24 Jan 2017

Happy New Year

Brook Vessons SWT Reserve - Wednesday 18 January 2017

I know it is a bit late but may I wish you all a "Happy New Year".

Our first outing of 2017 was to the Shropshire Wildlife Trust reserve at Brook Vessons. A few of us met at the car park by the village hall in Snailbeach then made our way to the car park for The Hollies by Lordshill Chapel. Here we met a member of the Trust who was to be our guide.

From Lordshill Chapel we made our way to the target site giving The Hollies only a glance as we sped to the far corner of this reserve where a couple of stiles gained us entrance to Brook Vessons.

The area we found ourselves in was very wet and dominated by dead bracken, but we noticed a broken post or stump that had become a lichen forest.

We set up camp and searched for things of interest amongst the dead bracken, mosses and grasses. A number of species were identified, the highlight being a money spider Lepthyphantes angulatus which could well be the first time it has been recorded in the county.
According to the Spider and Harvestman Recording Scheme website this is a spider that is usually found on high ground. Adults occur in late summer, autumn and winter and it is widespread on high ground in North Wales, northern England and Scotland. 

Time to move on but a wall was getting a close inspection.

What was the attraction, a spider, a flower, .... no it was a lichen. Was it commonplace or a rarity? 

After much deliberation it was identified as Parmeliopsis ambigua which is common and pollution tolerant.

Whilst some of us were puzzling over the lichen a cry of alarm arose from a little further on. Our advance scout who was checking the path had got stuck in the mud. Fortunately he managed to extricate himself with his boots still on and returned to us. We followed a different route eventually emerging on firmer grassland.

Time for lunch. Either in the open:

Or besides a tree with a rather complex trunk:

Unfortunately none of us had brought out winter tree identification crib sheets with us so our best guess was that it was a rowan.

Nearby was a rock with its own Cladonia and moss garden:

Lunch over we had a lesson from our guide on how to determine the presence of dormice from nibbled hazel nuts. The way the dormouse creates the hole in the nut to get at the kernel is very distinctive - the holes have a smooth inner rim with tooth marks at an angle to the hole on the nut surface. Dormice are known to reside in Brook Vessons but we did not find any evidence of them on this trip. Still, more knowledge for future trips.

In a woodpile a strange fungus was discovered. Fortunately our fungus/lichen/and much more besides expert recognised what it was and carefully extracted it.

This is the rather sinister Cordyceps militaris, a parasitic fungus that grows on a buried insect larva or pupa such as a caterpillar. You can just about make out the unfortunate insect at the very bottom of the fungus stem. After a successful attack the fungus' mycelium take over the insect keeping it alive long enough for the fungus to fruit when the mushroom erupts from the host.

It was now starting to get distinctly parky so we returned to our cars and home after a very enjoyable day. What a good start to the year. 

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