Friday, 27 February 2015


Acting on information from Shropshire ecologist Dan Wrench, I had a walk up Novers Hills today to look for a new species of Bryophyte. Novers Hills is a wonderful botanical site, and one of the speciailities this site is the Strict Haircap (Polytrichum strictum). This moss is found on raised mires and wet heaths, with the area around the pools on Novers Hill providing the ideal habitat.

Strict Haircap (Polytrichum strictum)

I had a search for other Bryophytes and was rewarded with another new species, Hair-pointed Grimmia (Grimmia tricophylla). This rather swarthy-looking species was found in a few small clumps on rocks on the northeast side of the hill.

Hair-pointed Grimmia (Grimmia trichophylla)

Sunday, 22 February 2015


I became interested in spiders last summer, and attended a workshop at Preston Montford, which was part of the Invertebrate Challenge programme. Over the winter I have not spent much time looking at them, but a spider with distinctive markings on the abdomen, found climbing up the curtains in our bedroom, made me curious.

I dusted off one of my favourite, and least expensive, pieces of kit - my Spi-pot. This was given to me by Richard Burkmar at the aforementioned spider day. It is essentially a couple of inches of pipe covered with clingfilm at one end, with a foam plunger inserted into the other. The idea is that you pop the spider into the chamber and push the foam plunger until the spider is pressed immobile against the clingfilm. This allows you to examine and photograph it without causing any damage.


By doing this and looking closely at the spider I was able to narrow the choice down to a female of one of the Lace-weaver Spiders. The combination of glossy carapace and velvety abdomen, with the distinctive cream markings, was helping with the identification.

Amaurobius similis (Lace-weaver Spider)

There are two very similar spiders in this genus, Amaurobius similis and A. fenetsralis. Of the two, A. similis is found in and around buildings, whilst A. fenestralis is found in and around bark, logs and leaf litter. This means that A. similis is overwhelmingly more likely to be present in the house, but I wanted to see if I could be certain. One of the benefits of the Spi-pot is that you can look at the underside of a spider without damaging it. Using a lens I could make out the distinctive dark markings on the epigyne, which identifies this as Amaurobius similis. It is difficult to capture the details with my compact camera, but hopefully this gives an idea.

Amaurobius similis (Lace-weaver Spider)

Also yesterday, whilst walking along Batch Valley, I found a snail on a grassy bank. This is one of the plain forms of Cepaea hortensis (White-lipped Snail) - a species I have already recorded this year, but a form I have not previously looked at closely.

Cepaea hortensis (White-lipped Snail)

Friday, 20 February 2015

Visitor from the bog

My first identified Diptera of the year was found today, in the form of this cranefly on the wall of our garage. On looking closely I could see this was a very striking insect, but having very limited knowledge of craneflies, and Diptera in general, I was not confident of getting to a determination. A check of the book confirmed I needed some help.

I posted images on the Dipterists Forum, and also sent the pictures to Shropshire invertebrate guru and cranefly recorded Pete Boardman. As always Pete came back to me quickly with an identification of Euphylidorea meigenii. This is one of the Limnophilinid cranefly, and is a bog and moor specialist. Whilst unusual in a garden, being close to the uplands of the Long Mynd, particularly the flushes on Novers Hill means that it is not that far to make it to our garden.

Euphylidorea meigenii

Euphylidorea meigenii

Euphylidorea meigenii

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Bog Mosses

I returned to Novers Hill again today, to have a closer look at the Sphagnum mosses I had seen up there next today. I have not identified these as yet, though I have ordered some identification resources to help me. Despite this I just enjoyed the beautiful colours.

Once I have received the literature I will take another look at these and hopefully determine what they are.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Bilberry Hill

This lunchtime I took a walk up Novers Hills for another look around the pools. When I was last up the hill the ground was frozen and there was a dusting of snow, making it difficult to find interesting plants. This time conditions were better and there was plenty to see.

First of all I found a spring of this reddish leaved plant growing through a mat of sphagnum. This is Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), a common plant on the plateau of the Long Mynd, but not something I was expecting to find on Novers Hill.

