18 Apr 2017

How now brown cow

Harton Hollow SWT Reserve - Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Grey skies and a rather chill wind greeted us as we assembled in the car park of this Shropshire Wildlife Reserve. Without much ado we set off and did not stop until we came to a clearing that had been made recently.


This had been created to encourage the ground flora to flourish and young hazel to develop; the latter for the benefit of dormice which are resident in this wood.

It was very dry, contrary to the advice I had been given ("it is very muddy") which prompted me to wear wellington boots. Too dry, really, and there were very few insects or spiders about. Although there was good floral and lichen interest.

In the above picture you will notice a small group had gathered. Intrigued I wandered over. "What is it?"; "Hornet". 

My mind flashed back a couple of years to a moth night in Kinlet when my moth trap was overrun by hornets. Whilst emptying it at the end of the evening I failed to notice one hornet tucked up in an egg box and it stung me. My pain was doubled when a well-meaning onlooker head-butted me as he bent down to find out what was wrong whilst I recoiled from the trap.

Back to this hornet. Two excellent photographs for you to view - one with a finger placed bravely nearby to give a sense of scale and the other a close up of the head.


Hornet - photograph (and finger): David Williams
Hornet - photograph: Bob Kemp
Nearby was a Herb paris in flower


Herb paris - photograph: Bob Kemp
I meandered around and found the following warning notice


Unfortunately you had to be about 14 feet tall in order to see it at eye level as the tree had grown considerably since it was attached.


At the side of the tree was some newly laid hedging that my wife had contributed to a few weeks before our visit.




It was a bit sparse but, all being well, the new trees planted in front of the hedge will soon grow and can be included in the hedge to give it more substance.

We moved on. After a short distance the vegetation by the path changed so Moth-vac was brought into action to do some sampling. This attracted not only a few of the group to inspect the catch but an inquisitive brown cow.


The rest of the herd were some distance away, as can be seen in the photograph, so what had attracted her, and only her to our activities?

We moved on. A couple of ancient woodland indicator lichens were found on a hazel trunk:


Thelotrema lepadinum (top right) and Graphis scripta (left) - photograph: Bob Kemp
Lunch was taken, then we wandered slightly off the path into the woodland to investigate some conifers.The wind was whipping through and the temperature could not be described as warm or anything better. A chilled bee-fly settled on a bag. I pounced and was able to get a decent photograph.



However, so content was it to rest that one of our photographers was able to get very close and take this spectacular shot of its head. Not only that, but it then climbed onto his finger and accepted a lift to a tree trunk nearby where it was deemed to be safer from accidental squishing.


Bee fly - photograph: David Williams
We moved on. We passed into a beech woodland. Here there was no ground flora but the covering of leaf-litter yielded several ground beetles which, unfortunately were beyond our capabilities of identification.




And, of course, you never know what you may find on a stick. 


We moved on. In fact we returned to the cars passing on the way a huge stand of Herb paris.


Herb paris - photograph: Bob Kemp
And amongst the Herb paris was the parasitic plant Toothwort


Toothwort and Herb paris - photograph: David Williams
We got back to the car park but rather than return home we made use of the nearby picnic area to have a chat about cameras and other such essential topics. Eventually we went home.

My thanks to Shropshire Wildlife Trust for permission to visit the site and to the various wielders of cameras for providing the excellent additional photographs.


10 Apr 2017

Red Kite Day

Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre, Wednesday 5th April

Our opening foray of the "summer" season, when we hold weekly events, was to the grounds of the Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre in Craven Arms. We met in the car park on a gloriously sunny but windy day. 

Having taken our time getting ready we set off past the toy woolly mammoth standing guard at the entrance to the Visitor Centre and made for the convenient conveniences (just me).

Unusually, after the initial diversion, we did not dally. We passed flowering trees with hardly a glance and made straight for the nearest pool. 


Here we dispersed like seeds in the wind as we all set about following our own interests like children let out of school on the last day of term. Fence posts were studied and photographed, stream banks and pool edges swept, flowering trees inspected for hoverflies, bird song enjoyed and then the vacuum sampler was started up.

