Field Meetings, 2011 - 2018
Early reports were written up by Andrea Polden, the later ones by Hannah Webley
20 March - Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal
It had been decided a couple of years ago that there would be no field trip in January or February, so it was not until Sunday, 20 March 2011 that nine members met to walk along the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal. The weather had been overcast in the morning, but the afternoon turned out to be fine and sunny and the sightings were excellent for a restricted type of environment. At intervals we saw a lot of small fish in the water, including sticklebacks, and bumble bees of various species were out in force in the sunshine.
Birds were the most numerous, but not just water birds, and included Aylesbury ducks (which Richard Tomlin assured us were a form of mallard), a blackbird, blue tits, a buzzard, carrion crows, chaffinches, coots, dunnocks, goldfinches, a great tit (heard), a greenfinch, a heron flying in the distance, jackdaws, a pair of kestrels, a magpie, mallards, two mistle thrushes, moorhens, two red kites, wonderful views of several reed buntings, robins (which were very difficult to spot), rooks, skylarks, a pair of swans, woodpigeons, wrens (also difficult to see, but easy to hear), and a yellowhammer. A final bonus, as we were leaving the car park, was a pair of long-tailed tits with nesting material (unfortunately being watched by a magpie).
There was also a surprising number of flowers along the tow path: bittercress, celandines, coltsfoot, cowslips, daisies, dandelion, germander speedwell, marsh marigolds (several clumps in the water’s edge, not yet in flower), narcissi, red deadnettle, three-cornered leek, violets (both purple and white) and yellow iris (only in leaf). Flowering trees were also obvious, including a massive pussy willow, and one large clump which seemed to be made up of three different species - a rose, blackthorn and a prunus. The hazel catkins were mainly past their best, but a few remained.
17 April - Iffley Meadows
Sunday, 17 April was bright, sunny and warm when five members set out for Iffley Meadows, hoping that the warm, dry weather of the past weeks would mean there were still fritillaries left. We need not have worried - there was still a wonderful display, including quite a lot of white ones, as well as pink and purple. A few days before our visit BBOWT had carried out their annual survey of the fritillaries and came up with a record-breaking 76,443. No wonder we saw a lot!
After walking around the meadows for an hour or more, we found a seat by the Thames (or perhaps I should say Isis) to eat our picnic lunches, then wandered along the tow path, past Iffley Lock and back.
The fritillaries were not the only sightings, there were plenty of butterflies, especially orange tips (more males than females!). Other flowers included: bittercress, codlins-and-cream (leaves only), coltsfoot, comfrey, common field speedwell, common mouse-ear, cow parsley, creeping yellowcress, daisies, dandelions, deadnettle (red and white), dove’s foot cranesbill, forget-me-nots, garlic mustard, gipsywort (leaves only), ground ivy, herb Robert, ivy-leaved toadflax, lady’s smock (or cuckoo flower), lesser celandines, marsh marigolds, meadow buttercups, meadow vetchling (leaves only), Oxford ragwort, plantain, ragged robin, red clover, self-seeded rape, silverweed, wild arum and Yorkshire fog.
There were also many flowering shrubs and trees, and the journey both ways, going cross-country to the A40 was very pleasant: alder (with lovely catkins), blackthorn, hawthorn, a wayfaring tree and willow catkins. Again the journey gave us red kites and a flock of Canada geese flying, although we also saw three of those later on the river. Spotted or heard on the walk were black-headed gulls, blackbirds, chiffchaffs, crows, greylag geese, a heron flying overhead, herring gulls, magpies, mallards, a moorhen, a pheasant, robins, sedge warblers, swallows, a solitary swan, tits (blue, great and long-tailed), a possible willow warbler, woodpigeons and wrens,.
Interest was also great in the insects. Orange tips have already been mentioned, and were abundant, as were the lady’s smock the caterpillars need, plus a couple of holly blues, mint beetles, a red-tailed bumblebee, a seven-spot ladybird, small whites, a beautiful speckled wood that posed for us, swarms of St Mark’s flies and a yellow carder bee.
It was a most enjoyable day, thanks to our leader Sue Brawn.
14 May - A River Chess walk
Saturday 14th May was bright but breezy, when seven members set off from Chenies to walk by the river Chess, led by Sylvia Dollemore. Sightings were good, so much so that the pace was slower than expected, with the result that the route was cut short in the end.
Flowers included black medick, bluebells (mainly over), bugle, buttercups (creeping and meadow), campion (red and white), cleavers, coralroot orchid (over), cow parsley, daisies, dandelions, dog rose, dog’s mercury, garlic mustard, greater celandine, greater stitchwort, ground ivy, an unidentified hawkbit, hedge bedstraw (not yet fully out), herb Bennet, herb Robert, hogweed, marestail, mouse-ear chickweed, plantain, red clover, reedmace, speedwell, sweet rocket, twayblades, vetch (bush and tufted), white deadnettle, wood spurge, woodruff, woody nightshade, yellow archangel and yellow flag iris. The trees and bushes added elderflower, goat willow catkins, masses of spindle tree flowers and a wayfaring tree in bud.
Birds, as so often happens, were heard rather than seen, except for the Canada geese, mallards, moorhens and several herons - some standing sentinel and a couple flying - by the river. Other birds included a blackbird, a bullfinch (male), a buzzard harassed by a crow (plenty of those around), chaffinches, chiffchaffs, a garden warbler, a goldcrest, jackdaws, a kestrel hovering very near us, magpies, a robin, swallows, swifts, a thrush, tits (great and long-tailed), a whitethroat, woodpigeons and wrens.
Because of the stiff breeze there were few butterflies about, although we saw the remains of a peacock caught in a spider’s web, apart from which only a red admiral and a probable small white. Mayflies were out, and we had a good view of one on some garlic mustard, and there were moth caterpillars in nets on a spindle bush. Elsewhere we found some very small caterpillars that were probably striped lychnis moth young. One ladybird was seen, also a banded demoiselle squashed on the road, and several bees were about. A water boatman was seen in one of the river channels. The only mammal spotted (apart from cows and horses) was a solitary rabbit.
Altogether it was a very pleasant walk, thanks to Sylvia.
26 June - Arable Flowers Project, College Lake
On one of the hottest days of the summer, with the temperature about 30˚C nine members met at College Lake to have an introduction to the Arable Flowers Project from Rodney Sims. We started by looking around the fields, then went to the nursery/seed area. The first area revealed many plants of which I had never heard, as well as many more common flowers, including agrimony, black hoarhound, black knapweed (aka hardheads), black medick, bryony (white and black), campion, (red and white), centaury, clover (red and white), corn buttercup, corn cockle, cornflowers, daisies, dark mullein, fairy flax, field convolvulus, field cow-wheat, field forget-me-nots, field parsnip, green alkanet, hogweed, hop trefoil, mayweed, night-flowering catchfly, orchids (common-spotted and pyramidal), ox-eye daisies, pheasant’s eye, poppies, red bartsia, scarlet pimpernel, self-heal, shepherd’s needle, smooth catsear, smooth tare, spreading hedge parsley, spurge (dwarf and sun), thorow-wax, Venus’s looking glass, viper’s bugloss, weld and yellow-wort. In the nursery area we saw more: birdsfoot trefoil, blue pimpernel, borage, common fumitory, corn chamomile, corn cleavers, corn gromwell, corn marigold, corn salad, ferngrass, field pennycress, hemp nettle, poppies (Babington’s, long-headed and prickly), sharp-leaved fluellen, tare (hairy and slender), weasel’s snout and wild candytuft.
Whereas the emphasis of the afternoon was obviously on plants, we had a few other sightings - a green woodpecker and skylarks were about the only birds seen, but there were quite a lot of insects: a common blue, a probably dark green fritillary, marbled whites, ringlets, a small heath, burnet moths, a cinnabar moth and an unidentified carpet moth, caterpillars on St. John’s wort, several grasshoppers, and lots of blue damselflies. Near the start we also disturbed several baby toadlets. Altogether it was a most interesting afternoon, thanks to Rodney for being so generous with his time.
23 July - Pulpit Hill flowers
Saturday 23rd July was overcast but dry, when 13 members met for a walk on Pulpit Hill, led by Brenda Harold. As we had an expert, not just on flowers but on grasses, we had a most instructive time. The flowers were glorious and abundant, including Aaron’s rod, agrimony, autumn gentians, bedstraw (hedge and lady’s), birdsfoot trefoil, black bryony, black medick, brambles, buttercup (creeping and meadow), campion (bladder and white), catsear (smaller), centaury, chickweed, clover (red and white), clustered bellflower, common poppy, daisy, deadnettle (white), dock (broadleaf, curled and wood), eyebright, fairy flax, field forgetmenot, field pansy, field speedwell, goatsbeard, greater knapweed, harebell, hedge mustard, herb Bennet or wood avens (Geum urbanum), herb Robert, hogweed, horseshoe vetch, lords and ladies (wild arum), marjoram, melilot, mignonette, milkwort, mouse-ear hawkweed, mugwort, nightshade (enchanter’s and woody ), nipplewort, orchid (musk and pyramidal), pineapple mayweed, plantain (hoary and ribwort), ragwort (common), red bartsia, redshank, rock-rose, rough hawkbit, salad burnet, scabious (field and small), scarlet pimpernel, self-heal, silverweed, smooth hawksbeard, smooth sow-thistle, squinancywort, St. John’s wort (perforate), stinging nettle, teasel, thistle (spear, stemless and welted), thyme (basil and large), toadflax, upright hedge parsley, wall lettuce, wild basil, wild carrot, wild parsnip, willowherb (great and rosebay), woundwort, yarrow and yellow-wort. Grasses included bearded couch grass, brome (false and wood or hairy), cock’s-foot and giant fescue. There were also some hart’s tongue ferns.
Birds were not plentiful. We heard a flock of long-tailed tits and a green woodpecker, but actually saw a marsh tit. Others seen were a buzzard, a red kite, and the inevitable woodpigeons. Insects were quite numerous, with more butterflies than had been seen recently: 7-spot ladybirds, many bees, including a red-tailed bumblebee, cinnabar caterpillars on ragwort, common blues (both male and female), a green-veined white, large whites, a meadow brown, orange flies on spear thistles, a beautiful fresh peacock, a tatty ringlet and a small white.
Apart from that there were a lot of the giant Roman snails, plus some small ones. Altogether it was a most satisfactory afternoon, thanks to Brenda and her expertise.
7 August - Glis glis in Hockeridge Wood
We do not usually have a field trip in August, but this year, partly to balance not having had any in January or February, we added two. The first was to Hockeridge Woods on Sunday 7th to join the dormouse expert, Pat Morris and his volunteers, in surveying the boxes they had set up for the Glis glis. The original object of the survey, apart from finding out how many there were, was to help the Forestry Commission control the animals because of the damage they were inflicting on the trees. Glis ring-bark trees, which inevitably kills the trees, and this was becoming uneconomical. However, the funding for the project was stopped, but Pat and his volunteers continued.
After explaining the background, Pat took us up through the wood until we found some of his group with boxes they had taken down from nearby trees. The contents of a box were then shaken into a large, heavy-duty plastic bag, and proved to be a lactating female with 10 babies. Pat cautiously removed the mother (they bite very hard), checked her microchip number, and put her into a smaller plastic bag, which was then weighed and recorded. Nesting material was removed from the large bag and put back into the box, so that the number of babies could be confirmed. These then were weighed together, and an average weight derived. This process was repeated for each box that was brought down, those finished being replaced. Some boxes contained two females and their litters, which could sometimes be separated by size.
It was a fascinating process to watch - and occasionally to give a hand. Only one male was found in the time we were there, but there must have been more than one about, from the number of babies that were found - 10 was quite an average number, although Pat told us that it was very unlikely that all would survive. It is not known definitely if they are cannibalistic, but no bodies or bones have been found!
14 August - Search for the Brown Hairstreak
The second trip was to follow up on the last couple of summers when we have joined members of the Upper Thames Branch of Butterfly Conservation in their annual surveys of various species. This year we joined David Redhead, the species champion for the brown hairstreak at the BBOWT reserve Rushbeds Wood.
