Monday, 25 June 2012

Severn Valley Country Park 20 May 2012

On Sunday the 20th of May we decided to visit the Severn Valley Country Park at Alveley in Shropshire. This is a great place to visit and I'd love to go again.

We took a steep path down from the Visitors Centre to the River Severn to where a bridge crosses the River and carries on towards Park Halt, a small halt (station) on the Severn Valley Railway.

We didn't cross the river, instead deciding to take a left turn and follow the river for a while. This takes you past a picnicking area and then into some woods called Hallclose Coppice.

The Coppice is full of old Oak trees and interesting plants associated with ancient woodland and there is at least one waterfall.

There were lots of ferns but I'm not quite there yet with my plants to take a stab at these. I'd love to go back and spend more time looking at them as I really didn't get to stop for long enough! Although if the weather stays like it is the whole place could end up under several feet of water and we'll all be getting around by boat a la Kevin Costner's Waterworld.

On some well drained gravel waste ground I found some Herb Robert and also some Common Stork's-bill.

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

Common Stork's-bill (Erodicum cicutarium)

Herb Robert is quite a common weed of waste ground and I have some growing in my front garden.

Along the river bank there was some pretty Red Campion which also looked decidedly pink (I can see a theme developing here)!

Red Campion (Silene dioica)

For those of you that don't like the colour pink we also found some Ramsons/wild garlic and Bugle in the coppice.

Ramsons are apparently very nice in salads and various over dishes but I can't say that I've tried them myself. I'd rather leave them in place for others to enjoy.

Ramsons (Allium ursinum)

Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
 One curious thing we spotted which I forgot to take a photo of was either a wishing tree or Celtic Clootie well. This was a tree near a waterfall that had strips of cloth tied to the branches.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Back to old layout

Although I liked the look of the new Blogger "Dynamic layout" for blogs, it didn't display a lot of the extra information I have in the sidebar of the blog and other information was hidden in a "pop-out" menu so I decided to revert to a traditional style of layout.

For  example, I licence all of my photos using a Creative Commons licence but you would not know that by using the dynamical layout because that information was not displayed.

I hope you all agree with me that this format is better but any comments on preference are most welcome.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

May 2012 so far part II

Going through my photos I see that I have things slightly out of order but never mind.

On the 5th of May I paid a quick visit to Kinver Edge and found some Garlic Mustard in the woodland near the Rock Houses.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Then on the 12th of May I found some Sulphur Tuft and Herb Robert while doing some gardening around the front of my house.

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare var. fasciculare)

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare var. fasciculare)

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare var. fasciculare)

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare var. fasciculare)

On the 13th of May we visited Highgate Common with one of my parents dogs and I found quite a few different plants as well as a pair of micro moths mating on my car when we arrived.

Green Longhorn moths (Adela reaumurella)

Frankie (Canis lupus familiaris)

Field Wood-rush is quite a common plant on Highgate Common and can be seen growing amongst the various species of grass. I had found some a few weeks earlier and I went back to get some photos for confirmation.

Field Wood-rush (Luzula campestris)

Field Wood-rush (Luzula campestris)

Field Wood-rush (Luzula campestris)
This species is rhizomatous, meaning that it can spread itself by extending a network of rhizomes (a horizontal underground root like stem) underground, with new shoots then appearing from the rhizomes. You can see this at work in the first picture with several plants within a tightly grouped area. An example of another common rhizomatous plant is bracken.

The Bluebells were still out in force in the wooded areas and formed a nice blanket of blue and white with some Greater Stitchwort.

Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea)
These are native Bluebells and not the Spanish or hybrid Bluebells that are often found in gardens. A member of the public has gone around planting Spanish Bluebells along some of the main footpaths but this should be discouraged as it readily hybridises with our native Bluebell!

Talking of introduced species we also found a large Rhododendron in the woods. It prefers shaded areas on acidic soil and can be a pest if allowed to spread.

Rhododendron  (Rhododendron ponticum

Rhododendron  (Rhododendron ponticum)

Rhododendron  (Rhododendron ponticum)
On the woodland edge there were also some Red Campion (pink flower) in flower.

Red Campion (Silene dioica)

Friday, 18 May 2012

May 2012 so far part I

After the almost complete washout that was April 2012 I have been keen to get out in the field as often as possible in May and document as much as I can. The result so far?.. about three trips to Highgate Common (including a work party), a very short visit to Kinver Edge and a spot of gardening.

Still this was enough time for me to see some interesting looking plants and the occasional insect.

On the 8th of May I went to the regular Tuesday work party at Highgate Common. Despite the awful weather of recent weeks it just about managed to stay dry for the whole day.

The Tree Pipits were obviously ill informed about the recent weather in the UK and have arrived back en masse from Africa to sing their little hearts out from the tops of the scattered trees on the main heathland area. They were also doing their song flight display using any post, tree or tall bush as a launching platform. This behaviour is a good way to tell them apart from the Meadow Pipit and Skylark as they both begin their song flights at ground level.

