26 Apr 2016

Flora, fungi and industrial past

Limekiln Wood, Wednesday 13th April 2016

Twelve of us gathered on a lovely warm spring morning at the entrance to Limekiln Wood at Steeraway. Cars were parked neatly so as not to impinge on access to the farm and residences.

Limekiln Wood is a part of the former Royal Forest of Wrekin and is, according to Natural England, one of the most botanically interesting woods in Telford supporting a range of limestone flora. In the past the area has been used for quarrying and mining and remnants of these activities remain visible today.

We set off and had immediate success when a pied shieldbug was found. This was the first one I had seen for two years – where have they been hiding?

After a short distance we strayed off the path and came across former lime kiln workings.

And a second success – a green shieldbug in its brown winter colour. Thinking that such early finds were indicative of great invertebrate things to come I did not photograph them – what a poor decision - invertebrates proved to be very elusive during the rest of the day. However this is one of the most botanically interesting woods in the area so I shall not dwell on its lack of invertebrates!

The path we took passed many sunken areas. I attempted to photograph one but trying to show a three dimensional effect on a two dimensional photograph does not do it justice. Anyway here it is.

These are the sites of former bell pits. These were small mines where a vertical shaft was sunk into the seam of material to be extracted then a chamber developed sideways as extraction took place. Little support was used so when the structure became unsafe the pit was abandoned and another shaft sunk nearby.

Our wanderings brought us to a small clump of Common Tamarisk-moss.

And then to a couple of areas of grassland. 

Plenty for the botanists to study; very few invertebrates – but I am not dwelling on that. We moved on.

In amongst the trees the ground flora was beginning to blossom. Wood anemone and bluebells were to the fore with smaller patches of lesser celandine and the occasional outcrop of wood sorrel making an appearance on moss covered logs. 

Another plant found in profusion was wild garlic which carpeted vast areas of the woodland floor. This had yet to come into flower although a few had blossomed. This will make an impressive sight in a little while.

What is this?

A desirable residence overlooking a lake in need of a little TLC? An adventure playground?

We lunched, well most of us did.

Close to the lunch spot was a wet area where several streamlets made their way down the slope with large areas of deep mud between – I know it was deep mud as I tested it and I got stuck – only temporarily I must add as I managed to extract myself without assistance.

This area proved a haven for the fungi hunters. Of particular interest was a small cup fungus that appeared to be growing from plant bulbs, possibly wood anemone.


Our meanderings continued until we found ourselves back at the spot where the cars were parked. We returned home after an excellent day in an excellent site.

22 Apr 2016

Wellie swapping

Stanmore Country Park, Wednesday 6th April

As the grandchildren were staying with us I packed my bag early so that any grandparenting crises on the Wednesday morning did not affect the concentration needed to pack everything I may need. 

So far so good.

We had collected the children a few days before and remembering the amount of clobber we transported when our children were young I cleared the boot. So come Wednesday morning I had to repopulate the boot with nets, trays and the moth-vac. As there had been no crises I took my time and everything in the boot was neatly arranged.

Off I set and collected the Great Shieldbug Finder. I made a point of inviting him to see how neat and tidy my car boot was before adding his bits and pieces. We drove to the site and arrived with plenty of time to spare before the meet time.

After exchanging pleasantries with other early arrivals I opened the boot to start getting ready for the day ahead when I noticed amongst the great neatness a certain absence...

No boots! Oops! 

I looked at my feet in their sandals and wondered if I could manage the day in those - reminding myself that skin is waterproof – when the Great Stick Finder came to the rescue and offered me a pair of wellingtons that he was not going to use. 

Relieved I went to greet some other arrivals.

When I returned I found strange goings on. The Great Shieldbug Finder had swapped his wellingtons (size 11) for the Great Stick Finder’s (size 9½) and offered me his as I had the largest feet! He was adamant that the he was comfortable in the smaller ones so I ended up with the larger pair. 

All were now clothed an booted so we set off!

It started to rain then hail but after a few minutes it stopped and that was as wet as we got as the day continued with prolonged sunny periods and the woodland protected us from the cool brisk breeze that was blowing.

Our first shieldbug was found – a Birch shieldbug.

We made our way to a small muddy pool where, despite its rather bleak appearance, we found frogspawn in amongst the water plants. From the pool we wandered through the woodland.

We did not find a great deal but it was fun trying and, of course, it provided a chance to catch up with each other’s exploits since we last met.

All of a sudden we came across a small patch of grassland where we found a strange structure.

I assume that it is a goal with the screens around the goal providing a barrier to stop any slightly wayward shots. But I seem to remember from my youth that blasting the ball past the unfortunate goalkeeper from short range and making him run 50 yards to retrieve it was all part of the fun. 


Lunch beckoned. We found a bench and as many as could perched on it, others sat on the ground or just wandered around whilst eating.

Refreshed we continued our circumnavigation of the site. The woodland edge provided us with glimpses of hoverflies, bees and bee-fly. It also provided a view of how regimented plantations can be. Is there is a reason why broadleaved trees are planted in straight lines?

