Here are a few recent photos from the Rowley Hills taken over the summer. Our Bee Orchids returned once again, and we had a couple of new and notable insect sightings – Black and Red Squashbug (Corizus hyoscyami) which has only been recorded once before in the Black Country, and Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus fuscus), the first time this species has been recorded on the Rowley Hills. Both of these species are thought to be spreading northwards, probably due to climate change, so sightings are likely to increase in coming years.
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.
On Friday evening (31st August) we set up two Mercury Vapour moth traps in the old quarry at the top of Bury Hill Park. In all we lured 14 different species of moth to the traps. The two that there were most of were Large Yellow Underwing and Square-spot Rustic. Chinese Character and Mouse Moth were nice to see.
Richard Orton and Tom Hartland-Smith put on a really interesting event, explaining about the different traps that are used to lure moths and the most useful books to use for identification. The ten people who attended enjoyed a great evening and learned a lot from the experience and we look forward to further events like this in 2019.
We’ve added another great event to our autumn line-up – a Moth night on Portway Hill, Friday 31st August 2018, 8:30pm – 10:00pm. Come and join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country for an exciting night of moth trapping up on the Rowley Hills. All welcome and no prior knowledge needed. Due to the Wildlife Trust having not previously surveyed the site for moths every record will be a new one for the hillside and site! This site is renowned for rare butterflies so we hope it will offer similar delights for moths. Walking boots are recommended and please bring a torch if you have one available. Meet at St Brades Close, B69 1NX, West Midlands. Please note this is a residential parking area so please park respectfully with the local residents in mind.If you are planning on attending can you please email Tomh@bbcwildlife.org.uk to express interest.
Our butterfly walk last Saturday was a great success with many Ringlets and Marbled Whites on show. We also spotted Meadow Brown, Common Blue and Small Heath butterflies, and Six-spot Burnet and Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet moths. A small bung impregnated with Six-belted Clearwing moth pheromone was hung from vegetation in two places where Bird’s-foot Trefoil, the caterpillar’s food plant is plentiful, and on both occasions, male Six-belted Clearwing moths were attracted to the lure. This small day-flying moth, resembling a wasp, is seldom seen although it is relatively widespread on the hillside.
Here are a few photos of some of the species seen, as well as some new aerial photos taken on the walk by Andy Purcell.
The numbers of Marbled White on Rowley Hills had still to peak but nonetheless we still managed a count of 17. In some years hundreds can be seen fluttering above and in between grass tufts searching out mates, or in the case of females, randomly scattering eggs on to blades of grass as they go, across the whole of the hillside. Other butterflies and day-flying moths seen on this first walk were Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Six-spot Burnet, Latticed Heath and Burnet Companion.
In contrasting weather conditions, our second butterfly walk on Saturday 15th July started off overcast and cool with a blustery wind. This did not deter 21 people from turning out and as the morning passed conditions improved considerably, although we never actually saw any sunshine. When butterflies shelter from the wind and rain they get well down into the vegetation making finding them difficult. However, it wasn’t long before one sharp-eyed group member spotted our first butterfly of the day, a Small Skipper. This small, orange-brown butterfly looks very much like the Essex Skipper. Both are found on Rowley Hills and a close inspection of the underside of the antennae is necessary to separate the two. Good photographs of both can be found in books and on the internet for those interested in seeing the differences. It wasn’t long before we spotted the first Marbled White of the day, soon followed by a Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, and Shaded Broad-bar. The distinctive black spots on a red background of the Six-spot Burnet is a warning to would-be predators that they are distasteful and should be avoided. The closely related Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet has very similar markings and both were seen during the walk.
We were fortunate to have Richard Southwell, a well-respected local lepidopterist with us today, and he had brought pheromones along with him to try to lure Six-belted Clearwing moths. This black and yellow moth has long been known from the Portway Hill site, but is rarely if ever seen. To look at, the adult moths are similar in appearance to wasps and hoverflies and this is possibly one reason why they go unnoticed. As we approached the land owned by the Wildlife Trust, Richard went on ahead of the rest of the party and hung the netted pheromone bung close to a patch of Bird’s-foot Trefoil, the moth’s food plant, in the hope of attracting moths to the lure by the time we got to him. Alas, on this occasion nothing came. Not to be deterred we continued our walk, heading upwards along the recently opened route through the old quarry, which brought us out at the top of Bury Hill Park. As we walked, Bullfinch, Goldfinch and Speckled Wood butterflies were noted.
The views towards Birmingham and beyond from the top of the park are quite stunning, and in the unmown grassland, patches of Harebells were now flowering. Bury Hill Park grassland probably has the largest population of harebells in the whole of the Black Country and it was reassuring to see that the council had left the grass uncut giving the harebells the opportunity to flower and set seed.
