12 May 2015

A new fungus discovered?

The Hem, Telford – Wednesday 6 May, by Keith Fowler

When I awoke the sun was shining and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. How quickly it changed and the rains came. However, although the forecast was that there would be so much rain that we would need an ark, the day turned out to be not too bad with a mixture of rain, dull periods and sun. We got wet but not too wet.

We assembled in the car park at the allotted time and made our way to the Hem. Unfortunately one couple had to beat a hasty retreat as their car needed some tlc (but they rejoined us a little later) and three others were delayed whilst they assessed the weather.

The Hem is owned by Telford and Wrekin Council but after years of neglect is now under the management of Mark Ecclestone (see his website here) who is undertaking a seven year coppicing cycle as well as generally improving the woodland.

As we walked into the site we were greeted by a mass of Bluebells mixed with a variety of other plants including Greater stitchwort, Yellow archangel, Wood anemone and Bugle. It was a wonderful sight to which my photographs do little justice.

We started with a tour of the wood which has now had three years of coppicing. Fortunately deer have yet to find this wood so coppiced trees are regenerating well. The latest coppicing activity has opened up the area around some small pools and Marsh marigold has taken full advantage of the conditions.

During this tour our fungi expert came across a fungus that he had never seen before. Despite his best efforts the fungus remained unidentified; is it new to science?

 (photograph Jim Cresswell)

The tour over we set about pursuing our own pursuits. I soon found a Birch shieldbug when I beat a Yew (or was it a Western hemlock – they all look the same to me). Our spiderman was grubbing around in leaf-litter looking for, yes, spiders, but also whatever else happened to be scooped up.

(photograph: Les Hughes)

Others looked for flies, moths, butterflies, mosses, plants and we made our very first records of earthworms thanks to our guest from the FSC.

So, despite the attempts of the weather to dampen our spirits, we had yet another excellent day on an excellent site. Our thanks are given to Mark for allowing us to visit and interrupt his usual routine.

Once we have made our way home we still have work to do as we attempt to identify specimens that we have collected in order to record their presence on the site. Techniques for this vary from comparing pictures to using keys often with the help of a microscope. In the world of fungi it is often necessary to look at features using a high-powered microscope. And, if you have a camera handy, you can get some surreal photographs. (The explanations are from our fungus expert.)

The first is of Corynespora smithii, which is found on dead standing stems of holly – the structures are called conidiophores.

(Photograph: Les Hughes)

The second is of an as yet undetermined tiny “disco” found growing on soil. The photograph shows that it has smooth spores; elegant, whip-like paraphyses, and a single ascus, showing its eight spores waiting to be fired off into space [the structure on the right].

And finally a fungus that is a specialist of bonfire sites Anthracobia macrocystis.

Keith Fowler

7 May 2015

Fun in the sun by Keith Fowler

Lea Quarry, Wednesday 15th April

Following our woes last week at the Granville Country Park it was reassuring and confidence building to be able to leave our cars in a more secure site, by the offices of Edge Renewables in Lea Quarry.

This visit was the next in the series of visits we are making to the quarry to see if we can discern any trends in the way the quarry is recovering from its past. On this occasion we were joined by the Invertebrate Challenge Hoverfly Group, now known as the Dipterist Group (I have changed our name so why shouldn’t they) for one of their outings. In all a dozen assembled in the car park on a beautiful, warm spring day.

We immediately split into two groups with the dipterists going their own way to follow their chosen pursuit. The remainder headed for the “regeneration” area ... or we would have done had some of us not taken so long to get ready. So spiderman set off ahead of the rest of us and we promised to catch him up as soon as possible. 

Eventually we were all kitted up and ready for the off. We walked quickly about 5 yards to an area of grassland just off the car park where the botanists decided to hone their skills by identifying the flora of this area. The others quietly searched for invertebrates for a few minutes until it became clear that the botanists were in for the long haul when we made our excuses and left them to it and hurried on to catch up spiderman.

And we caught up with him ... 90 minutes later ... just in time for lunch. 

To be fair it was a long walk, about half a mile, and we were constantly distracted by sights to the side of the path. Here are just a few:

Green tiger beetle

Violets and 7-spot

A Stonecrop?


Sloe bugs

The south west facing bank at the edge of the quarry that separates it from the summit of Wenlock Edge had burst into life following the recent spell of warm spring weather. So it would have been remiss of us to walk resolutely past it without enjoying the sight and looking to see what else was taking advantage of the conditions.

As I decided to have lunch the botanists wandered into view and joined us, so we all lunched. It was warm, it was very pleasant and it was very tempting not to move. But we are dedicated and so, with some reluctance, we recommenced our survey. The botanists were soon into action:

(Oops one forgot his high visibility jacket.)