We were indeed successful in our quest, although oddly enough it was Trevor and Georgina who spotted the only two we found. David thought that both were newly emerged males. We also saw a comma, common blue (15), gatekeepers (male and female) (5), green-veined white (6), holly blue, large white, meadow brown (17), purple hairstreak (3), red admiral, ringlet, silver-washed fritillary including a very dark-coloured specimen known as the Valezina form (6), small copper, small heath (4), small white and speckled wood. David, by persistent searching, also found one minute egg of a brown hairstreak in the axil of a blackthorn branch.
The numbers of each species seen are from David’s records, and where there are no numbers, we only saw one specimen, although we may not all have seen exactly the same things. Other insects included masses of seven-spot ladybirds, a brown hawker and a southern hawker, and grasshoppers. We also found a little group of eggs that belonged to the blue-bordered carpet moth.
Flowers were numerous, agrimony, angelica, birdsfoot trefoil, black bryony, bramble, burdock, buttercups (creeping and meadow), clover (red and white), comfrey, common knapweed, cut-leaved cranesbill, devil’s bit scabious, enchanter’s nightshade, fleabane, hedge woundwort, a helleborine with seed pods that we could not positively identify, hemp agrimony, herb Robert, lesser stitchwort, marjoram, meadowsweet, meadow vetchling, nipplewort, ox-eye daisy, pendulous sedge, ragged robin, red campion, rough chervil, self-heal, silverweed, sneezewort, sorrel, St. John’s wort, teasel, thistles (marsh and spear), tormentil, tufted vetch, upright hedge parsley, wild arum, and willowherb (great or hoary and rosebay).
Birds were not numerous, but included a blackbird, a little group of blackcaps that flew beside us to keep watch, a buzzard, a red kite, a sparrowhawk and swallows; we also heard long-tailed tits, marsh tits and a nuthatch. However, it looks as if the birds will have a good autumn and winter, as seeds and nuts seemed plentiful, with good crops of acorns on most of the oak trees. There were also brambles, wild raspberries, elderberrries, dogwood berries, and masses of sloes and haws.
17 September - Gentians at Dancersend
Saturday, 17th September was bright and sunny for part of the time, but also subject to sudden, heavy rainstorms. Even so, seven members and a visitor joined numerous BBOWT members at the Dancersend Reserve to go on a walk led by Reserve Warden, Mick Jones. The main object of the walk was to look at three sorts of gentian: Chiltern, autumn and hybrid, although Mick explained that few of them still remained in flower, as the season had brought them out about two weeks earlier than usual. However, we did manage to find some good specimens, particularly of our county flower, the Chiltern gentian, Gentianella germanica. Mick also explained the main differences between this and the autumn gentian, Gentianella amarella, but admitted that positive identification of the hybrids was difficult, some closer to the Chiltern and some to the autumn. Some needed dissection or DNA testing to be sure!
Other flowers were plentiful still, including agrimony, birdsfoot trefoil, centaury, clustered bellflower, common knapweed, cowslip, eyebright, foxgloves, harebells, hawkweeds (various, unidentifiable!),herb Robert, hogweed, lesser stitchwort, mallow (pure white, possibly the dwarf mallow), marjoram, meadow buttercup, meadow vetchling, mignonette, milkwort, nipplewort, ox-eye daisy, pignut, ragwort, red bartsia, red clover, scabious (devil’s bit and field), upright hedge parsley, welted thistle, wood spurge, woundwort, yarrow and yellow-wort. There were also good supplies of berries to be seen, so hopefully the birds will be able to get a good feast before winter sets in: beech mast, black bryony, brambles, elderberries, haws, raspberries, rose-hips and rowan. Fungi were about, but no expert was on hand to identify them, and waxcaps and honey fungus were the only ones we knew.
Birds, as often happens, were heard rather than seen, but we did get good sightings of a buzzard, a red kite and a sparrowhawk from the car park, after the main walk had finished. Several green woodpeckers were calling, and one flew over; house martins, red-legged partridges escaping from a shoot, and a swallow were also seen. Heard were a goldcrest, a great tit and, more surprisingly, a tawny owl.
Butterflies are now near the end of the season, but we spotted a very battered male and female common blue, a couple of meadow browns, and a beautiful speckled wood, basking in the sunshine.
Altogether it was a most interesting morning and we are very grateful to Mick for giving up his time to show us around, including information about the work that BBOWT is doing at the northern, newer, end of the reserve. Earthworks to move topsoil and bring chalk to the surface have been carried out recently, and soon wildflower seed will be sown. We hope to see the results in a few years time on another visit.
15 October - Penn Woods
On Saturday, 15th October, seven members met to join Mike Lambden in a walk in Penn Woods. In the absence of the usual reporter, Hannah Webley kindly noted the various sightings.
It was a beautiful cloudless mild day and most of the leaves were still green but there was a scattering of autumn colour, particularly on the birches.
The only wild mammal seen was a grey squirrel. We looked out for prints in the muddy areas but didn't find anything that was definitely not made by a dog, horse or squirrel.
Birds: red kite, long-tailed tit, jay, blackbird, carrion crow, woodpigeon, chaffinch, blue tit, green woodpecker (on telegraph pole in a neighbouring field), kestrel (on the wire very close to the same pole!)), tawny owl (heard), buzzard, magpie, robin, raven, nuthatch (heard), pheasant (many in a field with feeders, but also a pair sharing a field with two alpacas).
Insects: ladybirds (7 spot and probable harlequin); various white or grey moths one of which was probably one of the carpet species; a pair of dragonflies - probably ruddy darters - which may have been mating and then flew off in tandem; a hawker dragonfly; a carder bee; many rhododendron leafhoppers; a speckled wood; a brimstone; many wasps and various flies feeding on ivy.
Flowers: rhododendron, herb Robert, poppy, thistle (unsure of species), some sort of mayweed or daisy (seen at a distance hence unable to identify), ragwort, white campion, white deadnettle, hogweed, dandelion, selfheal, nipplewort, ivy.
Fungi: not very many but a varied selection including a parasol mushroom, a grey mushroom perhaps in the Clitocybe genus, birch bracket polypore and unidentified others.
19 November - Stockers Lake
Saturday, 19th November started dull and misty, but then turned into the most glorious day with a blazing blue sky and sunshine, when nine members left The Moor to go to Stockers Lake, where we subsequently met another member. A the autumn has generally been so mild, there were still a surprising number of flowers in bloom, including brambles, forget-me-nots, herb Robert, nipplewort, a possible prickly sow thistle, red clover, white deadnettle, and the remains of several helleborines, probably broad-leaved. There were also a lot of berries around for the birds: blackberries, haws, hazel catkins forming, hips, red and yellow holly, spindle, and white bryony.
However, the main object of the visit was to see the birds, and as we walked to the canal, as well as round the lake, we saw a great variety, including some house martins’ nests on the lock cottage. The list was black-headed gulls, Canada geese, carrion crows, chaffinches, common gulls, coots, cormorants, dunnocks, Egyptian geese, fieldfares, goldeneye, a goldfinch, a great spotted woodpecker, great-crested grebes, a green woodpecker, a greenfinch, herons, house sparrows, lapwings, a little egret, magpies, mallards, a moorhen on the canal, mute swans, a nuthatch, red-crested pochards, ring-necked parakeets, robins, shovelers (male and female), a snipe, a song thrush, tits - blue, great and long-tailed, tree creepers, tufted ducks, woodpigeons, and wrens (mainly heard).
My highlight was when a pristine red admiral came and landed for a second or two on my knee while we were having a short break in the sun. Altogether it was a most enjoyable morning, thanks to Doug Picton for leading us.
17 March - Weedon Hill Woods
The first field trip of 2012 took place on Saturday 17th March, when four members braved the weather to meet for a walk around Weedon Hill Woods in Amersham. The morning had been very wet, but fortunately the rain stopped in the afternoon and, although muddy under foot, we saw more than we had expected, and it was a very pleasant introduction to the new year.
Despite few trees having leaves, it was often very difficult to spot birds, and several species were heard rather than seen. The list included a blackbird, a buzzard, chaffinches, crows, a goldfinch, a great-spotted woodpecker, a large flock of jackdaws, jays, magpies, a nuthatch, a pheasant, red kites, robins, tits (blue, coal, great and long-tailed), woodpigeons, and wrens. One bird perched at the top of a tall larch could possibly have been a hawfinch, but was difficult to see clearly enough - it certainly had a red breast (but was definitely not a robin!).
Plant life was beginning to stir, and although some had not progressed far, we could identify the following: bluebells (masses of leaves, but two or three already in flower on the edge of the wood), bracket fungi, catkins (birch and hazel), cleavers, daffodils, dogs mercury (some already in flower), an enormous gall on a silver birch, ground ivy, honeysuckle, prunus (white), a large pussy willow tree in full flower, wild arum and wood spurge.
Mammals we few, mainly grey squirrels, but we also caught a glimpse of a muntjac deer. Altogether a very enjoyable walk, thanks to Trevor Brawn for leading us.
Heartwood Forest is a new project of the Woodland Trust, their website says: At Heartwood Forest near Sandridge, St Albans, the creation of England’s largest new native forest is well underway. We have ambitious plans to create an 858 acre woodland with a total of 600,000 newly planted trees, all planted by volunteers. There will also be a community orchard, new wildflower meadows, open spaces and miles of footpaths and bridleways created over a 10 year period. The project is involving the local community through a range of engagement projects. Last winter over 8,000 people came along to Heartwood to help us achieve our ambitious plans, will you join us too? The site, in the heart of London’s Green Belt, already boasts four remnants (covering 45 acres) of precious ancient woodland, and is home to species such as rare butterflies and English bluebells, yet is just 25 miles from Marble Arch. Visitors can currently explore hundreds of acres of newly accessible land, including the four pockets of ancient woodland. The remaining areas are still being farmed, but as new areas are taken under the care of the Trust, they will be opened up to visitors to explore. Check out the Heartwood Forest blog at heartwoodforest.wordpress.com for up to date news on the forest and how it’s progressing.
In time this will doubtless be a very beautiful site, and it is interesting to visit it near the start, and then to see how it develops over time. The trees, shrubs and flowers that we saw in the early spring at both sites were numerous, including ash (not out yet), bittercress, blackthorn, bluebells, bryony (white), celandines, chickweed, coltsfoot, cow parsley, dandelions, deadnettle (red and white), dog violets, dog’s mercury, elder, with flower buds almost out, ferns (male?), field speedwell, gorse, greater stitchwort, ground ivy, hawthorn, with flower buds well developed, hornbeams, also with catkins, narcissi, oak, rowan, with flower buds almost out, silverleaf, wild arum coming up, wild strawberries, wood anemones and yellow archangel, plus some sulphur tuft fungus.
There were also a lot of birds calling, pairing up in the spring sunshine, no doubt! We saw or heard a blackbird, one blackcap seen, although more than one was heard, carrion crows, a chaffinch, lots of chiffchaffs, a dunnock, a green woodpecker (heard), jackdaws, a jay, a kestrel, magpies, a pheasant, a flock of feral pigeons, with one or two woodpigeons mixed in, a red kite, robins, more skylarks than I have heard in a very long time, a couple of swallows, tits (blue and great) and a wren.
As well as these we saw a lot of bees, including a red-tailed and a buff-tailed bumblebee, a carder bee, a seven-spot ladybird, hoverflies, ants, a spider and a woodlouse. Mammals were not evident, apart from the inevitable grey squirrel, but we did come across some deer droppings. Altogether it was a most enjoyable day out, thanks once more to Trevor.
19 May - Old Park Wood and Ruislip Lido and Common
Ten members assembled on Saturday 19th May for a walk led by Trevor Brawn around Old Park Wood (a Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust Reserve) and the Ruislip Lido area. The woodland in both was similar, but the large number of dog walkers around the Lido meant that sightings were better in Old Park Wood, especially for birds and plants - the latter tending to get trampled! There was an area beyond the main Lido complex, however, which offered more variety, as it was heathland with gorse.
