30 Jul 2017

This is a true story

"Bagbatch", All Stretton - Sunday, 23rd July 2017

Arriving for our second visit to this site this year we were met by two moth trappers. They had trapped the night before and had just finished going through the catch. Thus, the first 10-15 minutes was taken up by looking at what they had found.

Inspection over we got ready and eventually we left the car parking area. On our last visit we took a circular route around the site in a clockwise direction. So, this time, for a change we started out on a similar route but anti-clockwise. You cannot say we are not adventurous.

We walked about 40 yards into the first meadow then set up camp there staying for about the next 45 minutes. We set a fast pace.

Photograph: David Williams
An early find in the bramble at the edge of the meadow was a mid-instar Green shieldbug nymph.

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
A beautiful male Southern hawker was close-by posing on the emerging bramble fruits.

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
And on some water in the vicinity a pondskater provided a wonderful subject on which to practice photographic skills.

Photograph: David Williams
Pretty impressive - and no need for Photoshop.

Having scoured the field and its surrounding vegetation I realised that if we did not move on

1) We could be having lunch within 40 yards of the cars;
2) We would never get around the site.

We moved into the next meadow which was smaller, wetter and with a good variety of vegetation of different heights.

A male red-tailed bumble bee was feeding on an umbellifer head

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Knapweed in this area was proving particularly attractive to the tachinid fly Prosena siberita.

Photograph: David Williams
These reports rarely include any photographs of flies other than hoverflies and craneflies so I am pleased to be able to include this one and a few others that will follow. Flies are all around us and, although sometimes unwelcome such as horseflies and mosquitoes, make up a major part of the fauna and should be enjoyed.

A couple of other finds to report, then .... guess what? 

A comma proudly displaying its comma marking on the underside of the hind wing.

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
And a harvestman Nemastoma bimaculatum.

Photograph: David Williams
Have you guessed?

It's not hard.


Satiated we moved on. We still had about 90% of the lap to go.

We entered an area of longer vegetation and woodland as the path bordered a stream. Of passing interest were the long-horn beetle Rutpela maculata.

This is a regular in these reports and is always a delight to see.

Another fly! And another tachinid - Macquartia praefica.

Photograph: Nigel Jones
And a cuckoo bee - Bombus barbutellus

Photograph: David Williams
The hymenopterists in the group got quite excited by this find, so I assume it is unusual to see it in these parts.

Cuckoo bees follow the example of the bird they are named after, that is, they take over the nests of other bumble bees. This cuckoo takes over the nest of the Garden bumble bee Bombus hotorum.

At this point I saw a plant that I thought was cowwheat, so the heavy gang were called in to look for the Cowwheat shieldbug

The shieldbug was not found.

Not surprising really, the plant was greater stitchwort!

A new member of the group wandered down the path.

It joined us as we ascended through the woodland to the next meadow then decided it had had enough and settled down to rest.

Emerging from the wood we entered a wonderfully flower rich meadow with glorious views of the hills

This area held our attention for most of the afternoon.

What about the rest you may ask?

Well, there is always another day.

Our dipterist was especially pleased about a fly that one of the group had found.

"A very interesting conopid" I think he said.

It was. It was a nationally scarce fly that had not been recorded in Shropshire for over 30 years - Thecophora fulvipes.

Photograph: Nigel Jones
Small coppers were flitting about and one took a fancy to the picture of an Eyed hawkmoth on the front of an identification guide

Photograph: David Williams
Also found in this area was the picturesque micro-moth Agapeta zoegana.

Photograph: David Williams
Will you be surprised if I said that time was pressing?

It was, so we moved on swiftly through the next field, pausing only to look at a dead tree and a centipede.

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
We were about to enter the wood on our last part of the journey when a cry of "Purple hairstreak" was heard from one of the tail-enders. So we all trooped back to look

Photograph: David Williams
It was not camera shy and although it fluttered about a bit it always stayed within easy sight.

One last fly. I am not sure where this was seen but the timing of the photograph is after the one above. This one is a robber fly - Machimus atricapillus.

