29 Jul 2014

Hughley Brook, near Much Wenlock - 4 July 2014, by Margaret Mitchell

Today we left our car in the National Trust car park and set off in two cars, as the access was narrow with limited parking.  After a long drive ‘off piste’ down a narrow track, with increasing grass down the centre, we arrived at a large house (unusually named ‘Newfoundland’).  No one was home except for a deep barked warning so we all set off on our adventure after carefully consulting Keith’s map.  There were several streams that criss-crossed the site and inevitably we veered off course and arrived at the wrong one.  Keith disappeared to investigate the stream’s source, Steve consulted the map again whilst Penny, Les, and I checked out the plants and Jim and Nigel searched for bugs and spiders.  No one seemed concerned, just enjoyed the sunshine and the peace.  Eventually we headed off in the direction Steve indicated and Keith emerged from the shadows to meet us.

The next hour was spent exploring along the margins of the brook and collecting mosses to take back home to identify.  We saw several meadow brown butterflies and ringlets in a sunny patch of grassland.  There were some large anthills that were colonised by plants normally found in acid grassland habitats. eg. Carex flacca, Lady’s bedstraw and two mosses: Hypnum jutlandicum (Heath plait-moss) and Pseudocleropodium purum (Neat feather-moss).

On entering the woodland we found an orchid-looking, deep purple shoot about six inches high.  After much searching in I.D. books and botany keys, together with inspections with lenses and photographs taken, my Harrop clinched it.  There is only one orchid whose stem has a purple base, the Broad-leaved helleborine.

After climbing a fence and crossing a stream we continued along the edge of a barley field and settled in a sunny corner for lunch.

We were concerned that we hadn’t found all the things from the previous record for the site but were rewarded later by a boggy hollow.  Penny, ever intrepid, squelched around and a cry went up, “Marsh marigolds!”

There was also fool’s watercress and stands of hard rush.  On the edge I found some ragwort but the leaves were different to normal and it proved to be Oxford ragwort, usually found in urban areas and on railway embankments.  There is a disused railway nearby which might explain it’s presence.

We continued further into a wood and Penny climbed over a barbed-wire fence into a shady dell by the stream.  She found evidence of bluebells and primroses (long finished flowering) and was content to have found everything from the previous list.  In fact we found much more.  She threw me a sample of moss, which turned out to be Atrichum undulatum (Common smoothcap or Catherine’s moss)

On returning to the house the owner was keen to show us a huge Wild service tree, which explained why we had found saplings by the stream.  He then gave some of us a guided tour of his large garden, accompanied by his black Labrador, Mabel.  There were two huge greenhouses containing enormous beefsteak tomatoes and courgettes, and the back garden was a profuse cottage garden with a large arboretum / orchard sloping away from the house.  It contained many old variety apple trees and a beautiful tulip tree in full flower.  American, I think, and so quite appropriate for 4 July.

Our tour complete, we left just as it was beginning to rain – another lovely day out.

Margaret Mitchell

26 Jul 2014

Ouch! That hurt! by Keith Fowler

Wednesday 2nd July

Another Wednesday, another Joy of Invertebrates trip, this time to Prees Branch Canal part of which is a Shropshire Wildlife Trust reserve. The first issue was where to park. Looking at the map and aerial photographs there did not appear to be anywhere near the site that was suitable for our fleet of cars. So, I devised a cunning plan and decided we would park at the Morris’ Bridge car park for Whixall Moss. From there it was a short walk (!) along the towpath of the Llangollen Canal then down the Prees Branch Canal until we reached the reserve.

We arrived in three cars only to find that Natural England was carrying out essential maintenance on the car park and we were not able to use it. So we parked in the lay-by on the approach road to Morris’ Bridge. We checked how long the car park would be closed and were very politely informed it would be 1-2 hours. We had to make a decision – leave the cars in the lay-by or bimble our way up the road to the bridge by which time an hour or two may well have passed and the car park would be open. But at that rate we would never reach the reserve. So we left the cars where they were.