Flowers were numerous: bluebells, bugle, bulbous buttercups , celandine, cleavers, common vetch, coralroot, cow parsley, cranesbill (bloody and cut-leaved), daisies, dandelions, dog’s mercury, dwarf gorse, fairy flax, field forget-me-nots, foxglove, garlic mustard, greater stitchwort, green alkanet, hawthorn, herb Robert, lady’s smock, rape, raspberries in flower, red campion, sorrel, speedwell (germander and wood), tormentil, violet, white deadnettle, wild arum coming up, wild strawberries, wood avens, wood sorrel and yellow pimpernel.
Birds were also much in evidence, although as usual we heard rather than saw many of them. The best views we had were probably of the water birds on the Lido while we were eating our picnic lunch. Our tally included blackbird, blackcap, bullfinch, carrion crow, chaffinch, chiffchaff, collard dove, common sandpiper, common terns, dunnock, great crested grebes, green woodpecker, a grey heron, a hobby, jackdaw, jay, lesser black-backed gull, magpie, mallards, moorhen, pied wagtail, ring-necked parakeets, robin, song thrush, starling, stock dove, swifts, tits (blue and great), tufted ducks, warblers (garden and willow), whitethroat and a wren.
As it was quite a warm day butterflies were out for once, although only in the Lido area, a holly blue and both male and female orange tips. Other insects included masses of St. Martin’s flies, 7-spot ladybirds and a very small black and red one, a shield bug, a red-tailed bumblebee, a damselfly, pond skaters and a cardinal beetle. Animals seen were a grey squirrel, a frog, also tadpoles, a water snail and some longhorn cattle.
Altogether it was an interesting and varied day out, thanks once again to Trevor.
17 June - Totternhoe
Only six members gathered for the field trip on Sunday 17th June, which was a pity as it proved to be a very good day, thanks once more to Trevor, who again was leading the party. This included Richard Tomlin, so we had excellent identification of birds, even when they were only heard. These included a blackbird, blackcaps, buzzards, a chaffinch, chiffchaffs, collared doves, corn buntings, a dunnock, a green woodpecker, a kestrel, a linnet, long-tailed tits, magpies, a raven, a red kite, a robin, skylarks, a stock dove, swifts, whitethroats and a lesser whitethroat, a willow warbler, woodpigeons and a wren.
Apart from the corn bunting, conveniently perched on top of a tree behind the car park on our arrival, the first major sighting was a very obliging small blue (female) butterfly, which stayed on the open track for some time. We also saw several more during the day including males, plus brimstones, a green hairstreak, a meadow brown, red admirals, a small heath and speckled woods. Other insects included a 7-spot ladybird, a buff-tailed bumblebee, a cinnabar moth, several other day-flying white and beige moths, a lacewing, a millipede and a tiny emerald-green beetle in a mouse-ear hawkweed flower. We also came across snails of various sizes and rabbits and a mushroom.
Flowers were, however, the main glory of the day: agrimony, birdsfoot trefoil, black bryony, black medick, buttercup (bulbous,creeping and meadow), campion (bladder and white), cleavers, clover (red and white), common mouse-ear, cow parsley, cowslips in seed, creeping cinquefoil, cut-leaved cranesbill, dog roses interspersed with field roses and red hawthorn, making a beautiful hedge along the paths, dogwood, elderflower, eyebright, fairy flax, field forget-me-not, garlic mustard (no caterpillars!), germander speedwell, goatsbeard, greater knapweed, greater stitchwort, hawkweed (unspecified, no expert being present!), herb Bennet, herb Robert, hogweed, meadow vetchling, mignonette, milkwort, nettles, poppies, privet, ribwort plantain, sainfoin, scarlet pimpernel, scentless mayweed, self-heal, silverweed, squinancywort, teasel, vetch (common and kidney), welted thistle, white bryony, yarrow, yellow rattle, yellow-wort and Yorkshire fog.
However the greatest treat of the day was the orchids. There were common spotteds, pyramidals, and masses of twayblades in the area near the old castle, but the most surprising of all was to find several man orchids, a rarity we would probably not have found, had we not been told about it by a lady we met.
Once again Trevor found a most interesting and contrasting area to visit - first the field and quarry area, then the Knolls themselves.
14 July - Ashridge Park
Our indoor meeting on 9th July was a fascinating talk by Brian Barton on the history of Ashridge Park and its deer - not only did Brian have a wide range of excellent photos, but he had video and audio too! Then on Saturday 14th July he very kindly led 11 of us (10 members and a visitor) around part of the Park itself, to illustrate a lot of the things he had told us about. Since the Park owned by the National Trust now covers some 5,000 acres, we could only sample a small proportion of it. We managed to see a herd of fallow deer in the distance soon after we left Monument Drive, at the end of the Prince’s Ridings, but unfortunately the weather was not good, and many of the paths were extremely muddy!
As we were in woodland much of the way, our sightings were more limited than usual - the trees, mainly beech and oak, with a good number of sweet chestnut, are lovely specimens, but there is a great problem over regeneration. The browse line caused by the deer was very noticeable, as was the bark stripping done by grey squirrels. This means that unless some areas can be fenced off, no saplings have a chance to grow, but walkers are reluctant to agree, while efforts to cull grey squirrels, such as cage traps, have been vandalised. If trees or branches fall, they are generally left where they are (unless presenting a hazard) to give homes to various forms of wildlife, and the Park is now high in the European league table for dead wood.
In the more open areas, such as down the Prince’s Ridings, there were some flowers, including birdsfoot trefoil, black medick, clover (red and white, the latter quite predominant), creeping buttercup, foxgloves, hawkweed, lesser stitchwort, ribwort plantain, selfheal, silverweed, soft rush and tormentil. Birds tended to be heard rather than seen - especially among the trees - a carrion crow, a green woodpecker, long-tailed tits, magpies, a nuthatch, rooks, swallows and a wren.
We also saw some of the afore-mentioned grey squirrels, but otherwise only a dead emerald moth, upside-down in a puddle, and a very waterlogged meadow brown butterfly tangled in long grass. Nevertheless it was a most interesting walk, giving life to an excellent talk and seeing buildings in their original context, for which we owe a debt of gratitude to Brian.
After a serious lack of butterflies in the cold, damp weather that characterised much of the summer, there were quite a few on the wing here: brimstone (male and female), common blue (male and female), meadow brown, red admiral, silver-y moth, speckled wood and whites (green-veined, small and a probable large). Other insects included harvestmen, hoverflies, ladybirds (7-spot and harlequin) and a red-tailed bumblebee.
As is often the case with birds, some were heard rather than seen: a blue tit, a carrion crow, a green woodpecker, a jackdaw, magpies, several ravens overhead, red kites, and woodpigeons. Other things of note were the bleached jawbone of an animal, probably a fox, at the very start of the walk, a rabbit, and several Roman snails, which had fortunately not been collected for a restaurant!
Altogether it was a very pleasant start to the autumn/winter season, and one blessed with warm sunshine.
For more details see the complete list:
SPECIES ENGLISH NAME(S) SUBSTRATE
Armillaria gallica Bulbous Honey Fungus around base of tree
Auricularia auricula-judae Jelly Ear living branch
Auricularia mesenterica Tripe Fungus fallen trunk
Botryobasidium aureum soggy bare wood
Chlorophyllum olivieri soil, litter
Chlorophyllum rhacodes Shaggy Parasol (*) soil, litter
Clavulina rugosa Wrinkled Club soil, litter
Clavulinopsis helvola Yellow Club grassy area
Clitocybe nebularis Clouded Funnel soil, litter
Collybia confluens Clustered Toughshank sand dune
Coprinellus micaceus Glistening Inkcap (*) on wood
Coprinopsis lagopus Hare'sfoot Inkcap (*) soil, litter
Crepidotus cesatii twigs
Crepidotus epibryus dead stem
Cystoderma amianthinum Earthy Powdercap grassy area
Entoloma hebes Pimple Pinkgill soil, litter
Ganoderma australe Southern Bracket stumps
Handkea excipuliformis Pestle Puffball grassy area
Hebeloma mesophaeum Veiled Poisonpie soil, litter
Hygrocybe insipida Spangle Waxcap grassy area
Hygrocybe irrigata Slimy Waxcap grassy area
Hypholoma fasciculare Sulphur Tuft on wood
Inocybe geophylla White Fibrecap soil, litter
Laccaria amethystina Amethyst Deceiver soil, litter
Laccaria laccata Deceiver soil, litter
Laetiporus sulphureus Chicken of the Woods / on living trunk
Lepista nuda Wood Blewit soil, litter
Lycoperdon perlatum Common Puffball soil, litter
Lycoperdon pyriforme Stump Puffball stump
Macrotyphula juncea Slender Club rotting leaf stems
Marasmius rotula Collared Parachute soil, litter
Marasmius setosus rotting debris
Melanoleuca grammopodia soil, litter
Mycena arcangeliana Angel's Bonneton wood
Mycena crocata Saffrondrop Bonnet fallen branch
Mycena filopes Iodine Bonnet soil, litter
Mycena flavoalba Ivory Bonnet grassy area
Mycena galericulata Common Bonnet / fallen branches
Mycena haematopus Burgundydrop Bonnet on wood
Mycena hiemalis mossy fallen branch
Mycena leptocephala Nitrous Bonnet soil, litter
Mycena polygramma Grooved Bonnet fallen branch
Mycena rosea Rosy Bonnet soil, litter
Mycena speirea Bark Bonnet stick
Mycena vitilis Snapping Bonnet soil, litter
Panellus stipticus Bitter Oysterling log pile
Pholiota squarrosa Shaggy Scalycap base of trunk
Pluteus cervinus Deer Shield fallen branch
Polyporus squamosus Dryad's Saddle on living trunk
Psathyrella prona soil, litter
Psathyrella pseudogracilis soil, litter
Russula ionochlora Oilslick Brittlegill soil, litter
Russula ochroleuca Ochre Brittlegill / soil, litter
Skeletocutis nivea Hazel Bracket stick
Stereum hirsutum Hairy Curtain Crust fallen branch
Stereum subtomentosum Yellowing Curtain Crust fallen branch
Trametes versicolor Turkeytail fallen branch
Xerula radicata Rooting Shank soil, litter
Daldinia concentrica King Alfred's Cakes / fallen branch
Nectria cinnabarina Coral Spot sticks
Neobulgaria pura Beech Jellydisc fallen branch
Rhytisma acerinum Sycamore Tarspot fallen leaves
Trochila ilicina Holly Speckle fallen leaves
Xylaria hypoxylon Candlesnuff Fungus stumps
Xylaria longipes Dead Moll's Fingers fallen branch
Trichia varia soggy bare wood
Record count for site:66
18 November - Rye Meads and Amwell Nature Reserve
Five members enjoyed clear, still weather for a visit to these neighbouring reserves in East Hertfordshire.
At Rye Meads (RSPB) we passed a field grazed by water buffalo and ponies on our way to the first hide. This gave us a view of a pool occupied by a good number of teal and a snipe, as well as mallard, coot, moorhen and mute swan.
We saw a goldcrest and a good specimen of shaggy ink cap on our way to the next hide, where we observed gadwall, shoveler, Canada goose, black-headed gulls and grey herons. A few members spotted a kingfisher in the distance; other visitors had seen them near their nesting site.
Considering the time of year, I was surprised to see pondskaters in a raised pond. On the largest pool we watched green sandpiper, little grebe, cormorant, lapwing, water rail, shelduck and tufted duck. A spindle tree by the path had a spectacular display of pink and orange fruits and we noticed the remains of giant puffballs. One of us (Sue) was lucky enough to spot a water vole in a narrow channel – the rest of us only saw the ripples!
Other bird sightings included jay, song thrush, distant buzzards, magpie, blackbird, chaffinch, long-tailed tit, blue tit, herring gull, woodpigeon, great tit, carrion crow, starling and jackdaw, but no definite redwing or fieldfare.
While eating lunch we saw a butterfly, probably a red admiral.
