31 May 2016

A sunny day at Shawbury Moat

Shawbury Moat, Wednesday 4th May 2016

We were lucky with the weather, bright sunshine although breezy for most of the day.  The Moat is a local nature reserve adjacent to a church with an amazing gothic style tower in the centre of Shawbury.  The moat used to surround a medieval manor house and was a domestic, rather than a military, installation.

Our first sighting was of a male brimstone, which boded well for the day.  It was only 10:30 and the butterflies were already flying.

As we clambered down the bank of the old moat we were pleased to see English bluebells with their narrow one-sided bells drooping downwards.  On returning to the circular path an anxious local stopped to chat.  She wondered what we were doing and was pleased when we explained we were recording the flora and fauna of the site.  It’s good to know that local people are taking an interest in their local wildlife patch.

A male and two female blackcaps spent the morning serenading us, flitting from tree to tree, obviously pleased that spring weather was here at last.

On the banks meadow foxtail was very prevalent with occasional clumps of Yorkshire fog.  Also in abundance were green alkanet, a garden escapee, and garden daffodils.  Together with lesser celandine and ground ivy the grassy banks were colourful.  Down near the waters edge was wild garlic and common comfrey

A few sightings during the morning kept us recording but we were not inundated, just steady.  A micro moth, Stigmela aurela, was identified plus a 10 spot ladybird.  There were many sightings of orange tips and of a small white butterfly, with a large white recorded just before lunch.  A common carder bee was spotted along with cream spot ladybird.

Near the pool area were wavy bittercress, yellow iris, creeping buttercups and slender speedwell.  Small clumps of cuckoo flower, lords and ladies and wood anemone were found and a common froglet leapt in the long grass.

We spent lunchtime sitting on a sunny bench, looking across the rough meadow with a pathway winding around it and imagining what it must have been like before the trees were felled.  We had seen a variety of trees in the morning, including oak, elder, beech, silver birch, holly and hawthorn.

As we looked across the meadow we saw a stand of tall, grey barked trees and on closer examination saw the lines of diamond shaped pits on the bark.  The trees proved to be grey poplar, a hybrid between aspen and white poplar.  These are commonly planted as wind breaks as they sucker freely and form thickets.

The sun continued and we paused by an old felled tree to examine the bark beetle galleries.  In so doing, we disturbed a tiny 22 spot ladybird and I then spent time photographing an impressive oak tree.  Nearby was a bench with a hyacinth in full bloom peeping from beneath it, not what you would expect to see.

Small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies were spotted on our walk back towards the car park, along with large groups of marsh marigolds in the water logged sections of the field.  Then we bagged a dock bug, our last find of the day, which concluded with us admiring the impressive doorway and gargoyles of the church.

A very pleasant day spent at Shawbury Moat in the spring sunshine.

Margaret Mitchell

30 May 2016

How many moths can you get on a buttercup flower?

Loamhole Dingle - Wednesday 25th May

Half a dozen of the "regulars" were joined by two guests from the Severn Gorge Countryside Trust for this journey into Loamhole Dingle. Unfortunately the weather was dull and cold but at least it was dry; my health and safety talk encouraged the participants to stay that way by not falling in the pool.

We made brisk progress to the far side of the pool where the urge to stop, look and identify became too strong.

There was much discussion about lesser trefoil and black and hop medicks. Then we found large patches of spotted medick with curious black patches in the middle of its leaflets.

Another early find was a dock bug which was quite happily sitting on a leaf. I got my camera out. It beat a hasty retreat.

A creature that did pose for a photographs was the distinctive red and black hopper Cercopis vulnerata.

As can be seen this is a very distinctive bug so is very easy to identify. If you see one please let me know where and when you saw it. A little bit more and better photographs can be found on the British Bugs website (here).

We then managed to net a black and yellow cranefly, Nephrotoma appendiculata, which enjoyed the warmth of a finger so much that it hung around long enough to be photographed. 

We moved on and after 75 minutes or so had reached the end of the pool and were at the entrance to the dingle. One of our guests made his excuses (something to do with Internal Audits - a trial I, thankfully, left behind many years ago) and departed. Some decided it was time for coffee. 