As always where we parked attracted our attention so a new cunning plan was devised. Let’s walk, without (too much) distraction to the target site – we could always dawdle on the way back. Well it was a plan. All agreed so we locked up and prepared to set off only to find that one of us had yet to change into appropriate footwear!! So we unlocked, waited, locked up again then set off. 

Four distractions later we crossed the bridge over the Llangollen Canal and started off along the towpath. Six more distractions later we crossed the next bridge to gain the towpath of the Prees Branch Canal. We wandered on in hope of soon reaching our target site. We reached another bridge – not the one that denotes the start of the reserve. We plodded on becoming increasing un-distracted as we clocked up the metres. My heart lifted when I espied another bridge. I walked on. My heart sank. It was not the right bridge.

Would we ever get there? One of the group had to leave early – would he get there before he had to turn back. Bold leadership was required. So I raced on and was rewarded a few minutes later by the sight of THE BRIDGE. I was now outpacing Mo Farah to get to the reserve (in my dreams).

Fortunately THE BRIDGE was not the one featured in recent Danish/Swedish crime series but Dobson’s Bridge. I was elated – we had got there before lunch. Then, realisation struck; on the road about 25 metres from the bridge was a pull-off at the side of the road easily big enough for three cars. A new plan was formulated. I would return with the early leaver after lunch and bring my car to the bridge so that we would not have to walk back. Everyone agreed wholeheartedly and the plan was executed in timely fashion without a hitch.

Right, this tale has yet to mention invertebrates so back to basics!

With relief and enthusiasm we set about inspecting, sweeping and beating the vegetation in search of insects.

There was an abundance of damselflies, mainly Azure and Common blue with the occasional Blue-tailed and Banded demoiselle. Surprisingly there were no dragonflies about although one (unidentified) did put in an appearance just before we left.

We stumbled across several Green shieldbug nymphs and a cluster of very distinctive nymphs which I dismissed as more Green but the unbelieving Great Stick Finder disagreed and determined that they were nymphs of Bronze shieldbugs. And, of course, he was correct. Shame on me.

Later we found an adult Forest bug which showed no inclination to move even when I got out my camera.

All these discoveries were within 100 metres of THE BRIDGE. We now moved along the towpath with the intent of getting to the other end of the reserve at Waterloo Bridge.

As I walked along I became aware of a pain in my arm. Horseflies were about, had one struck? I looked at my arm and found a Common Flower bug had buried its rostrum into my arm. 

It was taking revenge in the name of all Hemiptera.

Good luck to it, 
it deserved its meal ... 
but I removed it ... 
it hurt ... 
a lot.

The canal is navigable as far as the marina then it becomes a haven for plants and anything that lives within or off them. Yellow water-lilies were abundant and were starting to flower. We found several Beautiful China-mark moths which use the lily and other aquatic plants as a food plant.

Waterloo Bridge was nowhere to be seen. Time was pressing so we had to turn back and return home.

We must revisit this excellent site and see if we can complete the walk along the length of the reserve (parking, of course, a little nearer).

Friday 4th July 2014

To all our American readers – “Happy Day of Independence”. Will we soon also have a Scottish Independence Day?

This day saw our last Wildlife Site survey of this season. We visited Harley Brook between Hughley and Harley before its confluence with the Hughley Brook. I hope I have got all these similar names correct. This was a tricky trip for the Shropshire Wildlife Trust to organise as there are six different landowners involved. But they persevered and succeeded in getting permission for our visit.

Access was limited so we met in the main car park for the Wenlock Edge near Much Wenlock then proceeded in a couple of cars to close to the site. We made our way to the north eastern tip of the site where after some initial difficulty we managed to locate the Harley Brook where a public footpath crossed the stream and start the survey.

The stream banks were surveyed then we moved into a pleasant meadow strewn with ant-hills. There was plenty of interest here but it did raise the question of where was the boundary to the wildlife site? We decided on a practical “within 10 metres (or so) of the stream”. We eventually managed to tear ourselves away from the meadow and follow the stream for a few metres.