At Amwell (Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust) we saw many of the same bird species, but the lake had a notable number of lesser black-backed gull and common gull, as well as great crested grebe, some wigeon and a goldeneye drake. A pair of pheasants was feeding in the reed bed alongside a few well-camouflaged reed buntings. We also saw stock dove, wren and a kestrel sitting on a pollarded tree, but the only visitors to the bird feeders were two brown rats!
Thanks to Sue Brawn for leading the walk, and to Hannah Webley for supplying details of the sightings in the absence of the usual reporter.
14 April - College Lake
Unfortunately the first field meeting of 2013 had to be abandoned owing to the very wet weather, which might have rendered a canal-side walk somewhat hazardous, so the first meeting actually took place on Sunday 14th April, one of the first warm and sunny days of this belated spring. Trevor Brawn led a group of seven members to College Lake, where we had some excellent sightings.
As was to be expected, the main interest was in the water birds, which were still quite plentiful, in variety if not in excessive numbers: Canada geese, coots, cormorants, gadwall, great-crested grebe, a grey heron, greylag geese, a kingfisher, lapwings, little grebe, mallards, a moorhen, mute swans, oystercatchers, pochard, redshanks, shelduck, shovelers, snipe, tufted ducks and wigeon. Outstanding from these was the view we had of the kingfisher, from one of the hides above a bay. The bird flew right across the bay beneath us, then perched for a few seconds on a bush at the water’s edge. We were also surprised by the number of snipe present.
Other exciting birds included three early warblers - blackcap (male), chiffchaff, and willow warbler, then swallows and both house and sand martins. There were also black-headed gulls, blackbirds, blue tits, carrion crows, chaffinches, great tits, greenfinches, a kestrel, lesser black-backed gulls, a magpie, a red kite, robins, a song thrush (heard), and woodpigeons. The view we had of the kestrel was magnificent, as it came and hovered on a level with the windows of the hide we were in, and quite close to it.
The one mammal we saw we would rather not have seen - a mink down near the water’s edge not far from the former sand martin bank.
At last there were some butterflies on the wing, including a brimstone (male), some really huge bumblebees, lacewings apparently intent on committing suicide in nearly all the hides, and a colourful shield-bug.
Because of the cold and wet spring, flowers have been very slow to appear, but there were some to be seen: celandines, coltsfoot, daisies, ground ivy, primroses, spurge laurel, stinking hellebore and white violets. There were also a lot of catkins and pussy willow, and different sorts of bracket fungi.
All in all it was a very pleasant afternoon, with thanks to Trevor for his guidance.
18 May - Holtspur Bottom Reserve and Holtspur Bank LNR
On a dull, grey Saturday morning, seven members and a visitor met at the Moor car park and set off for the Holtspur Bottom Reserve, a reserve of the Upper Thames Branch of Butterfly Conservation. There we met another member, Brenda Mobbs, who is also a volunteer on the reserve, plus Mark Duckworth, who had recently renovated - virtually rebuilt - the information boards and illustrated identification sheets. These were really beautifully done and admired by all present - the boards are roofed and in the ends of the roofs space has been left for hibernating or resting insects, a brilliant idea. One of the two boards also has the image of a gatekeeper butterfly at each end.
The weather was not promising for butterflies, and in the morning we only saw two - a holly blue and a small white, supplemented in the afternoon, when we visited the Holtspur Bank Reserve on the other side of the valley, by an orange tip and a brimstone, both males. Other insects were swarms of St. Mark’s flies - very late this year as is so much else, and a garden bumblebee.
If the butterflies were disappointing, there were however a lot of flowering plants to be seen, coming up even if not yet in flower, including bluebells, birdsfoot trefoil, buttercup (creeping and meadow), cow parsley, cowslips, creeping thistle, daisies, dandelions, deadnettle (red and white), dog's mercury, forgetmenots, garlic mustard, germander speedwell, greater stitchwort, green alkanet, ground ivy, herb Robert, marjoram, mouse ear, nettles, ox-eye daisy, ribbed plantain, salad burnet, thistles, vetch (common and horseshoe), wild arum, wild strawberry and yellow archangel. In the afternoon on the Bank reserve these were supplemented by foxgloves, milkwort, mosses in flower and violets.
There were also some good hedgerow shrubs, either in flower or in bud: ash, field maple, gean, spindle and a wayfaring tree,
Birds were not numerous, and as usual more were heard than seen, but included a blackbird, blackcaps, two buzzards together with a red kite, a great tit, a green woodpecker, good view of a jay, magpies, a pheasant, another kite, a robin, swallows, swifts and a wren.
We also saw two mammals - a grey squirrel and a rabbit. All in all, despite the rather disappointing weather, it was a very good day, with thanks to Brenda for updating us on what is going on on the reserve, and to Mark for his excellent illustrations.
25 May - Lakenheath Fen
An almost full coach took members from both our Society and Amersham Birdwatching Club to Lakenheath Fen on Saturday 25 May. It was a bright but chilly day but after the recent heavy rains we were very happy to see the sun.
The RSPB has developed and managed the site from its arable farmland use into the current mosaic of woodlands, wetlands, reedbeds and grazing marshes. It now attracts an extremely varied flora and fauna and has developed into a superb site.
The star of the show was undoubtedly a red footed falcon, a rarity to the country, which was more than happy to fly up and down one of the lakes, with many cameras pointing in its direction.
As we walked through the Reserve Sue Brawn found a good number large and furry caterpillars which she thought may have been of the fox moth.
During our picnic lunch taken at the Joist Fen viewpoint we were treated to a lovely view of a bittern flying and were pleased to see swifts, swallows and house martins flying over head.
As the wind eased in the afternoon we did see an increase in insects, including orange tip, peacock and various unidentified white butterflies. There were also a few damselflies and dragonflies, but we were unable to make positive identifications.
We also heard the loud call of the Cetti’s Warbler and a cuckoo, but no actual sightings.
By the end of our visit we had seen the following bird species: bittern, carrion crow, coot, cormorant, Egyptian goose, great crested grebe, great spotted woodpecker, hobbies, house martins, jay, magpie, mallards, marsh harriers, mute swan & cygnets, red footed falcon, reed bunting, reed warbler, rook, sedge warbler, shelduck, swallows, swifts, tufted duck, whitethroat and woodpigeon.
Thank you Stuart from ABC for organising the trip
15 June - Gallows Bridge Farm and Meadow Farm (Upper Ray Meadows)
Eight members met a BBOWT Reserve Manager, Andy Collins at Gallows Bridge Farm, part of the Upper Ray Meadows ‘Living Landscape’. After a brief introduction to the reserve and its history, Andy and his volunteer assistant, Josh Wells, led us to the new reserve, Meadow Farm, another link in the chain, at the time subject of an Appeal to purchase the whole site. This appeal was subsequently successful, but the Farm is not generally open to the public, as it is a very sensitive type of habitat. Andy explained that “unimproved” meadow grassland is very rare indeed in the UK, with only 1500 hectares remaining, less than ancient woodland. Meadow Farm covers 90 hectares, so is very important indeed, but has no legal protection.
The Farm came up for sale over a year ago and was purchased by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, who gave BBOWT a year to raise the money to purchase the Farm, which they would manage in the meantime. In the past the method of farming included ridge and furrow farming techniques, and today includes many very rare plants, some of which are indicators of floodplains as it is generally a fairly wet site. On our way round, Andy explained some of the farming techniques they are using to try to improve the area for wildlife, such as maintaining hedges suitable for black and brown hairstreak butterflies.
Among the plants we saw were black medic, brown sedge, buttercup (creeping and meadow), common spotted orchid (? hybrid), cow parsley, crested dog’s-tail, curled dock, dog rose, field forgetmenot, foxgloves, foxtail (marsh and meadow), grass vetchling, greater birdsfoot trefoil, hard rush, hawksbeard(?), jointed rush, knapweed, lady's smock, lesser spearwort, mayweed, meadowsweet, meadow vetchling, pepper saxifrage, perennial rye grass, ragged robin, red clover, reed canary grass, silverweed, small toadflax, sorrel, southern marsh orchid, teasels, tufted vetch, water dropwort and narrow-leaved water dropwort, yellow iris, yellow rattle and Yorkshire fog, as well as several unidentified umbellifers.
As usual many of the birds were heard rather than seen, and included a blackbird, a blackcap, buzzards, carrion crows, chaffinches, a chiffchaff, a curlew, goldfinches, house martins, lapwings, a lesser black-backed gull, a lesser whitethroat, a linnet, a little egret, magpies, mallards, a meadow pipit, moorhen, a pied wagtail, a red kite, a reed bunting, skylarks, a song thrush, swallows, a whitethroat, a willow warbler and a wren.
When we got down to the area the River Ray flows through we were amazed by the height that flood water could reach, and began to understand why it was a floodplain! By the river we also saw holes in the banks, probably caused by signal crayfish (not a welcome species) but which is likely to be the reason that otters are now present.
It was a fascinating visit, despite rather dull, cool weather, and after a picnic lunch taken in the Warden’s house, we returned to Gallows Bridge Farm and walked down to the hides by the pond. By that time the weather had brightened a little, which brought out some butterflies and damselflies, including blue damsels and a small heath, not to mention a froghopper! We are most grateful to Andy and Josh for making it such an interesting day out.
20 July - Colne Valley Park
On 20 July, seven members were in the happy position of being able to follow up on an indoor lecture by having our speaker conduct us around the reserve she had been describing. Jennifer Gilbert is employed in the Colne Valley Park, a quite complex area of different reserves and open areas, looked after by three Wildlife Trusts and various local authorities. After a picnic lunch we moved on to another reserve, higher up the Colne Valley.
The different areas we visited contained a wide variety of plants, including birdsfoot trefoil, blackberries, box, bracket fungus, buddleia, burdock, common comfrey, common mallow, convolvulus, creeping cinquefoil, creeping thistle, cut-leaved geranium, dock, dog's mercury, dove's foot cranesbill, dropwort, enchanter's nightshade, field forget me not, figwort, fleabane, floating pennywort, gipsywort, goat's rue, greater willowherb, green alkanet, groundsel, hemp agrimony, herb bennet, horsetail, knapweed, lady’s bedstraw, lesser willowherb, meadow buttercup, meadow sweet, meadow vetchling, mugwort, ox-eye daisy, pineapple mayweed, pink campion (hybrid?), potentilla, purple loosestrife, ragwort, raspberries, red bartsia, red campion, rosebay willowherb, rosehips, rough chervil, scentless mayweed, sedge, self-heal, silverweed, soft rush, St.John's wort (perforate and imperforate), teasels, timothy grass, tufted vetch, water forgetmenot, water mint, water parsnip, white bryony, white clover, wild mustard or rape, woody nightshade, woundwort, yarrow and yellow water lily.
As usual many birds did not make themselves visible, but we walked through different areas and at least had good views of water birds. Sightings (or hearings) included baby coots, black-headed gulls, a blackbird, a blackcap, Canada geese, chiffchaffs, coots, cormorants, a great spotted woodpecker, great crested grebe, greylag geese, a heron, a jay, a kingfisher, lesser grebe, long-tailed tits, magpies, mallards, mute swans, a reed bunting, a reed warbler, terns, tufted ducks, white doves, woodpigeons and a wren.
Insects were numerous, especially the banded demoiselles; we saw both males and females, not just in one place, but widespread through the reserve. Sightings also included a 6-spot burnet moth, a 7-spot ladybird, a brimstone (male), brown hawkers, bumblebees, cinnabar caterpillars, a comma, a common blue damselfly, a gatekeeper (male), a grasshopper (field or meadow), a holly blue, honey bees, a marbled white, meadow brown, a peacock and caterpillars (in different places), purple Emperor, a red-tailed bumble bee, a ringlet, a small skipper, soldier beetles, a speckled wood and whites (small, green-veined and large).
The most amazing sight happened in the morning, when we came to an area where female black poplars were growing. The whole area looked as if we had steppend into a snowstorm. Everything was absolutely covered in white fluff - the pathways, and all the foliage of both shrubs and trees. I shall try to put a photo onto the website.
