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.