Jim’s eagle eye spotted Eristalis pertinax, tawny mining bee, bee-fly, Eristalis tenax, buff-tailed bumblebee, red-tailed bumblebee, and the intriguing Syrphus ribesii (being a botanist this is a mystery to me).  Brian added the garden bumblebee to the list. 

Syrphus ribesii (female)

Shieldbugs included the hairy variety, green birch and hawthorn, all spotted by Nigel.  Harlequin ladybirds were found, as well as 14-spot and cream-spot - Nigel managing to tear himself away from spiders to help with the count.                                

Meanwhile Les and I checked out the plant life.  The red dead nettle was profuse in our first site and very attractive, albeit a common plant.  There were several single sprigs of ladies’ smock, creeping and meadow buttercup (just starting to flower), white deadnettle and a few bluebells in bud, but most plants were still young and green.  We puzzled over a grey green plant with long tendrils, which Les has since identified as white bryony.  I hope I can check it out on our next visit to see it in flower, as it looks an attractive plant, a first for me.

White Bryony (Bryonia diocia)

After a lazy coffee break and Liz’s delicious biscuits, thus fortified, we continued on our way to Site B – ‘Small Horse’.  Where does Pete get these names?  There were stands of wild garlic, greater celandine, field speedwell, field woodrush, lesser celandine, lords and ladies, cow parsley, rib and broadleaved plantain and common comfrey – in fact rich in a variety of common plants.

We settled by the brook for lunch and soaked up the sun.  A peacock butterfly came and joined us and settled on the muddy bank, presumably drinking, whilst an enormous pond skater swam frantically round the shallows.

After lunch we continued to Site D – ‘Column Meadow’.  What happened to Site C? Ah, apparently it is on the other side of the brook!  We again saw a variety of bees and butterflies and added rhingia campestris to the list.  Also green and hawthorn shield bugs, the latter being found on bramble!  Brian and Jim caught site of a solitary bee (andrena sp.) and Liz chased and caught our last butterfly, a speckled wood.  Together with brimstone seen earlier in this site, this made a total of 8 butterfly species, not bad for an April survey!

Rhingia campestris

One large plant was a real puzzle and Les helpfully took a photo, but we were unable to track it down in our many reference books.  That is until a week later I saw some bedding plants in Sainsbury’s!  They looked remarkably similar.  Could our mystery plant have been a garden escapee?  A hollyhock perhaps?  We will have to check it out when next we visit the site later in the year.

Turning to return to the car park we paused by a bird cherry tree in blossom, which appeared to be a hot spot for ladybirds, mostly harlequins.  Every branch seemed to have a little colony. What a good way to end a productive and idyllic day’s surveying.

Harlequin ladybirds!

7 May 2014

A Forgetful Day - by Keith Fowler

The day dawned bright for our trip to Randlay Valley. I was in a relaxed mood; the sun was shining, what could possibly go wrong? I was well ahead of schedule having prepared all my bits and pieces the night before, all I had to do on the morning of the walk was make lunch, pack my bag and make the fifteen minute trip to the meeting point.

I breakfasted leisurely, made my lunch, pottered about, packed the waterproofs into the car (rain was forecast) and set off hoping and expecting to arrive ten minutes early. After five minutes or so heading towards Telford for some inexplicable reason a little seed of doubt began to grow and after a few seconds I realised that I had forgotten to pack my bag. 

A quick about turn, drive home, embarrassing explanation, pack bag hurriedly and set off again, only this time ten minutes late. Clearly I need the adrenalin rush of having to get everything ready at the last minute so I hereby promise in future never to be ready before absolutely necessary.

I was met in the car park by six others, including Lis and Graham from the Friends of Hollinswood and Randlay Valley, who were all very polite about my lateness. For once we spent little time in the car park as it was not officially a part of the site we were visiting, which is just as well as the last member of the group was waiting at the “official” meet point wondering where we had all got to and beginning to think he was in the wrong place. Well he did have a track record for temporary displacement as witnessed on our last visit to Lea Quarry.

By now the skies had become rather grey but we pressed on with the intention of making the most of the day before rain forced a retreat. We started by combing the area of grassland by the entrance to the site. Amongst the species found were a couple of The Drinker moth caterpillars. Craneflies were abundant but mainly just one species Tricyphona immaculata. We moved on.

A little later the person, who is known as “Tray breaker” following an unfortunate incident at Earl’s Hill whilst looking for the Purse-web spider, came up to me. “Have you forgotten something?” and reunited me with my stick which I had left behind.

We ambled towards the woodland where we came across a female Orange Tip butterfly resting at the side of the path and then into the woodlands where Bluebells (which I am assured are without Spanish influence) carpeted the ground. We continued through the woods until we found a picnic table and had lunch.

Refreshed we pressed on down a bridleway which was a re-imagining of the paths across the Somerset Levels during the recent very wet weather. We saw two Chysolina polita beetles that reminded us that Spring was in the air.

It started raining – not heavy but persistent. Undeterred we pressed on getting further away from the car park. We admired the Moschatel then passed a series of clumps of Marsh marigold in full bloom. I decided to take a closer look. I put my bag and stick down for greater manoeuvrability.

Uplifted by this wonderful sight I picked up my bag and carried on. Eventually we reached the end of the wood (the rain had stopped) then headed back across grassland towards the cars and home. 

About halfway back I realised that I had lost my stick (again). I had no idea when or where I last had it. (Remember I am writing this after the event.) I retraced my steps and the “Tray breaker” kindly volunteered to help in the search. We made it all the way back to the Marsh marigolds before the stick was found by the person whose name shall now be known as “The Magnificent Stick Finder”: he is “Tray breaker” no more! Thank you Jim.

I must point out that the “stick” is not just any old stick but a walking stick purchased by my daughter, many years ago when she was about 10, in Denmark having attained the summit of Himmelbjerget, one of the country’s highest mountains at 147m. I now put it to very good use as a beating stick having found it abandoned in the garage.

We caught up with the others who had waited patiently (?) for our return. On the way back to the cars a pair of the cranefly species Tipula lateralis gave us another reminder of the time of year.

May I record my gratitude to Graham and Lis for taking us around the site and wish them all the best in the Friends quest to get the area designated as a Local Nature Reserve.

A forgetful day for me but not one to be forgotten.

Distance: about 3miles, but two of us did 4 miles!!

Keith Fowler