It was an unusual and varied day, which started rather dull and grey, but turned sunny in the end - hence more butterflies in the afternoon than in the morning. We are very grateful to Jennifer Gilbert for making it such an interesting visit. The only down-side is that if HS2 goes ahead, much of the Colne Valley will be seriously affected.
4 August - Dancersend Reserve
On 4 August 11 members met for an extra field trip to BBOWT’s Dancersend Reserve, where we had the great good fortune to be shown around the most recently acquired area by the Reserve Volunteer Warden (and CDNHS President), Mick Jones.
Mick started the tour by giving us a brief history of the new fields, which were taken over in 1999, although they had mostly been under BBOWT management since 1968, with a few pieces added later, aided by WREN funding. As the ground is very chalky, crops of wheat had not done well when the land was still farmed, but at least no artificial fertiliser had been used. Subsequently rye grass was sown for cattle.
Since BBOWT took over, it had been divided into four trial areas, in one banks had been formed when the top soil had been removed, and a seed mix was strewn from the hay cuttings. It is surprising what species of plants are still emerging. The banks, facing the sun, were specifically to attract butterfly species, especially the blues, and that is where we started the tour.
Despite the day being cloudy there will still quite a few insects about, including the real highlight of the day for me, a clouded yellow, a butterfly I had never seen before. We also saw a 6-spot burnet moth, a 7-spot ladybird, a brimstone, a brown argus, a comma, a common blue (male), a large skipper, marbled whites, meadow browns, a peacock, a red-tailed bumble bee, a ringlet, silver-washed fritillaries, a silver-Y moth, a small copper, a speckled wood and whites (green-veined and large).
We also saw an amazing variety of plants: agrimony, birdsfoot trefoil, blackberries, black medick, bladder campion, burdock, clover (white and red), clustered bellflower, common mouse-ear, common and long-headed poppy, convolvulus (field bindweed), creeping buttercup, cut-leaved cranesbill, daisies, dwarf spurge, enchanter's nightshade, fairy flax, field madder, fool's parsley, gentian (hybrid and Chiltern), groundsel, hairy willowherb, harebells, heart's ease, hogweed, kidney vetch, lady’s bedstraw, marjoram, marsh mallow, marsh thistle, mignonnette, musk thistle, nettle-leaved bellflower (and white form), ox-eye daisy, plantains (very important for insects), ragwort, ramping fumitory, raspberries, remains of a greater butterfly orchid, robin's pincushion, rock-rose, rosebay willowherb, rough chervil, scabious, scarlet pimpernel, small balsam, small knapweed, small toadflax, smooth hawkbit/weed, spear thistle, squinancywort, St. John's wort, thyme, verbascum, wild basil, wild carrot, wild clematis, wild parsnip, woody nightshade, woundwort, yarrow and yellowwort.
Animals were rare, but we heard a green woodpecker, spotted a skylark, swallows and two roe deer. Altogether a delightful afternoon, and we are most grateful to Mick for giving up his time to take us round.
15 September - Maple Lodge
On 15 September 6 members and a visitor joined a field trip to Maple Lodge. Despite a slightly autumnal feeling in the air, sightings were still quite numerous and varied, as the area contains different habitats.
Birds seen, or in some cases heard, included black-headed gull, blackcap (male), Canada geese, carrion crow, chaffinches, coots, cormorants, gadwall, great tits, greylag geese, house martins, jackdaw, jay, little grebe, magpies, mallards, moorhen, pochard, red kite, robin, shoveller, stock dove, swallows, swans, tufted duck, woodpigeons and a wren.
The plants were also numerous, and from the amount of fruits we saw, it looks as if the birds should do quite well over the winter months: Aarons rod, acorns, apples, blackberries, black hoar hound, buddleia, burdock, buttercup, campion, codlins-and-cream, dogwood, elderberries, guelder rose, haws, hips, mallow, meadow cranesbill, orange balsam, ragwort, rowan, sloes, spear thistle, spindles, teasel, water mint, white deadnettle, wild arum and yellow plums.
20 October - Angling Spring Wood
Five CDNHS members met Tony Marshall and members of his local natural history group to go on a fungus foray near Prestwood. A damp day did not dampen enthusiasm, and it was amazing to find that we had moved very little distance in several hours, as there was a lot to keep us occupied.
Tony has supplied this list of what we found, although he is sure that we actually found more than this, and I agree, but am no fungus expert to want to add to his list.
Amanita citrina False deathcap
Amanita pantherina Panthercap*
Amanita rubescens The Blusher
Clavaria fragilis White spindles
Clavariadelphus pistillaris Giant club*
Collybia butyracea Buttercap
Cortinarius purpurascens Bruising webcap*
Craterellus cornucopioides Horn of plenty*
Hydnum repandum Wood hedgehog
Hygrophorus cossus Goat moth waxcap*
Hygrophorus eburneus Blotched woodwax*
Hypholoma fasciculare Sulphur tuft
Laccaria amethystina Amethyst deceiver
Lactarius turpis Ugly milkcap
Mycena pura Lilac bonnet
Mycena sanguinolenta Bleeding bonnet
Pleurotus ostreatus Oyster mushroom
Pluteus plautus Satin shield*
Psathyrella microrhiza Rootlet brittlestem
Stereum hirsutum Hairy curtain crust
Trametes versicolor Turkeytail
Tricholoma lascivum Aromatic knight*
Tricholoma scalpturatum Yellowing knight
Xylaria hypoxylon Candlesnuff fungus
We are very grateful to Tony for sharing his expertise with us, and to Trevor for making all the necessary arrangements.
16 November - Burnham Beeches
8 members gathered at the main car park, where Trevor started proceedings with a history of the woods - ancient woodland that appeared in the Domesday Book of 1086, when it contained 600 swine. It comprises acid soil with ‘swallow holes’. It used to be carefully managed for a ‘harvest’ of wood, but in the 1900s pollarding stopped as coal took over.
The walk began in the heath area and took us through the woods to Hartley Court Moat, past the Druid’s Oak and many other ancient trees.
We saw a wide variety of fungal fruiting bodies: birch polypore, blusher, boletes, candle snuff, crab apples, fly agaric, funnel cap(?), jelly fungus, parasol mushroom, puffballs, slime mould, sulphur tuft and turkeytail fungus.
Birds seen (or heard) were blue, coal, great and long-tailed tits, carrion crows, a chaffinch, great spotted and green woodpeckers, mallards, mandarin ducks, moorhen, a nuthatch, a redwing, a robin, a song thrush, a treecreeper, woodpigeons and a wren.
Insects included a 7 spot ladybird and a white butterfly (unidentified), plus a wood ants’ nest.
There were not many flowers, but some ling, woody nightshade and brambles. Plant fruits were acorns, blackberries, crab apples, holly berries, juniper berries, broom pods, raspberries and rowan berries.
Thanks to Trevor Brawn for leading the walk.
2014 Regret some meetings are still to be written up
19 April - Stoke Common
6 members set out in intermittent sunshine with a chilly wind, along paths lined with flowering gorse. After a while we came to a pile of logs where between three and six common lizards were basking. I saw another lizard by the path later, just before we noticed a slow worm.
The birds sighted or heard included a blackbird, a buzzard, a carrion crow, a chaffinch, a chiffchaff, a dunnock, a goldcrest, great tits, long-tailed tits, magpies, mallards flying over, a pipit, a red kite, a robin, a song thrush, a stock dove, a willow warbler, woodpigeons and a wren.
The plants and fungi noted were bittercress, bluebells, common eyelash fungus, creeping jenny, daisies, dandelions, early forget me not, field forget me not, foxgloves, garlic mustard, gorse, greater stitchwort, green alkanet, herb bennet, honey fungus, mouse-ear or chickweed, nettles, petty whin, primroses, pulmonaria, small fungi on wood, sphagnum moss, squinancywort, tiny willow, turkeytail bracket fungus, water crowfoot, white deadnettle and wild arum.
The invertebrates seen were a 7-spot ladybird, a buff-tailed bumblebee, a cranefly, a grasshopper, a peacock butterfly, pond skaters and a spider.
Thanks to Sue Brawn for leading the walk.
18 May - Chenies and Frogmore Meadow
Five members set off from Chenies, descended through the woods and enjoyed warm sunshine on the way along the Chess valley to Frogmore Meadow Wildlife Trust reserve. Early on we had a good view of a fox wandering in a meadow which contained attractive patches of germander speedwell.
Other plants noted were betony coming up, birds-foot trefoil, brooklime, bugle, remains of celandine, cleavers, codlins-and-cream, cow parsley, creeping and meadow buttercup, daisies, dandelions, white deadnettle, devils-bit scabious coming up, dog's mercury, dog rose, dove’s-foot cranesbill, figwort, garlic mustard, guelder rose, greater and lesser stitchwort, ground ivy, herb Robert, hornbeam in flower, lady's smock, lady fern, lungwort, mallow, mares-tail, marsh and creeping thistle, may blossom, meadowsweet, pendulous sedge, ragged robin, red and white campion, red clover, ribwort plantain, silverweed, sow thistle, square-stemmed St. John's-wort, teasels, tormentil, bush and common vetch, water crowfoot, wild strawberry, wood avens, woodruff, woody nightshade, woundwort, yellow archangel and yellow rattle coming up. There was also chicken of the woods and some unidentified fungi.
The birds seen or heard were two buzzards, a blackbird, a blackcap or garden warbler, Canada geese, carrion crows, a chaffinch, a chiffchaff, a goldcrest, a green woodpecker, a house sparrow, a jackdaw, a jay, a kestrel, long-tailed tits, a magpie, mallards, moorhen, a pheasant, a red kite, a robin, an early swallow, a whitethroat, woodpigeons, a wren and a yellowhammer.
The insects noted included a 7-spot ladybird, a banded demoiselle, blue and red damselflies, a brimstone (female), a broad-bodied chaser, drinker moth caterpillar, mayfly, orange tips (male and female), peacocks, a small tortoiseshell and several unidentified whites. On the way back to Chenies we paused to observe many caterpillars feeding on nettles.
Thanks to Alan Power for leading an excellent walk.
18th October - Lemsford Springs and Tewin Orchard (reported by Hannah Webley)
Six members travelled to Lemsford Springs on an afternoon which was initially drizzly, but the lower clouds cleared to reveal attractive cirrus and altocumulus. On arrival at the former watercress beds we saw a grey wagtail with only a little yellow on the underparts – presumably a young one. We headed for the hide, noticing a pink (possibly hybrid) campion and white deadnettle in flower. The hide gave a wide view of the ‘lagoons’ backed by willows and alders.
Soon we counted four green sandpipers among the numerous moorhens – three of the sandpipers had leg rings and we made a note of their colours on the whiteboard in the hide. We were so busy observing the sandpipers that we did not see a kingfisher land on the perch directly ahead of us! Fortunately Richard drew our attention in time to have a good look at her – binoculars revealed the orange-red lower mandible of a female. Another notable sighting was a water rail clearly visible at the far edge of the lagoon. We also enjoyed watching three little egrets and two green woodpeckers which turned out to be rival males chasing each other and fighting occasionally. A few redwings flew into the trees in the company of blackbirds and we saw what seemed to be hornets flying about, as well as a family of long-tailed tits.
Back on the path we noticed molehills and flowering water forget-me-nots. A few fungi were fruiting, one of which might have been fairy inkcap. Other species seen at Lemsford were magpie, woodpigeon, blue tit, wren, ragwort, dunnock, mallard, carrion crow, blackheaded gull, starling and cormorant; we also heard a chiffchaff.
We moved on to Tewin Orchard, on the other side of Welwyn Garden City, with time to walk around the reserve before sunset. I noticed two plants in flower – a pink one, possibly dwarf mallow, and a yellow crucifer which may have been wild radish. There were many mallards on the pond and we saw woodpigeon and carrion crow as well as hearing green woodpecker, pheasant and grey heron.
We settled down for the evening in the mammal hide and found that food had already been placed in front of it. A rabbit was seen on the grassy area before darkness fell and a brown rat came to feed around the log pile. After some time a single badger was attracted to the food and what was probably the same individual made three further visits. We also made a brief sighting of a fox and spotted a devil’s coach horse beetle inside the hide. According to the log book, other visitors had seen up to ten badgers, owls and bats – our evening was not so exciting but still memorable and worthwhile, as was the trip to Lemsford Springs.
