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.

I've been through my bird guide and have compiled this list of today's sightings:
black-headed gull, blackbird, blue tit, common gull, coot, cormorant, dunnock, Egyptian goose, goldeneye, goldfinch, great crested grebe, great tit, grey heron, jay, lapwing, lesser black-backed gull, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, moorhen, mute swan, pochard, red-crested pochard, ring-necked parakeet, robin, shoveler, siskin, tufted duck, wigeon, woodpigeon, wren
We also saw a grey squirrel and flowering bramble, buttercup, white deadnettle and a yellow composite - I suggested nipplewort but the leaves look wrong and I'm really not sure what it was!  Richard also mentioned a little egret and hearing a great spotted woodpecker.


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.