We came to a halt, a fence crossed our path. Then we noticed a mystery plant. The plant was examined by eye and with the aid of lenses; heads were scratched; eventually we resorted to “Poland”, not a course of action to be taken lightly. 

After many minutes of study the experts declared it to be a Broad-leaved helleborine.

We crossed the fence and a tributary to be met by a wall of cereal. The stream was no longer accessible as it was now surrounded by a tall dense hedgerow. We continued on way following the field edge in the narrow gap between cereal and hedge. And we continued to record what we found.

The cereal field was huge. We had to pause for lunch in it. Eventually we escaped along the second public footpath that crosses the site which took us to a gate in the hedge and a bridge across the stream. We were back within 100 yards of the cars but still only about a third of the way down the site. 

We pushed on across a grassy field that was used by cattle, through a rather muddy coppice and into another grassy field before turning back as time ran out and, coincidentally, rain began to fall. However the latter part of our survey brought rewards as we found Marsh marigold, Primrose and Bluebell.

At the cars we were met by one of the owners who whisked off the botanists to see a mystery tree. It was a Wild service tree. A handsome specimen by all accounts; a pleasant end to the day.

Thank you to the owners for permitting access and the Trust for making the arrangements.

Keith Fowler

22 Jul 2014

Just one of those days by Keith Fowler

Wednesday 25th June, 2014

As some of you may know and a lot probably don’t, a few years ago I found a hoverfly (Callicera rufa), normally resident in the Caledonian Pine Forests, on top of Little Hill. Keen for more people to see this wonderful fly I arranged an “Invertebrately Challenged Tetrad” outing to the summit last year. Unfortunately that quest was unsuccessful as the fly did not come out to play on a rather dull day. So, undeterred, I scheduled a “Joy of Invertebrates” trip and today was the day.

The weather, despite an unpromising forecast was fine and sunny with some but not a lot of, cloud. The prospects were good. Unfortunately not everything went to plan.

1) I was unable to make the trip as I was attending the funeral of an aunt. (Actually she was a second cousin but I always knew her as and called her aunt but I am sure you are not at all interested in this technicality.)
2) I arranged for a deputy to lead the walk only for him to miss the event due to a cat that needed to visit the vet; get well soon. Fortunately I had a deputy’s deputy who kindly agreed to lead.
3) Then one of the stalwarts cried off ill; get well soon.
4) Others were unavailable.

On the plus side three new “walkers” were expected. But then one was unable to make it due to work.

So I met our leader for the day and two of our new walkers at the Forest Glen car park to give them a suggested route, which involved a walk around the Wrekin, a description and picture of the hoverfly and send them on their way.

I departed.

The following day I received an email from the deputy’s deputy letting me know they had completed the walk (and it was quite long). It included this photograph of a fly about 4 metres (or 4 and half yards) up the central Scots Pine on the summit of Little Hill that could only be our target species. 

Mission accomplished.

Well done!

Callicera rufa has now been seen on Little Hill in each of the last four years so it is possible that a colony has established itself on the site. Let us hope they stay and we do not make it impossible for them to survive by, in the name of conservation, “tidying” this bit of habitat.

Yes, it was just one of those days; but, in the end, for positive reasons.

Keith Fowler

18 Jul 2014

Butterflies and Bees by Keith Fowler

Wednesday 18th June 2014

Nine of us made the trip to the Shropshire Wildlife Reserve at Llynclys Common and a lovely sunny day. We parked in the lay-by recommended by the Trust. Here there was a very helpful information board. Unfortunately a mega-sized articulated lorry had parked right in front of it meaning that you had to squeeze in the gap between the lorry and the hedge to look at it. 

The Trust has a leaflet of the site that you can download here. There is a map on it so you can follow our progress around the site.

It was a short walk from the layby (marked P on the map) to the bridle path that takes you into the reserve. We managed this quite quickly without too much distraction and entered the site. The bridle path progresses through woodland until it comes to a junction. Here we took the right fork into Rough Dennion Coppice. Here we had our first encounter with a Greater Butterfly orchid (although I missed it) and a Giant puffball (which I also missed).

