27 Aug 2016

Lots of gall

Stoney Hill, Telford - Wednesday 24th August 2016

We finally made it. 

After months of emails to and from me and Telford and Wrekin Council, with considerable help from Shropshire Wildlife Trust, to arrange access seven of us assembled close to the entrance to the site on a lovely summer's day. With no car park to inspect we made haste and walked the fifty yards or so to the fence that stood between us and Stoney Hill.

To be fair the fence was not a great obstacle, but it had to be negotiated. Once in we were greeted by a sea of healthy looking heather. The only concern being the amount of birch scrub and bramble that were springing up, but some timely judicious "conservation" work should reduce their threat. But can this be arranged?

We were soon "at work" looking for things that were of interest to us.

One target species for the day was Roesel's bush-cricket. With the help of a bat detector to track the song of the male, a long monotonous mechanical sound, which is audible to youngsters but not we oldies, some were soon located.

The early sighting of a Brown hawker reminded us that the site contained several pools and may be a good one for damselflies and dragonflies. So it proved and thanks to the brilliant photographic skills of some of the group (I exclude myself here) some excellent images were captured.

Emerald damselfly (male).

Emerald damselfly (female)

Common hawker (female)

Common darter (female and male, busy making the next generation)

The pools contained bulrushes ...

and on bulrushes you often find the bug Chilacis typhae on or in the seed heads.

Our spiderman was stumped identifying a tricky species of spider and was found reading a field guide for inspiration.

Time was passing quickly, we must have moved about 50 yards from the entrance when lunch was declared, not by me for once as I was engrossed in my searching.

By the time I decided to eat lunch the others had finished and decided to move on.

As I had missed, obviously, the usual engrossing talk about cameras I was left this to read.

I gave it a miss! Instead I watched a spider start to build a web. Unfortunately it chose the path where we were walking for its construction. I did try to warn it but it took no notice.

After lunch we switched our attention to an area of more established heather and woodland habit at the other side of the site. But three of the group had wandered afar so I set off in search of them. Eventually the heather gave way to rough grassland.

Here the dominant flora was fleabane. On the fleabane we found a common blue butterfly ...

and a lucerne bug.

But the most exciting find, not on the fleabane, was lesser marsh grasshopper. This is only the second site in Shropshire where it has been recorded.

The other site? 

The Coalmoor landfill site about 300 yards to the west.

Having reassembled the group we walked 100 yards or so to the other area. Here the trees and heather are more mature and there are several bare areas. We continued our search for things of interest. A male oak bush-cricket was found on oak and photographed on the sleeve of the Orthoptera recorder.

By now, in the heat of the day, fatigue had begun to make its presence felt.

We prepared to return home when a bug was noticed scuttling across the ground. It was another exciting find ... a heather shieldbug. I have been given two excellent photographs and cannot choose which to use, so have included both. Please indulge me.

The best I could manage was this ...

Beware! Photographers at work.

This brought an end to an enjoyable day on an excellent site, well worth the effort of gaining permission to visit. Thank you.

Thank you also to David Williams, Bob Kemp and Jim Cresswell who provided many of the photographs.

Dothill LNR - Friday 26th August 2016

On this occasion four of us gathered on Donnerville Close where the site can be accessed through a small plantation. Heavy overnight rain had left the ground very wet so wellingtons were the order of the day.

The plantation gives way to a large area of rough grassland which we spent the next couple of hours exploring with our usual diligence. 

One worrying feature was the bank of Himalayan balsam that borders the grassland. The Friends of Dothill mount regular "pulling" sessions so get in touch with them if you want to help. That said the flowers are very attractive and frequently visited by bees.

The area is a dog-walkers paradise and, regrettably, not all dog owners are good at clearing up after their pets and the paths and their immediate borders are strewn with the after-effects of dog food. I had several near misses where I did not spot the offensive remains; fortunately I was lucky - I am not sure about the others. Please, please CLEAR UP AFTER YOUR DOG.

Rant over.

Early finds were dock bug nymphs.

Dock bugs were found frequently throughout the day so they are clearly at home on this site.

Many spiders were found. We managed to identify some of the easier ones including this Araneus quadratus (I hope that is correct) a relation of the familiar garden spider

A common sight amongst the thistles were the galls of the picture-wing fly Urophora cardui. These are large and easy to spot.

A pale tussock moth larva was found.

We lunched within sight of the Wrekin ...

with a Buzzard keeping its eye on us.

Lunch over we moved through a rather gloomy plantation to another area of rough grassland.

Here I found an oak that was festooned with galls. I found six species amongst the low branches and there were probably many others that I did not spot. Here are the ones I photographed.

