Tag Archives: caterpillars

Portway Hill – Green Hairstreak Search, 25th May

On a dry and mostly sunny May morning, 27 wildlife enthusiasts assembled just inside the entrance to Bury Hill Park off the A4123 Wolverhampton Road in Oldbury, for our walk entitled ‘Portway Hill – Green Hairstreak Search’. The route planned initially involved the ascent of the grassy slope of Bury Hill Park, which at this time of year is dotted with numerous umbels of white Pignut flowers. Small numbers of Chimney Sweeper moths have been seen here in in the past but council grass-cutting restricts this moth to a few small areas where the tractor’s grass cutting blades are unable to reach. At the summit of Bury Hill Park the ground levels out and excellent views of the surrounding urban landscape can be seen. Once everyone had gathered together, we followed the path that descends into and through the oldest of the Portway Hill quarries dating back to the late 1700s. A Speckled Wood butterfly flew by, but despite a brief appearance by a brownish-coloured butterfly or moth that quickly disappeared into the dense vegetation, which we thought might have been a Green Hairstreak, nothing came of it.

This track eventually opens out onto the lower part of the land owned by the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country, known now as Rowley Hills Nature Reserve. The group by this time had split up into two, with the serious entomologists straggling behind searching the vegetation for insects which, on what was now turning into a very pleasant day, were becoming quite active. With such a knowledgeable group of people very little went unnoticed, and soon Dock Bug, Hairy Shieldbug and Bishop’s-mitre Shieldbug were found. Discovery of a plant bug with distinctive orange and black markings, black legs and black antennae by one of our group, was later confirmed by Ecorecord as new to Birmingham and the Back Country. Corizus hyoscyami, sometimes called the Cinnamon Bug or Black and Red Squash Bug was until quite recently only locally distributed in sandy habitats around the coasts of southern Britain, but for reasons unclear it is now rapidly extending its range to a variety of habitats inland.

Heading in a south-west direction the leading part of the group paused at the exposed cliff-face where spheroid shapes peel off in layers during weathering, and good examples of columnar jointing, caused by cracks which formed when the magma originally cooled and contracted, can be seen. It was here that a Green Hairstreak made an appearance, alighting on an Oxeye Daisy flower just long enough for two or three of the party to take a photograph. Soon it was gone and for those at the back, sadly they were not to see a Green Hairstreak, our main quarry, as no further sightings were made during the walk. We did however all get a good view of the Small Copper that obligingly settled on a nettle leaf in front of us. Not the freshest of specimens, with a piece missing from the top corner of one wing, but nonetheless always a pleasing little butterfly to encounter.

Onwards and upwards in the direction of the radio masts on top of Turner’s Hill, we passed the remains of the old double-hedgerow which at one time formed part of a track leading all the way up to Rowley Church, about a mile away. Eventually, having reached the expanse of grassland adjacent to Portway Hill at the highest point of the site, where Lye Cross Colliery once dominated the landscape, and of which sadly, no trace remains today, we looked out at a mosaic of rank grassland and flowery meadow. Ever since the land was levelled and graded with spoil from the old colliery days little has changed other than Hawthorn becoming more dominant. The overgrown Hawthorn hedges marking the old field boundaries shelter the grassland from the brunt of the cold and drying easterly winds, and in doing so provide a certain amount of protection for the many butterflies, day-flying moths and other invertebrates found here. A search of the grassland here revealed Common Blue and Small Heath butterflies, and Mother Shipton and Burnet Companion moths.

To complete our circular walk, we headed back downhill, this time taking the track on the southern side of the site, passing close to the back gardens of houses in Kennford and Wadham Close, and following the wide track along the ridge of the water-stressed banks overlooking Wallace Road, to finally exit the site near to the Total garage on Birmingham New Road. As we descended a Holly Blue was seen and a Brimstone flew swiftly by. Last year small Alder Buckthorns were planted here, with the hope that once they have established Brimstones might breed here.

