MiniBlitz at Anderton Nature Reserve

A group of CAN members met on 6th June for a Mini-BioBlitz and general day out at Anderton Nature Reserve.  The weather was bright and sunny.  On arriving at the car park we were greeted with a notice on the P&D meter that it was “out of order, and apologies for any inconvenience”!  Free parking can hardly be described as an inconvenience so we took this as a good omen.  After meeting up (girls late as usual!) we wandered into the reserve and swept, beat and poked our way round.

Summer seems late this year, so we didn’t catch the haul of specimens that normally turn up when sweeping summer grassland. Soldier beetles were beginning to appear, and Harlequin ladybirds were abundant – much more so than 7-spot which seemed to be prevalent in 2014.  Alder leaf beetles (adults, few larvae) were everywhere and the alders were showing considerable damage.  Most Hemiptera were in the nymph stage, which can be difficult to identify although Leptopterna dolabrata was common, as was Ischnodema sabuleti.

Alder Leaf Beetles making more Alder Leaf Beetles

Alder Leaf Beetles making more Alder Leaf Beetles

We returned to the car park for lunch (the boat lift is also out of order but the visitor centre still has excellent cake thankfully) before setting out again. A very nice Cardinal beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis) was spotted also immediately, and poking in a sandy bank yielded a fine male Bledius which may turn out to be tricornis, one of the rarer species.

Anderton Reserve covers a pretty big area and we only really scratched the surface. Species lists are still coming in (I have to confess I haven’t worked through my specimens yet!) but we should easily reach 200 species.

 

Clive Washington

Lesser Silver Water Beetle Workshop

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Andy Harmer was to lead the day and it had the hallmark of an event that was going to be popular; a Cheshire-based conservation organisation holding a workshop on a Cheshire specialty was bound to attract attention. Two groups attended, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  This was so all could be involved with the fieldwork and not put too much pressure on the ponds or the tutor!

Andy talked to each group for about an hour, talking comprehensively about the ecology of the beetle in all of its life stages,  its distribution nationally and regionally, legal implications, habitat suitability,  associated invertebrate assemblage and he even explained how successful recruitment of this beetle may be aided by the ubiquitous Moorhen, a bird that ironically would probably enjoy the larva as a juicy morsel!

 

 

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Chester Zoo is a known locality for the Lesser Silver Water Beetle since Andy found them there a number of years ago, but finding evidence is sometimes hit and miss, though not today, when the sun shone and the greatest number of egg cocoons ever found in a pond in the UK was found by Andy and the keen recruits. All attendees got to see the beetle, egg cocoons and breeding ponds. It was a great day for all and everyone left Chester a little wiser.

 

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A total of four breeding ponds were confirmed (one new) and a total of 17 cocoons were recorded.  All records have been supplied to rECOrd using RODIS.

Phase 1 Habitat Survey Workshop

Rachel guides us through mapping techniques

Rachel guides us through classifications of woodland

37 CAN members gathered at Cottons Hotel, Knutsford for the final event of the 2014/2015 calendar – the Phase 1 Habitat Survey Workshop, led by ecology consultant and botanical enthusiast Rachel Hacking.

Rachel guided participants through the guiding principles of doing surveys, beginning with desktop preparations and using mapping techniques. We then began to look at the classification of habitats using the JNCC criteria. The subjective categories of habitats was explained, including the difficult interpretations between semi-natural and plantation woodland. The classifications of grasslands from unimproved to improved were detailed, including tips on the indicative species of vegetation as well as incoporating ecologist ‘gizz’ towards reaching the appropriate classification.

We finished by first looking at how to use the baseline map to draw the classifications for easy habitat identification for clients/users of the survey data, and secondly with a brief glance at GIS and report writing, including what should go in the target notes! Members were given help and advice from Rachels experiences of doing Phase 1 surveys, including what to include in the data and notes, and how to map the habitats in the field using shorthand methods.

The workshop draws this events calendar to a close, and CAN wishes to thank Rachel for delivering the workshop. Members are eager to participate on her planned ‘Phase 1, Part 2’ event, which will be on the next calendar, to be announced shortly. Part 2 will be a field-based survey walkthrough.

Ecologist Tim Body has written a blog about his experience of the event. It can be read here: https://fromheretoecology.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/phase-1-can/ 

Vegetative ID Workshop with John Poland

John Poland running through the Vegetative keys

John Poland running through the Vegetative keys. Photo: Andy Harmer.

