Monday, 16 June 2014

Rowley Hills wildflower walk

On Saturday I headed over to the Rowley Hills once more for a wildflower walk organised by the Birmingham & Black Country Wildlife Trust and led by local ecologist and botany expert Mike Poulton. There was a good number of attendees on the walk, keen to see some lovely wildflowers and hopefully some butterflies too. Although the weather forecast had been a bit grim, the rain didn't start until after the walk had finished, and the still, humid conditions were quite good for butterflies and day-flying moths!

The Rowley Hills looking grand in the June sunshine.
Mike explained a bit about the site's history; the Rowley Hills are former quarries, which were used as landfill once their working life had ended, and after that were capped with soil. They are now one of the largest expanses of unmanaged grassland in Birmingham and the Black Country. Although the landfill was capped several decades ago, the toxicity of the underlying soil has mostly prevented larger plants from becoming established, so succession has been kind of halted. However now the site is slowly being colonised by Hawthorn and Bramble scrub which is of some concern as although it is a valuable habitat in its own right (it was absolutely teeming with Whitethroats for example), it replaces the grassland which is inhabited by a different and more diverse range of species. Although the site is accessible to the public, the Rowley Hills has been divided into small land plots by its owner who is trying to sell them off, and as a result is in fragmented ownership. The Wildlife Trust has bought one of the plots, their Portway Hill reserve, and because they're not able to manage the whole site, are removing all the encroaching scrub in their plot to help preserve the grassland. Together with the Hawthorn scrub in other areas, this will help maintain a mosaic of different habitats to promote overall higher species diversity.

Here are some of the plants we found, hope I remembered all their names correctly!

Crested Dog's-tail (Cynosurus cristatus).

Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor). This is doing very well on the site - although it photosynthesises, it can also parasitise the roots of more competitive grass species, stealing their nutrients and reducing their vigour! In this way it helps engineer the ecosystem by preventing these grass species from taking over, thus maintaining the diversity of the plant community.

Lots of Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor).

Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium) with a Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum).

Ahem, I can't quite remember which Crane's-bill this was, I may have been distracted by trying to photograph a moth when Mike told us! I think it might be French Crane's-bill (Geranium endressii).

A weird mutated form of the Crane's-bill with curled petals.
Compact Rush (Juncus conglomeratus).

Smooth Rush (Juncus effusus).

Apparently one of the rarest plants in Birmingham and the Black Country, Tall Mouse-ear Hawkweed (Pilosella praealta).
Mouse-ear Hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum).

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera). We were all dead chuffed to have found this, it was in pristine condition too!

Hare's-foot Clover (Trifolium arvense).

Thyme-leaved Sandwort (Arenaria serpyllifolia).

Lucerne (Medicago sativa).

Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis).

And here are some of the butterflies and day-flying moths we spotted! As well as these, the ones I didn't manage to photograph were Green Hairstreak (yay finally!), Large Skipper, Small Heath, Peacock and Speckled Wood.

Common Blue butterfly female (Polyommatus icarus). Not quite sure how I managed to get this in focus, but I like it!

Mating Common Blue butterflies (Polyommatus icarus). Dead pleased to have seen this!

Caterpillar of Five-spot Burnet moth (Zygaena trifolii).

Latticed Heath moth (Chiasmia clathrata).

Burnet Companion moth (Euclidia glyphica).
Five-spot Burnet moth (Zygaena trifolii).

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