30 Jul 2021

Careful Granddad!

Whitcliffe Common, Wednesday 21st July 2021

A second postponement meant a search for a suitable alternative site to visit. It is a while since we visited Whitcliffe Common to the south of Ludlow, so the postponement provided an opportunity to renew our acquaintance with the Shropshire Wildlife Trust reserve.

The car park and meeting point provided us with an excellent view over Ludlow, with the castle prominent in the bright sunshine of a hot summer's day.

Photograph: Stephen Mitchell

One of the group brought along his daughter and grandchild which reduced our average age for the day by about 10% and left us breathless as the child's boundless enthusiasm and curiosity dragged us along behind him.

The large meadow was the area in which we started. This area had the least shade so was better tackled before the heat of the day got the better of us.

We surveyed here ...

We surveyed there ...

We looked everywhere (OK. I have overexaggerated a little) ...

Photograph: Stephen Mitchell

Whilst some decided to take advantage of the seats.

The grassland yielded plenty of delights and our photographers took their chances when insects came to a rest. Here are some of their efforts.

A moth commonly found in grasslands, Agriphila straminea.

Photograph: Jim Almond

Another moth that is usually perpetual motion whenever you try to get close, a Silver Y.

Photograph: Jim Almond

A Red-tailed bumble bee.

Photograph: Jim Almond

A Roesel's bush cricket.

Photograph: David Williams

A Common blue butterfly.

Photograph: Jim Almond

And one subject that was not about to take the huff and fly or run away, although they did move in the breeze, Harebells.

Our final grassland species is a Small skipper that formed an attachment to our young entomologist.

Photographer: David Williams

The grassland was surrounded by trees and scrub (as well as the road on which we parked) and this habitat was scoured for anything of interest.

A robberfly.

Photograph: Jim Almond

I am sorry but I do not know which species. This family of flies are superb hunters of other invertebrates as proven by a similar fly that has caught a moth.

Next was an arboreal insect, an Oak bush cricket.

Photograph: Jim Almond

It was time for lunch and most of us retreated to a shady spot in a corner of the meadow, However several people were at the other end of the meadow. Rather than be lazy and telephone to inform them where we were I decided to hike over to them.

And I am glad I did as they had found a Lobster moth caterpillar.

Photograph: David Williams

Take note of the forked appendage at the end of the abdomen (on the left) which together with the partly raised abdomen gives it the appearance of a snake's head. This provides a defence mechanism against predators.

I returned to the lunch spot and the others eventually followed. 

Remaining vigilant during this down time a Forest bug (also known as a Red-legged shieldbug) was observed on one of the trees providing shade. It was photographed.

Photograph: Jim Almond

All the "spots" on the oak leaf are a mixture of Spangle galls caused by the gall wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum and Silk-button galls caused by Neuroterus numismalis.

The Silk-button galls are the galls that look a bit like doughnuts but get their name from the fine golden hairs that cover the surface. The Spangle galls are the purple-ish galls. 

Both galls are caused by the female of the sexual generation of the wasp laying her fertilised eggs in or on the leaf. The galls develop over the summer and autumn and an asexual generation of female wasps will emerge from the galls after winter. These in turn lay their eggs on oak leaves and different galls are generated which develop to produce the sexual generation. And the cycle recommences. 

Lunch over we descended by a track through the woodland to the banks of the River Teme, emerging close to Dinham Bridge and another view of the castle.

Photograph: Stephen Mitchell

A pair of White-legged damselflies were observed.

Photograph: Jim Almond

After a bit of searching in a small patch of grassland with a small rock-face to one side plus some polite interaction with the public we had a decision to make.

Take the shorter but steep route back, or ...

Take the longer but more gently inclined route?


We took the longer route. And it is a s well we did as it made one man very happy as well as providing the title for this report.

Checking the trees that grew along the river bank we found a Parent bug with hatchlings. The adult had several empty egg cases stuck to its body.