 Bilberry(Vaccinium myrtillus)

I also found several large patches of this moss on the hill. Bryophytes are new to me and are proving somewhat of a challenge. Whilst the leaves do not look as curved as they should, I think this is Dicranum scoparium (Broom Fork-moss).

Dicranum scoparium

Next was to look for aquatic plants in the pools. I noticed this pondweed with quite long and narrow leaves. This is Potamogeton polygonifolius (Bog Pondweed). This is a speices of nutrient-poor, acid standing water. Because of this it is not especially common, but is recorded on the Long Mynd.

Potamogeton polygonifolius

Not a bad place to spend my lunch hour.

View from Novers Hill

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Beautiful unknowns

One thing you learn quickly when looking at everything you find is that sometimes you need to just appreciate the beauty of something without knowing what it is. I already have quite a catalogue of photographs of unknown species, which I will try to identify if time allows.

Two recent discoveries have fitted into this. The first was this Cladonia lichen, with red tips bringing a splash of colour to the Long Mynd.

Cladonia sp.

Cladonia sp.

Another find was this orange fungi, which I found whilst walking up the Rough Road. It is a brain fungi, one of the Tremlla species. From a photograph it is not possible to identify it, though as these fungi are parasitic on other fungi if you can see the species it is growing on that can be a useful pointer. Tremella mesenterica is parasitic on Peniophora fungi, whilst T. aurantia is parasitic on Hairy Curtain Crust. In this case I could not determine what this fungi was parasitising, though if I had to go one way I would go for the latter.

Tremella sp.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

That old Chestnut

There were a couple of old favourites in the mothtrap last night.  For the first time I set both the MV Robinson and the Actinic Heath, and the Actinic Heath won with my first two noctuids of the year (in adult form). The first was this Chestnut, a common species for me and one I expect to record several of this year.


Second up was this Satellite. Though not in the best of shape, it is still one of my favourite moths. This individual had the orange rather than white planet and satellite makings.


Thursday, 12 February 2015


I discovered a distinctive spider crawling around the outside of the utility room window today. This proved to be Zygiella x-notata, sometimes referred to as the Winter Spider. This is quite a typical habitat for this species, being one of the few species to be found active in the winter months.

Zygiella x-notata

The pale leaf like pattern on the front of the thorax helps to identify this species. There is a very similar species, Zygilla atrica. This species is typically found in open habitats, particularly heathland, and is found in the late summer and autumn.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The moths are coming

Having previously bemoaned the lack of some of the early spring moths, the fears that I may miss out on them has proven partially unfounded. There was a decent haul last night, with three new species for the year.

The first species I noticed was a March Moth resting on the wall. This is species I did not record at all until last year, when I recorded them very frequently. Whether this will be the first of many remains to be seen. Foodplants include hawthorn and oak, both of which are frequent in my area.

March Moth

There were two Pale Brindled Beauty also resting on the wall by the trap. This is quite a variable species, ranging from well-makred to quite plain, and is a subtly attractive moth. The males and females of both March Moth and Pale Brindled Beauty are very easy to tell apart, mainly because the females are wingless (apterous). This is a feature found in several of the moths that emerge in the winter.

Pale Brindled Beauty

A moth which is more noticably attractive is the attractive Oak Beauty, and there was one of these around the trap. One of the highlights of the spring is when the first Oak Beauty appears, it is a regular crowd pleaser. It is in fact quite a common moth and under recorded as few people trap regular before the spring gets going properly.

Oak Beauty

Oak Beauty

Saturday, 7 February 2015


I spend the late afternoon stumbling around rocks on the ridge above Cwmdale, and trying to get more moss species identifed. It was a successful trip, with another three species confirmed for the list.

The best was this plant on the most exposed rocks, the Common Pinchusion (Dicranoweisia cirrata). This lovely little moss, with thin wavy leaves, was growing in small discrete clumps and it is typical moss of exposed rocks in hilly districts.

