August saw the Teme Valley Wildlife Group’s first outdoor meeting of 2021. We enjoyed a splendid visit to Catherton Common for a nature ramble led by the group’s engaging entomology expert, Tony Simpson. The day was warm but not over-hot and wildlife was out in force at this special Shropshire site. As we assembled, friends old and new, our first impression was of glorious purple heather spangled with bright yellow gorse. A somewhat surprising addition to this colour scheme was a flock of sheep curiously coloured green. Their identification marks appeared to have run extensively through their fleeces. Perhaps they had been caught in a downpour before the dye had dried.
We soon set off to look for one of the rarer creatures in residence on the common, the bog bush-cricket. The acute hearing of younger naturalists would have promptly located these characters, but the more mature amongst us needed a bat-detector tuned to bush-cricket pitch. This soon picked up the high-frequency chirrup of our subjects, who, once you got your eye in, were all about us in the cross-leaved heather. In particularly damp areas, it was interesting to see them jumping in tandem with similar-sized young frogs, who were also out and about in good numbers.
Birdlife was well in evidence with a pair of kestrels sitting on a wire and meadow pipits and stonechats darting about the gorse. Long-tailed tits and spotted flycatchers entertained themselves in the boundary trees. Redstarts, although seen a few days earlier, kept cavey until we had passed by. Also on the wing were butterflies, of which we saw small copper, painted lady and brimstone.
Along the brook by Cramer Gutter, an area long managed by Shropshire Wildlife Trust, I was keen to spot a golden-ringed dragonfly but, as on all my previous visits hoping to glimpse one, I was to be disappointed. This species is a moderate-sized hawker with smart black and yellow abdominal stripes. The only other place to see one hereabouts is the northerly part of the Wyre Forest. Their preference for stony heathland streams makes Worcestershire a poor host for them.
Better luck was had in detecting the other unusual denizen of the heath. One of our eagle-eyed members spotted a small but very bright blue flower, the marsh gentian. This short plant has upward-facing trumpet flowers with green stripes on the outside of the petals. The flowers are only four centimetres long, so are not easy to spot amongst the taller heathland plants. Nearby were the seed-pods of the bog asphodel whose Latin species name of ossifragum speaks to the brittle bones of associated grazing animals. The heathland bog habitat is low on minerals, particularly the calcium required to maintain healthy bones. Maybe there is also a lack of the mineral that stops sheep from turning green!
All in all we had a lovely afternoon out. I hope I have inspired you to join us on our next ramble.