 The sound of silence when the vacuum sampler is switched off acts like a bugler's call and most of the group reassembled to inspect what had been found.


It is amazing how long it takes to investigate one catch. You think you have given it a thorough search then something else appears, as if by magic, which of course it is not. At the size of some of the wee beasties there are many nooks and crannies in which you can be unseen.

So it was some time later that we moved to a patch of grassland between the pool and the bordering River Onny. I explored the water's edge and was surprised to see some leaping salmon.


Here it was a little more sheltered and the margin of the grassland with a small plantation proved to be of interest to a passing bee-fly.


Once more the vacuum sampler was called into action. This time it managed to find a dock bug, the first I had seen this year.


Nearby a male Andrena sp. bee was resting on a fence.


Believe it or not it was lunchtime. I told you inspecting the results of a vacuum sample takes a long time. So we did another sample to inspect over lunch, this time with the added bonus of a handy picnic table.


Lunch over we continued to move further away from the visitor centre, past a muddy pool where we watched flies and bees "sunbathing" on the trunks of neighbouring trees, across a field to an area of scrubby land that was a haven for teasels. Investigation of some of the teasels revealed little but in the middle of this area was a mound on which a Blue shieldbug and nearby 7-spot ladybird were photographed.


We also found the weevil Nedyus quadrimaculatus. Yes - one of the group could identify some weevils! And yes it lived up to its name with four spots (or dashes) as shown in the left hand image of the following compound photograph.


Before compiling a report I ask all our participants if they have any photographs that they are willing for me to use. I am very grateful that they always provide some to supplement my questionable efforts. Normally I can place the photographs supplied in context but this time I have some that I have no clue where they were taken. 

First some pink flowers. I am not a botanist but I think they are Pink purslane.



A hoverfly - a species of Syrphus.


And finally a group photograph of Lesser celandine, pink purslane, possibly, and primrose.


The centre's cafe facilities were calling so we started back. However there was one more moment to savour. As we walked and talked one of the group looked up and saw a Red kite. It did not seem to hang around and was soon lost to sight. But minutes later it returned and treated us to a low level fly-past. What a glorious bird. I did photograph it - but only as it passed some trees to fly off somewhere else.


Tea and cake would normally have been the conclusion of this wander around the grounds but we had an extra treat as we joined a presentation by Rhona Goddard of Butterfly Conservation on the Wood White Project.

My thanks to the Discovery Centre for allowing us to do what we enjoy doing and to the photographers - David Williams, Jim Cresswell and Stephen Mitchell - for supplying most of the photographs.



19 Mar 2017

This is the weather

Steel Heath, Wednesday 15 March 2017

As I start this brief report on our trip to Steel Heath I had as some background music a song by John Ireland and the words "this is the weather" stood out. What better title for this trip which turned out to be as much about enjoying a day out and about in unexpectedly glorious warm sunshine in cloudless skies as finding fauna and flora of interest.



Seven of us met up at the unmade track that serves as the car park. After assembling our kit, donning suitable footwear and, as it turned out, unsuitable outer clothing we set off into the woodland that now dominates what a couple of the group remembered as open heath.


A damp hollow covered in leaf litter was our first area for investigation and the vacuum sampler affectionately known as Moth Vac was brought into action. Whilst its "catch" was checked a Brimstone flew by. It was clearly interested in what we were doing on its patch as it came back. It was netted for its trouble. Needless to say it was not too happy at this treatment and refused to pose for a photograph. So some safe gentle handling was needed.


We were surprised to find a leech.




We moved on. This was not easy as there were no paths. Eventually a track was found and followed. This led past a further damp hollow that may have been a pool in the past and then through some denser woodland where a 10-spot ladybird was observed and photographed.


The path led to a clearing. But access was tricky as it seemed to be guarded by bramble and wild rose. Having picked the least painful way through the thorns we then had to negotiate very uneven ground caused by ant hills and tussocky grass.