Today’s visit had been very rewarding with nine different butterflies recorded; Brimstone, Common Blue, Green Hairstreak, Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Small Copper, Small Heath, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, and also the larvae of Orange-tip butterfly on the two main foodplants of this butterfly, Lady’s Smock and Hedge-garlic.

Several moths were also seen today, Angle Shades, Burnet Companion, Cinnabar, Mother Shipton, Small Magpie, and two micro-moths, Ruddy Streak, and Cranbus lathoniellis. Additionally, both larvae and their papery cocoons attached to grass stems of Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet and possibly Six-spot Burnet moths were seen in places.

As to be expected, many other invertebrates were also seen. Harlequin Ladybird, 7-spot ladybird, 14-spot ladybird, 16-spot Ladybird, 24-spot Ladybird, Violet Ground Beetle, Umbellifer Longhorn Beetle, Thick-legged Flower Beetle, Cardinal Beetle, Common Red-legged Robberfly, Batman Hoverfly, Grey-backed Snout-hoverfly, Thick-legged Hoverfly, Barred Ant-hill Hoverfly, Empis tessellata, Tipula luna, Dock Bug, Bishop’s Mitre Shieldbug, Hairy Shieldbug, Tawny Mining-bee, Ashy Mining-bee, Red-tailed Mining-bee, Honey Bee, Tree Bumblebee, Red-tailed Bumblebee, Common Carder Bee, Early Bumblebee, Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Orange-legged Furrow-bee, Buathra laborator, Yellow Meadow Ant, Azure Damselfly and Common Blue Damselfly.

Two new additions to the floral list for Portway Hill SINC were also made today, Spotted Medick Medicago arabica and Round-leaved Crane’s-bill Geranium rotundifolium.

 

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New photos in our Gallery!

We’ve just refreshed our main photo gallery with lots of lovely new photos, all taken by local photographer Andrew Cook who walks around the hills regularly with his camera! Here are a few to whet your appetite; to see them all, click here to visit our gallery.

The Life-cycle of the Puss Moth in a Tividale garden

Do you have willow or poplar trees in your garden? If so, it’s worth searching for the fascinating caterpillars of the Puss Moth. They are frequent visitors to a local garden on the Rowley Hills where the residents have regularly studied their progress from eggs through to adult moths.

Mated pair of Puss Moths (image © Julia Morris)

Once mating has taken place the female moths deposit small batches of brownish-coloured eggs on leaves of their food plant, in this case two small willow trees in their back garden.

Puss Moth eggs on willow leaves (image © Mike Poulton)

Upon hatching the young caterpillars feed almost constantly for around four weeks and pass through several stages until fully grown.

Young caterpillar well camouflaged on willow shoot (image © Mike Poulton)

Early stage of caterpillar growth (image © Andy Purcell)

In some years predation by birds, wasps and even Harlequin Ladybirds takes a heavy toll, but generally enough of them survive to maturity, ensuring there will be moths again the following year.

Adult caterpillar in disturbed posture, with raised head and pinkish flagellae extending from the twin tails

They spend the winter in a tough cocoon attached to tree trunks or wooden posts, then the newly-emerged moths seek out the food plant, and the cycle begins again.

Vacated Puss Moth cocoon attached to the side of an old wooden table in their garden

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Wildlife round-up – October 2015

Although summer is over and autumn is now well and truly with us, there are still plenty of fascinating flora and fauna to be seen in the Rowley Hills. Here’s a round-up of recent sightings; don’t forget, if you’ve seen something interesting, let us know!

Bird migration is continuing apace, and taking on an autumnal flavour, with the first Redwings of the season being spotted. This member of the thrush family breeds in northern Europe and migrates south in autumn, escaping the cold weather to spend the winter in the UK and other central and southern European countries. Other migrating species seen recently include Meadow and Tree Pipits, White and Yellow Wagtails, House Martin, Chaffinch, Siskin, Redpoll, Swallow, Spotted Flycatcher, Chiffchaff, Golden Plover and Cormorant. Many thanks as always to Ian Whitehouse for keeping us up to date with his Rowley Hills sightings!

