28 Jun 2015

An Exciting Day at Dudmaston by Margaret Mitchell

Wednesday 3 June 2015

The day began, as usual, with a search in the car park. We then drifted in all directions into the woodland. There was much discussion and complicated identification of a fir tree, finally named by reversing the pine needles. With two prominent parallel lines along the back of the needles it was Western Hemlock.

Our next puzzle was a chickweed look-a-like, though the plant had five individual petals, whilst chickweed has five deeply cut petals. On examining the leaves they had three prominent parallel veins making it Three-nerved Sandwort, Moetringia trinervis. The five petals are shorter than the sepals, making an attractive, star-like flower. It is quite common in shady woods but a first for me. Little did I know there would be many firsts for me today.

Keith gathered us all together (we are an unruly lot) and shepherded us along the woodland path. As he was carrying a stout, knobbly stick we all thought it wise to comply.

The path was lined with hawthorn, oak and western hemlock. The bright green new growth of which, resembling a soft bottlebrush, fooled us initially into thinking it was a different tree, but no, it was western hemlock.

Pausing in the warm sunshine, we examined the grasses, their awns, ligules and growth habit. I tracked one down as a Soft Brome. “How did you know that one?” asked an impressed Les. “Ah! Well, I saw some with Penny yesterday!” I replied. It’s always good to have an expert for a mentor.

On route to the meadow I saw a plant that appeared to be giant rhubarb. Thanks to Les it was identified as burdock. I didn’t realise it could grow so big! It towered almost to my height with enormous leaves, but surprisingly was the more common Lesser Burdock. We determined this by looking at the stem of the lower leaf, which was hollow-hence ‘lesser’.

The best was yet to come. I could see Nigel had chosen the lunch spot on a sandy bank and hurried to join him. Lunch was delayed as we kept finding little gems, such as Wild Pansy, Viola tricolor, with purple, lilac and yellow petals, now scarce and listed as near threatened. The flower was tiny, much smaller than the garden pansy. In fact we were to see many more scattered throughout the meadow, nestling amongst the tall grasses.

The next find was a tiny flower of the pea family, Birdsfoot, Ornithopus perpusillus. This is locally common and is quite exquisite when viewed through a lens, with a cream and pink 3 lobed flower. It gets its name from the bird’s-foot shaped seedpods.

But Sue made the find of the day, Hoary Cinquefoil, Potentilla argentea. Exciting to find a rare, near threatened plant. The leaves are very distinctive, narrowly palmately cut into five leaflets, slightly rolled. The deciding feature is the white hoar frosting on the back of the leaves. The county recorder was quite excited too when I submitted my records and she saw the photograph.

Across the meadow we went, past swathes of Germander Speedwell, to find the last treasure of the day. Amongst the long grass at the side of the path was a single Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatumt. We looked for the leaves in vain until I read that they have often disappeared by the time the plant flowers. It is unusual in that it appears to have 6 petals but in fact it has 3 petals and 3 sepals (all identical) and grows from a bulb, only opening fully in the sun. It was introduced to gardens in 1548 and was first recorded in the wild in 1650.

Reluctantly we left the meadow and the sandy margins with so many special plants.

What a lovely day!

Thank you Keith for organising it.

Margaret Mitchell

25 Jun 2015

Bird’s-foot trefoil rules! by Keith Fowler

Lea Quarry, Wednesday 17th June 2015

In April the quarry’s flora was dominated by cowslips, primroses and violets. In May these had to a large extent been replaced by flowers of a purple hue. For this visit the dominant plants were Bird’s-foot trefoil and Ox-eye daisy. The Bird’s-foot trefoil was everywhere and had even managed to establish patches on the moonscape of the “regeneration” area.

Ten of us gathered in the car park at Lea Quarry on a grey, cool day. As has become the fashion the Great Spider Hunter set off for the “regeneration” area, this time taking the Great Shieldbug Finder as his apprentice and porter. The rest of us took the next two hours to meander over the grasslands before joining them for lunch.

As befits any site the first part of the day for the main group was spent in the car park. Moving out of the car park onto the track that leads to the grassland behind the offices we found Dyer’s greenweed coming into flower.

We moved on to the grassland and dispersed to search out things that interested us.

One of the insects we found in abundance was the Swollen-thighed beetle, Oedemera nobilis. The male of this species is very distinctive being long and thin, shiny metallic blue/green with bloated thighs. Often we saw them on Ox-eye daisy.