Artichoke gall, a gall of the bud caused by the gall wasp Andricus foecundatrix.

Knopper gall, a gall of the acorn caused by the gall wasp Andricus quercuscalicis.

Silk-button galls, a button-shaped gall of the leaf caused by the gall wasp Neuroterus numismalis. Also a single common spangle gall (see the next photograph).

Common spangle galls, caused by the gall wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum. And in the top left hand corner the downward fold, which I did not realise was a gall until I was checking the names of the other galls, caused by the fly Macrodiplosis pustularis.

We looked around the grassland for a while before returning to our cars after a successful day.

22 Aug 2016

Freedom to explore

Lea Quarry -  Wednesday 17th Augusr 2016

Half dozen of us gathered in the car park at Lea Quarry for our latest visit. But there was one notable absentee - the person who arranges access to the site. He had to prepare for a stint at Bird Fair so was unable to join us.

As the absentee is normally the one who sets the agenda for our visits we took advantage of his absence by deciding to explore areas of the quarry that we do not normally get to. So on leaving the car park after a cursory look around that found three species of shieldbugs we turned right instead of left and wandered along the path that follows the north west face of the quarry, underneath the public footpath on top of Wenlock Edge.

One of the car park shieldbugs was a sloe bug.

As it was being admired it dropped to the ground. All our attempts to pick it up and place it on some vegetation failed so, I am afraid, we left it to walk.

Not far up the path to the right we found a female common darter posing on a bramble leaf. We had to photograph it.

A little further along the path the hoverfly Chrysotoxum bicinctum was spotted.

This hoverfly is easy to recognise with its pair of yellow bands and long antennae (for a hoverfly).

We were missing a couple of photographers today so I thought we would be free of camera talk. 

But I was wrong.

I was getting very frustrated with my camera as the autofocus stoically refused to pick up the target species even when in the middle of the frame at a reasonable size. On one occasion I was trying to take a picture of a hawthorn shieldbug in my net and the camera insisted on focussing through the net on the ground underneath. Never one to miss a trick one helpful colleague gave me lots of advice on how to do it differently. Thank you. After that camera talk was minimal!

Following the helpful advice I managed a reasonable shot of the spider Misumena vatia on a knapweed head.

In the meantime our eagle-eyed botanists were spotting interesting plants.

Including Ploughman's spikenard


Sharp-leaved fluellen

And, to our great surprise, dog violets in flower.

By now the sun was beating down and it was rather warm so we lunched.

Rested and refreshed we pressed on, spotting a southern hawker at rest.

With our freedom to explore we pushed on and on passing a small raised grassy area where we spotted a Wall butterfly.

And by the entrance to this small area were carline thistles.

Was ancient man walking along an area of scree one day and looked down and got inspired to invent the wheel with spokes when he saw some Herb Robert.

We reached the far end of the site - not quite but near enough. So we celebrated by having a sit down before making our way back to the cars and home.

My thanks to Jim Cresswell and Stephen Mitchell for providing additional photographs.

Grinshill - Sunday 21st August 2016

No cars were to be seen in Clive when we arrived, so parking on the roadside was not an issue. Fortunately there was not a service at the church otherwise parking may have been difficult.

We had a quick look in the churchyard and saw this rather splendid noticeboard.

We were invited to have a look for insects (the middle notice above the FSC fold-out chart) - so we did!

As we wandered around the churchyard we came across a sign at the side of a grave that said it was interesting. It was ... can you see why?

It is there - but it is not easy to see. Here it is in more detail.

Unfortunately the sign did not elaborate on how this had happened; it is left to our imagination.

We worked our way methodically around the churchyard looking at the trees and some areas of rough vegetation then we came across one of this year's Strictly Come Dancing contestants:

Arion (Arion) ater - the slug that dances! If you give the slug a gentle tap, then wait a little while, it starts to rock, sending (slow) waves down its body.

We moved from the churchyard up the hill to a very pleasant area of heathland. 

The sun came out and the vegetation came alive with insects, especially noticeable were the hoverflies. 

Tucked into a curled birch leaf were two Bronze sheildbug instars. One had the traditional markings. (The photograph is one we found later.)

The second had markings that I had not seen before with a red ring on the green abdomen.

The heathland was enhanced by a bench on which we could sit and enjoy lunch.

After lunch we pottered around the heathland area for a while then took the path to the summit of the hill. The path through the woodland was not particularly interesting but it suddenly opened out at the top to provide an excellent views of South and West Shropshire.

There to greet us was a Green shieldbug instar enjoying the afternoon sun.

We made our way down the hill and back to our starting point to conclude another excellent day.