Others continued to look for invertebrates. Amongst the many sloe bugs that were emerging to take advantage of the warmth our chief shieldbug spotter noticed a shiny bug which turned out to be a blue shieldbug.

We made our way back slowly towards a grassland between the offices and one of the woodpiles. This seems to have become the traditional last calling point of each visit. Here some sat down to enjoy the sights and sounds of the day and have a drink, others went hunting. The branches of a Scots pine were beaten and it yielded a large weevil that was identified as a Large pine weevil, a Green shieldbug and a Juniper shieldbug. I suspect that the latter was overwintering in the pine as they are normally associated with cypress like conifers.

Large pine weevil

Juniper shieldbug

At long last the dipterists joined us and we swapped tales of derring-do, great finds, near misses, novel field techniques and so on.

An excellent day in excellent weather rounded off, by some, in a local hostelry to replace lost fluids.

Keith Fowler

6 May 2015

Exploration of the Lost World by Brian Herring

22nd April 2015  

A well-equipped team of Wrekin Forest Volunteers ventured boldly (0r boldly ventured ?) into the remote dense forest of the Lost World, known to the local indigenous people as the Loamhole and Lydebrook Dingles. In the local language a dingle is a steep sided valley with dense vegetation.

Led by intrepid explorer/naturalist Keith Fowler, we followed boardwalks,steps and bridges,ancient routes constructed and maintained by the manual labour of indigenous people, as shown by the occurrence of their sacred symbols SGCT. Margaret was soon busy noting examples of ancient flora, while others attempted to capture and identify the abundant invertebrate fauna. Fortunately we did not encounter any of the venomous diptera known to inhabit the undergrowth.
Struggling onwards and upwards, now along tracks made over countless years by locals searching for mineral wealth, or maybe bushmeat, we eventually discovered a well constructed wooden bridge,which leads to the only means of reaching the old trade route down to the River Severn, known as Jiggers Bank. Nowadays mainly used by eco-tourists.
We rested for a few minutes on the bridge to contemplate. The little stream beneath is doubtless a raging torrent come the monsoon season, or perhaps somebody saw a photo opportunity.


We returned to civilisation via a shorter route along the ancient Rope Walk, a reminder of old local skilled trades. Returning safely as the sun sank slowly in the west, thankful that we had not lost any members in this remaining area of primeval forest.   
Brian Herring

3 May 2015

St. Mark’s Day has passed by Keith Fowler

E.on’s ash disposal site at Devil’s Dingle – Wednesday 29th Apri

Eight of us met outside the gates of the site on a sunny but chilly and breezy late April day. Whilst we were waiting for everyone to arrive we saw a Buzzard making a hasty exit as it was chased off by another bird. To everyone’s surprise the chasing bird was a Long-tailed tit.

Our first stop was within a hundred yards of the gate as we all parked up and got out to inspect the bank at the side of the road which is used as a nesting site by several bees. 

Yes, they really are looking for bees (and other insects).

From here we returned to our cars and drove on for a while then stopped by a plantation above the lower grasslands where several owl boxes have been installed. By the road there was a clump of Gorse. I could not resist it, so I went over and tapped a bush and out fell a Gorse shieldbug.

What a change from a couple of years ago when I was on a visit to Veolia’s Coalmoor site with the Shropshire Invertebrate Group where I was unable to find a single Gorse shieldbug despite the rest of the party finding them for fun!

Buoyed by this early success we drove to the top of the hill and parked by the dam. From here we had an excellent view over the Severn valley to the hills beyond.

During the winter conservation work has been done on the dam to remove trees that overhang the pool to remove perches for predatory birds thereby improving the safety of any nesting birds. A side-effect is to open up the view of the pools.

By now the group had splintered into several smaller groups as we pursued our various interests. Walking along by the pool we were treated to the scratchy song of a Sedge warbler in full voice. This was replaced a few minutes later as we looked in some grassland by the beautiful song of a Skylark. I know which I prefer, but they both have their place.

Most of us gathered together in the lee of a bank for lunch in the north east corner of the site. This proved an excellent spot to rest as the sun shone and the wind was kept at bay.

St. Mark’s Day is April 25th so it was no surprise that there were St. Mark’s flies about. (Apparently they have acquired their name as they usually appear on St. Mark’s Day.) The males are quite large and fly with their legs dangling, often in swarms. We did not see any swarms but there were plenty of males on the wing and some were successful in wooing a female.

After lunch we continued our walk along the northern edge of the site. This brought us into more established woodland that is a remnant of Devil’s Dingle pre-dating ash disposal. Along this stretch I spotted my first damselfly of the year – a Large Red Damselfly. This posed patiently for photographs before flying off. Unfortunately as I was the one persuading it to pose I did not take one so you will have to use your imagination here.

