28 Jul 2016

Cliff edges

Where does all the time go? Somehow the days have slipped by and I find that I am three reports behind. Two reports are included here; I will include the third with the report of our next outing.

Poles Coppice - Wednesday 20th July

Poles Coppice is a woodland which contains quarries. The quarrying has ceased a some time ago and "nature" is now reclaiming the land.

Seven of us met in the car park to the south of the site a couple of miles or so east of Ministerley. This required us to walk a little way to the site. 

On the way we noticed a Gatekeeper out in the sun.

And in a puddle flies were displaying by waving their wings about. These were the easily recognised dolichopid flies Poecilobothrus nobilitatus whose white wing patches are quite distinctive.

Usually the walk would take about a hour but somehow most of us entered into the spirit of the venture and ignored most of the distractions on the way including the excellent view.

And the sighting of a longhorn beetle Rutpela maculata on a bramble flower.

We entered the site and came into a small damp area. This was checked out but nothing significant was found. We then followed the path through the woodland as it crossed stream and gained height. Unfortunately the ground flora was rather mundane and most of the trees branches were out of reach so progress was rapid.

We came to a point where there was the choice of three paths. We consulted maps but the multitude of footways were not shown. Which one to take? If in doubt, straight down the middle; so we took it.

The path brought us to the high end of one of quarries. This was beautifully fenced off to allow you to look in but prevent you accidentally falling in.

What we saw looked very interesting but we would have to be patient until we had descended to the level of the quarry floor.

On the other side of the path was a second quarry. Here any chance of an accidental fall was prevented by a sign.

We found a large patch of cow wheat. This initiated a frenzied but unsuccessful search for the cow wheat shieldbug, a bug that has, to date, only been found in the Wyre Forest in this county.

By the time we had descended it was time for lunch and we located some picnic tables at which to eat our provisions in relative comfort.

After lunch we attempted to enter the quarry but were prevented by a large pool cunningly placed at its entrance. Waders were required to get in. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to skirt the pool before we reluctantly moved on.

The path we took did not yield a great deal but it did take us to a large quarry. The centre of the quarry was clearly a meeting point as a circle of stones had been laid out to provide a resting place for weary travellers.

But you had to be on you guard in case the giant with the big net came to catch you!

The stones were also useful for providing a stable base for inspecting the contents of your net.

We spent a good while in the quarry which was a mixture of dry grassland and very wet scrub and woodland. Eventually it became too hot and oppressive so we moved on.

The path brought us to the edge of the coppice and deposited us in a field. There was a roll of thunder. Although it was not threatening we decided to call it a day. We made our way back promptly, but not so promptly that we could not be distracted. We watched a brown hawker patrolling its patch and a Forest bug descended into my tray from a hawthorn bush.

We heard no more thunder and it did not rain. An enjoyable day was concluded in a local hosterlry - to replace lost fluids, of course.

Lightmoor LNR, Sunday 24 July

All my planning for car parking was thrown into disarray when I found a lorry parked in the parking area.

With some careful positioning we managed to fit everyone in. Then one driver who was parked at the back of the lorry decided to move in case the the lorry needed more space, a sensible thought. As he was manoeuvring a car came the other way. The occupants were not best pleased to have to wait a few seconds whilst the car reversed out of their way. "Patience is a virtue...." but not for some Lightmoor folk.

Nine of us set off. Well eight of of the goup did as we had a non-arrival. I waited a while then wandered down to the main road to check for anyone looking lost. When I got back to the car park a fork lift was unloading a pallet from the truck. The driver did not seem concerned about our presence but as he left he clipped the back of the lorry. 

I pursued the group and suggested we move some of the cars as the forklift driver may be less careful with our vehicles next time.

So after a bit of a stuttering start we made our way up the footpath through the woodland. A search of some enchanter's nightshade produced sightings of the nymphs of the stiltbug Metatropis rufescens.

The woodland path turned into a narrow fenced path between a garden and a field. Along the edge we came across some chicory.

We crossed the road to try the path that the Wrekin Forest Volunteers had worked on a couple of years earlier only to find it impassible. We turned back and headed towards the meadow. Progress was rapid. I got left behind as I beat a few trees and swept the roadside vegetation. We passed another area where the volunteers had planted trees. It had scrubbed up and it was difficult to spot the saplings we planted amongst the bramble and bracken.

Eventually I caught up with the group as they were entering the meadow. It was created a few years ago by strewing the existing field with green hay. Since then it has developed very well.

Unfortunately it had been cut the week before robbing us of seeing it in its full glory, but a good margin had been left providing us with a glimpse of what it had been like. We spent the rest of the day looking at this border.