We moved on to another grassland where the Bird’s-foot trefoil and Ox-eye daisies were very well established.

And in amongst the sea of green, white and yellow were to be found several spikes of purple in the form of Pyramidal orchids.

Time was marching on so we made our way towards the end of the quarry to meet up with the other two members of the group and, of course, have lunch. When we arrived the Great Shieldbug Finder, who if truth be told had been a little off form recently, presented me with three bugs. A Green shieldbug, a Dock bug and a “star” – a Denticulate leatherbug. He is back in top form!

This bug has a slimmer look to it than the more familiar Dock bug and the edge of its pronotum has a series of white spines. The spines are visible in the following photograph.

As far as I was concerned this find would be hard to beat but the afternoon’s sightings ran it close.

We decided to venture onto new territory. Between the processing and regeneration areas there is a path that leads gently up to the top of the quarry where there was a small quarry face and a flattish area of grassland bordering the Shropshire Way footpath.

Although we have been given permission to access this area the foot of the path was blocked by a locked gate. What to do? Climb it? Climb the fence next to it? 

No – take it off its hinges!

We did remember to put it back on its hinges when we left.

At the top, the sun came out, the temperature rose significantly and we were rewarded with sightings of several butterflies including Wall brown and Green hairstreak; the long-horn beetle Anaglyptus mysticus; Pyramidal orchids; Bee orchids and a Broad-bodied chaser. 

A bonus that the elevation afforded was of a different view of the quarry to the one thatwe are used to.

We descended from our lofty position, replaced the gate, made our way back to the cars and then wended our way home.

Keith Fowler

23 Jun 2015

All stages of life by Keith Fowler

Bucknell Wood, Wednesday 10th June

Our visit to Bucknell Wood had elements of birth, life, reproduction and death on a bright but nippy day. 

Bucknell Wood is a long way from Telford so seven of us gathered locally before decamping into two vehicles for the trip. Despite taking different routes both cars arrived safely within a few minutes of each other at the meeting point. We were joined there by two others  who had come down from Shrewsbury.

After the usual pre-walk chat and a bit of searching among the laneside vegetation of the area that served as the car park we set off up a track into the woods. There was a lot of up. In fact we did not stop going up until lunchtime. It was never steep, just relentless.

Near the start we encountered the last stage of life where a fly had been caught by a spider. Death for the fly but food and life for the spider.

At the side of the track we found a couple of wood ant nests. One quite small the other large.

The nests were thronging with life as the ants went about their business.

One of our group took his life into his own hands as he got close (but not too close) to the large nest to get that “special” photograph.

Up and up we continued. Eventually the track opened out as we encountered a large area of clear felled woodland. Here life bust upon us. Everyone started collecting insects and asking “what’s this?”. Butterflies were flitting along an adjoining track. We went through the “Is it a Small or Essex skipper?” debate before discovering it was a Large skipper! A beetle that looked like a ladybird, but wasn’t, was studied, a long-horn beetle discovered and then a bee, or was it, landed in our midst.

(Photograph: David Williams)

We headed for a suitable inspiring place for lunch where we regrouped and set up identification committees to determine what we had found.

The identity of the bee/beetle was determined as Trichius fasciatus. There are a couple of similar species but this one had a small tooth on its middle tibia which distinguishes it from the others (well it does in the identification book we were using). The tooth is not visible in the above photograph but it is here:

After much posing for photographs the bee/beetle preened itself then flew away. What a rare treat it was to find this creature.

Around the area where we lunched we found several “Witches eggs”. These are the initial stage of the Stinkhorn fungus which is “born” from the egg when the conditions are right and grows to a height of about 20cm.

I attempted to take a photograph of the splendid view from our vantage point but for some reason the foresters seemed to have missed a few, in fact, quite a lot of trees. “Why?” I asked innocently. “Birds” was the unanimous response. And it was a good job that they had been left standing as a bird of prey landed in the upper branches of a distant tree.

Lunch over we set about the (optional) task that had been set for the day, to determine if Bucknell Wood harboured a colony of Callicera rufa. This is a hoverfly, first found in Shropshire on Little Hill next to The Wrekin about four or five years ago. Since then it has been found on Haughmond Hill, Shawbury Heath and recently at The Cliffe. Hill top, tall Scot’s pines within a clearing seems to be its stamping ground. So most of us set off up the hill to the summit on this quest.