Thanks to Trevor Brawn for organising the day.
16 November - Hampden Common
Once again Tony Marshall kindly agreed to lead us on a fungus foray, this time at Hampden Common, which offered the chance of finding both meadow fungi and woodland species, although it was rather late in the season to find the best selection.
Tony has also kindly supplied the list of our findings, which is really impressive:
Hampden Common 16/11/14 *rare Total species 43
1. Grassland Total 21 (incl. 7 waxcaps)
Clavulinopsis corniculata Meadow coral
C. helvola Yellow club
C. luteoalba Apricot club
C. umbrinella* Beige coral [this was the greyish branched club on the cricket-pitch that I provisionally identified as this and took a sample away to confirm; it is a Red Data Book species, only the second site discovered in our area]
Conocybe tenera [one of the small brownish toadstools I took home for a closer look]
Entoloma ortonii* [another of the small brownish toadstools I took home for a closer look]
E. porphyrophaeum Lilac pinkgill
Hygrocybe chlorophana Golden waxcap
H. coccinea Scarlet waxcap [this was the tiny bright red undeveloped one found right at the start that I had to take home to identify]
H. conica Blackening waxcap
H. insipida Spangle waxcap
H. nitrata Nitrous waxcap
H. pratensis Meadow waxcap
H. virginea var. ochraceopallida Snowy waxcap
Lycoperdon nigrescens Dusky puffball
Mycena leptocephala Nitrous bonnet
M. luteoalba Ivory bonnet
Panaeolus acuminatus Dewdrop mottlegill
P. papilonaceus Petticoat mottlegill
Rickenella fibula Orange mosscap
R. swartzii Collared mosscap
2. Woodland Total 22
Amanita rubescens The Blusher
A. strobiliformis* Warted amanita [provisional designation; I shall revisit to see more developed specimens, as the ones we saw were only just emerging, the cap still closed up]
Ascocoryne sarcoides Purple jellydisc [seen on dead beech bough just inside wood; I checked further pictures and confirmed this was what I suspected; first record for that wood]
Auricularia auricula-judae Jelly-ear
Clitocybe nebularis Clouded funnel
Collybia butyracea Buttercap
Crepidotus cesatii/variabilis Variable oysterling
Ganoderma applanatum Artist's bracket
Hypholoma fasciculare Sulphur tuft
Lepista nuda Wood blewit
Lycoperdon perlatum Clustered domecap/Chicken mushroom
Mycena crocata Saffrondrop bonnet
M. speirea Dark bonnet
Neobulgaria pura Beech jellydisc
Pholiota squarrosa Shaggy scalycap
Russula cyanoxantha Charcoal-burner
Russula ochroleuca Ochre brittlegill
Stereum hirsutum Hairy curtain-crust
Xerocomus [Boletus] chrysenteron
X. cisalpinus Red-crack bolete
Xylaria hypoxylon Candle-snuff
2015 Regret most reports are still to be written up
19 September - visit to Common Wood
As we discovered, Common Wood has three distinct areas: Gravelly Way Plantation, Farther Barn Field and Common Wood proper.
From the informal parking area in Gravelly Way we made our way through the first patch of woodland, which contained comparatively little of interest, but the path then opened up into:
An open field (Farther Barn Field) which sloped down to the south. The woodland edge at the top of the field contained a mixture of hawthorn, blackthorn and rose, all with abundant fruit, plus bramble in front (where local people had obviously been blackberrying before us), attracting speckled wood, comma and a single hornet. Small rose bushes were also dotted around the field, several hosting robin’s pincushions
Plants still in flower in the field included bird’s foot trefoil, buttercup, black medick, creeping thistle, field scabious, hawkbit, lady’s bedstraw, ragwort, red bartsia, red clover, wild marjoram and yarrow. A small patch of yellow rattle was long over.
A tree belt had been planted on the east side of this field, which was also punctuated by a hedge three-quarters of the way down. Past this was a large patch of knapweed (all over) and some nipplewort. Insects seen included several craneflies, a seven-spot ladybird, a hawker dragonfly (too fast to give positive identification) and (probably) a common carder bee.
As we went into Common Wood proper we heard two jays quarrelling noisily. The only other birds we heard all day were buzzard, goldcrest, magpie, red kite and robin.
As we went deeper into the wood we noted more and more fungi. Some we were unable to identify, but definite examples were amethyst deceiver, boletus, common puffball, fly agaric , magpie inkcap, shaggy inkcap and sulphur tuft.
Trees were not systematically noted, but standing out were some rowan in full berry, a holly with glowing red berries, another with just green berries and a couple of small gorse plants.
The southern section of the wood (along the Boundary Ride and Penn Bottom Path) seemed to be more open that the northern part, and in clearings were herb robert, lords and ladies, mallow, persicaria, red hempnettle, stinging nettle, wood avens, rosebay willowherb and broad-leaved willowherb. There was comparatively little fungi in this area.
In the absence of the usual reporter, Alan Power kindly noted sightings and wrote this report.
11 October - visit to Little Hampden
On 11 October three members met the fungi expert Tony Marshall at Little Hampden to go on a fungus foray. He was accompanied by a family of four from the Prestwood Society, who had already been searching for about an hour when we met them at 11 o'clock. It was a fine sunny morning and a surprising number of flowering plants remained, including bramble flowers (although most blackberries were over),bryony berries (no leaves left to determine whether white or black), chickory, cranesbill - cut-leaved and long-stalked - herb Robert, lesser stitchwort, nipplewort, pimpernel, both scarlet and yellow, red campion, selfheal, wood avens and woundwort.
Tony warned us that there were not that many fungi about, but in fact we did find many different species, including some rarities: quite a lot of brittlegills - bare-toothed (known as "The Flirt”), blackening and ochre - beechwood sickener, a couple of knights, burnt and blue-spot, quite a few bonnets: burgundy drop, clustered, lilac, rosy, saffron drop and yellowleg; also buttercap, candlesnuff, a couple of deceivers, amethyst and common, and several funnels - clouded, fools and trooping; fibre caps included frosty and splitting, and shanks both rooting and russet tough. Other species found were green elf cup, hedgehog fungus, jelly ears, King Alfred's cakes, a parasol, a puffball, a rufous milkcap, a shaggy bracket, a shaggy parasol, wood wax, sulphur tuft, terracotta hedgehog, turkey tail, a webcap, a white saddle, wood blewit, wrinkled club, and yellowing curtain crust.
There were few birds about, although as usual we heard more than we saw, , even the buzzard was not spotted. Others included a great spotted woodpecker and rooks, while the only butterflies we saw were a pair of speckled woods.
It was a very good morning's walk, thanks to the expertise of Tony Marshall, and now here is his scientific list:
Prestwood Nature Fungus Foray, Little Hampden, 11 October 2015
Green elf-cup Chlorociboria aeruginascens
Grooved bonnet Mycena polygramma
Mycena clavularis (no English name)
Pestle puffball Handkea excipuliformis (this was the small one with a cup at the top where the fruit body had gone)
Shaggy parasol Macrolepiota rhacodes
10am-11am & 11am-1.30pm
Buttercap Collybia butyracea
Candle-snuff Xylaria hypoxylon
Clouded funnel Clitocybe nebularis
Common bonnet Mycena galericulata
Common parasol Macrolepiota procera
Jelly ear Auricularia auricula-judae
King Alfred's cakes/Cramp balls Daldinia concentrica
Lilac bonnet Mycena pura (Rosy Bonnet is now generally subsumed under this name)
Ochre brittlegill Russula ochroleuca
Saffron-drop bonnet Mycena crocata
Stump puffball Lycoperdon pyriforme
Sulphur-tuft Hypholoma fasciculare
Turkeytail Trametes versicolor
Wood blewit Lepista nuda
Amethyst deceiver Laccaria amethystina
Bare-toothed brittlegill Russula vesca
Beechleaf bonnet Mycena capillaris
Beechwood sickener Russula nobilis
Birch milkcap Lactarius tabidus
Bitter poisonpie Hebeloma sinapizans (see note after Poisonpie)
Blackening brittlegill Russula nigricans
Blotched woodwax Hygrophorus eburneus (very stick white one)
Blue-spot knight Tricholoma columbetta
Bulbous fibrecap Inocybe napipes
Burgundy-drop bonnet Mycena haematopus
Burnt knight Tricholoma ustale
Charcoal burner Russula cyanoxantha
Common puffball Lycoperdon perlatum
Cortinarius caninus (this was the one I did not have time to identify that was with the colony of blue-spot knight; it is quite uncommon)
Clitocybe houghtonii (no English name)
Clustered bonnet Mycena inclinata
Conifer mazegill Gloeophyllum sepiarium (this was a bracket on a pine log that I wrongly called "hairy bracket" or something like that at the time; it had long narrow pores)
Deceiver Laccaria laccata
Dripping bonnet Mycena rorida
Fleecy fibrecap Inocybe flocculosa
Fool's funnel Clitocybe rivulosa
Frosty fibrecap Inocybe maculata
Lactarius fluens (no English name - this was the milkcap with very hot milk)
Poisonpie Hebeloma crustuliniforme (this is the commoner of the two Hebeloma I took for later identification - both are small pale brown and pretty anonymous)
Rooting shank Xerula radicata
Rufous milkcap Lactarius rufus
Russet toughshank Collybia dryophila
Shaggy bracket Inonotus hispidus
Split fibrecap Inocybe rimosa
Sulphur knight Tricholoma sulphureum
Terracotta hedgehog Hydnum rufescens
Trooping funnel Clitocybe geotropa
Variable oysterling Crepidotus cesatii/variabilis (small white bracket on twigs; cannot be certainly identified to species in the field)
White saddle Helvella crispa
Wood woolly-foot Collybia peronata (I don't think I named this at the time)
Wrinkled club Clavulina rugosa (I think I mistakenly called this "grey club" at the time)
Yellowleg bonnet Mycena epitpterygia
Yellowing curtain crust Stereum subtomentosum
18 June - Cowcroft and Crabtree Plantation
In the absence of the regular rapporteur, this report has kindly been written by Hannah Webley:
Seven members met in Ley Hill on an overcast morning and visited the small reserve at Cowcroft. It did not take us long to notice flowering common spotted orchids – Trevor counted 45. There were also some common twayblades which took a bit longer to find. We found several small frogs in the vegetation and heard chaffinch, greenfinch, goldcrest, song thrush and wren. I found a female scorpion fly and a red-headed cardinal beetle. The plants in flower, other than orchids, were ground elder, germander speedwell, oxeye daisy, red clover, common and bush vetch, field forget-me-not, meadow and creeping buttercups, hairy tare and wood avens; there were also a few horsetails.
We moved on to Crabtree Plantation, an area planted with a wide variety of deciduous tree species in 2003. There we saw tadpoles in the pond, a chiffchaff, a swallow, and two red kites and a buzzard circling together. We also heard green woodpecker and blackbird. I found a green beetle with distinctive swollen upper hind legs, which I identified as Oedemera nobilis, and several species of bee were feeding on flowers. The flowering plants included white waterlily, yellow flag and a purple iris, lesser spearwort, bird’s foot trefoil, yellow rattle, cut-leaved cranesbill, red campion, goosegrass, bramble, prickly sow-thistle and elder. It was interesting to see spindle trees starting to develop their distinctive berries, and we were able to contrast sessile and pedunculate oaks.
17 July - Dancersend Extension
Mick Jones MBE, Dancersend’s long-standing volunteer warden, guided seven members around the new extension to the reserve added last year. This is an area known as Pavis Wood, on the boundary of Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, which includes the highest point in the latter county. We began our tour by the waterworks, in an area dominated by elm, ash and whitebeam. This is a damp area inhabited by water figwort, distinguished from the common species by its rounded leaves and winged stems. Other flowers in this area included hedge woundwort, St John’s wort, enchanter’s nightshade, American willowherb, wood avens, selfheal, herb Robert, common spotted orchid, dog’s mercury, wall lettuce and wood melick grass. Mick showed us a tree where a rare lichen had been found, and we noticed a prominent hoof fungus growing on a trunk above a burrow. There was some wild garlic, which is rare in the Chilterns, as well as wild gooseberry and raspberry. The grasses included wood barley, a Chiltern speciality.