Spotted Flycatcher (image © Ian Whitehouse)

Spotted Flycatcher (image © Ian Whitehouse)

Early morning on the Rowley Hills, a great time for vismigging (observing visible migration of birds) (image © Ian Whitehouse).

Early morning on the Rowley Hills, a great time for vismigging (observing visible migration of birds) (image © Ian Whitehouse).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve had more good news following Sandwell Council’s decision to delay cutting the grass on Bury Hill in response to our request. Not only has this allowed the Harebells there to finish flowering – enabling us to collect seed from them to sow elsewhere in the Rowley Hills – another scarce wildflower in Birmingham and the Black Country has been discovered in the same area which would probably never have come to light had the grass been cut as normal. The flower is Trailing Tormentil (Potentilla anglica); it is very difficult to identify as it hybridises with two other members of the Tormentil family, Creeping Cinquefoil (P. reptans) and Common Tormentil (P. erecta). The two hybrids and Trailing Tormentil all look very similar, having flowers with both 4 and 5 petals; however 2 experts have verified that it is Trailing Tormentil. The diagnostic feature confirming this is fully fertile flowers – hybrids are not fertile.

Trailing Tormentil (Potentilla anglica) (image © Mike Poulton)

Trailing Tormentil (Potentilla anglica) (image © Mike Poulton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elsewhere on the hills Mike Poulton photographed a Broom Moth caterpillar feeding on Red Bartsia, and another new botanical record for the Wildlife Trust’s Portway Hill site was a large patch of Sneezewort, so named because its pungent smell supposedly causes sneezing.

Broom Moth caterpillar (Ceramica pisi) (image © Mike Poulton)

Broom Moth caterpillar (Ceramica pisi) (image © Mike Poulton)

Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica) (image © Mike Poulton)

Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica) (image © Mike Poulton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike and Doug also found an enormous spider whilst working on the Wildlife Trust’s site, which turned out to be a Four Spotted Orb Weaver. This spider holds the record for the heaviest spider in Britain!

Four Spotted Orb Weaver (Araneus quadratus) (image © Mike Poulton)

Four Spotted Orb Weaver (Araneus quadratus) (image © Mike Poulton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s turning out to be a great fungi season too. These two species were photographed last week; Blackening Waxcap was near the Wildlife Trust’s Portway Hill site and Verdigris Agaric was on Massey’s Bank.

Blackening Waxcap (Hygrocybe nigrescens) (image © Mike Poulton)

Blackening Waxcap (Hygrocybe nigrescens) (image © Mike Poulton)

Verdigris Agaric (Stropharia aeruginosa) (image © Mike Poulton)

Verdigris Agaric (Stropharia aeruginosa) (image © Mike Poulton)

Weird and wonderful creatures in Rowley Hills gardens!

Do you have willows or poplars growing in your garden? If so, look out for the fascinating caterpillars of the Puss Moth which feed on the leaves. These photos were taken a couple of days ago in a garden on the edge of the Rowley Hills. Puss Moths are named for the fuzzy grey fur covering the adult moth’s body, and although the caterpillars can look rather strange they are harmless as long as they aren’t disturbed.

Puss Moth caterpillar (Cerura vinula) (image © Mike Poulton)

Puss Moth caterpillar (Cerura vinula) (image © Mike Poulton)

Puss Moth caterpillar (Cerura vinula) (image © Mike Poulton)

Puss Moth caterpillar (Cerura vinula) (image © Mike Poulton)

Puss Moth caterpillar (Cerura vinula) (image © Mike Poulton)

Puss Moth caterpillar (Cerura vinula) (image © Mike Poulton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not just the wide open spaces here on the Rowley Hills that contain wildlife. There’s plenty to see in your own back garden if you take the time to look – if you’ve seen anything interesting let us know in the comments below or via our Facebook or Twitter pages!