(Callicera rufa on a Scot’s pine at Little Hill, 6 June 2015)

The path we were on got close but did not access the summit so we forged a path through the bracken and found that at the summit there was a pleasant patch of heathland. And at the edge were some Scot’s pine. These were inspected closely but Callicera rufa was not there. Never mind. The view more than compensated for the disappointment.

(Photograph: David Williams)

We bimbled around the heath for a while then returned to the lunch spot. Here we re-joined our colleague who had not made the assault on the summit. Despite him being seated when we left and seated when we returned he had not been idle. Firstly he had moved his seat about 10 yards. Secondly he had collected some insects from a nearby Birch. These included a Birch shieldbug and a pair of Parent Bugs that were in the act of reproduction, completing the cycle of life stages seen on this trip. 

We decided to call it a day and returned down the hill to the parked cars. 

But the day was not yet over. We stopped at the Rocke Cottage Tearooms, on the road to Clungunford, where afternoon tea, coffee and cake was consumed in the glow of a brilliant day at yet another excellent site.

My thanks to the Forestry Commission for granting us permission to access the site and do what we do.

Keith Fowler

17 Jun 2015

Grasses galore by Keith Fowler

Muxton Marsh SSSI, Friday 5th June

We gathered on Woodbine Drive for a day of fun and frolics looking at grasses, sedges and rushes. Included in the group was our very own Flower Lady who then made an offer we could not possibly refuse, “would you like me to give you a lesson?” “Thank you” we chorused in response. (As our flower lady is now part of an Honoured family perhaps we should call her our Flower Dame.)

Muxton Marsh is part of the Granville Country Park. It is managed by Shropshire Wildlife Trust. The Wrekin Forest Volunteers and the Friends of Granville have spent many a “happy” hour in the cold and wet during the interminable winter months maintaining the site to control the scrub and other invasive species in order to encourage and support the plant community that gained it its SSSI status some time ago. 

The site is split into two halves divided by a hedge that was laid a few years ago. On one side are the marsh and its bordering grassland, which is part of the SSSI and on the other a field which through a lot of hard work and some help from grazing beasts is now maturing into a pleasant meadow.

We started in the meadow and we gathered around our esteemed tutor as she took us through the basics of grass identifications using words like “ligule”, “panicle”, “glume” and “awn”.

But there is always one who thinks he knows it all and wanders off.

Initial lesson over and one group of grasses located and identified we spread out in search of other grasses and as each new one was found we re-gathered to discuss what they were.

This was hard work so a coffee break was called and our Fungus Expert distributed welcome food.

Refreshed we moved into the SSSI section where there were a variety of sedges and rushes to challenge us. The area was also awash with Yellow Rattle just coming into flower and numerous Southern Marsh Orchids. It was difficult to know where to put your feet.

The lesson concluded we had lunch after which we did a bit of bimbling about before going home. I was fortunate to capture a large cranefly with distinctively marked wings, Tipula maxima.

I would like to thank Les and Jim for germinating the idea for a grasses day and Penny for providing the impromptu masterclass.

Keith Fowler

14 Jun 2015

Pretty in purple by Keith Fowler

Lea Quarry – Wednesday 20th May

We were a reduced group on this trip which was just as well as the car park was full. Our trip coincided with a mass emergence of Edge Renewables vans which occupied many of the spaces. We were, however able to slip between the vans to find an alternative parking area at the side of the offices.

Seven of us gathered by the cars, exchanged pleasantries then added extra layers of clothing to combat the stiff biting breeze, booted up, put on high visibility jackets, signed in en masse, grabbed nets, trays, sticks and bags and set off. We immediately split into two as the great spider hunter went off to the far end of the quarry to carry out his regular monitoring whilst the rest of us meandered elsewhere.

Our first stop was a grassland where we found Centrotus cornutus, a rather bizarre looking treehopper whose pronotum extends sideways to form horns and backwards to cover the whole of the abdomen. It is not a particularly rare bug but it is a delight to find it. Unfortunately it was not as pleased to see us and did not hang about to be photographed. If you would like to see what it looks like then follow this link to the British Bugs website.

We have visited this grassland nearly every time that we have been to Lea Quarry and it was noticeable that the amount of invasive scrub had increased significantly since our first few visits last year.

From the grassland we made our way slowly and in several small parties to the end of the quarry known as the regeneration area. Along the way I found a 2-spot ladybird in a small tree that defied my attempts to identify it.

And nearby I disturbed a Forest bug nymph.

