16 Sep 2017

Going ... Going ... Gone

"Lot 15", Prees Heath - Wednesday, 13 September 2017

"Lot 15" is a parcel of land close to Butterfly Conservation's Prees Heath Reserve. It recently came up for sale at an auction, hence the name, where it was purchased by local residents. They in turn have handed over responsibility for its management to Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

It is situated on the opposite side of the A41 from the reserve, sandwiched between Hospital Lane and an unnamed road (on the maps I have looked at) which may be Ash Road, Ash Lane or even Tilstock Lane.

I would include a "proper" map but I am not sure of the copyright issues - advice readily accepted - here is my effort (not to scale).

There is no car park but there is an area opposite the entrance large enough to get four cars off the road. Fortunately only four cars turned up.

Aerial photographs show well worn paths around the site. These appear to have been caused by bikers using the area for off-road activity. Posted at the site entrance is a notice from the trust saying the use of the land by motorised vehicles is forbidden.

It is a small notice, I have no idea whether it is heeded.

The site, where the paths have not been kept clear is dominated by bracken.

There are a few bushes and mature trees scattered around the site but very few areas of grassland where more timid plants can thrive. In one of these areas we found a few small clumps of heather hinting at what the site may have been like in days gone by.

An early find on the entrance path was the was the wasp Mellinus arvensis.

Photograph: David Williams
As we progressed along this path we came to a large area where human activity has kept most of the vegetation at bay.

The margins of this area held our attention for quite a while.

A comma butterfly was enjoying the sun.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
A gorse shieldbug nymph was located

Photograph: Bob Kemp
In amongst the broom we found several Arytaina genistae, one of the two psyllid species that are found on this plant

Photograph: Bob Kemp
"Mothvac", a converted garden leaf blower, was used to assist our searches. This is an easy way to extract mini-beasts that live deep down in the vegetation. Amongst the several species found was a Denticulate leatherbug adult and nymph. When I have come across adults of this species in the past they have been very flighty but this one just sat in the tray and waited to be photographed. The flightless nymph, of course, had little choice in the matter.

Photograph: David Williams
Another "poser" in the tray was the bee Halictus tumulorum.

Photograph: David Williams
We moved on to a small patch of sparse grassland. A few plants made an appearance here including Haresfoot clover which was one of the commoner plants on the site.

And Centaury

Close to this grassland was another area of rough grassland where the aforementioned heather was clinging on. Amongst the taller vegetation we found several stems of toadflax.

Close by was a mature pedunculate oak. On the trunk, sitting on the lichen, we found the planthopper Alebra albostriella.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
I have only one photograph left to include. One of the group has taken a fancy to photographing jumping spiders. Searching "Lot 15" provided him with several opportunities. Unfortunately he never names his photographs. So, this week's quiz is - "Name this spider".

Photograph: Bob Kemp
There is a small patch of woodland in the north western corner of the site. We made two attempts to reach this but in both cases the paths we were following met a wall of bracken which only the most determined explorer, with suitable slashing tools, could have made progress through. We gave up and went home.

"Lot 15" needs a lot of care and attention if the bracken and bramble are to be prevented from suffocating it. The paths are clear but provide little marginal habitat. However, the paths will soon disappear if there is little or no activity to keep them open.

My thanks to Shropshire Wildlife Trust for drawing my attention to the site and granting permission to survey. My thanks as always to the photographers David Williams and Bob Kemp for allowing me to use their excellent photographs to supplement my own.

10 Sep 2017

Day of the Shieldbugs

The Haycop, Broseley - Wednesday 6th September 2017

The group visited this site a couple of years ago when, typically, in my absence as I was on holiday, they found 11 species of shieldbugs and allies.

Long overdue, we returned to The Haycop. 

Would the shieldbugs still be there? I think the title of this report gives it away. Yes they were. However we only managed 9 species which is still pretty good.

The Haycop is tucked away at the end of an unmade lane sandwiched between Dark Lane and Ironbridge Road. It is not easy to find as proven by one very late arrival.

"You should have followed my directions." said I.

"I did." said he; adding with feeling "They were rubbish."

"Did you miss the right turn into Dark Lane after the traffic lights coming up from Jackfield?" asked I.

"What traffic lights?" retorted he.

"Did you come over the new bridge and up the hill? " asked I, thinking he may have come another way into Broseley.

"Yes." replied he.

"The traffic lights are about 200 yards after the u-bend." offered I

"Ah! I must have missed them." was his meek reply.

The site is in the hands of a private owner but he has given permission to a local conservation group to manage it as a nature reserve.

We were joined by four members of the group. They appear to be very active attracting large groups of helpers and spreading the word to the next generation. Long may they be well supported.

Our first shieldbug, Green, was found before we entered the site in the hedge bordering the lane. 

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Yes, I have included this species in the final count but we did find more in the site itself.

The site is entered via a kissing gate next to the "Down Well". This was Broseley's main source of water for many a year. It has now been protected by covering it with a roof made of local bricks and a fence. For some reason I did not photograph it but images can be found by searching the internet.

On entering the site there is an immediate fork in the path. Should we go down into the grassland and to the pool as shown in the above photograph, or should we take the path along the top through the trees.

I refused to make a decision as generally it is ignored. The mood of the group was to stay on the top path. So we did.

A cranefly, Tipula paludosa, was resting on a leaf.

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
And two robberflies were engaged in ensuring the survival of their species.

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
On the subject of species, if anyone can identify the robberfly species please let me know.

