Common Darter © Andrew Harrison

Leader Alvan White, aided by Alan and Marion Rayner.

The weather pattern became intermittent heavy showers with some sunshine.

The Sweet track (constructed around 3,800 BC) and Decoy hide were the main features of the walk through. Towards the Decoy end the track enters a prehistoric world of ferns, sedges, lichens and mosses with exceptionally large examples of Royal Fern and Tussock Sedge.


European Royal Fern Osmunda regalis

European Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) © Alvan White

Greater Tussock Sedge Carex paniculata 07 07 24 Shapwick Heath© Alvan White

Greater Tussock Sedge (Carex paniculata) © Alvan White

The soundtrack to the walk included Reed Warblers, Black Caps, Chiffchaffs and at one point a brief call of a Cuckoo.

Marion and Alan were leading lights on the identification of plants. Amongst others, Marsh Ragwort was pointed out, along with a Southern Marsh Orchid.

Insect life did not disappoint and although mosquito bites were suffered as we walked, the arachnology side featured two Stretch spider species. However, in the field towards the end of the track a juvenile Raft Spider was found away from water, resting on Meadow Sweet. This is typical behaviour of the juveniles. Alan showed us a recent picture of an adult taken nearby.

Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus) Heath

Juvenile Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus)
© Alvan White

Blue Tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) probable teneral freshly emerged adult © Alvan White

Blue Tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) probable teneral freshly emerged adult © Alvan White

We stopped to lift some corrugated metal sheets without success, but in the process found flying male and female Darter. I wondered about the underlying strata, whether acid or alkaline. To my surprise this was confirmed as alkaline due to the Sedge basis of the peat. (Moss-based peat is indeed acid). However this aspect supports the fact that Golden Ringed dragonflies are not present at Shapwick because they prefer acid heath conditions.

The bird watch at Decoy Hide produced a hunting Hobby, swooping down across the face of the hide. A good selection of water birds were present,  including Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Great Crested Grebe, Mallard, Coot, Black Headed Gull and a Marsh Harrier,

When the sunshine came out a good selection of “dragons” and “damsels” were on display at the hide and elsewhere, particularly Southern Hawker, Emperor, Brown Hawker, Four Spot Chaser, Black Tailed Skimmer, and Azure and Blue-tailed Damselfly.

White Admiral Shapwick

White Admiral © Andrew Harrison

Large Skipper © Alvan White

Large Skipper © Andrew Harrison

Butterflies in number and species were disappointing. Nevertheless some witnessed and photographed a White Admiral that perched right in front them. A Large Skipper was also found and plenty of Ringlets were present.

Four banded Longhorn Beetle (Leptura quadrifasciata) © Alvan White

Four banded Longhorn Beetle (Leptura quadrifasciata) © Alvan White

I found two colourful longhorn beetle species, Four-banded Longhorn Beetle (Leptura quadrifasciata) and Black and Yellow Longhorn (Rutpela maculata). Both sets of larvae develop in decaying stumps of deciduous trees.

The Yellow Barred Peat Hoverfly (Sericomyia silentis) was identified. This is a moorland and bog specialist.

It is worth mentioning that on the reconnaissance in May, The Giant Cranefly (Tipula maxima), the largest UK species of Cranefly, was found.

Yellow Barred Peat Hoverfly (Sericomyia silentis) © Alvan White

Giant Cranefly Tipula maxima © Alvan White

Giant Cranefly (Tipula maxima) © Alvan White

Towards the end of the walk, Alan pointed out the egg case of the Sputnik spider. Then came another highlight, the ching ching of a group of Bearded Reedlings. Certainly a first for me and no doubt a first for other members of the group.

An enjoyable meeting, with an excellent number of species across all taxonomic boundaries.

Alvan White