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.