Photograph: Nigel Jones
We raced back to the cars only to be offered refreshments by our hosts.

How could we refuse?

So we didn't.

As we enjoyed our drink our orthopterist investigated the compost heap to look for little earwigs which ply their trade in this environment. He was not successful, but he found a pseudoscorpion which turned out to be the "Compost chernes".

My thanks to Mags Cousins for inviting us to the site, to the photographers David Williams, Jim Cresswell and Nigel Jones for generously allowing me to use the results of their craft and to the group for once again providing excellent company as well as spotting lots of interesting wee beasties.

What has the title of this piece got to do with the rest you may wonder?

If you have seen the film "Fargo" and its spin-off TV series you will know it starts "This is a true story" "The events happened in Minnesota in ..." This is untrue, it is not a true story although it may be tenuously based on some event somewhere in the world.

Well this report is a true story based on events that happened at Bagbatch on Sunday 23rd August. The key word is "based". I am the grateful recipient of photographs from attendees but am not always aware of where and when they were taken on the trip so I try to put together a plausible tale from what I remember and the photographs. 

I hope you enjoyed it! 

23 Jul 2017

On the beach

Ternhill Quarry - Wednesday 19 July 2017

Last year I was informed about a disused sand and gravel quarry at Ternhill. Visits were invited to assess the restoration work that had been done and to gather records of the species that had colonised the site. I did not have time to go last year but was able to schedule a Joy of Wildlife day there this year.

Permission was arranged with the quarry operators via Shropshire County Council and off we went.

Nine of us made the journey to the quarry which is situated just north of Hinstock on the A41. After parking and getting ready we climbed (or went through) the gate that marks the entrance to the quarry to be greeted by a large green metal construction, an avenue of birch trees and vast bowl of gravelly sand with a large pool at its centre.

In places the vegetation was well established, especially around the pool, but other areas were more like a beach. The hot sun blazing down at the time of our arrival accentuated this feeling.

A quick exploration of the site found half of the site fenced off with a stark "Private" notice posted on it. This was a surprise as I understood that the quarry operators had not yet handed the land back to the owners. Never mind, there was still plenty to look at.

Evening primrose was a very common plant in the sandy areas but there was plenty of other flora to challenge the botanists among the group.

There is very little more to add. We scoured the beach, the poolside vegetation, the areas of more mature vegetation and the trees that bordered the site. I will now hand over to the photographers to show you some of the things we found.

We start with an insect that does not often appear in these reports. Ants. No-one has told me what species they are but I am sure somebody will.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
A pair of Adonis ladybirds intent on perpetuating the species

Photograph: David Williams
A pair of blue shieldbugs with the same purpose.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
A freshly emerged common blue damselfly by its exuviae

Photograph: David Williams
A common green grasshopper.

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
A common groundhopper. The blue circle is there to highlight the fully-formed (but non-functional) forewing - this indicates that it is an adult.

Photograph: David Williams
A late instar nymph of the rhopalid bug Corizus hyoscami.

Photograph: David Williams
A hoverfly - Eristalis interruptus

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
A gatekeeper.

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
A mid-instar nymph of a green shieldbug.

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
A pair of rhopalid bugs Myrmus miriformis following the example of the Adonis ladybirds and blue bugs.

Photograph: David Willaims
The soldierfly Oxycera rara - careful, or I may get drawn into using the rather silly common name for this.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
A rather battered and bruised ringlet.

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
A frayed small copper.

Photograph: Jim Cresswell
There was only one blot on an otherwise excellent day on an excellent site. A neighbour came to find out what we were doing - no issue with that. He then complained that we had left the gate to the entrance drive of the quarry open - a fair cop - we had, I went to shut it. Finally he complained that we had trespassed across his land to get to the site - I have no idea if we had, but if we did, I apologise - I was not made aware of this issue by either the council or the quarry operator.

The weather forecast had promised thunderstorms by mid-afternoon so when the clouds began to darken and threaten we made our way home. 

The thunderstorm did not materialise.

My thanks to Shropshire County Council and Cemex for granting us access to do what we enjoy doing and to the photographers Bob Kemp, David Williams and Jim Cresswell for providing the excellent photographs.