This path stumbles out onto Ant Hill meadow, a very aptly named area as the grassland is goose-pimple like with its many old ant hills. The photograph does not do justice to the landscape but it is the best I could manage.

And here is a photograph of one of the ant hills, just in case you would like reminding of what one looks like!

On arrival in the meadow we promptly rested up and had morning coffee.

Refreshed we searched the meadow. There were not many insects about but the botanists amongst us had a great time discovering many unfamiliar plants. And for a while the insect searchers gave up and joined the botanists in their quest.

The Great Butterfly Catcher had an early success by finding a long horn beetle. This was one of the species pair Leiopus linnei/nebulosus.

With reluctance we tore ourselves away from Ant Hill meadow and headed along the lane then path to Lower Butchers Quarry. But only after pausing at the gate of the meadow to admire the Twayblades and Common spotted orchids. 

Along the path we were treated to numerous Greater butterfly orchids, Twayblades and Common spotted orchids; they were almost common!

These floral delights were then crowned by a couple of Bee orchids.

At last we made it to Lower Butchers Quarry and over lunch contemplated what other delights the site may reveal. We did not have to wait long before the Great Butterfly catcher pounced and caught a Dingy skipper, rather worn, but definitely a Dingy skipper. A few minutes later she pounced again and this time produced a Grizzled skipper from her net (pictured).

This was all too much for the Great Stick Finder. He wandered off and returned a few minutes later having found and netted a Small Pearl bordered fritillary. How do you identify these? Well you look for the number “730” on the leading edge of the left forewing. Can you see it? It also looks like the annotated picture on the SWT Reserve leaflet which is a bit of a clue.

Buoyed by these delights we explored Lower Butchers Quarry but then realised that time was pressing and we still had 90% of the site to visit.

With reluctance we left Lower Butchers Quarry and made our way to Upper Butchers Quarry. Here the vegetation was much denser and higher than in the lower quarry and did not hold as much interest so it was there was not with a lot of reluctance we moved on.

And up Slippery steps (there weren’t any steps) onto Woodpecker glade (there weren’t any Woodpeckers). I wandered off to check the route and do some insecting. When I returned a few minutes later everyone else was sprawled on the ground. Given the heat and pleasant surroundings this seemed an opportunity not to be missed so I joined them.

With reluctance we stirred ourselves and meandered back via Beulah Lodge and Rough Denion Coppice to the cars and home. On the way home the lure of an ice-cream at the Knockin Shop was too much for some of us to resist.

An excellent site (the 20% of it that we visited) and an excellent day that will be remembered for its butterflies (insect and orchid varieties) and bees (orchids). 

8 Jul 2014

Greening of the Grey - by Keith Fowler

Wednesday 11th June, 2014

Nine of us gathered on a gloriously sunny morning for our latest regular visit to Lea Quarry. We immediately split into two groups. The first went off to the “Regeneration” area to empty and replenish the pit-fall traps, the second headed for the small patch of grassland just above Edge Renewables offices.

As I went with the group to the grassland I cannot elaborate on what was found by the “Regeneration” group in the pit-fall traps or by vacuuming the cracks and crevices around that area. But as you can just about make out from the following photograph green is appearing amongst the grey.

The “grassland” group were soon regaled by squeals of delight as the Great Butterfly catcher captured a Dingy skipper. Unfortunately the butterfly was most disgruntled at being caught and refused to pose for photographs so I am afraid the best I can do is show you what it looked like in a glass tube.

I was then fortunate to net a long-horn beetle (Stenurella melaneura) in flight. It was clearly a member of the same union as the Dingy skipper as it too refused to pose so, again, you will have to put up with a photograph in a tube.

Whilst the entomologists were drooling over butterflies and long-horn beetles the botanists were scrutinising and reacting very favourably to the grasslands flora. One of the plants they found was Dyer’s greenweed which was handy as I found a bug Heterocordylus genistae which is hosted by this plant.