Cotton’s Hotel at Knutsford provided the backdrop to CAN’s botanical workshop with John Poland (of Poland/Clement vegetative key fame) and this proved to be a good choice… The chairs were leather and the coffee machines were built to last the whole day.

The day started with refreshments because some of the little lambs from the CAN flock hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was nearly ten o’clock! Cereals, fruit, and biscuits were available and without wishing to malign the membership, I’ll just say that the biscuit barrels had about as much peace as a mouse in a room full of cats.

Poland, a thoroughly nice guy, and obvious pioneer in his field, bounced in with bags full of plants and with an uncanny visceral feel for his audience, and he soon had them hanging on his every word. What was obvious was that most of the members had tried the key to a lesser and greater extent and many had reached a type of ‘key constipation’ through an unfamiliarity with the terminology. John tackled each point and proved to be the enema for each blockage.

John showing CAN member ID tips

John showing CAN member ID tips. Photo: Andy Harmer.

As the day progressed, the glossary was dissected and the critical identification features of many plants were shown; the ignorance tonnage became lighter by the hour. Anecdotes regarding different aspects of the key showed an insight into how this superb tome took shape.

John has an obvious passion for natural history, not just botany, and perhaps intuitively has the ability to navigate his students through their own particular blind spots concerning identification. He wrapped up the day at four o’clock but hung around to answer the residual questions, promising to come back and entertain us with another workshop, possibly on winter twigs, at a later date.

This blog post originally appeared on the CAN Facebook page, and was written by Andy Harmer on 2nd January 2015.

Deciduous Trees In Winter

I was treated to a beautiful sunrise which illuminated the sharp frost as I drove up the M6 to Runcorn. It was a perfect December day for CAN’s Winter Tree Event at Norton Priory Museum and Gardens. CAN had the privilege of holding the last event in the classroom before it was to be demolished before a major 16 month re-build of the site.

I soon met up with Jack Swan who was leading the day. He had industriously spent the week collecting twigs and buds from over 40 different tree species. They were neatly tied up in separate bundles putting my own haphazard contributions to shame.

As soon as members arrived and were sufficiently warmed with tea, coffee and biscuits, Jack explained that there were three forms of bud arrangement, namely, opposite, alternate and spiral. He then showed us how to get to grips with counting bud scales and the difference between adpressed (buds lying flat against the twig) and not adpressed.

We used the excellent Field Studies Council (FSC) key “A Guide to the Identification of Deciduous Broad-leaved Trees and Shrubs in Winter” by Andrew May and Jonathan Planter. Winter tree identification is an essential skill if working in habitat management as much of the work is undertaken in the winter months and this key is a valuable aid.

Ash3 zoomThe distinctive black buds of Ash (Fraxinus excelsior).

Our first group of twigs to be examined were those where buds are arranged in opposite pairs along the stem. This included four different species of Maples including Sycamore, Field Maple, Norway Maple and Japanese Maple. In addition, we were able to recognise the characteristic black buds of Ash, whilst Elder has distinctive ragged buds and a pungent aroma.

We took great care as we moved onto those species with alternate buds where thorns or spines are present including Blackthorn and Hawthorn. However, anomalies do occur and Jack showed us some examples of Hawthorn without thorns!

For the rest of the morning we studiously worked our way through the key with Jack’s materials covering a variety of Birches, Alders, Poplars, Cherries, Oaks, Willows, Hazel and Beech. One fascinating species is Walnut in which the pith of the stem is segmented or chambered (see photo).

Walnut (2) cropThe segmented or chambered pith of Walnut (Juglans regia).

After lunch we ventured out into the grounds of Norton Priory and used a combination of profile, bark and bud examination to identify species. Jack pointed out many of the introduced species present in the gardens and how these differed from our native trees.

Hornbeam 4 cropThe attractive bark of Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) showing a metallic-blue sheen and obvious vertical fissures.

Red Oak cropJack getting to grips with a Red Oak (Quercus rubra) at Norton Priory.

As the sun dipped we returned to the classroom where Jack gave us all a random twig from his collection and challenged us to have a go with just the key to guide us. It was really encouraging that most members were able to successfully identify their twigs although the lack of bud scales on Alder Buckthorn proved a bit tricky.

It was a great day in the company of Jack Swan and Paul Quigley from Norton Priory. I would like to take this opportunity to thank both of them for all their hard work in facilitating many CAN events over the last 5 years. I can’t wait to see the new improved facility!

LimeCommon Lime (Tilia x europaea). A hybrid between two native species with characteristic burrs and leaf shoots at the base of the tree.

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