Common Pincushion (Dicranoweisia cirrata)

The other two species for today are those I have seen everywhere in and around Batch Valley, but have now managed to be happy with the identification of. The first is Bank Haircup (Polytrichum formosum), a frequent and widespread species that needs care to separate it from Common Haircup.

Bank Haircup (Polytrichum formosum)

The last species is Common Feather-moss (Kindbergia praelonga), a moss which grows in profusion in my lawn and in other parts of Batch Valley. This is an adundant species found throughout the counttry, with barely a blank square on the NBN map.

Common Feather-moss (Kindbergia praelonga)

Friday, 6 February 2015

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

I had an email from a friend in the village this afternoon, with two picture attachments showing a fat green juicy caterpillar on plants in his conservatory. Chris Cooke was wondering if this was an Angle Shades caterpillar, and as it was in my 1km square though I may want to head down to have a look.

Angle Shades larva - photo by Chris Cooke

The caterpillar had been found in the Cooke's conservatory, where it had found a particular fondness for Pelargoniums. Despite the consternation of the damage to the plants, Chris was obviously pleased to have found and identified the caterpillar. Angle Shades is a common moth which can be found at any stage of its life cycle at any time of year, but is still a spectacular moth.

Caterpillar damage to Pelargoniums

I was really pleased that Chris told me about this house guest, partly because I had not seen the caterpillar before and partly because it has been very quiet on the moth front. I did get a nice surprise yesterday morning when, despite the freezing overnight temperatures, this Mottled Grey (one of my absolute favourite moths) was attracted to the moth trap. I am still missing a couple of the obvious late winter species though and time is running out...

Mottled Grey

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Snails pace

Things have certainly slowed down in the last week or so. A mix of cold weather, snow on the ground and other commitment have meant that I have fallen behind my schedule. It was somewhat fitting that my slow pace was picked up very slightly by a new sale.

Our garden mole has been busy underground of late, and around of the molehills I found a snail, presumably having been dislodged by the digging. I did not recognise as being a species I have identified this year, so I took it straight inside and referred to the key. It was a Brown-lipped Snail (Cepaea nemoralis), my fifth snail species of the year.

Brown-lipped Snail (Cepaea nemoralis)

Monday, 2 February 2015

100 up!

It has been a slow and steady start to my 1000 for 1km square challenge., and have made it 10% of the way towards my target there are ten things that I have realised:

1. It is a tough challenge - harder than I realised it would be and will need a lot of time.
2. The birds are a problem - the Long Mynd is poor in terms of quantity of bird species, and my likely total of 70 or so species is well down on other squares that hit this target.
3. Moths will be vital  - with the lack of birds, moths are going to be the most important group. I have set myself a target of 250 species.
4. I need to learn lichens - lichens are really hard, but there are probably close to a hundred species in the square.
5. Snails are cool - a real revelation has been looking at snails and using the keys to identify them, my new favourite group.
6. I need to get wet - the Batch and pool on Novers Hills are likely to hold lots of species which I will not record unless I get myself a net and in them.
7. Timing is everything - I am already getting worried about missing out on some species, it looks like Early Moth and Pale Brindled Beauty may elude me this year.
8. The ecological recording community is great - I have had so much help already from people I have never met to identify tricky species, even sending off fungi samples to Yorkshire.
9. I am going to need a bigger bookshelf - I have already purchased about 20 new books and keys for the year, with plenty more on the list.
10. I have learnt plenty - my natural history knowledge is already unrecognisably more extensive than just a month ago.

Today, I reached 100 species. A walk up to the top of the Rough Road belatedly got Broom (Cytisus scoparius) on the list, though I am not sure how I missed it before. Having a poor total of invertebrates on the list I decided to dig around for woodlice, and found two common species. The first was the Common Shiny Woodlouse (Oniscus asellus).

Common Shiny Woodlouse (Oniscus asellus)

This is a really distinctive species, with the pale yellow spots, pale fringes and rear claspers. I found these under rocks, and picking through a dead tree stump I found species number two, the Common Rough Woodlouse (Porcellio scaber). This is a fantastic species when looked at close up, with it being easy to see how the name is derived.

Common Rough Woodlouse (Porcellio scaber)