We moved on, about thirty yards, to an area that was a mixture of grassland and very young plantation. Why had trees been planted here? Was it to stabilise the ground at the top of and down the side of the quarry face? Here the Great Butterfly catcher demonstrated her technique and netted yet another Dingy skipper. Clearly it was a day of non-co-operation as this one also refused to pose. So you will have to make do with a photograph of the catcher in action.

In this patch we found our first orchids of the day within the site. A scattering of Common spotted orchids. (A Pyramidal orchid had been spotted by the gate – I am not sure if this could be classed as on the site.)

Time was passing; some of us (well at least me) were feeling peckish so we headed to the Regeneration area to meet up with the rest of the party. When we got there they were just breaking up after resting up for a coffee break. They settled down again and coffee break became lunch. But, as you can see from the photograph it was not a period of total relaxation. Findings were discussed, identifications made and food and drink consumed.

I set the group a challenge. We should visit the old quarry at the other end of the site. It had been recommended as a good site by Katy, our host from Edge Renewables, and we had yet to visit it. It was a long way away – about a mile – so we would need to be disciplined if we were to make it.

Well we tried but there were many distractions on the way not least a large patch of orchids, mainly Common spotted with some Pyramidal and, to our delight, one Bee orchid. This had not heard about the non-co-operation day so posed very contentedly as the local paparazzi snapped away.

Buoyed by this we pressed on but the distractions came thick and fast, would we ever get there? We found a huge violent ground beetle (later identified by beetle people as Carabus problematicus) and then a newt which I think is a Smooth newt but would welcome a confirmation. 

Even a spider building a web caught my attention.

We came to a division in the path one way the old quarry – the other way back to the cars and home. Some chose to leave as they had other things to do, some to press on. And on and on, but with grit and determination we made it. To be rewarded with to areas of grassland rich in orchids and other plants. Unfortunately trees were encroaching so some TLC will be required in the not too distant future.

Tired but elated by the day’s findings we returned home.

Friday 13th June, 2014

Our second jaunt of the week was not a Joy of Invertebrates ramble but a survey of Langley Fields in Telford on behalf of the Shropshire Wildlife Trust. We had visited the site as a group a couple of times in the recent past. The last time was as part of the Heathland Surveys when we got drenched and gave up about lunchtime.

In the original Heathland report this area was described as one of the best heathlands in Telford. Then they built the new Phoenix school and the whole site is under threat of development.

We surveyed the plateau which is surrounded by wooded slopes, housing and two schools. The plateau consists of islands of heathland and grassland with three main pools and many others that are probably ephemeral separated by a network of wide tracks of bare earth. 

The botanists set off in a group to explore the site drifting around like a herd of wildebeest grazing the African savannah. But wait, what is this? One has broken free! Has he been rejected by the matriarch of the herd or has he decided it is time to strike out on his own to establish his own herd?

The entomologists just drifted about generally following the herd and living off scraps as apart from damselflies and dragonflies there was little about that we could identify. There were huge numbers of nymphs which is, of course, the number one reason for not being able to identify anything to species. When they grow up we will be very busy.

One notable absentee, at least in the area we surveyed was Nettle. There was very little bramble, thistles and other “thugs”. Thugs, apparently, is the technical term for invasive species that tend to overrun the rather more pleasant vegetation if not held in check. 

Over coffee (yes we had an official coffee break and I did not eat my lunch) we made the acquaintance of a Four-spotted chaser – so called as it has a total of eight spots on its wings. 

A delight to see and photograph. We also found Dingy skipper and Small heath. For once the Great Butterfly catcher was usurped and did not find the first Dingy!

We continued to graze the site progressing via the main pools until we reached the one in the east and with it a seat and view over Town Park and beyond to at least Wolverhampton.

Unfortunately the seat only accommodated three and I received a scolding for not giving up my part of the seat to someone more senior! 

Refreshed but rather hot we made a determined assault on the last pool. Here we found many orchids including some giants. (By the way they are not inspecting the plant they are looking for a large yellow spider that disappeared when the cameras came out.)

Time was called and we went home thankful it our luck had held on this reputably unlucky date.

Keith Fowler