Other warblers were apparent too with a large number of Willow Warblers, a few Chiffchaff, some Blackcaps and a suspected Whitethroat but no sign of the elusive Cuckoo.

The work party was tasked with clearing away any re-growth of trees that we had cut down over the winter. It was during the course of this work when I noticed this little critter, almost chopped down with the branch it was sitting on.

Drinker (Euthrix potatoria)

Drinker (Euthrix potatoria)
The adult is quite a distinctive looking moth and you can see it by going to the following site

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Highgate Common 03 April 2012

Whilst the rest of the Highgate volunteer work party were building some Dormouse nest boxes for the reserve, myself and another volunteer went out onto the reserve in search of some Emperor Moths (Saturnia pavonia). The males fly in the daytime in search of the females which fly at night. (click on link for photo).

Unfortunately we didn't find any as the weather wasn't on our side. The warm and sunny weather we had been enjoying only the week before had gone and instead we were greeted with a much cooler and greyer day which threatened rain.

It wasn't all doom and gloom though as we did find a total of four Bloody-nosed Beetles (Timarcha tenebricosa)! Pretty good going for the start of April and just rewards for getting absolutely drenched by a torrential downpour just moments late.

Timarcha tenebricosa

Timarcha tenebricosa

Timarcha tenebricosa

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Baggeridge Country Park 25 March 2012

I went for a quick walk at Baggeridge Country Park one Sunday as something to do. I headed over to the Toposcope and found some mining bees popping in and out of their holes. These were Andrena clarkella and are some of the earliest mining bees to emerge in the spring.

 Andrena clarkella

 Andrena clarkella

 Andrena clarkella
This species of Andrena is best separated from others in its genera by the rusty red rear legs.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Highgate Common 28th February 2012

I had a stroke of luck a couple of weeks ago as I was leaving a work party on Highgate Common. I spotted a bug crawling on the trainee warden's bag (Phillip Playford) and managed to grab a few photos. I was excited because I recognised the bug as something I had seen recently on iSpot but I also thought that it probably wasn't that rare.

Coreus marginatus

The bug in question was a Dock bug (Coreus marginatus) and British bugs describes it as "common and widespread in southern Britain, including Ireland, where it may be found in a variety of dry and damp habitats". The big clue here is that it is widespread in "southern Britain". As far as Staffordshire is concerned the county is on the far NW edge of the Dock bug's normal range here in the UK, with only sporadic reports further north and west.

My sighting turned out to be a first for Highgate Common and only the second ever county record, the other being from Penn Common which is only just down the road from me.

This just goes to prove that if you keep looking you will eventually be rewarded with something exciting. Also if I hadn't taken the trouble to report my sighting to the county recorder it would not have been nearly as interesting to me as I wouldn't have found out how uncommon these things are in Staffordshire.

There is tremendous value in reporting sightings to your county recorder because without them we would have a poorer understanding of what flora and fauna are located in the county and we cannot hope to protect something if we don't know where it lives.

For many things you don't have to be an expert either. Simply take a photo of a specimen and then put it on somewhere like iSpot where a community of knowledgeable people may be able to help you identify what it is. Once you have a firm idea of what it is you have photographed you can then contact your county recording centre with your sighting.

The county recording centre for Staffordshire is the "Staffordshire Ecological Record".

Some things will be unidentifiable from a photograph, either because there are similar species which look the same and can only be identified through dissection or because you didn't capture all of the identifying features in the photograph.

When recording plants it is a good idea to take a notebook and ruler/tape measure with you. Some plants look very similar to each other in colour and shape but one species might be very tall and the other very short so a sense of scale can be a useful identification aid. A selection of photos can also help, especially with plants. Remember to take photos of not just the flower but also the leaves, stem and a photo of the whole plant.

Other sightings that day included Turkeytail bracket fungi (Trametes versicolor) and an Angle Shades caterpillar (Phologophora meticulosa).

Trametes versicolor

Phologophora meticulosa

Phologophora meticulosa
Angle shades caterpillars are interesting in that as well as this brown form they can also be bright green.

For what ever reason the insects seemed particularly interested in bags that day as this caterpillar was found on my bag as I got to the car, hence the metallic grey background in the photos.

This gives me an idea for an experiment with rucksacks :-)

In other news the Redpoll have finally found my nyjer seed feeder so hopefully I will be able to get some better photos in due course.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Bits and bobs February 2012

I've managed a few trips out this month which bucks the trend of recent months. The truth is that a lot of my time recently has been spent planing a move down to Devon but for reasons that I won't go into here I have decided against a move down south.

In my opinion South Staffs is just as good for wildlife as any other county as long as you take the time to look.

For instance, by keeping my eyes peeled for even the smallest of creatures I managed to find this moth taking shelter on a Silver Birch tree on Highgate Common:

Spring Usher (Agriopis leucophaearia)
I particularly like the name Spring Usher as it aptly describes when this species emerges as an adult, which is anywhere between February and March. The female moth is wingless and the larvae feed mainly on Oak.

