Superb photograph by Stephen Barlow
This year we have made an effort to record damselfly and dragonfly species seen on the reserve’s pond, which we constructed in December 2009 in partnership with the Environment Agency. It is a shallow pond, with some deeper areas to act as a refuge for dragonfly larvae and other invertebrates in case the pond dried out in the summer, as some ponds do in the area, although fortunately this has not happened yet. Identifying some of the species is tricky, and often you need to get very close or, a better option, take a photograph ensuring you focus on the specific diagnostic features. Subtle differences between immature and mature specimens and males and females can add to the difficulties in correct identification. For example, the Azure Damselfly and the Common Blue Damselfly are remarkably similar – a good field guide is essential, or you can visit www.shropshiredragonflies.co.uk which has identification hints as well as a wealth of other information.
This year we identified 15 species, and here is the list:
Common Blue Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly
In addition, Southern Hawker has been recorded in a previous year, bringing the pond’s species list to a total of 16. Here are photos of some of them:
|Common Blue Damselflies mating||Blue-tailed Damselfly|
|Emperor Dragonfly||Ruddy Darter|
|Four-spotted Chaser||Common Hawker|
This autumn volunteers will be busy planting 20,000 plug plants of Bell Heather, Erica cinerea. They have been grown for us by Forestart, a seed company based in Hadnall, from seed harvested on the reserve by our volunteers. There are two types of heather on the reserve, the other one being Common Heather, Calluna vulgaris, also known as Ling. Both species will be used by the Silver-studded Blue for egg-laying, but Bell Heather is an important source of nectar for the butterfly as it flowers during the butterfly’s flight period of June and July. By contrast, Common Heather does not flower until August and September, by which time the Silver-studded Blues have mated, the females have laid their eggs and both the males and the females have died. The plugs are being planted in clumps of around ten, mainly in areas of bare ground that are being restored to heathland.
Bell Heather plugs planted in a clump
This year we saw a significant number of Silver-studded Blues on the southern end of the heather area to the east of the runway. In September Lucy found three Silver-studded Blue eggs in this area, proof that it is now being used for breeding. Surprisingly, one of the eggs was found on Common Mouse-ear, Cerastium fontanum. A number of ants’ nests are clearly visible in the area. The eggs will remain there throughout the winter until the tiny caterpillar hatches in the spring.
Silver-studded Blue egg laid on Common Mouse-ear
Prees Heath Volunteer Warden, Butterfly Conservation
22/08/17 Ruddy Darter dragonfly - a new record for the reserve! Easily confused with Common Darter, but note it is slightly waisted, has a somewhat deeper red colour and black legs.
Report & photograph by Stephen Lewis
The flight season of the Silver-studded Blue butterfly has come and gone for another year. This was another good year, with numbers on the single species transect up again, for the third year in a row. The reserve saw plenty of visitors, many armed with cameras. The guided walk took place in good weather on the afternoon of Sunday 2nd July, with a turnout of about 30 people, some of whom can be seen in the photograph taken at the reserve entrance.
|Silver-studded Blue male (Roger Littleover)||Open Day|
Perhaps even more notable than the Silver-studded Blues this year were the huge numbers of Purple Hairstreak butterflies to be seen. Normally this species is seen on its larval host plant, oak trees, or adjacent trees, feeding on the honeydew left by the aphids. However this year many came down off the trees onto brambles and rosebay willowherbs at ground level. We think this may have been due to heavy rain washing off the honeydew. On one single willowherb stalk six Purple Hairstreaks were seen. They normally rest with their wings folded, but if you are very patient, and maybe a bit lucky, you will see their wings open revealing a purple suffusion if the light catches the wings at a certain angle.
3 Purple Hairstreaks on Rosebay Willowherb (Lucy Lewis)
This year we have been trying to record all the different species of damselflies and dragonflies on the pond. So far we are up to twelve species, but hope to be able to add to the list before the season ends. Sadly the fish that we believe someone has introduced into the pond are still present, and these will eat many of the early stages of the insects and amphibians that the pond was designed to support when we constructed it in 2010. Please do not introduce anything into the pond.
Common Blue Damselflies mating
The vegetation on the reserve has been surveyed this year by undergraduate students from Harper Adams University and by an MSc student from Manchester Metropolitan University. We expect that the outcomes of these surveys will be very useful in planning the future management of the reserve.
Shropshire Wildlife Trust acquired a 7 acre area on the eastern half of Prees Heath Common recently, currently known as Lot 15, and when our volunteers visited it in July we found four Silver-studded Blue butterflies, all in one small patch close to ants’ nests. A notable record.
Prees Heath Volunteer Warden
The reserve bursts into life at this time of year, with the migrant birds returning and filling the air with their songs and the wildflowers starting to show their colours. One plant has its only confirmed site in the county at Prees Heath, Heath Dog-violet, Viola canina. This plant has paler blue flowers than the Common Dog-violet and its leaves are more pointed. The good news is that it is spreading on the reserve and can now be seen in a number of places. Another unusual plant which has been seen in good numbers this spring in the grassland is Moonwort, Botrychium lunaria,which is actually a fern. It grows to about three inches tall and the leaves are shaped like half-moons - it was once believed to be a cure for snake bite.
Moomwort (Stephen Lewis}
Chiffchaffs are the first migrant birds to arrive, followed by Willow Warblers. Their distinctive songs can be heard throughout the summer, the first a two-toned rocking rhythm and the latter a descending scale weakly petering out. Common Whitethroats have also arrived. Wheatears have also been seen on the reserve as they make their way further north. Other resident species are making their voices heard on the reserve, such as Skylarks and Yellowhammers. Eight Stonechats were seen on the Hangars field in May, and it was hoped that they might breed, but they seem to have dispersed. To protect all ground-nesting birds it is important that all dogs are kept on short leads as directed by the signs on the reserve.
|Wheatear (Stephen Lewis)||Yellowhammer (Stephen Lewis)|
Each year the beginning of April marks the start of the butterfly transect on the reserve. Every week until the end of September I or another volunteer walk a set route recording all the butterfly species two and a half metres either side and five metres in front. The counts are sent online to Butterfly Conservation headquarters in Dorset and form part of a huge dataset that informs everyone – ecologists, the UK Government, the public – how our British butterflies are faring. On the reserve numbers were low during a relatively cold and cloudy April and early May, but have picked up in the recent warmer weather. A few Silver-studded Blue caterpillars have been seen, attended by ants, although not on the transect. Brimstone eggs and a Brimstone caterpillar have also been spotted on Alder Buckthorn.
Brimstone Egg (Janet Vernon)
Butterflies may be the most visible insects on the reserve but they are by no means the only ones. Lowland heath is particularly good for a huge range of invertebrates - many hundreds of insects and spiders. Two that have been seen recently are the Blue Shield Bug and the Tiger Cranefly, neither of them particularly rare but no less remarkable for that.
Blue Shield Bug (Lucy Lewis)
Tiger Cranefly (Gavin Woodman)
Contractors have been on site controlling the ragwort and docks with herbicide in the large area to the east of the runway, and will also be working there during the summer to control birch saplings. This is very necessary work as part of the ongoing restoration of the site.
Stephen Lewis, Volunteer Warden