16 Apr 2015

Granville Country Park by Keith Fowler

No fanciful title this week as for the first time in the history of these events we fell foul of criminal intent when 5 cars, parked in the main car park of Granville CP, were broken into (plus two others belonging to other visitors to the site). As far as I know only Jim had something taken – his bag containing his FSC fold out identification sheets. The sheets were discarded by the miscreants and recovered; I am not sure if he found his bag.

As a result five of our group have to arrange for replacement windows for their cars. Some of the cost will be covered by their insurance but they will still be out of pocket where excesses apply. Add to this the inconvenience of having to secure their vehicles until the repairs can be done, clearing up the mess, making different arrangements as their cars are not available for normal use, reporting the crime to the police, etc.. 

As one of the group commented – at least no-one was hurt. Yes, cars can be repaired and property replaced but it is still annoying.

Before this, thirteen of us set off from the car park on what was to be a figure of eight tour of the site visiting the furnaces and canal basin, the western stockpile, Barnyard pit mound and Waxhill Meadow. As events unfolded we had just left the furnaces when we were told of the break-ins.

We returned to the car park to find five vehicles broken into and three, for some lucky reason, untouched. Once the police had been informed and the affected drivers had attempted to deal with getting their broken windows replaced most went home. Three of us stayed on into the afternoon but it was not with any great enthusiasm.

That is all I want to report, but here are some photographs of the better part of the day.

Keith Fowler

9 Apr 2015

We’re off... by Keith Fowler

Ercall LNR – Wednesday 1st April

I kept a close eye on the weather forecast on the days leading up to Wednesday 1st April, the date of our first walk of the season. Early indications were that we were in for a deluge and our first walk being abandoned without an invertebrate being found. But as the days passed the weather forecast proved slightly more encouraging as the deluge eased to rain then showers and finally, on the day of the walk, to dry but breezy in the morning showers in the afternoon. So, at least, we would get a couple of hours in before being forced to find alternative entertainment.

Someone else was keeping an eye on the forecast and unfortunately made the wrong choice as she decided not to come as it was going to rain all day.

In the end the weather was kind and apart from a couple of short periods of spitting and one very, very brief sharp shower the weather was fine and occasionally sunny although a little windy. 

Seven of us gathered in the car park opposite the Buckatree Hotel. Two others joined us later and one was missing but he too found us later. Apparently he had sent me a message to warn me that he would be late but, although my mobile phone was switched on, I failed to register its receipt. In fact I only noticed it later when a phone started ringing. As always when this happens I looked around at everyone else to see who would answer it until a passer-by pointed out that it was coming from my bag. By the time I had retrieved the phone it was a missed call. I did not recognise the number so ignored it. I apologise to our late-comer for missing his message.

We had a good mix of stalwarts, more recent “recruits” and a couple of newcomers who brought their enthusiasm for lichens and springtails to our mix of interests and, of course, importantly, their own excuses for not being able to identify a specimen. A good, considered excuse is almost as satisfying as an identification.

We crossed “Beatle” bridge to make our way to Quarry 5 (in my numbering – I am not sure what the Geologists call it – but it is the first main quarry on the right along the main path.) Crossing the bridge which many of us helped to put in place a few years ago we realised that chicken wire had been laid on the bridge – who did this?

A pussy willow in flower stood at the entrance to Quarry 5. We paused to see if any insects would fly in to nectar. Disappointingly only an Early Bumble Bee obliged. We looked up and saw a Peregrine glide across the sky to be joined by a second. Perhaps we may have a nesting attempt in the area this year. With hope we switched our attention to the quarry. 

Determined beating of a pile of Bramble dislodged a Hawthorn shieldbug. After posing for photographs it was returned from whence it came. Buoyed by this success a gorse bush was beaten and, hey presto, it produced ... no, not a Gorse shieldbug but the red and black rhopalid bug Corizus hyoscami. This too was willing to pose for the paparazzi but one of them dropped it, for it never to 
be seen again, trying to get that “natural” shot.

Quarry 4, or, if you prefer a different numbering system, the next quarry on the right, was our next port of call. A coffee break was announced and as I do not drink coffee I did some sifting of leaf litter and turned up what I thought was a pill woodlouse tightly rolled up. I took it home to check and it was good thing that I did as the key pointed out that Armadillidium vulgare, the common pill woodlouse, is sometimes confused with the pill millipede Glomeris marginata. When the insect eventually felt safe enough to unroll it was clear that it was a millipede – oops! All was well in the end as the millipede was returned to the wild.

Our next stop was the Dairy Pit where over several years the Wrekin Forest Volunteers and others had done some coppicing work. Some of the coups had been fenced and other had not and (apart from the fences!) it was clear which were protected from the browsing of deer. The unfenced areas were now more or less grassland; the fenced areas were showing healthy regrowth of the trees; however, these areas were also scrubbing over, with bramble taking a strong foothold.