Despite early signs of spring there were still plenty of signs of winter.

The work party at Highgate Common could hear a large number of birds causing a very loud commotion just the other side of some trees. They were that loud (the birds not the work party) that the common consensus was that they were probably Starlings.

On closer inspection it turned out to be a flock of Linnet! Although there were probably less than 100 birds it was still the largest group of Linnet I remember seeing.

Although Linnet are known to form large flocks in winter they are rather gregarious birds all year round and will often breed in small colonies of up to 20 individuals.

Talking of birds, a few weekends ago I was lucky enough to take part in some ringing at an orchard in Worcestershire. The cold weather had driven large numbers of Fieldfare to the orchards where there were plenty of apples for them to eat.

Apparently Fieldfare don't actually like eating apples when they have a choice, they only turn to them when more desirable food sources run out.

This is the same for a lot of animal species, even us humans. If you are anything like me, when you have done your weekly shop you will eat your favourite things first and leave less desirable foods until last. Birds are no different.

This is why a lot of the time you will see a bush full of berries until very late in the winter. It is not that the birds are deliberately saving these berries for harder times, it is just that there are other things around that they would rather eat.

As it turned out a lot of the apples had already been decimated by the Fieldfare in preceding weeks and there weren't a lot left so we only managed to catch roughly 60 birds.

For whatever reason I didn't think to take any photos of the Fieldfare but I did take some photos of some personal highlights for me a Jay (ringing tick) and a Sparrowhawk.

Jay (Garrulus glandarius)

Jay (Garrulus glandarius)

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
I was also shown an old Dormouse nest which was another personal first.

Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) nest

Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) nest
Dormice are one of only a select few British mammals that truly hibernate during winter. However it is highly unlikely that one would be hibernating in this nest, they would have found a warmer spot to spend the winter.

February truly has been a month of firsts as just yesterday I had my first garden sighting of Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis cabaret).

I only managed to get some record shots as I couldn't get very close to them, the light was appalling and my hands were shaking from the excitement! I mainly focused on a rather pale individual that I was hoping was a Mealy Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) but the general consensus is that it was just probably a rather pale Lesser Redpoll.

"normal British" Lesser Redpoll 

Pale Lesser Redpoll

Pale Lesser Redpoll on left with slightly darker bird on right

Pale Lesser Redpoll, the pink on the breast makes this a male

Pale Lesser Redpoll

Pale Lesser Redpoll on left with much darker bird on right

Pale Lesser Redpoll on left with slightly darker bird on right

The Redpoll were feeding with a flock of the loosely related Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis). I am hoping that the Goldfinch will show the Redpoll where my nyjer seed feeder is, then I will be able to get some better photos!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

RSPB Arne 3rd February 2012

I paid a visit to a very cold Dorset last Friday and thought that I would drop into RSPB Arne for a couple of hours whilst I was down there.

Unfortunately due to restricted time I didn't get to see all that RSPB Arne has to offer but I was very impressed with the limited amount that I saw.

Things got off to a good start when I saw some Sika Deer off the track to the main car park.

From the Car Park I had the choice of taking either the Shipstal Point trail which eventually leads to views over Poole Harbour or the Coombe Heath trail to Middlebere Lake (which is more like a tidal creek than a lake).

Middlebere Lake normally holds good numbers of Avocet so I thought I would take the Coombe Heath trail. I saw little of note over the heath other than a small party of Meadow Pipit and a Kestrel. I expected little else given the intensely cold weather, with most of the small birds preferring to feed in the car park, woodland and probably in the farm area.

However Coombe Heath did offer expansive views of the area which was very beautiful and picturesque. I didn't get many shots of the scenery as I was only sporting my telephoto lens but I did get some less picturesque photos of scrub/forest clearance and burning to the west of the reserve.

There is one hide and a viewing screen looking over Middlemere Lake. In some gorse close to the hide I heard a Dartford Warbler singing quietly away. I also got to see it fleetingly before it turned and flew off to sing from another song post further off. Unfortunately I didn't get any photos. I also didn't get any photos of what greeted me once in the hide - a stunning female Sika Deer very close to the hide. I was making too much noise and it scarpered as quick as a flash.

I was promised by regular visitors to the reserve that Middlemere Lake was normally full of wading birds, but this wasn't to be on my visit as it was almost completely frozen over! Overnight temperatures had approached about -10 degrees Celsius so it is hardly surprising but still ever so slightly disappointing.

The local Brent Geese had a quick wander over the frozen creek...

...but soon took to grazing on a field nearby.

Whilst in the hide I also saw a superb male Marsh Harrier quartering over the reed bed in front of the Brent Geese and a Common Buzzard in the trees behind the Brent Geese.

On my way back to the car park I encountered a mixed flock of winter thrushes in the overflow car park.

So overall a very enjoyable couple of hours spent on a lovely reserve. I dearly hope to visit it again sometime so that I can properly explore all it has to offer.