The clearing had a few clumps of mature heather and some small gorse bushes. These became the centre of attention for a while. Careful looking found a Gorse shieldbug sunning itself. Nearby a pair of spiders attracted the attention of the camera.


Whilst some of us spent our time in the clearing others investigated the surrounding birch dominated woodland. Unfortunately not a lot was found but our springtail hunter did find Neanura muscorum on a piece of damp wood.


This species does not have the ability to spring but is still pretty nifty and can disappear from view quite quickly.

Time for lunch - a working lunch - over a fresh tray of Moth Vac material.


Throughout our time in the clearing there were a few butterflies enjoying the weather, occasionally meeting and spiralling into the sky. A comma rested long enough to be photographed.


Time to move on, but not before one final beat of the gorse bush! This produced a male common earwig and a few springtails - Entomobrya nivalis.


We decided to end the day at Prees Heath, which was just a mile or so away from Steel Heath. Here we spent most of the time just looking and enjoying the weather. We paid attention to a few willows that were bearing flowers in the hope of spotting some early season hoverflies then wandered over to the pool.

At the pool we were greeted by the wonderful sight of toads passing the time of day sitting on the bottom of the pool. I am told that they were males awaiting the arrival of a female. Every now and again there would be some activity as one swam to the surface or walked across the vegetation covering the pool bed. Moving around the pool we found a couple of mating balls where a female had been ambushed by several males as they competed with each other to mate. Unfortunately this is dangerous for the female as she can be killed by all this attention.

It was tempting to spend the rest of the day sitting by the pool but we dragged ourselves away and made our way back to the cars via the main sandy, heather strewn area of the site. Here the wolf spider Alopecosa barbipes was found wandering about.



What an excellent day. This really was the weather to be out and about enjoying what nature has to offer.

My thanks to Shropshire County Council for permission to visit Steel Heath and to David Williams, Jim Cresswell and Bob Kemp for providing the excellent photographs.


3 Mar 2017

Our peaceful countryside

"Bagbatch" All Stretton - Wednesday 1st February 2017

As a result of a lunchtime conversation at the Shropshire Entomology Day we were invited to visit this delightful Local Wildlife Site in All Stretton. The site consists of 12 acres of semi and unimproved grassland, hawthorn scrub and open woodland with some mature oak, ash and sycamore and dingle woodland. 

We met on site and immediately set about investigating a huge garden shed, the home, no doubt, of many spiders. An early find was the remains of a green shieldbug in a spider's web. Still it was a record - state:"deceased"!

We left the shed behind and out host took us on a tour of the site. Well at least that was the intention, no sooner had we gone through the gate of the first meadow than we came across a broom, bramble and a fence. 

I made for the broom, the harbinger of many bugs, and was rewarded with the broom psyllid Arytaina genistae which is known by the local name "Broom Psyllid" which is confusing as there is another broom psyllid "Arytainilla spartiophila"!

Another of the group insisted on vacuum sampling the bramble and surrounding vegetation. His catch kept him and a couple of others entertained for ages. 

And a third inspected the fence for springtails; he is the youngest of the group so his eyes are far better at spotting these tiny bouncy insects (I exaggerate, not all the species have the ability to spring and lead a more sedentary life).

We wandered on and reached, by a circular route that drifted upwards through a wooded area, a second meadow. There a fallen branch and gnarled tree trunks provided a focus for investigation both of the wood and our lunch boxes.


Our circumnavigation continued. Someone spotted the lichen Ramalina fraxinea.


The fungus Jelly Ear was abundant on another tree.


From holly and ivy I captured two specimens of a rather attractive barkfly. As I could not identify it I had to take it home. 

It was not in the key to British species!


After much head-scratching and rechecking of keys, I looked at pictures on the Barfly Recording Scheme website and found a likeness. The website stated that it had only recently been found for the first time in Ireland. There was no mention of its arrival onto the British Isles. Excitement - was this a species new to Britain? Alas no. The National Recorder who confirmed my identification also informed me that it had been turning up all over the place. Ah well!

The species is Chilenocaecilius ornatipennis, and is normally found in Argentina and Chile. It must like our climate as it seems to have decided to stay.