Lunch was taken here and we passed the time discussing springtails and their ability to jump. Unlike many insects that use their hind legs to jump springtails live up to their name and spring by using their tail or more correctly their “furcula”. This is an appendage at the tip of the abdomen that is folded beneath the body and held under tension which can be released for jumping when the animal is threatened. Apparently this ability is limited so if you chase a springtail for long enough it runs out of ping and can no longer escape.

Lunch was also enhanced by our globe-trotting mycologist who had recently returned from Cambodia via Thailand where he purchased some freeze-dried Durian for our delectation and delight. This resembled the centre of a Crunchie bar. The taste was pleasant and so I was tempted to seconds. Unfortunately the aftertaste was not so pleasant and lingered all afternoon and even survived the evening’s curry. Durian is a very popular fruit of South Asia but its odour is renowned so much so that it is banned from public buildings and transport in some areas. Still you don’t know if you don’t try.

This collection of Scarlet Elf Cups was found amongst the brash at the side of the path between the coppiced coups.

From Dairy Pits we climbed up Lawrence’s Hill. The path was littered with little pinkish-purple flower heads. These proved puzzling to all but the identification committee finally decided that they were fledgling cones from the Larches that bordered the path dislodged by the recent high winds.

The last time I visited Lawrence’s Hill it was a good mix of heather and bilberry just about keeping the invading bracken and birch at bay. But on this occasion the heather seemed lifeless. Does heather go through a period of dormancy in the winter and will it recover? If not, then some catastrophic event has taken place.

As we descended from Lawrence’s Hill we were provided with excellent views of the “unconformity” displayed to the right of the quarry face of what I call Quarry 2.

About this time a second Corizus hyoscami was found and this time successfully photographed “au naturelle”.

From here we continued our descent and regained the car park where we went our various ways after a satisfying day.

Ed Phillips has kindly sent me some photographs of the springtails he saw during the walk;

Orchesella villosa

Orchesella cincta

Neanura muscorum

Pogonognathellus longicornis

The photographs of springtails are ©Ed Phillips; the other photographs are my own.

Keith Fowler

1 Apr 2015

What did we do on our holidays? By Keith Fowler

The new “season” of walks starts on 1st April (or started if you read this at a later date) and we have rebranded the walks yet again. Suggestions were made that the title “Joy of Invertebrates” was not inclusive as the group also looked at plants, birds and fungi. So after a lot of thought we have decided to rename the series as “Joy of Wildlife”. We hope that is a suitable title. It certainly encapsulates what we hope to achieve.

The new season has walks on each Wednesday from 1st April until 30th September. These will be followed by more occasional jaunts through to April 2016, when, all being well, it will start all over again. A variety of sites, some old, some new, will be visited and, hopefully, there will be enough variety in the sites to keep us on our toes throughout the period.

Another change is that we are now supported by the Fields Study Centre as part of the Invertebrate Challenge legacy. Several of us were pupils of Invertebrate Challenge and following its conclusion last December FSC are continuing to support us as we go out into the big wide world and pass on our knowledge to others.

Ah, I know what you are thinking, what has all this got to do with the title of the piece? 

Nothing really, I am just letting you know what is on the horizon as we approach 1st April (or approached if you read this after that date).

Right, back to the subject of the title - Holidays! We have not been away to distant shores or idle - It was just a holiday from writing these reports after each visit. 

We have continued our monthly visits to Lea Quarry on Wenlock Edge. We continued to find things of interest throughout the period, not necessarily wildlife, as I will come to later.

Our fungi expert arranged a couple of forays in Sutton Wood and Limekiln Woods and followed this up with a winter tree identification walk in Loamhole Dingle. 

On the whole the weather treated us well on all these visits. I do not know if there is a metrological explanation for this or it was just good fortune.

It was a beautiful day for our visit to Lea Quarry in January. However it had snowed and the quarry was cloaked in a substantial layer of the white stuff. We quickly abandoned our plans and just ambled around the quarry enjoying the picturesque sight provided by nature albeit in a man-made environment.

After a while our reverie was interrupted by a distant call on a hunting horn. We thought nothing more about it other than noticing subsequent occasional calls in the distance.

We lunched and as we wandered back we caught sight of horsemen in the fields across the valley – but no hounds. Where were they? We soon found out when we looked down from the quarry rim to see a pack of hounds had invaded the storage area of the fencing company that uses this part of the quarry. Then we saw a horseman in full hunt regalia trying to round them up.

He eventually succeeded and led the hounds back to the rest of the hunting party, who then made their way across a field (where the sheep had sensibly beaten a retreat to one corner) then out of sight.

The weather was dry but there was a bitter wind on our March visit to Lea Quarry. We concentrated on refreshing the pitfall traps and sampling in the regeneration area. Once that was done we decided to call it a day. However, one plant did poke its head above ground to let us know that Spring is just around the corner.

Keith Fowler (the author, not the plant! Which is probably a Coltsfoot (the plant, not the author) - ed.