There were plenty of green shieldbug nymphs about

And a labyrinth spider made use of the dense tall vegetation.

As did a couple of amorous common froghoppers.

Both species of the "smaller" orange skippers were present. Small skipper:

And Essex skipper, which was first officially recorded in the county only a couple of years ago but now seems to be quite established.

The unmistakable mirid bug Oncotylus viridiflavus was found on its foodpalnt which is knapweed.

In amongst all this inspection of the field margin we did find time to sit down and enjoy lunch and a few of us inspected the pool that borders the meadow. Another area in which we have worked as volunteers.

The vegetation around the pool was very tall and dense but there were some pathways where someone or something had gone before, making progress a little easier. It was worth the effort as I found a couple of planthoppers that had been recorded only a few times in the county.

Back to the meadow where a couple of "picture wing" flies were attempting to produce the next generation.

I believe the flies are the species Chaetostomella cylindrica, another specialist of Knapweed.

As we approached the end of another day someone mentioned that they had seen a glimpse of a Purple hairstreak in an oak tree. So several of the group had to sit down and see if they too could spot this butterfly.

We bid farewell to the meadow and returned to the cars. The lorry had been unloaded with no damage inflicted to those cars that had remained.

My thanks to Jim Cresswell, Maria Justamond and David Williams for allowing me to use their photographs to supplement my efforts.

14 Jul 2016

What a magnificent slime mould

Rectory Wood and Field - Wednesday 13th July

The words of the title are not words that I could have imagined being associated with each other. You will have to wait to see if they are justified!

Nine of us gathered in the sunshine at the car park off Cunnery Road in Church Stretton at the southern end of Rectory Field. Our host for the day explained that Shropshire County Council had handed over the land to Church Stretton Town Council to look after. An "interest" group had been formed to produce a management plan for the site. This had now been prepared and presented. The group welcomed any records we could make during the day.

I had visited the field for bioblitzes in the past but never made it past the edge of the wood so my initial interest was to walk through the wood, then, time permitting, look at the field.

However to get to the wood you have to pass through a bit of the field, so it was a little while before we entered the wood as members of the group split off to pursue their interests as we meandered along. An early find was an adult Red-legged shieldbug.

My interest was taken by the fairly steep climb to the wood entrance in the "top" corner of the field. Thankfully there was a seat where I could pause, take in the view and get my heart rate back to normal whilst waiting for others to catch up.

One of the group arrived clasping a Volucella pellucens which did not fly away immediately, so I was able to get a snapshot.

I mentioned earlier that we met in sunshine. Mmm...

You will note, no doubt, the lack of blue sky in the photograph of the view above.

Yes, grey then black clouds had rolled in and it started to rain!!!!!!!!

We moved rapidly into the woods to seek shelter. 

Over the past few weeks I have begun to learn which trees to seek out to act as an umbrella. The Horse chestnut at Preston Montford was magnificent. The trees in this part of Rectory Wood were rather porous in comparison, but they were better than nothing.

After a while it seemed to ease off so I moved on and was checking out an elm when the rainfall increased. I am not sure which tree I was under this time but it was better than the first, but still not in the Horse chestnut league.

Blue sky was spotted. It must be a clearing-up shower. And the rain stopped. We moved on. Well, some did, others decided to take a coffee break.

Being in a wood various techniques were used to find things of interest. 

My standard techniques are sweeping or beating the branches to see what I can dislodge. 

Others are content to find low branches and turn over the leaves to see what is there. If you are searching an oak you may find the "sputnik" shaped egg sack of the spider Paidiscura pallens. If you are really lucky you will find two egg sacks and the spider.

Some like to make an intensive close up inspection

Whilst others prefer the more laid back approach of a seat and binoculars


Yet others go rooting in the ground and unearth such delights as a "Witch's egg" - the initial stage of a Stinkhorn fungus.

And it was using one of these techniques that one of our fungi hunters returned holding a small piece of wood and declared "What a magnificent slime mould". You can be the judge thanks to some excellent camera work (not by me).

I cannot attempt to explain the workings of slime moulds here but it is well worth ferreting around the internet or in books as they are fascinating organisms.

Exhausted by all this activity we lunched.

It rained briefly, the sun returned, we moved on. A large cranefly was spotted sunbathing on some braken - Tipula maxima.

As we approached the end of the wood and the vegetation was opening out a Southern hawker dragonfly appeared.

We reached the end of the wood and paused for a group photograph.

A hoverfly was spotted going about its business on bramble - Xylota segnis, then a second rather more spectacularly marked hoverfly appeared. And posed, so we had to photograph it.

The golden tip to its abdomen is actually hair. This was Xylota sylvarum.