We moved on, passing a group of overwintering Orange ladybirds tucked under a branch.


Time was passing and we drew to the end of our circuit of this excellent site. In all we gathered records for about 90 species, which I think, is very impressive for this time of year. My thanks to our host for the invitation, the guided tour and especially the refreshments at the end.

However, it was not all plain sailing, two mysteries remain. The first is a mite with "Popeye" arms. (It may be a member of the genus Pergamasus.)


The second a parasitic wasp with delightful body sculpturing which is clearly visible in this excellent montage. It makes you wonder why so few people tackle these attractive insects. (You should be able to click on the image to see an enlarged version.)



Whixall Moss - Wednesday 15th February 2017

Where better place to go in mid-February than Whixall Moss? I'll leave you to answer that question. 

There was a target species for the day - Gyphesis cottonae - a tiny money-spider. It is about 1mm in size, black, with short legs and lives in sphagnum moss. Now if there is one thing that Whixall has it is a lot a sphagnum. And looking for something not much bigger than a full stop with legs - to quote a colleague "What could possibly go wrong?"

The meeting point was the Morris Bridge car park on a surprisingly mild but greyish day. The first sound that greeted us was not birdsong or other sounds of the countryside but the wailing of a hedge as it was flailed by the team maintaining the margins of the canal.

We walked purposefully up the entrance track and onto the moss and started to look for sphagnum that was accessible without having to take undue risk, being careful where to put our feet in case there was some hidden ditch underneath.



The green patch in the middle of the pool in the photograph is sphagnum moss, out of reach unless you want an early bath. We looked in many of the pits and they were just like this. The sphagnum was teasing us. Eventually we found one that allowed us to extract some sphagnum on the end of a walking pole without danger. It was dumped in a tray and painstakingly examined. Nothing was found - sorry, lots of things were found but not our target species. We resorted to the vacuum sampler.



Yes, we had seats with us and a table for the tray. Bending over a tray on the ground for long periods is hard work. Please do not begrudge us a minor luxury.

In the meantime, if we had a collective noun for excellent wildlife photographers I would have to use it here, as they gathered to discus f-stops, ISOs, lenses, diffusers ... But, they do produce brilliant photographs and they are always willing for me to use the results of their labours in these reports.



Then we heard it.

Bang
Bang
Bang

It was coming from the direction of the scrapyard so we assumed, quite wrongly, that work was being done there following its acquisition by Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

Bang
Bang
You get the picture. On and on, then a pause - had it stopped - no - Bang etc.

A passing walker told us that the noise was from the canal maintenance team.

One relief was that there were no helicopters, the usual plague of this area. And then one flew over. Or at least we heard it, we could not see it. Thankfully that was the only one.

Back to the search. A small sample of very wet sphagnum had been separated and there was excitement that a candidate for the target species had been spotted. A photographer moved in to record the event and it promptly disappeared. No amount of searching could find it. As it had probably not left the sphagnum the sample was put in a tube for checking later.

We did find a Whixall speciality, the raft spider Dolomedes fimbriatus.

 

And a Tibellus sp.



We lunched then moved back towards the entrance to a patch of heath in amongst very tussocky wet grass. This was quite a sheltered spot and it proved to be easier to find things of interest. (The banging continued.)

A springtail with a purple stripe down its abdomen was referred to the European expert and identified as Isotomurus plumosus



Cladonia lichens were in flower



Some caterpillars were found. This one is the larva of the Dingy footman moth



There was even an adult moth flying about - a Beautiful plume



The clouds grew more threatening and there was rain in the air so we made our way, slowly, back to the cars and then home.

Later the sphagnum was examined under a microscope and it did contain the target species - a male Glyphesis cottonae; mission accomplished. I do not have a photograph, but here is a photograph of the other animals there were in the sample.

 


My thanks Natural England for granting us access to the site and to Bob Kemp, David Williams, Jim Cresswell, Mags Cousins, Nigel Cane-Honeysett and Stephen Barlow for providing most of the photographs.