17 Dec 2015

A seasonal ditty penned by Jackie Fowler

The holly and the bramble,
When they are both well-grown,
Comes the call from Matt Hawkins
To chop them all down.

And while you are at it
Cut the silver birch too.
Put the wood on the fire
And paint all the stumps blue.

If you feel like a change,
Why not re-site a stile,
Dig a hole for a fence post
Or hang a gate for a while?

Have you signed the risk assessment?
Are you wearing thick gloves?
Does the job need a helmet?
Will things fall from above?

Stephen calls time for coffee
And again time for lunch.
With Brian’s biscuits and our anecdotes
We’re a well-contented bunch.

Jackie Fowler





27 Oct 2015

Oops!

Pole Bank, Wednesday 30th September

Pole Bank is one of, if not the highest point on the Long Mynd, so what better way than to end our series of weekly Joy of Wildlife walks than to stand atop the Long Mynd on a sunny early autumnal day?

Unfortunately, as we climbed up the Burway and onto the Portway it was clear(!) that we may not be standing at this summit later in the day as it was nowhere to be seen. Pole Bank was shrouded in mist.

Undaunted we carried on to Pole Cottage car park where, as we were a few minutes late, the others had already gathered. The mist had cleared and the sun was shining. But a second reason for perhaps not attaining the highest ground suggested itself as they were all huddled together like Emperor penguins on the Antarctic ice trying to keep warm in the near gale force easterly wind.

Should we change our plans and drop down to lower ground? After some dithering we decided to stay put, although the assault on the summit was shelved. Donning as many layers as possible we set off.



















An early find were a couple of Harlequin ladybirds dislodged from the trees surrounding the Pole Cottage enclosure. One was the red and black spotty form, succinea, which seems to be the most common form, but the other was probably the 2-spot form conspicua.

















Unfortunately, counting the number of spots on a ladybird does not always lead to the correct identification as spots can coalesce, so this may be the four spot form spectabilis whose spots have joined to form two big blobs. It is, however, a Harlequin!!

Behind Pole Cottage is a series of small pools and wet ditches and these attracted the attention of the Really Nice Spiderman (a title he earned when in our earlier days he identified spiders in the field for us). This is not to denigrate the immense knowledge of the Great Spider Hunter, but as the County Recorder and officer of the British Arachnological Society he had to toe the party line and insist that only 18 could be done in the field. Older and wiser now there are many more species he is willing to commit to.


















Having taken this photograph I found the aforementioned Great Spider Hunter hurtling towards me, tray in hand, to show me a “dung” shieldbug nymph.




















It was the last instar, the stage prior to becoming an adult, of a Green shield bug. It appeared to be feeding on the contents of the dung as its rostrum was inserted into it.

I swept a ditch and collected a couple of craneflies, one of which, Tipula staegeri, has rather impressive, how shall we put this without offending too many people, male bits. Sorry no picture. In the same net was a Black darter which, after I released it just clung to the vegetation as it seemingly tried to avoid being blown into Wales.
























Another common find was the larvae of Broom moths, even though there was no Broom to be seen. 
Clearly it has be misnamed.


















Lunch was taken by one of the pools as we took in the slightly hazy but stunning views of the Stiperstones and other hills to the west.



















After lunch we headed back to the road passing some horses who had decided to take a lunchtime drink.


















We crossed the road to follow one of the seepages that becomes one of the streams that flows into Ashes Hollow. Here the habitat was slightly different with Bracken becoming the dominant plant on the banks of the seepage/stream, with rushes dominating the wetter areas.



















“If you go near any water, do not fall in” is usually the crux of any health and safety advice I give at the start of the walk, so it was rather embarrassing to say the least that as I was sweeping the gulley I failed to notice the watery area in front of me ...

Fortunately only one foot went in, and also fortunately I was wearing wellingtons and the water was about an inch below the top. So no harm done. Or so I thought.

I tried to pull my foot out, it would not budge. I looked around for something to pull myself out on or with. There was nothing.

And then I realised that my foot was sinking as I felt my foot go cold and wet; the water had just topped the wellingtons. 

As there were people around I decided that rather than get wetter by sitting down and pulling my foot out it would be easiest to call for aid.

“Help!”

No-one took any notice.

I tried again.