We came across an extensive patch of violets which the botanists tell me were Earl dog-violet.

Finally we came across the memorial garden which surrounds the chimney of the boiler house of the RAF camp that was here between 1939 and 1963.

Time to go home. Wellies were returned to their rightful owners and we went our separate ways.

Dothill Local Nature Reserve, Friday 8th April

Half a dozen of us met on a drab but dry day to make our first excursion onto this site. When I arrived I was unsure whether Local Nature Reserve status had yet been granted but a notice on a tree close to Tee lake confirmed that it was now an LNR. 

The LNR process has been long and drawn out but, at last, it has been achieved, well done to all involved.

A little while ago I received a request from the newly formed Friends group for records so I felt that our group of enthusiasts could help this process with a series of visits this year.

This visit turned out to be a gentle figure of eight through most, but not all, of this extensive reserve. We started at Tee lake, a former jousting lake, now used for angling. Here we noted a few water birds including a Mute swan that was keeping an eye on us.

Along the edge of the lake I beat out an anthocorid  bug that is probably new to the county, Buchananiella continua. This is a recent arrival to our shores but it is now regarded as naturalised. 

Sorry – no photograph as it is too small for my equipment to get a reasonable image.

For some reason I became separated from the pack, but when I caught up with them they were peering intently at a concrete pillar. As it has aged it has become a microhabitat for moss, lichen and probably (although I did not find any) Springtails and other mini-beasts.

And on the subject of microhabitats we came across these plants trying to make a go of it in a damaged tree trunk.

We lunched. On a bench. But bounded not in the best spot as we were on the main dog traffic route. 

At one stage a pair of Labradors bounded up to us, followed not too closely by their “responsible” adult. Inevitably “they are only being friendly” was stated. Despite the dogs showing great interest in our lunches the responsible adult showed no urgency in taking control of the dogs but did eventually take them away. 10 seconds later they were back – I walked away in case I uttered something I might regret later in court. They were removed still with little urgency from the (ir)responsible owner. 20 seconds later they were back. This was too much – I walked away even further to avoid possible repercussions and was joined by another of the group. Fortunately this time the dogs were take away and we did not see them again. 

After all this canine excitement we continued our merry way recording what we could and generally enjoying the day.

1 Apr 2016

Frog Serenade

Hopton Wood/The Cliffe – Wednesday 16th March 2016

A fine but cold morning with a fresh breeze greeted us as nine of us assembled in the carpark for Hopton Wood. For once we did not dally in the car park but set off with a purpose. Nobody stopped to sweep beat or suck. What was going on? What was the purpose?

Then the comment came “Are we in Staffordshire?” (referring to a memorable day out a couple of us had with the Staffordshire Invertebrate Group when we walked about 10km and recorded around 10 species (my own contribution being 2). Rather embarrassed at this comparison I suggested that we should head to The Cliffe (the furthest point) first then work our way back. Surprisingly this was met with approving murmurs, and we forged ahead.

But not for long. The very nice spider man dived off the path and started shifting small pieces of dead wood. He emerged with an earth worm. Then a few yards further on a fallen pine whose bark was loose proved too great an attraction. So we paused, and The Cliffe became a distant hope.


As you can see the pine was not only a source of invertebrates for us to look at but a very useful table. Under one piece of bark I found a collection of woodlice.


After half an hour or so of examining the pine and sweeping, beating and vacuum sampling the area we moved on. We paused a couple of times to look at the vegetation around the path but eventually reached the path that lead to the summit of The Cliffe.

We came across a lovely south facing bank that had a few daffodils planted in it. Good bee habitat. There were one or two about but not many. We moved on and came across a pool. Someone must have known we were coming as one of the decorative carvings included a tray sized table – how could we resist.



We did our usual things and in amongst the wildlife that we found was a pseudoscorpion, so called as it has scorpion like claws but this lovely little insect definitely does not have a sting in its tail.


It was that time of day and as the pool surrounds had lots of suitable perching spots lunch was declared.

As we lazily munched our sandwiches, fruit and other foodstuffs we became aware of a purring-like sound. Some of us thought that someone in the distance was using a motorised device but others, correctly, told us the sound was from the pool. We were being serenaded by amorous frogs. What pleasant music it was.


Lunch over we eventually scaled the heights of The Cliffe not without a couple of stops to regain our breath – sorry, to inspect gorse and heather for signs of invertebrate life. And it was a good job we stopped as one search turned up the psyllid which I initially determined as Aphalara exilis but it may be the very similar A. ulicis. Either would be a first record for the county. I need to seek help to see if it can be determined to either species.


At last we reached the top and were greeted by two things of great joy. One – the view (photographs rarely do it justice – there was snow on the distant hills); two –benches and a table at which to rest!

We swept and beat the vegetation on the top, we searched the rocks and plants down the slope and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves peering into trays of leaf-litter that the vacuum sampler delivered. And the sun shone. What more could we ask for?


Keith Fowler