One of the group mentioned that he was keen to get to Ropewalk Meadow. I did a quick calculation and realised that at our current rate of progress it would be late evening by the time we got there. Drastic movement was required.

It lasted maybe 50 yards and then the attractions to the side of the boardwalk alongside the brook were too strong to resist!

By now hunger pangs were rapidly turning my thoughts towards lunch so I summoned up all my leadership qualities and strode out for the spot where the path crosses the brook and there is a bit of a clearing with room to picnic. Surprisingly everyone fell in step and some even got there before me. We lunched.

Although the cold was keeping many flying invertebrates inactive we did find a rather splendid hoverfly Criorhina floccosa. (Sorry no photograph.) This is a "hairy" hoverfly that looks not dissimilar in general appearance to the common carder bee.

We moved on and eventually reached Ropewalk Meadow. As the botanically minded of the group moved swiftly to examine it I was distracted by a buttercup and hence the question I have posed in the title to this ramble.

The answer of course is - it depends on the size of the buttercup and the moth. In my experience buttercups, well the ones you see most of the time, are a similar size, but moths vary enormously. If an elephant hawk-moth landed on the flower and the bloom survived it would be one but if you are the tiny moth Micropterix calthella the answer is six with plenty of room for more.

Whilst the botanists examined the meadow I checked out the rougher vegetation around the edge and found a cranefly with extra legs and other appendages. The cranefly, Tipula lunata, had become afternoon tea for a spider (Meta sp. I seem to remember the expert telling me - but I may be wrong).

The thought of afternoon tea was enough for me to suggest we bring this trip to an end. But there was just time for our spider expert to demonstrate how to use an electric toothbrush (essential equipment for spider experts apparently) to entice a spider out of its hiding place by vibrating its web. Not the best photograph but you can just make out the spider under the brush coming to see what was in its web before quickly disappearing disappointed.

Not disappointed we made our way home.

Our thanks to Severn Gorge Countryside Trust for giving us permission to do what we enjoy doing.

19 May 2016

Wet, wet wet!

Severn Valley Country Park, Wednesday 11th May

It rained and rained and rained so the trip was cancelled.

Dothill LNR, Friday 13th May

It did not rain. In fact it was a reasonable day. It was mainly sunny and, when sheltered from the cool wind, very pleasant.

Unfortunately I did not take my camera so there are no photographs to alleviate the tedium of the text.

After a delay due to a "misunderstanding" about the time and place of the meet we entered the reserve from Tee Lake Boulevard.

We surveyed along the eastern edge of Tee Lake, lunched just before the end of the lake, crossed the tip of the lake to look at the rough ground between it and the Dothill schools then walked back to the cars. Not bad for three and a half hours activity.

The most fascinating observation as far as I was concerned was to watch a Peacock butterfly feeding. It was so intent on its meal that I was able to get very close without disturbing it. And what was it feasting on? The waste product deposited by a dog.

A couple of other highlights were a Bishop's mitre shieldbug and a Pirate spider. I can understand why the shieldbug gets its name as its shape resembles what it is called, but a Pirate spider???

Lea Quarry, Wednesday 18th May

Back to normal, it rained early morning causing one or two to decide to keep themselves warm and dry so just four of us gathered in Edge Renewables car park on a grey cool day - but at least it had stopped raining. 

On a day like this the vacuum sampler comes into its own as sweeping results in a very soggy net and rather bedraggled invertebrates and beating turns the tray into a swimming pool.

The down side is the noise and the pace at which we progress which makes a snail seem like Usain Bolt. This, of course, is not to everyone's liking but it does gather in species which the quieter more "conventional" methods do not. It is a slow process as all sorts of things pop out of the detritus even after a thorough search. Patience is rewarded.