Further up the hill we saw the remains of bird’s nest orchids, yellow pimpernel and woodruff. The area has evidence of human activity in the form of holloways, sawpits and marl pits, as well as damage and replanting from the time of the 1987 storm. In the upper reaches of the extension is an area of acid soil with oaks and bracken as well as pendulous sedge and primroses which Mick hopes will be a food plant for Duke of Burgundy caterpillars. We saw speckled wood butterflies in this area. Other plants included honeysuckle, wood sorrel and bluebells. Just over the boundary of the extension is a pond which needs restoration but is home to frogs and bordered by moschatel. The Ridgeway runs along the top of the wood, lined by hornbeams.
We are grateful to Mick for showing us around the extension and wish him well for managing and improving the area for wildlife.
Once again Hannah Webley wrote this report, and in future will report on any field meeting she participates in.
17 September - Tring Park
Seven members met at the Recreation Ground car park at Wiggington to start our walk along to Tring Park. Although overcast and breezy, we were pleased that it was dry and remained so for the whole walk. Even before setting off David Corfield spotted a Great spotted woodpecker disturbed by our arrival.
Tring Park is owned by the Woodland Trust and covers an area over 100 hectares. It is a very pleasant mix of mainly broadleaved woodland and unimproved chalk grassland, currently being grazed by a herd of cattle as part of the traditional management. The area was effectively the back garden of the Rothschilds who had such an impact on local wildlife. Walter Rothschild is reported as having been responsible for releasing 6 edible dormouse in the park in 1902; an act which we know today to have had very significant consequences.
Without Richard Tomlin to identify various birds heard but not seen we were slow to get off the mark with our wildlife recording. However to compensate we walked through a lovely avenue of lime trees and stopped at various locations to enjoy the views along the Ridgeway Path over towards Ivinghoe Beacon. We saw a yew tree with an impressive crop of berries and a good number of fungi were also seen along the ride, including some superb bracket fungi and a very unusual snail species.
Once we descended into the open grassland area of the Park we began to see more birds including Red kite, Wood pigeons, Collared dove, Robin, Magpie, Crow and Chiffchaffs flitting about in some small bushes. We also saw several other fungi species including jelly fungus and coral spot.
The Park has some excellent areas of wildflowers and we were able, even late into the season, to see many very nice species including Scabious, Harebell, Yarrow, Knapweed, Ragwort, Red and White clover and Selfheal.
As we re-entered the wooded area we passed some box trees on our way up to the obelisk and summer house which are reputed to have historical connections to Charles II and Nell Gwynn.
We were nearing the end of our walk when were lucky to see a hornet flying round some flowering ivy with hoverflies and a wasp. Then in an open grazing field we had a very good view of what appeared to be a young Green woodpecker only 30 metres away to round off a very pleasant afternoon walk.
19 November - Weston Turville Reservoir
Ten members and two visitors (one very young indeed!) attended this field meeting on a cold and mostly cloudy morning. At this BBOWT reserve we met Richard Tomlin, who had arrived at 8.30 to get some early sightings before leading us around the reservoir. From the path raised well above the water level, we had a good view of a female or juvenile male kestrel perched on a wire. David spotted a kingfisher, which made the rest of us very jealous until we saw an electric blue spot fly from the waterside and cross a field! We saw it (or another one) in the reed bed at the end of the visit.
There was little diversity of birds on the reservoir itself but we noted a flock of Canada geese, mallard, a juvenile mute swan, great crested grebes, tufted duck, cormorant and three gull species: herring, black-headed and lesser black-backed. We watched an aerial squabble between two grey herons as well as seeing them perched on a buoy and a tern nesting raft.
In the wooded part of the reserve, we found an impressive fungus with caps of up to saucer size, which Tony Marshall has identified as shaggy scalycap. Some of the group watched three goldcrests in this area. Later we found a spindle tree laden with a spectacular number of bright pink and orange berries. We were surprised to find three species of plant in flower: red clover, a forget-me-not and a Geranium which had probably escaped from a garden.
On returning to our starting point, we watched a group of linnets perched on the wire where the kestrel sat earlier, while a buzzard flew over near two red kites.
Other species seen were: blackbird, blue tit, carrion crow, chaffinch, goldfinch, great tit, jackdaw, jay, jelly ear fungus, magpie, pied wagtail and woodpigeon. Thanks to Richard for leading the walk.
11 December - Chesham riverside walk
Five members and one visitor met at the Moor car park and set out along the Chess. There was warm sunshine, which brought out a bumblebee, but the breeze was cold. We paused to watch a pair of mute swans with an adult-sized cygnet behind the Pheasant pub, and were delighted to see a kingfisher fly up the river. The cob (male swan) followed us with his wings raised aggressively as we entered the woodland around the braided river, where we had a close view of a robin. At the fishing lakes we watched Canada geese, tufted ducks, pochard and coots on the water; in the trees we saw a group of dunnocks and a female blackcap. Continuing beyond Canon’s Mill, Sue and I saw a ring-necked parakeet, the first I had seen in Chesham. Then the whole group had a good view of two goldcrests as they moved incessantly around the vegetation. Heading back towards the Moor, we watched a little egret in the river until we frightened it into a tree. Trevor remarked on the absence of red kites but we finally saw two of them on our return to the car park.
Other species seen were: blackbird, black-headed gull, blue tit, carrion crow, chaffinch, great tit, grey squirrel, house sparrow, jackdaw, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, moorhen, pied wagtail, starling, woodpigeon and wren. Thanks to Trevor for leading the walk, after which we and other society members enjoyed an excellent Christmas lunch at The Bell in Chartridge.
19 March - Croxley Common Moor
Croxley Common Moor is a Local Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest covering forty hectares beside the River Gade, which flows next to the Grand Union Canal. This small area hosts over 250 plant species thanks to a mixture of wet and dry soils and the fact that it has never been farmed.
Graham Everett, Secretary of the Friends of Croxley Common Moor, guided six members and one visitor around the reserve on an overcast afternoon with a cold wind. It was too early for many flowers to be out but at least Graham was able to show us where to look later in the year! We did see lesser celandine, white deadnettle, dandelion and bittercress, as well as enclosures to protect petty whin and dyer’s greenweed. These are the food plants of the Slate Sober Moth, of which the Moor is the only UK site in recent years. Broom and gorse are prevalent on the acid soil of the reserve, whereas heather occurs in the wet areas. There is one small chalk depression on the east side of the site, which has a distinctive flora in summer. The river is lined with hemlock water-dropwort. Trees include hawthorn, blackthorn, a few cherries by the river, large ashes which were in bud, a purging buckthorn and a field maple. Considering the time of year, we were surprised to find various fungal fruiting bodies in the grass.
A few buff-tailed bumblebees were active despite the chill. The reserve has a striking abundance of anthills, some of which may be decades old. These attracted green woodpeckers during our visit. Other birds seen were black-headed gull, blue tit, carrion crow, greenfinch, kestrel, little egret, magpie, mallard, mistle thrush, moorhen, pied wagtail and wren; we also heard a chiffchaff. The reserve has a rabbit warren and we came across some molehills. There was some frogspawn in the river.
This was an interesting visit to a site with a lot of diversity for its size. Thanks to Graham for showing us around and to Alan Power for arranging the trip.
22 April - Chorleywood Common and Carpenters Wood
Five members and one visitor (soon to become a member) started the visit on the south side of Chorleywood Common, where we soon saw a kestrel, a green woodpecker and a peacock butterfly. We set off anticlockwise past flowering fruit trees and gorse bushes, seeing a jay and a treecreeper in the wooded part of the common. We also came very close to a mistle thrush and were able to see the clearly separate, round spots that distinguish it from the streakier song thrush. We examined some of the ponds but they were in a poor state, which is due to infestation by bogbean according to local botanist Dr Brenda Harold. Near our starting point, we noticed an oak tree with many oak apple galls, some very large, and saw a green woodpecker fly up again – perhaps the same one as before!
Other plant species in flower were: bluebell, cow parsley, dandelion, garlic mustard, green alkanet, herb Robert, holly, red campion, rowan and white deadnettle. Other birds seen: blackbird, blue tit, carrion crow, chaffinch, dunnock, great tit, magpie, red kite, robin and woodpigeon; blackcap, chiffchaff and goldcrest were heard. Insects included St Mark’s fly and unidentified butterflies, bees and a small wasp.
One member then left and the other four of us moved on to Carpenters Wood, an area of ancient woodland on the northwest side of Chorleywood. The main attraction of this site was a large area of coralroot, an attractive pink flower with a patchy national distribution. The woodland floor also featured swathes of bluebells and dog’s mercury, an indicator of ancient woodland. We were pleased to see and hear song thrushes and the other notable animal sighting was a hornet which I almost trod on!
Other plants flowering in the wood were: dandelion, dog violet, cowslip, garlic mustard, ground-ivy, herb Robert, holly, wood avens and wood spurge. Birds encountered were: blackbird, chaffinch (heard), goldcrest (heard), great tit, stock dove (heard), woodpigeon and wren (heard). Insects were brimstone and orange-tip butterflies, a queen wasp, a bee-fly and a possible common carder bee. Grey squirrels were also seen; two weeks ago I observed two rabbits near the edge of the wood.
As the walk leader, I was very pleased with the species list (having seen few animals on my previous visits) and would like to thank the observant attendees!
14 May - Withey Beds Local Nature Reserve
Seven members travelled to Rickmansworth to join a public tour of this Local Nature Reserve, guided by members of the Friends of the Withey Beds and rangers from Three Rivers District Council. We started the walk by following the Grand Union Canal and then joined the Ebury Way. Along this section the birds seen were Canada goose, coot, jackdaw, woodpigeon and wren, while chaffinch and ring-necked parakeet were heard. The plants in bloom along the path were cleavers, common vetch, cow parsley, field forget-me-not, garlic mustard, germander speedwell, greater celandine, green alkanet, hawthorn, herb Robert, traveller’s joy, white deadnettle and wood avens.
We came to a group of fishing lakes, originally gravel pits dug during the construction of the canal, and were shown around by a member of Watford Piscators angling club. The lakes are stocked with carp, bream, roach, rudd, perch, chub and bleak, and are fenced against otters. Here we saw black-headed gulls, great crested grebes, green woodpecker, mallards, mute swan, tufted ducks and a whitethroat, as well as hearing chiffchaff, great tit and robin. There were white waterlilies in the lakes and the flowers added to the list around the lakes were comfrey, creeping buttercup, daisy, dandelion, dovesfoot cranesbill, ground-ivy, red campion and white deadnettle. We also saw bumblebees and butterflies, namely brimstone, orange tip and a blue species, probably holly blue.
Across the road from the fishing lakes is the Withey Beds reserve itself, one of the last few wetlands in Hertfordshire, although it was very dry on this occasion after a spring drought. Our guides pointed out stingless nettles and the World War II pillbox which is used as a roost by bats. We also saw pond skaters on the river, peacock butterflies, a cardinal beetle, chicken-of-the-woods fungus, and a grey heron flying over. Along the path we paused a number of times to lift reptile mats and were pleased to see several slow-worms and young grass snakes, one of which was caught by a ranger so we could all have a good look at it. This was an exciting conclusion to an interesting visit.
Thanks to Alan Power for leading our group, and to all the guides.
16 July - Bernwood Forest and Meadows
Five members joined a group from Butterfly Conservation to explore the Forestry Commission-managed area of the former royal hunting forest of Bernwood. We were particularly keen to see purple emperors, which had emerged early this year, and eventually found a female flying around sallow trees, perhaps in search of an egg-laying site. After the BC members left, we toured Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust’s Bernwood Meadows, where the many wildflowers grew in clear rows, showing the ridges and furrows of the ground.
