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Prees Heath Report August & September 2019

The season for counting all species of butterfly on the reserve has now ended. 2019 has been another good year, especially for the flagship species, the Silver-studded Blue, which has done particularly well on the heathland restoration areas. As I have written before, the transect that is used to give an indication of butterfly numbers gives us just a sample, but by walking it week on week, year on year, it provides a reliable guide to how the butterflies are faring. This was the eleventh year of walking the transect, which has now been walked 286 times. Here are the figures for the total number of butterflies recorded on the transect from 2014 to 2019:

 

2019

2442

2018

3094

2017

1724

2016

2129

2015

1518

2014

1821

 

You can see from these figures that 2019 was a good year, topped only by 2018, when we enjoyed a wonderfully warm and dry summer. It is always the case with butterflies that numbers go up and down according to the weather, but the figures also show an upward trend. This year I have been helped on the transect by Lottie Glover, who has recently graduated with a degree in zoology, and Will Brammer, who takes his GCSEs next year, so I would like to convey my thanks to them. They were both particularly helpful in catching then releasing species that are tricky to separate, such as Small Skipper and Essex Skipper where you have to examine the undersides of the tips of their antennae to determine which is which. Essex Skipper is a species that has spread northwards in recent years. 

On Friday 27th September I hosted a Moth Evening on the reserve, followed by a Moth Morning on the Saturday. This was part of National Moth Night, when many people throughout the UK record what moths are present. The evening started quite promisingly, with mild, dry and still weather, but by 10pm the rain and the wind had moved in and the temperature dropped. Nevertheless we found nine species, which were:

 

Pink-barred Sallow

Lunar Underwing

Snout

Autumnal Rustic

Setaceous Hebrew Character

Common Wainscot

Brindled Green

Brown-spot Pinion

Deep-brown Dart

 

The last one, Deep-brown Dart, which took us a while to identify, is a new record for the reserve. Many thanks to the nine people who came along. The date for National Moth Night, which has now been going for 20 years, has yet to be set for 2020, but it should be somewhat earlier in the year.

 

The day after the Moth Evening the Shropshire Fungus Group visited the reserve. The group recorded an impressive 52 species of fungus, which is the first set of fungus records for the reserve, so many thanks to them for this. The recent wet weather certainly helped the fruiting bodies to emerge. Some of them have enchanting English names, such as Wood Woolyfoot, The Flirt, Fool’s Funnel, Deceiver, White Brain and Clustered Toughshank. A Fungi Foray open to the public and led by John Hughes will take place on the reserve on Saturday 12th October at 2.00pm, so this will be an opportunity to see and identify the different fungi first hand.

 

Stephen Lewis, Butterfly Conservation Volunteer Warden

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07900 886809

Prees Heath Report June & July 2019

 

June and July see the peak flight season of the Silver-studded Blue butterfly, and people travel a long way to see them. This year I led a number of guided walks on the reserve for various community groups, including:

 

• Shrewsbury Branch of Shropshire Wildlife Trust
• Wirral Alpine Society
• Whitchurch 6th Brownies
• Prees Cubs and Scouts
• Market Drayton Branch of Shropshire Wildlife Trust
• Ellesmere Branch of Shropshire Wildlife Trust
 

These were in addition to an Open Day which featured a guided walk for the general public as well as the opportunity to see inside the former RAF control tower. Three of these walks took place in the evening when the butterflies can be seen roosting rather than flying. If your community group would be interested in a Silver-studded Blue guided walk, I am open for 2020 bookings – late June and early July are usually the best times.

 

Numbers of Silver-studded Blues this year were good, although not quite as high as last summer when the weather was more favourable. Of particular note is how they are faring on the areas where we are trying to restore former arable land back to heathland. The first area to be restored was the Hangars field in 2007, and the chart shows how numbers of Silver-studded Blues have increased on the all-species transect, whereby a set route is walked weekly counting butterflies in a 5 metre wide imaginary box, since it was established in 2009.                                                                                             IMG 7848You can see from this that it took a while until the Silver-studded Blues became established. First the vegetation had to germinate in the bare sand following the soil inversion, and then the area had to appropriate to be colonised by the Black Ant, Lasiusniger, before the Silver-studded Blue arrived in good numbers in 2016, a period of nine years. The second area to be restored, the East of Runway field, which was more problematic regarding the establishment of heathland vegetation, also took nine years before good numbers were evident in 2018. As regards the Corner field, we are only eight years on from the seeding and numbers there are relatively low, but we would expect to see significantnumbers there in 2020. 

 

The pond continues to support species of dragonflies and damselflies, although overall numbers seem to be less than in the last couple of years. Here are photos of two species taken by Lucy Lewis in late July – Emerald Damselfly and Ruddy Darter, both mature males. Look at those beautiful blue eyes of the Emerald Damselfly! Uniquely amongst dragonflies and damselflies it holds its wings at rest at a 45 degree angle. 

 

IMG 7879IMG 7880  

 

 

 Moorhens bred in the pond this year, rearing at least three chicks, and we reckon that the bulrushes give them adequate cover for nesting. However there is a risk that the bulrushes could end up covering most, if not all, of the open water, and I would be grateful for any advice as to how best to control them. As often with many issues in conservation, there are swings and roundabouts. So we usually end up with a compromise, which in this case will be to try to control the spread of the bulrush across the pond whilst continuing to maintain sufficient bulrush cover for breeding wading birds, as well as for roosting dragonflies. 

 

Stephen Lewis

Butterfly Conservation, Prees Heath Common Reserve Volunteer Warden

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07900 886809

Orange Tip (Poem by Janet Vernon)

ORANGE-TIP

From sweetly scented honesty

and pungent garlic mustard,


to fragile-looking cuckoo flower, 

white petals lilac-dusted.