A picture!! As we walked along an Orange tip was spotted

A vacuum sample from a sparsely vegetated bank collected several woodlice. Woodlice are not our favourite things but as we only find the five common species (out of a group of thirty odd) we make a token effort! This sample included some that looked slightly different. Using the FSC fold out chart they were quickly identified as Armadillidium nasatum. Not one of the Five. I was elated. Soon to be deflated (and ridiculed) when the FSC chart gave its preferred habitat as coastal. I have now checked the AIDGAP guide to woodlice and it states they are often located in old quarries. Vindicated.

We lunched then moved on. Common milkwort was seen at the side of the track.

Plants whose common names end in "wort" are often associated with remedies for conditions named in the first part of the word, for example woundwort for treating wounds, so I assume this plant was used to help lactation.

We climbed up the side of the quarry to an area of bare rock and grassland on the bounday of the quarry. This provided a good view of the quarry and surrounding countryside as well as a good habitat for us to explore.

Here we found two butterflies (Wall and Dingy skipper) and an Angle shades moth.


And a number of Early purple orchids.

Time to go home.

11 May 2016

Sumer is icumen in

The Hem, Telford - Sunday 8th May

One problem with the Joy of Wildlife series is that they are usually on a Wednesday. This is great for me and the others who venture out with me as we are not seeking paid employment. So what about all those workers who would like to share in our experiences? With this in mind we have held our first Sunday outing. 

The weather agreed that it was a good idea and gave us the warmest day of the year in gratitude.

The site we visited was The Hem in Telford, a remnant of ancient woodland that is now being managed by Mark Eccleston (see his website here).

Mark is now into the fifth year of a seven year coppicing cycle. This has opened out the woodland canopy exposing the floor to sunlight. And what a spectacular effect it has had as the woodland flowers have burst into life. Bluebells abound, mixed with stitchwort, wood anemone, yellow archangel (not the garden variety), wood sorrel and much more.

Including an impressive display of marsh marigold

Whilst we can marvel at nature's spectacle Mark has to make a living from the wood! This has resulted in a number of buildings springing up in the area to store wood and as working areas. The following photograph shows his work area with smoking charcoal burners.

And there are piles of logs dotted around the site as he works to clear the felled trees.

OK, enough about the site and its flora its time to look for some insects ....

How can you resist liking this cute little fellow - the springtail  Dicyrtoma fusca.

What an amazing little creature this weevil is with its curved elongate rostrum. We lack a weevil expert but my best effort at identifying it is Curculio glandium which is normally found on oak not bluebells. Perhaps it decided to have a holiday in the warm sun.

Even a humble pill millipede looked magnificent in these surroundings.

Basking in the sun on a log close to the pool where the marsh marigolds grew we found a small black ladybird with two large red spots, one on each elytra. This was a kidney-spot ladybird.

In amongst the nettle a red and black bug was spotted - Corizus hyoscyami.

And then a bug that was playing hide and seek. What it did not realise was that its was wider than the grass leaf - Rhopalus subrufus.

And finally ... a mystery object ...

A disc-like fungus about the size of a 50 pence piece found at the foot of an oak tree. The photograph has been sent to our fungus expert who has referred it on to the expert's expert who has suggested that if may be the relatively rarely recorded Pachyella violaceonigra. 
But he needs to see a specimen to confirm. So its back to the woods to look for a 50p piece in amongst several acres of trees, flowers and leaf litter. Wish us luck.

My thanks to Mark for his guided tour of the site and allowing us to roam freely doing what we enjoy doing. My thanks also to Margaret and Stephen Mitchell, Maria Justamond and David Williams for allowing me to use their excellent photographs.

7 May 2016

All hail!

The Ercall - Wednesday 27th April 2016

Due to circumstances beyond my control I was unable to join the group for our walkabout The Ercall.

I was sent some photographs of the trip which I would like to share with you.

Yes, the white streaks are hail.

What a group!

4 May 2016

Very few words required

Comer Wood, Dudmaston – Wednesday 20th April 2016

Car Park activity.

Tawny mining bee.

Music while we “worked”.

Making our way to the wood.

There at last.

Eyed ladybird.

Gymnocheta viridis.


Eristalis pertinax.

Marsh marigold.

Bee fly.

Pine ladybird.

What a day!