15 May 2017

Two socks are better than one

The Hem, Telford - Wednesday 10th May 2017


Get the embarrassment over with first.

I ventured out on the previous day with a couple from the group to Radnor Wood in southwest Shropshire in search of Wood white butterflies. It was a glorious day, so for the drive there I chose to wear sandals and no socks. Walking socks (so I thought) were with my walking boots in the boot of the car with the rest of my clobber for the day.

On arrival at Radnor Wood we got ready.

Only one sock had accompanied me to the site!!

What do you do in this situation? Yes I decided to wear the one sock.

But which foot do I put it on? Should I keep changing it over throughout the day? These are questions which we do not normally have to consider.

In the end I wore the sock on my right foot and my left foot was au naturelle in the boot.

For the trip to the Hem I put my walking socks on before I left the house.

The Hem is a small remnant of coppiced ancient woodland that lay unmanaged for many years until Mark Ecclestone offered to take on the site. He is now in his sixth year of a seven year coppicing cycle. This has opened up the woodland floor and the flora has flourished providing a magnificent haven between the industrial units of Halesfield and the agriculture of rural Shropshire.

We met Mark in his "workshop" which is blessed with a number of inviting benches that he has constructed. He gave us a guided tour of the site telling us about what he had done since we visited last year.

After the tour we dispersed to do what we do.

And Mark got on with some work - yes he is in the following photograph tending to his wood.

The botanists were in raptures but we entomologists struggled to find very much. This was not a fault of the wood. Insects have been very thin on the ground for a while. We blamed the continued "good weather" with its lack of rain. It is just too dry!!

I know, we are always complaining. It is either too cold, too hot, too wet or too dry. I'll let you know when the conditions are ideal.

One of the group spotted a very interesting hoverfly by the pool

But it flew away before it could be iidentified. He hung around the pool waiting for it to return.

It did.

Ninety minutes later.

But it flew off again before it could be identified.

He gave up.

We did find some things of interest. Among these were the Early bumblebee

Bombus pratorum - Photograph: David Williams
A caterpillar on a hazel leaf

Mottled umber - Photograph: David Williams
And the hoverfly Myathropa florea

Photograph: David Williams
In the meantime Mark was busy keeping his charcoal burners going. This involved rotating the chimneys through 90 degrees every half hour. (Plus a lot of preparation at the start of the burn and emptying and cleaning at the end.)

So what do you do when there is not much about?

Revel in the beauty of the site and wonder why more woods cannot be like this one.

Marsh marigold - Photograph: David Williams

Bluebells and Greater stitchwort - Photograph: David Williams
Woodruff and Archangel
What a way to spend the day.

My thanks to Mark for letting us interfere with his working day and to David Williams for sharing his photographs.

10 May 2017

Westward Ho!

Gough's Coppice, Ragleth Wood and Hill - Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The title is often the starting point for my reports. Trying to think of something that is a light-hearted reference to the events of the day can be a little taxing. So, thank you David for entitling one of your pictures "Westward Ho!" which I think is an appropriate heading for the day.

Here is the picture:

Photograph: David Williams
It shows three of us near the summit of Ragleth Hill towards the end of our visit looking to the west over Church Stretton and Long Mynd.

Back to the beginning. 

Eight of us journeyed westward to Church Stretton to meet a more local resident on the former main street through Church Stretton. From here we walked up to the lower entrance of the Woodland Trust's Gough's Coppice. 

The Coppice is quite compact being a small deciduous woodland bordering a belt of conifers on the north-west facing slope of Ragleth Hill. The path that serves as the entrance however is very much "man made" with Laurel in abundance.

However it proved to be a rich hunting ground - for me as the others left me behind as I beat here and swept there.

When I emerged from the confines of the entrance I noticed I was alone. Where were the others? There was a choice of paths. Which one did they take? I knew which one I had planned to take but was that the one the others had taken? Eventually I saw one of the group having a sit down further up the other path so I made my way towards him.

En route I tapped a tree with fresh leaves and out fell a Birch shieldbug

Yes I know the leaf it is on is a dead oak leaf but it provided a better background than a white tray. Please give me a liitle credit for actually learning something from the people with cameras. Not all their talk and advice is wasted on me.

I would have shown the shieldbug around but there was no-one to show it to. Now as anyone who has handled a shieldbug will know, once they are on your hand they are very reluctant to depart and this one was no different. Eventually I freed myself and continued up the slope and into a large patch of bluebells.

At the top of the slope I met up again with the rest of the group.

Today we had someone who was interested in molluscs. This is not a group we are familiar with and any we come across are generally ignored! Finding molluscs seems to involve spending a  lot of time crouching down and peering at the undersides of stones and dead wood. But it is rewarding. Here are two different snails on a stone

Zonitoides nitidus (left) and Discus rotundatus (right) - Photograph: Mags Cousins
You even check the stones in water. The following photograph is a River limpet which are found under stones in streams, rivers and even the margins of pools. (I never knew these existed!)

Photograph: David Williams
Other finds of interest were Platybunus triangularis

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
 And the moth Adela reaumurella whose males have amazing long antennae

Photograph: David Williams
Towards the southern edge of the coppice is a small stream. Sweeping this yielded a female Chalcosyrphus eunotus

Photograph: David Williams
This rarely encountered hoverfly species is found around the specialised habitat of semi-submerged logs in streams.
Close to the stream were some horsetails which were identified as Wood horsetail

Photograph: David Williams
Lunch was taken by the stream.

A few of us took advantage of the footbridge over the stream which proved to be an excellent place to perch and rest our weary legs.

During lunch Baccha elongata was observed stalking about the undergrowth

Lunch over we made our way out of Gough's Coppice and started our ascent of Ragleth Hill. On our way out of the coppice we saw the hoverfly Ferdinandea cuprea 

Photograph: David Williams
This is an early season hoverfly that can be found "sunbathing" on the trunks of trees.

Looking westward we caught glimpses of the Long Mynd and Church Stretton through the trees

The first part of the path up Ragleth Hill is very steep so there were plenty of stops to inspect the trunks of path-side trees, admire the view of Caer Caradoc, etc. 

Eventually the path flattened out and we wandered through the upper reaches of Ragleth Wood. Here we were accompanied by a Red admiral

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
We came across many fine old oaks. One oak was distorted by what I assume are canckerous growths

Other oaks had crevices where windblown soil and other debris had accumulated. Ferns and Wood sorrel took advantage of this.

Photograph: David Williams
Some of the oaks were in flower. 

Oak catkin and currant gall - Photograph: Jim Creswell
Above the tree line we paused and contemplated life, the universe, everything. Just an excuse for a rest really. But what a good spot.

Onwards and upwards we went until we reached what we decided was the summit. Here more resting opportunities were taken advantage of.

What a splendid place to be, with a full circle view of the surrounding countryside. It was well worth the effort. 

Church Stretton, Caer Caradoc and Hope Bowdler - Photograph: David Williams
The above photograph can only give you an idea of part of the view. If you left click on the photograph you should be taken to a new window where the photographs are enlarged.

Now all we had to do was get down again and return to the cars.

My thanks to The Woodland Trust for permission to do what we enjoy doing in Gough's Coppice and to the snappers who provided the photographs that supplement my own.