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

Trevor Brawn


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 atrolaminata*

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.