Most shieldbugs that you see at the moment are adults but the Forest bug overwinters as a nymph, becoming adult around July. If you find a shieldbug nymph early in the year it is likely to be a Forest bug.

As we walked along it was obvious that the dominant flora had changed since our last visit. Gone were the yellows of the cowslips and primroses, the violets were less in evidence; these were replaced by stands of purple Aquilegia. I have this plant, or rather a cultivated relative, in my garden; I did not realise it occurred naturally.

Eventually we reached the great spider hunter sitting on his rucksack chair peering into a tray of debris extracted from his “spidervac” casually selecting spiders for identification. It was time for lunch. 

Satiated we continued looking for things of interest. I casually beat a hawthorn and out fell an enormous black bee with a long triangular abdomen tipped in red and dark wings. This was the cuckoo bee Bombus rupestris. Rather like the Cuckoo, the bird, cuckoo bees take over the nests of others. In this case B rupestris takes over the nest of the red-tailed bumble bee B. lapidarius. More information about this bee can be found by following this link to the BWARS website.

We moved on and entered a grassland area tucked away between the quarry and the top of Wenlock Edge. Here there was more purple in the form of several Early-purple orchids.

In this area we also netted a small pale slim ground bug Cymus claviculus which although rumoured to be common is the first time it has been recorded in Shropshire since the first record in 1985. 

We wandered around some more until deciding to call it a day and head home.

Once again my thanks to Edge Renewables for allowing us access to the site.

Keith Fowler

5 Jun 2015

End of the line by Keith Fowler

Nant Mawr Visitor Centre – Wednesday 13th May 2015

After our damp trip last week the weather smiled on us once again as a dozen of us gathered in the car park of Nant Mawr Visitor Centre the site of the Tanat Valley Light Railway and the Nant Mawr lime kilns.

The Tanat Valley Light Railway Company own almost 2 miles of railway which is the last remaining section of the ‘Old Potts’ which ran in its heyday from the Abbey station in Shrewsbury out to Criggion, Llanymynech and Nant Mawr. The imposing Nant Mawr lime kilns are reputed to be the tallest lime kilns built in 1870 to service the quarry located further up the valley. Further details about the site and its history can be found on their website.

For us the site provided a wide variety of habitats in a small area, so plenty to explore without too much walking! There were grasslands, woodlands, bare areas, streams, carr, railway embankments, pools, deadwood all contained with a site about 600 yards long and 200 yards wide.

Unusually we spent no time in the car park and headed up the path through an area of woodland. We soon found our first shieldbug of the day (we found 8 species in total) – a Green shieldbug. 

Emerging from the woodland we found ourselves in a small grassy clearing where there was plenty to keep the botanists amused for some time. In amongst the violets, primroses and others we found the leaves of a Common spotted orchid and a Twayblade whose flower stalk was just emerging from its basal leaves.

(photograph: Les Hughes)

And a Red-headed cardinal beetle watching the world go by.

Leaving the clearing we entered an area of damp woodland where a stream flowed through. The stream banks were awash with Ramsons where craneflies flitted around. Our fungus expert was delighted with a find of an “eyelash” fungus which he believes is the rarely recorded Scutellinia trechispora, but he has referred it to an expert’s expert for confirmation.

 (Photograph: Les Hughes).

The path from this area brought us back to the car parking area and in order to keep up with tradition we spent the next hour or so scouring its marginal vegetation for signs of life. And there was plenty to observe and identify including a Bee-fly, a mating pair of Rhopalus subrufus and a Sloe bug. And there was plenty of floral interest, especially along the railway embankment.

Having walked about half a mile in over two hours it was definitely time for lunch. As this was a visitor centre there were plenty of spots to rest our posteriors while we refuelled.

After a leisurely lunch we explored the areas surrounding the railway tracks until we reached the end of the line. This area proved to be full of small areas of different habitat but the areas of bare earth on the banks at the side of the track proved to be a haven for flighty (hence the need for a pot to photograph them) Grizzled skipper butterflies.

The stones of the track bed also provided interest as we found a Common groundhopper making its ay along the line.

The sun was out, the temperature was at its peak, we had walked so far(!); I decided an afternoon drink was needed. I attempted to sit down on the rail. Unfortunately I missed and ended up on my back. Needless to say there was somebody nearby with a camera to record my embarrassment.

(photograph: Les Hughes)

What a site!! I look forward to returning.

Thank you to the owner of the site for granting us access and to Les for making all the arrangements.

Keith Fowler