Still no response. My foot was now very wet as was my leg. Do I need to resort to 6 blasts on my Safety Whistle to summon International Rescue?

Then I saw the Really Nice Spiderman, so I called to him and he came to my rescue helping me out, less my wellington, then retrieving my wellington and even emptying it.

As I sat on the bank, after wringing out my socks and draining the last few drops of flowing water from the wellingtons, drying my foot in the sun having learnt a salutary lesson, I decided to upgrade my rescuer to The Really Really Nice Spiderman.

We stayed a while longer then repaired to a public house in Church Stretton to reminisce and discuss sites for next year.

My thanks naturally go to the National Trust for granting us permission to do what we enjoy doing on this visit and to all the other land owners and managers who have willingly agreed to our presence throughout this series of walks.

But the main thrust of my gratitude is to all the people who have come on the walks throughout the last six months (about 40 by my estimation) and made my experience and, I hope, theirs so enjoyable. Thank you.

All being well we will do the same again next year.

During the “off-season” we will still be active. We have monthly trips to Lea Quarry on the third Wednesday of each month and we have a couple of fungus forays in October. If anyone wants to arrange any other activates please let me know.

Thank you for reading these offerings. See you next April.

Keith Fowler



14 Oct 2015

Yellow triangles

Lea Quarry, Wednesday 16th September
(Tuesday 15th September)














“Yes”

“I’ve just looked at the weather map and it is covered in Yellow triangles for tomorrow. Is the walk going ahead?”

“Yes. I’ll be going; I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you want to come along.”

“Oh”

“It’s a joint walk with the fungus group and they may well look for fungi in the rain.”

“Oh, OK. I’ll see what it’s like in the morning.”

(Wednesday 16th September)
Eleven of us met in the car park of Edge Renewables on a DRY but cool and grey day, including the caller from yesterday. We wrapped up well and set off, with little regard for the flora and fauna of the car park, for the “regeneration” area.

We soon spread out. Some forged ahead to the target area; others dawdled; and the fungi group went a different way - to inspect the log piles. We passed some cultivated poppies on one of the many waste piles.


























We went up to the entrance to what we have christened the “hidden quarry” which holds a grassland rich in plant and insect life. We did not go in as the pile of bark waste that made entry difficult last month, had grown further and cut off any access other than over the top, which we did not fancy attempting.

We continued on our way. We found a mystery Alder, which, having checked my book of trees at home, is probably an Italian Alder, on which I found a Green shieldbug.


























We continued on our way.

It is a long walk from the car park to the regeneration area.

I descended to the quarry floor where I peered at the logs awaiting processing, beat and swept a few trees, finding little, and then wandered over to the pool. The pool was smooth and gave good reflections of the quarry face and trees.















Eventually most of us gathered in the regeneration area. I was presented with a bug to identify. It was a Water Measurer, a very long thin insect, a bit like half a tooth-pick with eyes. Sorry I did not photograph it but there are plenty of examples on the Internet if you are interested.

A few had coffee; others looked for things of interest; and some just watched the world go by. One of the group distributed very nice chocolate biscuits. It was that sort of day.

We dispersed again then reconvened about half an hour later for lunch.

We peered into the distance – was that Brown Clee or Titterstone Clee we could see under the brighter sky? I really must learn which is which.

The fungi group appeared, then disappeared again as they went to explore another area of the quarry.

Lunch over, we continued to scour the area before moving on. We climbed to the top of the quarry where we found hundreds of woodlice by turning over loose stones. Each stone seemed to have its own community. With some effort we managed to identify one as a Common shiny woodlouse.
















The sun came out and it was pleasantly warm. So much for the Yellow Triangles. However, our time was soon up; we made our way back to the cars and home.

Keith Fowler




5 Oct 2015

Ambushed!

Mason’s Bank, Wednesday 9th September 2015

It is a long way to south-west Shropshire from Telford but, as I was being chauffeured, I was able to enjoy the excellent scenery on the way down, remembering that I was also being a human sat nav.

We were a few minutes late getting to the meeting point, but we were the first there. Or so we had thought as two other cars approached from the opposite direction having overshot the parking spot.

Eventually, eleven of us gathered under disappointingly leaden but non-threatening skies and moved on to the site. Well two of us did, but the others seemed reluctant to move.