We meandered on. I was fortunate to hear the calls of Little ringed plover and then see them flying around one of the pools. A group of Tufted ducks also put on a flying display. Eventually we got back to the cars where, remarkably, all the other wanderers had returned. After spending time gathered around a beetle trying to decide what it was we packed up and went home.

Some of the insects I look at are very small but one of the group looks for microscopic organisms. He picked up a Blackberry leaf with a rust on it, prepared a microscope slide and was able to identify it as Phragmidium violaceum. What an amazing thing.

Photo: © Les Hughes

My thanks go to E.on for permitting us to visit this excellent site.

Keith Fowler

1 May 2015

We are not the Staffordshire Invertebrate Group by Keith Fowler

Loamhole Dingle, Wednesday 22 April 2015

A few weeks ago I was invited to attend Staffordshire Invertebrate Group’s search for Oil Beetles at Three Shires Head. Why not? I thought. It would do me good to get out of the county. 

First I drove to Leek via Penkridge to attend the SIG’s (yes it is confusing as the Shropshire Invertebrate Group is also SIG – perhaps the Staffordshire group should be StIG) Annual General Meeting. In Leek I was treated to an Eccles Cake, a great weakness of mine, which I wisely saved for later, attended the meeting, visited “the” bookshop then drove to Derbyshire, which, apparently was the nearest place to park for the group.

I took no part in the decision where to park so was unaware of what lay ahead.

We set off across the moor. I could not believe the pace that was being set. There was no time to stop and look at anything. We tramped on, and on, and on and ... well you get the idea. Well over an hour later we arrived at Three Shires Head where the counties of Staffordshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire meet. We came from Derbyshire; stepped this way and we were in Staffordshire; stepped that way and we were in Cheshire.

We actually paused and did some looking. I found a fly Sepsis violaceus (in Cheshire) and a Staphylinid beetle which I gave to a member of the group to identify. After 30 minutes or so we moved on – were we going back; so soon? We were, but not directly. Someone pointed out a Lesser bloody-nosed beetle sunbathing on a wall. 

The group suddenly huddled. A Violet oil beetle had been found. This was photographed many times. Great rejoicing, the target species for the day had been found – unfortunately not in Staffordshire as we were in Cheshire. We marched on.

I think I have a reasonable sense of direction (my wife may mention a certain forest in the Lake District at this point) and we seemed to be heading back towards the cars. But then we did a U-turn from one side of the valley to the other and walked in the opposite direction. Some time later the path down to Three Shires Head we had used came into view. We continued, on and on and ....

I got back to the car at the time we normally prepare the evening meal, so I rang home and gave my apologies and suggested we eat about 2 hours later. Do you remember that Eccles Cake? Fortunately I did, and ate it. Very nutritious! Remarkably from where we had parked you could see the Wrekin. The problem was that it was an hour and three quarter’s drive away.

What has this to do with our visit to Loamhole Dingle? I hope that will become clear later.

It was a beautiful day. We started by looking for invertebrates around the pool and found three species of shieldbug – Green, Hawthorn (pictured) and Dock bug. There was a good stand of Forget-me-not but no Forget-me-not shieldbugs were found.

A couple of early captures required the identification committee to take a seat whilst they came to a decision.

From the pool we followed the stream up the dingle. There were a few newly emerged craneflies about and these pristine Tipula vittata were wasting no time.

Coffee was taken where the path crossed over the stream. On the opposite bank there was a swathe of Ramsons, not yet in full bloom, that was attracting a large number of hoverflies, so time was spent pursuing them.

After coffee we continued along the path to join the Rope Walk. The Rope Walk ends as you enter Lydebrook Dingle. Here we branched off the main path to cross a small fenced woodland with the intention of getting to the waterfall marked on the Ordnance Survey map.

We paused for lunch after exiting the woodland and it was here that one of the party alluded to the recent trip to Three Shires Head and suggested that I had been infected by a desire to travel great distances on our walks. I was stung. The distance we walk (usually less than three miles in a day) is of nothing compared to the Staffordshire trip (between 7 and 9 miles, depending on how you measure it, in half a day). True, on this occasion I had set off with a goal to reach the waterfall but Three Shires Head was in a different league.

It was a very, very short walk from lunch to the waterfall. The falls were a bit of a disappointment but, perhaps, we did not get the best view and the water levels were low. 

So no picture of the feature but here are five of the group taking their final steps down to the waterfall.

From the waterfall we made our way slowly back to the cars and returned home after another excellent day.

Keith Fowler