1 Oct 2016

Up periscope

The Hem, Telford - Wednesday 28th September 2016

Eleven of us made our way to The Hem on the edge of the Halesfield Industrial Estate in Telford. 

The Hem is a remnant of ancient woodland that has somehow escaped obliteration as Telford has developed. After years of neglect it is now managed by Mark Eccleston (website) who is into the fifth year of a 7 year coppicing cycle. His activities have allowed the ground flora to flourish. Bluebells, wood sorrel, marsh marigold and many other plants cover the woodland floor in the late spring and these give way to various grasses later in the year. 

In the past we have timed our visit to coincide with the spring flowers but this year we have visited the site later in the year to see what was there and hopefully find species that would not be present earlier in the year.

One pleasure of visiting this site is the facilities that Mark has provided essentially to help in the course of his work but greatly appreciated by this group, such as a shelter, seats and tables.

 But what is this lurking in the undergrowth, a subterranean beast raising its periscope to take a quick look around?

All will be revealed.

The members of the group scattered throughout the site. The leaf litter on one of the tables was a draw to one member.

One of the other tables, however, proved to be more of a magnet.

This became the centre of operations for the day as spider-minded folk and recent attendees at a Harvestman course jostled to find, identify and photograph arachnids. 

Every now and then one of them would disappear wielding the M-vac (a garden leaf-blower converted to suck, owned by the Shropshire Moth Group but kindly lent to this group), disturb the peace for a few minutes then return to disgorge its contents into a tray on the table.

As the contents were being examined by a large number of the group our spider recorder extracted one in a tube, looked at it and was almost rendered speechless. "I've always wanted to see one of these" was a rough approximation of what he uttered. He passed it on to his colleague who took one look at it and his eyes almost popped out of his head in delight.

Well, not being a spider person, I had no idea what they we so excited.

It was Walckenaeria acuminata, a spider whose male has a long extension on the top of its head on which its eyes are placed. Why? I have no idea. The female is not so adorned (very sensible).

More samples were collected using the M-vac. One turned up the harvestman Lophopilio palpinalis.

A longhorn beetle was also collected - Pogonocherus hispidus.

Whilst all this table top activity was going on others were out and about using the traditional methods of sight, net and tray. An early find was a witches egg from which erupts the stinkhorn fungus.

The egg was cut open and you can make out the form of the stinkhorn.

Another interesting find was a piece of wood on which green elf cups were growing.

Time for a spot of lunch and to enjoy the site's facilities.

Lunch over and the sun still shining we explored further.

Yet another curiosity was discovered. A hitch-hiking pseudoscropion.

The psuedoscorpion is possibly Pselaphochernes scorpioides, a long name for a tiny beast. This species is phoretic; it attaches itself to a suitable host as a method of getting about. It does not harm the host (in this case the cranefly Achyrolimonia decemmaculata.

Another interesting observation was this:

A slime-mould, as yet unidentified.

A large cranefly was captured - Tipula fulvipennis.

This is one of the largest craneflies we have in the county. Yes she only has three legs. I confess to being responsible for two of the missing ones. I have no idea what happened to the third, but she seems to be managing ok with what are left.

I have mentioned the dancing black slug in previous reports. Well, we found another, but rather than bore you with a repeat, here are two other slugs that were found at the Hem. First the Leopard slug:

And the ashy-black slug:

Time was marching on. Just one one last use of M-vac! It found nothing of significance but the logs around the table proved irresistible to a hoverfly. Despite our close presence and continual movement it stayed at its post on the logs only distracted by passing insects which it challenged. So persistent was it that it had to be photographed.

What is it? Xylota sylvarum.

We went home.

Thank you to Mark Eccleston for allowing us to visit the site and do what we enjoy doing; to SECAL for letting us to use their car park and to the supreme photographers David Williams, Bob Kemp and Jim Cresswell for providing most of the photographs.

Dothill LNR - Friday 30th September 2016

Five of us went to Dothill for our final visit of the series that we have made this year. The sun was shining but the wind had a cold autumnal edge.

Whilst waiting for everyone to arrive we found a ladybird emerging from its pupal case.

Where are its spots? 

The elytra will colour up and the spots emerge over time.

As we walked around we found some insects taking advantage of the early sun. A common carder bee:

And lots of dock bugs, two of which I photographed.

Social wasps do not normally get a mention as they all look the same to me but today we had a knowledgeable person with us who was able to identify and photograph a German wasp.

The inset shows the pattern on the face which distinguishes this particular species.

Later a spider was found - and what was its lunch - a wasp!

Some indulged in a coffee break.

We continued on our merry way. Close inspection of a nettle revealed a cluster of nymphs and adults of the ground bug Heterogaster urticae.

This is a common bug associated with nettles. Despite its "common" status I do not see it very often, but they were abundant at Dothill.

A bench was located so lunch was taken. As you may remember from earlier reports of our visits to Dothill I have mentioned issues with dogs. Well today there was only one dog that stuck its nose into our feast, fortunately when we had just about finished.

I looked at the sky. The patches of blue were rapidly turning grey. Time to start back, not too quickly, towards the cars. We passed through some woodland. The lack of ground flora begs for some TLC to thin the trees and scallop the paths. But who will do it?

Out of the woodland and into rough grassland we found plenty of Himalyan balsam whose flowers were a source of food for insects especially bees, a few stands of ragwort but the rest had taken on an autumnal hue. 

There was a hoverfly Helophilus pendulus on one of the ragwort plants.

And a late tap of a thistle disturbed an Angle shades moth.

Home we went.

Thank you to David Williams for providing additional photographs.


So another season of wildlife walks comes to a close. I would like to thank all the land owners and managers for allowing us access to their sites; all the photographers who have supplemented my efforts in these reports; the readers of these reports for your interest and occasional feedback but most importantly all those who have joined me for making these trips so enjoyable. 

Walks continue once a month until we start again, all being well, on a weekly basis next April.