Moving on from here we followed the track along the rear of the gardens in St Brades Close passing several webs of the unmistakeable Labyrinth spider Agelena labyrinthica. The webs of this spider are constructed in south-facing hedgerows from July to September and are sometimes so thickly woven that they appear white in colour. At the one end is a funnel shaped retreat, and further down the funnel there is a labyrinth of tunnels which gives this spider its name. Hidden deep down in the centre is the egg sac containing the developing young. The females remain with the young until they are ready to leave the web and in the event of the mother dying before the spiderlings are ready to leave the web, the young will eat their mother!
Even in the driest of summers the ground at the rear of the gardens in St Brades Close is always wet. Rushes, sedges, Tufted Hair-grass, Great Willowherb and Reed Canary-grass thrive in these conditions, and as we passed our eyes were drawn to the numerous little whitish-coloured cases attached to almost every flower head on the Compact Rush. These were later identified as Case Bearer moth larvae Coleophora sp. This is a large group of similar-looking micro-moths whose larvae feed on flowers and seeds of various plants from within protective silken cases.
A little further on we arrived at the only known patch of Sneezewort on Portway Hill and nearby, a large Roesell’s Bush-cricket was spotted in the grassland.
Making our way back towards the start point a second attempt with the pheromones this time proved successful and within less than two minutes of positioning the bung near to a patch of Bird’s-foot Trefoil, several male Six-belted Clearwing moths had come to investigate. It was difficult to determine just how many individual moths there were as they fly so quickly but we estimated that there were at least 12. Flushed with success the pheromones were put down in two other spots where Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil was growing, and on each occasion clearwing moths appeared in no time at all. A great finale to another interesting walk.
Mike Poulton, July 2017
We’ve added a couple of fantastic walks to our events programme for this summer. Hope to see you there!
Portway Hill butterfly walk, Saturday 24th June 2017, 10:00am – 12:00pm. Join us and the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country for a guided walk around the Rowley Hills. The flowers on the hillside should just about be at their best by this time and if the day is sunny we will see many species of butterflies, including Marbled White; Portway Hill is one of this species’ hotspots in Birmingham and the Black Country. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. No need to book, just turn up!
Butterflies, day-flying moths and wildflowers walk, Saturday 15th July 2017, 10:30am – 12:30pm. Join FORH Chair Mike Poulton and Richard Southwell from Butterfly Conservation West Midland Branch for a fascinating walk seeking out the butterflies, day-flying moths and wildflowers of the Rowley Hills. We will even be using pheromones to attract particular species! Walking boots are recommended and binoculars would also be useful. Meet on the roadside near the Total garage on Wolverhampton Road, just below the Brewers Fayre/KFC at the entrance to the Portway Hill site.
We’ve got loads of great events in the calendar over the next few months and we hope to see you at a few of them. The next one is a litter pick on Portway Hill tomorrow, and hopefully the weather forecast will hold for that! If you’re planning to come to any of our conservation volunteer days, please fill in your name and tick the dates you are coming to in this Doodle poll. There’s no limit to the number of people who can attend, it just gives us an idea of how many to expect!
- Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Saturday 7th May 2016, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment and learning new skills. We will be conducting a litter pick along Portway Hill. Meet at Kennford Close.
- Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Saturday 14th May 2016, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment and learning new skills. We will be improving access onsite by installing a crushed dolerite path through the Wildlife Trust-owned section of the site. Meet at St. Brades Close.
- Conservation volunteer day, Thursday 19th May 2016 – venue TBC.
- Geoconservation day, Portway Hill, Saturday 21st May 2016, 10:30. The Black Country Geological Society will be carrying out conservation work on Portway Hill to ensure the Rowley Rag rock exposures are not overgrown by brambles. Check their website for more information. No need to book.
- Butterflies and Flora on the Rowley Hills – guided walk, Saturday 4th June 2016, 10:30am. This is a joint meeting with Sandwell Valley Naturalists Club (Sandnats); Mike Bloxham and Mike Poulton will be leading a guided walk at a peak time in the season for wildflower displays and insect life on the Rowley Hills. Walking boots are recommended and binoculars would also be useful. Meet on the roadside near the Total garage on Wolverhampton Road, just below the Brewers Fayre/KFC at the entrance to the Portway Hill site (see map below).
- Butterfly walk, Portway Hill, Thursday 23rd June 2016, 11:00am – 1:00pm. In partnership with Butterfly Conservation, our Vice Chair Mike Poulton will be leading a guided walk around Portway Hill, following a route Mike wrote for the the soon-to-be published ‘Butterflies of the West Midlands‘ book. This is a peak time for butterfly activity and as long as the weather is good we should see significant numbers of different species. Walking boots are recommended and binoculars would also be useful. Meet on the roadside near the Total garage on Wolverhampton Road, just below the Brewers Fayre/KFC at the entrance to the Portway Hill site (see map below).