Perhaps they were wary of the cattle on the site, one of which was keeping an eye on our progress.

















Whatever the reason the rest joined us and started to look at the site and for insects, birds, flowers and other things of interest.

“Which way?” I was asked. I pointed to my left. The questioner took note and made his way in the indicated direction, but the others went the other way – towards the cattle!

The cattle, however, after their initial interest, ignored us and continued to feed, moving slowly towards the road.

Mason’s Bank is a Shropshire Wildlife Reserve. Their information states that it was an ancient heath that was planted with conifers in the 1960s. The trees were felled at the turn of this century and the heather and bilberry has made a welcome return.
















Many of the stumps have become their own little nature reserves covered in lichens and other small plants and bordered by heather, grass, bilberry and the less welcome bramble.



















And with lots of dead trees we get lots of the familiar dead wood fungus - Sulphur tuft.
























The cattle continued to eat and move slowly but inexorably towards the road and the gate. We were blissfully unaware of their tactics.

Several Fox moth larvae were located.

















Very little standing deadwood was left but one such trunk was covered in lichen, one of which is probably the scarce Usnea florida.


















Lunch time approached and there were plenty of tree stumps providing natural seats for us. But you had to be careful as some of the stumps although looking solid were soft as they had rotted internally and would collapse if sat on.

It was then we realised that the cattle had executed a cunning plan and circled round behind us cutting off our retreat. We were trapped!















Most of us had carried our lunch with us but one had left his in the car. He set off. Would he get through? Would the cattle repel his attempts to get his food?

We lost interest and ate our lunches.

He returned a few minutes later, unscathed, sandwich in hand. The cattle had just moved away when he approached them.

After lunch we left the site and crossed the road to follow the footpath to a neighbouring gulley. This was very different habit being much wetter, with water gathering from wet ground and forming into a stream. This area proved very productive for the insect spotter, and also provided many perching points on which to sit and take in the view or to have a few minutes of quiet contemplation.















So another wonderful day out came to an end as we made our way back to the cars then home. One final pleasure was the sight of a Red Kite as we drove along.

Keith Fowler

25 Sep 2015

Window of Opportunity II

Nipstone Rock and The Bog, Wednesday 2nd September 2015

An early start was needed to reach the Nipstone Rock car park for the designated meet time. It was pouring down as I collected others on the way to the site. It rained almost all the way there, even though, at times, we travelled along sunlit roads. But there was a nice rainbow to admire. 

The rain stopped as we neared the site and, apart from a few spots, it stayed dry and mostly sunny until it was nearly time to call it a day. Once again the weather provided us with a window of opportunity to do our thing.

Nipstone rock is an area of heathland that was planted with conifers in the 1960s. The trees were felled early in the 21st century and the heathland has recovered.



















As always we started in the car park where we found a shieldbug nymph in the heather which may have been a Heather shieldbug or a Gorse shieldbug (what was it doing in the heather). The jury is out on this and it has been referred to a higher authority who may be able to determine which it is.

As we made our way up the lane a gorse bush became the centre of attention as the paparazzi gathered around it.



















Their and their cameras’ focus was on a number of gorse seed heads that were covered in Gorse shield bugs in various stages of their development from nymph to adult.





















The verge of the lane up which we were progressing provided many items of interest for anyone interested in insects, fungi, plants and mosses. One club moss, sorry I do not know its name, was quite common.


















And one of the group found a ladybird that we see all too rarely, a Hieroglyphic ladybird.
























Unfortunately the Great Spider Hunter was unable to join us on this adventure so, needless to say, spiders and harvestmen were out and about in great numbers. I will not attempt to name definitively the spider in the photograph but it looks suspiciously like a garden spider – I await enlightenment!
























An as yet unidentified but distinctive larva attached itself to the sleeve of one of the group. Can you identify it? If so please let me know.

Editor's Note: I think it's a Pebble Prominent moth. Foodplant; Sleeves!














Like last week the window of opportunity came with a stiff breeze. We sought shelter for lunch. As we huddled in the lea of the tree lined bank of the path I knew a decision had to be made. I stood up and addressed the group.

“Who would like to go to The Bog, who would prefer to stay here?”

When the rather childish sniggers had died down it was clear that we were ready to move on.