As well as the purple emperor, the butterflies we saw were brimstone, comma, common blue, Essex skipper, gatekeeper, green-veined white, large skipper, large white, marbled white, meadow brown, peacock, purple hairstreak, red admiral, silver-washed fritillary, small copper, small skipper, speckled wood and white admiral – a total of 19 species, possibly a record for the society! Nor were they the only representatives of the Lepidoptera, as we also saw six-spot burnet moths, and many cinnabar caterpillars feeding on ragwort.
Other notable insects were wood ants swarming over their impressive hills; emperor and brown hawker dragonflies; pondskaters and water boatmen in a small pool; soldier beetles, a longhorn beetle, a scorpionfly and red-tailed bumblebee. As we expected at this time of year, birds were more elusive and the only species noted were red kite and lesser black-backed gull.
There was a wide diversity of plants in flower in both the woodland and grassland habitats: agrimony, betony, bramble, common bird’s foot trefoil, common centaury, common knapweed, creeping cinquefoil, creeping thistle, eyebright, great willowherb, hedge bindweed, hogweed, lady’s bedstraw, meadow buttercup, meadowsweet, ox-eye daisy, perforate St John’s wort, pineappleweed, ragwort, red bartsia, red clover, scarlet pimpernel, selfheal, spear thistle, tall melilot, teasel, tormentil, tufted vetch, upright hedge-parsley, white clover, wild carrot, wild parsnip, woody nightshade, yarrow and yellow rattle.
As this species list shows, it was a very successful walk – thanks to our leader Andrea Polden and the Butterfly Conservation members.
16 September - Great Kimble Box Woods
Four members and one visitor set out from the car park by Ellesborough Church to begin the walk by crossing Beacon Hill below the summit, giving us an expansive view over the Vale of Aylesbury. The sheep pasture contained some chalk grassland flowers such as field scabious, eyebright, clustered bellflower, common rock-rose, wild thyme and harebell. We observed a buzzard perched in a dead tree before entering the largest native box woodland in the country. The dense-textured wood was used historically to make engraving blocks, lace-making bobbins and musical instruments. The box trees have long straggling stems that are hard to describe as trunks, giving the woodland a tangled, impenetrable look in the gloom created by the dark evergreen foliage.
It took us only a short time to cross the box wood, and the rest of our visit covered more chalk grassland and another woodland dominated by ash and sycamore. Having watched a crow mobbing a red kite and a buzzard overhead, we noticed more grassland plants still in flower such as red bartsia, common toadflax, mignonette, yellow-wort and lady’s bedstraw, which stopped flowering in Chesham several weeks ago. We heard a stock dove and saw meadow pipits, swallows, house martins, a chiffchaff and a green woodpecker. There was a variety of fungi, most of which we could not identify except for candlesnuff fungus and King Alfred’s cakes; one large funnel-shaped mushroom in the woods was ‘decorated’ with a fox dropping.
On the other side of Ellesborough Church, we looked at a pond and saw a moorhen; purple loosestrife and rosebay willowherb (not great willowherb, as we might have expected in this habitat) grew on the banks. By this time the sun had come out and we watched red admiral and comma butterflies, as well as various bees, feeding on ivy flowers. There was also a dragonfly flying too quickly to be identified, and some of us sampled the fruits of a damson tree. As we headed back to the car, I had a good view of a small copper butterfly while the others were busy watching a kestrel.
Other species recorded were:
Birds – blue tit (heard), carrion crow, great spotted woodpecker (heard), jackdaw, magpie and woodpigeon.
Plants in flower: agrimony, black horehound, bramble, carline thistle, common knapweed, common vetch, creeping thistle, daisy, dandelion, goat’s-beard, herb Robert, hogweed, meadow buttercup, mouse-ear, nipplewort, perforate St John’s wort, pineappleweed, ragwort, red clover, selfheal, shepherd’s purse, stemless thistle, upright hedge-parsley, welted thistle, white clover, white deadnettle, wild parsnip, wood avens, woody nightshade and yarrow.
Insects: craneflies, large and small white butterflies.
This is an excellent number of species – thanks to Trevor Brawn for leading the walk.
14 October - Fungus Foray at Holy Trinity Churchyard, Prestwood, and Great Kingshill Common
[I regret the photos mentioned in the text cannot be shown mid-text on this website, but I will try to add them to the photo pages - in time!]
Five CDNHS members joined a larger group from Prestwood Nature to be guided around these two sites by local naturalist Tony Marshall. Holy Trinity Churchyard is a Local Wildlife Site which Tony’s studies have shown to be internationally important for its waxcap fungi, as he reported in June 2017’s British Wildlife magazine.
Before we started to find waxcaps, we came across a spectacular group of collared earthstars by a laurel hedge.
Waxcaps are fungi of the genus Hygrocybe which are restricted to uncultivated grassland, hence their rarity. Some species are brightly coloured, such as the first we found, the spangle waxcap which is orange with a depressed dark spot in the centre. We came across several clumps of the snowy waxcap, golden waxcap (first photo) and scarlet waxcap, which often has a yellow rim (although not in the example in the second photo).
Tony showed us the contrast between this species and the rarer crimson waxcap, which has a much more strongly domed cap. Other distinctive species were the yellow-green citrine waxcap, the blackening waxcap which starts off orange before darkening, and the most colourful one – the parrot waxcap. This is bright green when young but later the cap turns pale brown while keeping the unique green stem and contrasting yellow gills.
The group varies greatly in texture, ranging from the aptly named slimy waxcap to the meadow waxcap which is the least shiny species (and the only edible one). The other species in the churchyard was the white nitrous waxcap, whose pungent smell distinguishes it from the snowy waxcap.
Other distinctive fungi in the churchyard included yellow and apricot clubs, white coral and orange mosscap, with its radiating brown lines which make it resemble a tiny compass jellyfish. We also found honey fungus, rooting shank, smoky spindle, sulphur tuft, nitrous bonnet, earth tongue, indigo pinkgill and meadow puffball.
There was some tormentil in flower and Tony showed us a specimen of the locally rare spurge laurel which had been surrounded by wire mesh to prevent it being trimmed along with the neighbouring laurel hedge. While exploring the churchyard we heard a robin
On Great Kingshill Common we added another waxcap to the list: the yellow and greasy-textured butter waxcap. We also found horse mushroom, yellow leg bonnet, green brittlegill (a specialist of birch roots), suede bolete, brown rollrim, deceiver, dawn brittlegill, a young fly agaric and a pinkish species which may have been a coconut milkcap. I also noted flowering yarrow, selfheal, daisy and dandelion.
This was a fascinating visit and we are very grateful to Tony for his knowledge and his work to gain recognition for this very special site.
18 November - Stocker's Lake
Six members met at the Rickmansworth Aquadrome car park for this morning visit. Despite the dull weather, the area around the main Aquadrome lakes was popular with families, runners and dog walkers. Early on, we thought we heard a nuthatch but it turned out to be the nearest dog’s squeaky toy! However there were certainly ring-necked parakeets calling in this area.
As we entered the nature reserve, we paused by a small arm of the lake almost cut off by a wooded island. The trees contained a mixed flock of siskins and goldfinches, while we also observed a grey heron. On reaching the first hide overlooking the lake (a flooded gravel pit managed by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust) we had an excellent close view of a pair of shovelers. Another hide had a heron standing just in front of it but it flew off as we arrived. From there we could see a drake goldeneye which was a long distance away, but easy to distinguish from the tufted ducks by the white patch on his face. On the small islands we noted cormorants, a pair of Egyptian geese and a few lesser black-backed and common gulls among the many black-headed gulls.
One hide neighboured a feeding station which attracted seven or eight great tits as well as a few blue tits and two robins, which had an occasional skirmish. On passing the Grand Union Canal, we were surprised to see a macaw inside a boat. Returning to the waterfowl, we were pleased to see a group of six male and three female red-crested pochards – an attractive duck which is a rare but regular winter visitor to the UK. We also saw a few common pochards and wigeon as well as the usual mallards. There was a small flock of lapwings on one of the islands on the west side of the lake. One of us saw a little egret and there were several great crested grebes in their black and white winter plumage. We saw many coots, but only one moorhen.
Other birds were blackbird, dunnock, great spotted woodpecker (heard), jay, long-tailed tit, magpie mute swans (mainly on the Aquadrome lakes), woodpigeon and wren. We found four plants in flower: bramble, a buttercup, white deadnettle and a yellow composite. The only wild mammal seen was a grey squirrel.
This was a productive visit despite the drizzly weather – thanks to Richard Tomlin for leading the walk.
16 December - Christmas Walk from The Moor along the Chess
Seven members met at the Moor car park on a bright frosty morning, three of us early enough to watch a buzzard being mobbed by a crow overhead. Before we set off, I noticed a bright mock sun (parhelion) created by the reflection in the ice crystals forming cirrus clouds. We had a brief look at a channel of the braided River Chess behind the swimming pool and found a group of mallards; in the sunshine the drakes’ heads were the perfect shade of green for Christmas.
Then we skirted the playing field where several black-headed gulls seemed untroubled by the children playing football. House sparrows were active in the gardens by the river and we soon noticed a kingfisher on part of the bank that was shored up with concrete. It dived into the river and flew up to the trees on the other side, where we had an excellent view as it moved between the branches. Then it gave us an even greater treat when it caught a bullhead (or miller’s thumb) and we watched it stun and swallow its catch. Eventually we were able to see the kingfisher’s orange-red lower mandible that indicates a female. Later, one of the party claimed to have been watching another kingfisher at the same time!
Finally we moved on to walk along the riverbank, past the river’s resident mute swan pair and their sub-adult cygnet. In the wooded part of the Moor, we spotted a little egret and were just about able to identify a song thrush feeding on ivy berries. One of the fishing lakes was frozen over, but the other was occupied by swimming Canada geese and distant tufted ducks. An alder tree on the bank was laden with catkins on which siskins and goldfinches were feeding, but they were hard to see. A more conspicuous and surprising creature we saw by the lake was a white cat!
We continued further along the riverside where some of the previous weekend’s snow still lingered, and I had a good view of a redwing. Then we retraced our steps and joined other members for an excellent festive lunch at The Bell in Chartridge.
Other bird species seen were: blackbird, blue tit, chaffinch, coot, dunnock, great tit, jackdaw, magpie, moorhen, red kite, woodpigeon and wren. Thanks to Trevor Brawn for leading the walk and to Barbara Hunter for organising the meal.
The walk scheduled for 18 March to Hodgemoor Woods did not take place because of snow!
15 April - Old Park Wood
Six members and three visitors spent a showery afternoon exploring this small but varied ancient wood managed by Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust. Over the centuries, the wood has been a hunting park and a grazing site; it still has some old coppice stools. More recently, it was used by patients at the neighbouring Harefield Hospital for exercise.
On our way into the wood from the road, some of us had a good view of a female muntjac. Among the trees (including many hornbeams and sweet chestnuts) there was already a good display of bluebells coming into flower and attractive patches of wood anemone and wood sorrel. With the late onset of spring, we were too early to see the pink blooms of coralroot (bittercress), but we did find a small patch of moschatel or town hall clock with its unusual cubic flower-heads. Other flowers in blossom were daisy, dandelion, dog violet, dog’s mercury, green alkanet, ground-ivy, lesser celandine, red deadnettle, three-cornered leek and white deadnettle. We found some honeysuckle leaves which had already been attacked by leaf-mining insect larvae. The only insects we actually saw were a few bumblebees.
There was a surprising diversity of fungi, mostly unidentifiable but there was no mistaking the hard black fruiting bodies of King Alfred’s cakes; small bracket fungi may have been turkeytail.
It was good to see and hear a chiffchaff, one of the early spring migrants, but our most dramatic bird sighting was several ring-necked parakeets mobbing a buzzard. Other birds seen were blackbird, blue tit, jackdaw, red kite, rook and woodpigeon. We heard blackcap, nuthatch and a woodpecker. The only mammal seen within the wood was a grey squirrel, although we also found an intriguing bone.
This was a pleasant trip to start the year – thanks to Alan Power for leading the walk.