More new aerial photographs!

We’ve added three more amazing aerial drone photographs of the Rowley Hills, taken by local wildlife expert and photographer Andy Purcell, to our gallery at https://friendsofrowleyhills.org/about/aerial-photography/. Follow the link to see them all!

View northwest (image © Andy Purcell)

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Look out for fungi and slime moulds!

As autumn approaches fungi and slime moulds are now appearing on the hillside. Look out for more as you walk across the hills this autumn and send us your photographs. Here are three that we’ve spotted so far:

Dog Sick Slime Mould (Mucilago crustacea) on dead grass stems (image © Mike Poulton)

Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera) (image © Mike Poulton)

Pestle Puffball (Handkea excipuliformis) (image © Mike Poulton)

Portway Hill recommended to be designated as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation

Seven green areas across Sandwell, including Portway Hill in the Rowley Hills, are set to be added to a list of nature conservation sites. Portway Hill is currently designated as a Site of Local Importance for Nature Conservation (SLINC) but its status may soon be upgraded to that of a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC).

Sandwell Council’s cabinet, which met on 20 September, discussed a recommendation to designate Portway Hill as a SINC, as well as 6 other areas at the following locations as Sites of Local Importance for Nature Conservation (SLINCs):
  • Bullers Open Space, Tipton
  • Market Place, Tipton
  • Merry Hill, Smethwick
  • River Tame Corridor, Oldbury
  • Whitecrest, Great Barr
  • Woden Road East, Wednesbury

The designations provide up-to-date evidence for planners to protect local nature when making planning decisions. This could mean that Portway Hill receives better protection from any potential future threat of development.

For more information, visit http://www.sandwell.gov.uk/news/article/4424/seven_green_spaces_set_for_conservation_list.

Part of the Portway Hill site.

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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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New aerial photos of the Rowley Hills!

We’ve started a new gallery on our website of amazing aerial drone photography of the Rowley Hills, taken by local wildlife expert and photographer Andy Purcell. The first two images are online now at https://friendsofrowleyhills.org/about/aerial-photography/ and we’ll be adding more over the next few months. Keep checking back!

Portway Hill looking east (image © Andy Purcell)

2017 butterfly walks report

2017 has been a great year for butterflies on Rowley Hills and our two organised walks have been a great success, attracting 12 visitors in June for the first walk and 21 for the second walk in July.Saturday 24th June was sunny and butterflies were plentiful. Ringlets are the commonest butterfly on the hillside in June, and during the walk 149 individuals were counted. The Large Skipper is not large at all and only slightly bigger than its cousin, the Small Skipper. To get a good look at one is not always that easy, especially in bright sunshine when they seldom if ever land. It’s only when they do so that the brown markings are visible on their wings which satisfactorily distinguishes them from Small Skipper. During the walk a fleeting glimpse of a Painted Lady butterfly was a real bonus. This butterfly, whose ancestors started their migration northwards from Africa earlier in the year, several generations down the line, has finally arrived in Britain and it’s highly likely that this individual was only passing through on its way towards Scotland and beyond. This is the longest migration by any one species of butterfly and we felt very privileged to have seen one. For those interested in reading more about the incredible journey of the Painted Lady butterfly go to http://butterfly-conservation.org/5183-2342/painted-lady-migration-secrets-revealed.html and other similar websites.

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.

Bung containing Six-belted Clearwing pheromones

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.

Bury Hill Park (image © Mike Poulton)

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.

Labyrinth spider web (image © Mike Poulton)

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!

Case Bearer moth on Compact Rush (image © Mike Poulton)

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.

Sneezewort (image © Mike Poulton)

Roesel’s Bush Cricket (image © Mike Poulton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Six-belted Clearwing (image © Andy Purcell)

Six-belted Clearwing (image © Mike Poulton)

Mike Poulton, July 2017

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New summer events!

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.

Marbled White butterfly (Melanargia galanthea) (image © Mike Poulton)