We returned to the cars and transferred to The Bog car park. The Bog, or Bog Mine as the brown direction sign more decorously calls it. is the site of a former lead and barytes  mine and village which has regenerated into heathland and grassland as well as retaining some relics to remind one of its past.

















We explored. Early findings were a couple of lichen that had produced fruiting bodies:












































We made our way to a marshy area where we spent a while doing what we do. A few spots of rain were felt; then a few more; then rather a lot more. We decided that discretion was the better part of valour and called it a day and headed to The Bog visitor centre for tea (or coffee) and cake.

Unfortunately as we refreshed in the visitor centre the rain turned into a monsoon. There was no escape, we had to return to the cars at some point. I had just about dried out by the time I got home. But the rain failed to spoil yet another excellent day.

Thank you to the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Shropshire Council for giving us permission to do what we enjoy doing.

Keith Fowler



21 Sep 2015

Window of opportunity

Devil’s Dingle, Wednesday 26th August

It was raining when I got up, it was drizzling when I set off, it had stopped but the sky was grey when I arrived to meet the rest of the group. The clouds broke up, the sun came out and we had had six hours of almost unbroken sunshine by the time we left the site. It rained again just after I had returned home. The weather provided us with a magical window of opportunity to explore the former ash disposal site at Devil’s Dingle. (It was a bit breezy, but you cannot have everything.)

Eight of us met at the gates of the site and then made our way up to the parking spot at the eastern end of the path that borders the dams. We set out along this path:














Clearly our pace was not to everyone’s satisfaction as two disappeared, off to do their own things. The rest of us scanned the vegetation around the edge of the path and the pool that it borders looking for things of interest and enjoying the excellent view that this site and the weather afforded.

Did I mention the breeze? Well this part is pretty exposed so it was a little windblown(!) causing this moth to hang on to the top of a tube when it was released rather than risk flying:





















The moth did open its wings briefly allowing us to identify it as a Shaded broad-bar. Nearby we found a web of a Labyrinth spider.















A common sight at this time of the year are large rugby ball shaped galls on thistles that accommodate the larvae of the “picture-wing” fly Urophora cardui. It is curious that we do not find the adult fly more often.

























At the end of the first pool is an area of shingle which has been created to encourage nesting Little ringed plover. To the best of my knowledge these birds have never nested in this area but the shingle is maintained and cleared each year by the Wrekin Forest Volunteers during their sessions at Devil’s Dingle. As you can see a little maintenance will be required this winter:


















From here you have a good view of the pool to the east:


















the pool to the west:
















and The Wrekin to the north:



















There were some dandelion hawkweed hawkbit .... yellow flowers in the gravel and one had the hoverfly Chrysotoxum bicinctum feeding from it. The fly was so engrossed that it did not fly off when the flower head was picked or when it was photographed. It might still be there.
























This area does resemble the beach at some of our popular seaside resorts so we had coffee here which turned a few minutes later into lunch, where we were joined by one of the itinerant members. 

We spent time exploring the grassland between the pools, well, some of us did, two went off in a different direction and one other decided a moment of solitude was needed.



















Somehow we all (but one) joined up as we made our way along the edge of the pool towards the western edge of the site. Along the shoreline we found evidence of freshwater mussels:























What had been eating them? Our suspicions fell on ...


















At the end of the pool is an area of wet grassland which is part of the overflow system. We arrived mid-afternoon. It was fairly sheltered, it was very warm and several species of butterflies put on a show. Our remaining itinerant joined us as we sat on the bank (avoiding the wasps’ nest) to take in the entertainment that nature was providing.





















Re-assembled as a group we made our way back to the cars. On the way I could not resist taking yet another photograph of the cooling towers reminding us of how this haven had come into existence. (I have not been in the area long enough to know what was there before it became an ash disposal site.)















We were not done. We stopped at the entrance to the site for a look at the bank that borders the lane. Here we were treated to some late rarities (for Shropshire). Denticulate Leatherbug and the large hoverfly, Volucella inanis put the icing on the day’s cake.

What lies in store for the site when the power station closes at the end of the year is unknown to us. Let us hope that the powers that be reach a sensible decision that is satisfactory to all parties allowing it to be maintained and remain accessible.

My thanks to E.on for permitting access and allowing us to spend the day doing what we enjoy doing.

Keith Fowler