You will note that the sun was shining at this time, but five minutes later it was pouring down. Again we tried various trees for protection but somehow all ended up under an Ash which was a bit like using a sieve for an umbrella.

The rain stopped eventually and we squelched our way back to the car park and headed home.

My thanks to Church Stretton Town Council for giving us permission to do what we enjoy doing and to Bob Kemp for the use of his photographs to supplement my efforts.

9 Jul 2016

Dry, sunny and warm

Hilton Sand Pit - Wednesday 6th July

After three weeks of rain I was relieved to hear the weather forecast suggest it was going to be a dry fine day with a little more cloud and slight chance of rain after lunch I was even more relieved when the forecast turned out to be incorrect - the cloud and rain did not materialise; it was a lovely day. Have we turned the corner weather-wise? Hearing the advance forecast for next week suggests not!

Enough about the weather.

What happened?

Five of us met in Hilton on the appropriately named Sandpit Lane and made our way to the entrance where we were to be met to be let onto this closed site. When we got there we were the only people present. Had all my planning been for nought? Don't panic.

I wandered off in the hope of finding the missing keyholder leaving the others to twiddle their thumbs by the gate.

Whilst I was wandering in my vain search I heard the screech of a metal gate being opened. If we were being let onto the site they would contact me on my mobile phone. 

They did but I could not hear it. It was in my bag - which I had left by the gate. I have not quite got the hang of these modern gadgets.

The screech tweaked my curiosity so I returned to find the gate open and the rest of the group on the site. Relief!

(In my absence owner arrived a few minutes later and let us in. The person who was due to meet us had, unexpectedly, had to go to work.)

The site turned out to be far more extensive than I expected. It was mainly grassland but there were patches of scrub, woodland and bare sand and plenty of slopes and banks. Although there were no pools there were signs of where ephemeral pools would form in very wet weather.

An early find was Dark Mullein (at least that is what I was told it was).

And all around this the sandy ground was covered in various low growing yellow and purple plants.

Swallows flew overhead, a kestrel passed through, the unmistakable sound of a green woodpecker was heard in the distance and we were accompanied by the continuous chatter of anonymous small birds.

We looked at the flora

And we looked for invertebrates.

Amongst those we found were a woundwort shieldbug

And a mirid bug Deraeocoris ruber

We lunched.

After lunch we explored the further reaches of the sand pit. We found a sandy bank where bees had nested and watched as a leaf cutter bee arrived holding a leaf section and disappeared into its nest.

I found an evening primrose.

One of its flowers was a cafe for at least 20 pollen beetles

Amongst our other finds in the afternoon were a micro moth which I think is Pyrausta purpuralis (which had to be photographed in a tube - hence the haze).

Also an adult Forest bug allowed itself to be found.

We were just thinking of packing up and going when the owner reappeared and offered us a cup of tea. 

How could we refuse?

Refreshed we expressed our thanks for being allowed to visit this excellent site then returned to our cars and made our way home.

5 Jul 2016

You guessed it ...

Abdon Churchyard - Wednesday 29th June 2016

... it rained

Not just the rain we have experienced on our recent trips - showers followed by a soaking as the finale. But steady rain that started early and did not relent.

It even caused one of our group to cry off in the morning as he did not want to dissolve!

A couple of us made the journey and were met at Abdon Village Hall by our drenched but stoical host for the day.

He and his wife moved to Abdon recently. If he was expecting a quiet life in the country he was to be disappointed as his fame had preceded him. He was soon recruited to help form a local wildlife group for the area. And, being who he is, he suggested that the group ought to have an objective. A decision was reached to attempt to record 1000 species in a nine tetrad square centred on Abdon, within a year.

The total currently stands at about 450 and we had been invited to help boost this number!

We made our way to the churchyard and did a quick inspection of the church's small car park before entering the grounds.

The car park had been relatively sheltered but in the churchyard we were met by the full force of a stiff wind as well as the rain. Undeterred we explored the grounds around the church.

I vacuum sampled the uncut vegetation in the foreground of the above photograph, tipped the collection into a tray and then watched helplessly as the wind blew it away.

Fortunately the church had an entrance porch which was open. We took full advantage of this to provide respite from the wind and rain.

We made quick dashes to various parts of the grounds, did a quick collection by vacuuming or beating, then returned to the safe haven of the porch to see what we had found.

And it was a dry spot for lunch.

We carried on for a little while after lunch before the wind and rain started to get the better of me when we called it a day.

Despite the weather we were able to record about a couple of dozen species to help meet the target. Not a lot, but better than nothing and we may be able to try again later in the year.

Unfortunately it was not like this.