Progress was slow but eventually we arrived at some heathland and a couple of neighbouring grasslands.

Progress halted here as we spent a long time, spanning lunchtime, investigating these three areas. Here are some of the things we found and photographed:

Pantilius tunicatus - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Halictus tumulorum (male) - Photograph: David Williams
Field grasshopper - Photograph: David Williams
Bishop's mitre - Photograph: David Williams
Small grass shieldbug - Photograph: David Williams
At last momentum gathered for a move and we made our way through some woodland down to the lower path, then turned back towards the pool.

Again progress was snail-like as things just popped up saying, "Look at us".

Cola-nut gall on oak (caused by the gall wasp Andricus lignicola - Photograph: Jim Cresswell

Myathropa florea - Photograph: Jim Cresswell

Tachina fera - Photograph: Jim Cresswell

Southern hawker - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
We passed the pool

The end was in sight but we did not rush to get there taking in a bank of vegetation, some of which had been cleared, and some rough grassland. 

The site kept giving.

Woundwort shieldbug nymph - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Spiked shieldbug - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Dicranopalpus ramosus - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Dock bug (teneral adult) - Photograph: David Williams
Comma butterfly larva - Photograph: David Williams
One last star made an appearance, attracted by one of the group's trousers. The large hoverfly Volucella inanis.

Photograph: David Williams
What a  brilliant day. The conservation group have created an excellent site. It is not "pretty" but, more importantly, it has plenty of varied habitat which should encourage "nature" to flourish. Surely that is what a nature reserve should do. We'll be back.

Finally, in case you were wondering, the three shieldbugs not mentioned in the text were: 
    Sloe (or Hairy) shieldbug
    Hawthorn shieldbug
    Birch shieldbug.

My thanks to The Haycop Conservation Group for permission to do what we enjoy doing, I wish them every success in the future. And thanks to the photographers Jim Cresswell and David Williams for their excellent photographs.

5 Sep 2017

Artistic lichen

Tittertstone Clee Hill - Wednesday, 30 August 2017

We went almost to the top of Shropshire when we visited this site. Only on Stiperstones and Brown Clee could we have got any higher.

The first thing that strikes you when reaching the car park is the excellent view, even in the changeable weather that greeted as we arrived.

South west from the car park
(There will be a few panoramas in this report - clicking on any of the photographs should display them in a larger window)

The second is how much of the landscape has been shaped by human activity, from the sculptured hillside as a result of quarrying to the remains of buildings.

As we surveyed the extensive quarrying we pondered what the hill would have looked like in times past.

I was "caught" in the act of taking the above photographs

Photograph: David Williams
We had two areas that we wanted to explore, one of the main quarries and the scree slope. They were in opposite directions from the car park so a decision on which way to go first had to be made. Eventually I suggested that we went to the scree slope first but found I was the only one going that way as the rest headed off to the quarry.

As I walked to catch up the others I noticed a half buried cylindrical metal thing.

Checking this I found that there was a round hole in the top and there was life inside.

I caught up the rest at the entrance to the quarry just as one of the group was pointing out something in the pool

What had he seen of such great interest?

Here it is

Can you make it out?

Here's a clue - I've highlighted the outline of the object in the water.

Yes, someone had dumped a car in the pool.

Back to wildlife! An angle shades moth was found on thistle

Although the moth is clearly visible in the photograph it is quite an effective camouflage when giving the thistle a quick glance.

The quarry is huge

Photograph: David Williams
There were plenty of things of interest such as this mottled grasshopper

Photograph: David Williams
But the star attraction was a Wall brown butterfly that made a brief appearance.

Photograph: David Williams
We lunched at the far end of the quarry then meandered our way back. On the way I was moved to take a photograph of a waxcap Hygrocybe persistens.

To take the photograph I lay prone on the quarry floor. This caused much amusement to one of our snappers who regularly gets into unusual positions to take that perfect shot.

Passing the car park we found bank that was covered in Carline thistle. The happy snapper encouraged me to take a landscape shot.

"Won't most of it be out of focus?" I asked innocently

"Set the camera to f8. That will give you the better depth of field" was the reply

"And do it as a portrait" was added

Not having a clue what 'f8' meant, but knowing it was a setting on the camera I did as instructed and here is the result.

As we walked along we were able to enjoy the view to the west and be thankful we were not under the downpour visible in the distance.

Photograph - Dave Williams
Looking back we could see how the area where the cars were parked had been moulded by quarrying activities.

At last we made it to the scree slope which was caused by and has remained intact since the last ice age. 

Amongst the bracken and gorse that had invaded the scree a single tall plant with large yellow flowers stood out.

A Perennial sow-thistle. 

We investigated the slope for some time

Excitement mounted as we found Lichenomphalia umbellifera which, I am told, is one of the very few gill fungi associated with lichen.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Eventually most of us decided to rest, enjoy the views and the ambience of the site.

Photograph: David Williams

One advantage of a commanding view is you get advance notice of the weather. The large clouds in the far distance got nearer and darker. It was time to retreat.

On the way we came across a clearing. I had a quick look around and found a lichen on a rock that looked as though it had been painted rather than grown.

I am told this may be Porpidia macrocarpa. It forms on flat surfaces and the orange staining is caused by the iron in the rock.

On that artistic note we left just as the threatening clouds and their accompanying deluge arrived. Good timing?

My thanks to Shropshire County Council for granting us permission to survey; to David Williams and Bob Kemp for the additional photographs.