17 Jul 2017

Close encounters of a fritillary kind

Dolgoch Quarry SWT Reserve - Wednesday, 12 July 2017

As there is no car park for this site we parked and met in the lay-by on the A495 just after the Llynclys crossroads. This is a public space so there is always a worry that there will be no room but, fortunately, there was just enough space for our cars.

Kitted up we started the long (for us) walk to the site.

Needless to say we were distracted on the way. Indeed on the road that led to the path that led to the quarry we found early instar woundwort shieldbugs in the bordering vegetation. 

Close to the gate to the path a common froghopper was photographed. 

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Common froghoppers come in a wide range of colours and patterns. This was one combination that I do not recall seeing before. Fortunately their other features are distinctive making identification reasonably straightforward.

The first part of the ascent to the quarry starts through pleasant woodland which gets increasingly dense. It is a bit of a surprise therefore when the path suddenly opens out into a clearing with a distant view of Llanymynech rocks.

This was a wonderful spot and we spent some time seeking out things of interest. One special sighting was a Silver washed fritillary. It was very flighty but eventually it settled and posed for photographs.

We watched the butterfly for ages. So transfixed were we that the butterfly clearly thought that we were part of the scenery. It circled around us getting closer and closer until it chose the ideal spot to land - the left eyebrow of one of the watchers.

Regrettably I muffed my chance. I was not quick enough with my camera to photograph the event. The butterfly took off. Then it checked my pocket. Finding nothing of interest it flew off.

What an experience!

To reach the quarry we had to re-enter the wood.

And make our way up a muddy, rock and wood strewn path, through the "Stygian gloom" of a wet, wet wood.

Do not be fooled by the brightness of the photograph - it was much darker.

Eventually we could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Where the path opens out into the first of the two quarries.

This is a delightful place and looking around it took us until well after lunch time.

Here are photographs of some of the things we found. There is no need for words to distract you!
Migrant hawker -  Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Volucella pellucens - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Evarcha falcata - Photograph: Bob Kemp
Robin's pincushion - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Narrow-bordered five spot burnet - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Ruddy darter
Meadow grasshopper - Photograph: David Williams
Eristalis interruptus - Photograph: Bob Kemp
Xanthogramma pedisequum - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Aphrophora alni - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Small skipper - Photograph: David Williams
 As I was climbing out of the quarry I heard the shout "TIGER". 

Bravely, as it may have been an escaped big cat - you must have heard of the Telford puma - I returned - to find several people staring at a clump of meadowsweet. 

One of them pointed to a moth.

Photograph: David Williams
A scarlet tiger. To confirm its name it flew off displaying a vivid scarlet hindwing.

We left the quarry to visit the second quarry and the land that lies between.

It was a bit of a climb.

A pause for breath was needed. As our heart rates returned to normal someone noticed a Six-belted clearwing moth on a flower head. This was such an exciting find it is worth two photographs - the second showing a bit of technological wizardry.

Photograph: Bob Kemp
Photograph: David Williams
A few of us descended into the second quarry - the rest "busied themselves" at the top. The descent was worth it as we were met by a large number of orchids when we reached the bottom. This one is a Fragrant orchid.

Photograph: David Williams
Time, as always, was marching on. We made our way back to the clearing where we were met by a friend

Silver-washed fritillary - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Whilst a few of us had a sit down to enjoy the afternoon sunshine and the view others were restless and set about exploring the area beyond the clearing.

They came across a "nest" of sawfly larvae:

Neurotoma saltuum (?) - Photograph: Bob Kemp
And a few more fluttery things:

Comma - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Shaded broad bar - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Meadow browns - Photograph: Jim Cresswell
Time to go.

What a splendid day!

My thanks to Shropshire Wildlife Trust for granting us permission to do what we enjoy doing. Once again I am indebted to the photographers Jim Cresswell, David Williams and Bob Kemp for taking such wonderful pictures and allowing me to to use them to illustrate this piece.

Finally a big thank you to everyone who reads this for showing an interest in what we get up to.