Photograph: David Williams

As we continued our stroll we saw a flash of red as an insect was flying along. A Scarlet tiger moth. It was followed until it settled then the photographers moved in.

Photograph: David Williams

Whilst we were following the Scarlet tiger our young entomologist found something he wanted his granddad to look at.

Not a problem you would think.

But granddad was on a higher path to grandson and there was a steep 6 foot slope between them.

Keen to please grandson, granddad made the descent eliciting cries of "Careful Granddad!" from the spectators. 

I am glad to say that the descent was achieved successfully without incident, but I have no idea why he was summoned.

A couple of other insects were photographed. I am not sure where they were found but now seems as good a time as any to include them!

A Banded demoiselle.

Photograph: Jim Almond

And a White plume moth.

Photograph: Jim Almond

The path was gradually rising and we came to a weir.

On and up we went.

Through the trees.

And high in the trees there was some movement.

One of the trees was an elm.

Was the movement a White-letter hairstreak, a species that had so far this year eluded our butterfly questor?

We gathered around, stood and gawped.

Photograph: Stephen Mitchell

Well most of us did.

There would be occasional glimpses of a butterfly but no clear sightings.

Goodness knows what anyone else using the path thought was going on.

After what seemed a very long time and with increasing discomfort from my neck I decided enough was enough and moved on, hesitatingly, with the odd look back, until I turned the corner.

I lingered a little further up the path and others began to join me.

Eventually one of the arrivals reported that a butterfly had been identified - a Purple hairstreak. 

We began to move on.

But not everyone had joined us. Two had remained rooted to the spot, still staring into the trees. So we dallied.

Eventually they joined us and our butterfly questor had a grin like the Cheshire cat as he reported success, A White-letter hairstreak had been seen ... and photographed. Here are a couple of the photographs.

Photograph: Jim Almond

Photograph: Jim Almond

Patience had been rewarded.

After that excitement all that was left was to make our way back to the cars and make our way home.

My thanks to the Shropshire Wildlife Trust for giving us permission to do what we enjoy doing. And a huge thanks to the photographers who captured the highlights of the day so wonderfully and allowed me to use them to illustrate this report.

Round Up

A trip to Whixhall Moss last month revealed this Raft spider carrying her egg-sac.

Photograph: Susan Leather

And in a garden near Welshpool a couple of clearwinmgs were tempted to visit when pheremone lures were deployed. 

A Lunar hornet moth.

Photograph: Clare Boyes

A Yellow-legged clearwing.

Photograph: Clare Boyes

I am informed that this success comes after many years of trying in suitable locations without success. Just hanging the lures out by her back door did the trick. 

An outing to south Wales to visit Craig Ddu, to the north east of St. Brides Major to look for High-brown fritillary was undertaken. We parked by the Avon Alun shortly after crossing a ford. This was followed by a short but steep ascent to the top of the hill. 

Fortunately we met a group of surveyors undertaking a transect as we neared the top. This gave us plenty of time to regain our breath and quiz them about where we were likely to find the butterfly.

Restored and informed we took a wide path through the high bracken looking for flashes of orange from the butterfly and also small clearings in the bracken where the females may be searching out suitable places to lay eggs.

There were several flashes of orange that we frantically followed as they darted hither and thither then disappeared. There was no chance to determine what they were.

As I was walking along I pointed out a small clering a few yards from the path, then walked on.

My companion was more determined that I was and ploughed his way through the bracken to where he could look into the clearing. He then got very excited as there, settled on the ground was a High-brown fritillary.

I hurried back to see.

Later, as we were taking a break, another High-brown fritillary settled on a thistle close by. Here it is:

Photograph: Bob Kemp

Photograph: Bob Kemp

And to finish more news from our correspondent in Church Stretton. This time of a Shropshire first record when a Bedstraw hawkmoth visited his moth trap.

Photograph: Catherine Wellings

Photograph: Catherine Wellings

Keep well.

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