Vivid orange and startling white,

green marbled under-wings,

such energetic dancing flight 

this pristine beauty brings


to woodland rides in dappled shade 

and flowery roadside verges,


in amongst the plants from which

its larval form emerges.

By Janet Vernon

Butterflies of Prees Heath (Poem by Janet Vernon)

Butterflies of Prees Heath

 

 

Brimstone beauty on sulphurous wings

flies high on the wind where the skylark sings,

four flakes of yellow adrift from the sun,

tentative proof that spring has begun.

 

 

A newbie arrives and plays hide and seek,

among hawthorn leaves sits a Green Hairstreak.

 

 

Flashes of orange and soft, smoky brown,

 

disturbed by my feet not far from the ground,

male Small Heath butterflies parry and fight,

defending their patch with erratic low flight.

 

 

Two Green-veined Whites, a blissful mating pair,

transfixed I could do nothing but keep quite still and stare.

 

 

The star of the show – the Silver-studded Blue

enters the mid-summer stage right on cue,

sipping the sweet honey-bells of pink heather

and dancing on air in sunshiny weather.

 

 

Four Skippers live here – Dingy, Essex, Large and Small,

the moth-like dingy’s not dingy at all,

camouflaged wings in soft velveteen,

trying his level best not to be seen.

 

 

Meadow Browns and Ringlets – high-summer beauties,

compete for nectar with Small Copper cuties.

 

 

Gatekeeper who, in the absence of gates,

finds a nice bramble and patiently waits

for a female to settle and flutter her wings,

and quicken his pulse and tug his heart strings.

 

 

As rose-hips and fungi and berries appear,
au revoir to our friends ‘til springtime next year.

 

 

By Janet Vernon

Prees Heath Report April & May 2019

Regular visitors to the reserve may have noticed in recent weeks that some of the oak trees have been almost leafless. This is not the result of the trees coming into leaf a bit late or some disease, but rather as a result of the leaf buds and leaves being eaten by caterpillars. On one day I parked my vehicle under the oak tree on the right hand side of the access track and it was immediately evident that there were literally hundreds of caterpillars hanging down from the tree on silk threads, many of which ended up on the vehicle or on my jumper. Since then a closer examination of the tree revealed several different caterpillar species, including caterpillars of the Purple Hairstreak butterfly, which has been spreading on the reserve. However this was not the caterpillar that was dangling from the tree in their hundreds, as we think that species was the Green Oak Tortrix moth, also known as the Oak Leaf Roller moth, Tortrixviridanaa small micro-moth. 

 

 Purple-Hairstreak-caterpillar  Green-Oak-Tortrix-caterpillars-on--my-vehicle
 Purple Hairstreak caterpillar  Green Oak Tortrix caterpillars on my vehicle                                                                
   

                     

 

Samples of some of the caterpillars evident on the treewere taken to Butterfly Conservation HQ in Dorset for identification by moth expert Mark ParsonsHe identified caterpillars of various moths, including Common Quaker, Small Quaker, Mottled Umber, Pale Brindled Beauty, Winter Moth and Green Oak Tortrix. It is believed that the last two species have been responsible for the defoliation. We added one more species to that list – the Dun-bar. The oak trees are already showing signs of recovering from this episode. If anyone has any thoughts as to why this has happened this year – maybe it is linked to the very warm summer last year? -pleaselet me know.

 

Small-Quaker Mottled-Umber
 Small Quaker  Mottled Umber
 Pale-Brindled-Beauty Winter-Moth 
 Pale Brindled Beauty  Winter Moth
                                                          Dun-bar
                                                                                                         Dun-bar 

 

  Still on the subject of caterpillars, we – 14 people in all - enjoyed a Silver-studded Blue caterpillar hunt on Wednesday 29th May. The day turned out to be cool and cloudy, however, and, despite some diligent searching, no SSB caterpillars were found. In compensation people did see caterpillars of the Purple Hairstreak – six were found on the oak tree on the side of the track. In July in recent years we have found the adults on various oak trees across the reserve. We also found the caterpillar of the Yellow-tail moth. All this goes to show that a single oak tree supports many different species, and not just butterflies and moths. We will be holding a Moth Night on Friday 27th September from 7.00pm onwards, followed by a Moth Breakfast from 8.00am the next day.

 

Yellow-tail-moth-caterpillar

Yellow-tail moth

 

This spring, for the second year in succession, we have recorded Dingy Skipper butterflies on the reserve. Just two were spotted by Lucy Lewis on the northern edge of the control tower field, near the A41, in May. So it does look as though they are breeding on the reserve again – they had been recorded in the 1990s, before the reserve was purchased in 2006 - which is good news indeed. The total number of butterfly species recorded on the reserve since purchase now stands at 28.

 

June and July will be busy months on the reserve as people come to see the Silver-studded Blue butterflies. This year I am leading five guided walks for various community groups, as well as a guided walk open to the general public at 2.00pm on Sunday 30th June. The former RAF control tower will be open that day as well, from 10.30am till 4.00pm. 

 

Dragonflies and damselflies are starting to emerge on the pond. Lucy Lewis took these two photos of Broad-bodied Chasers there in May.

 

 Broad-bodied-Chaser,-male  Broad-bodied-Chaser,-female
 Broad-bodied Chaser - Male  Broad-bodied Chaser - Female

 

 

We held an on-site meeting with Natural England and our consultant Dr Phil Putwain in May, and this proved very useful in determining future management plans. Overall Natural England stressed that, although it is still early days for the restoration of the heathland, the results to date are encouraging. We will be continuing to use herbicide selectively to control unwanted species for the time being. 

 

 

Stephen Lewis

Butterfly Conservation Prees Heath Warden

07900 886809

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