Field Meetings 2018
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.
19 May - Wycombe Reserves - reported by Trevor Brawn
Despite certain other attractions on the day we still had four enthusiasts setting off for a guided tour round some of the hottest nature reserves in and around High Wycombe.
Our first visit was to a very nice open, chalk grassland meadow which sits below part of Kings Wood, just on the outskirts of High Wycombe that we had visited on a previous Field meeting. The sun was already pretty hot by then which seemed initially to give butterflies rather too much energy as they were already flying around, not allowing us to properly identify each species. Holly blue was our first confirmed species, although there were some whites flying, but then, after a brief discussion we concluded that we were looking at a brown argus, followed shortly after by a brimstone, common blue, small heath, small white and male orange tip. Then we hit the jackpot with a stunning view of a green hairstreak. Speckled Wood appeared later and then a small white obligingly settled nicely for us. We also identified a bee fly and some moths, one of which Sue confirmed was a burnet companion, a millipede and a woodlouse and there was also clear evidence clear evidence of the actions of mining bees near to the path on the bare patches of soil.
Richard Tomlin was in good form identifying numerous birds by their call and sight and we soon notched up a magpie, pigeon, wren, carrion crow, long-tailed tit, robin, feral pigeon, black cap and dunnock, while Sue chipped in with a swift, red kite and buzzard. Richard completed the list by confirming a chaffinch.
The plants identified far exceeded our expectation although we struggled to find even leaves of orchids, except for one common spotted orchid. Black medick, germander speedwell, woodruff, herb Robert, bedstraw, euphorbia, bush vetch, bird’s-foot trefoil, salad burnet, rock rose, mouse-ear hawkweed, oxeye daisy, sainfoin, herb bennet, comfrey, aquilegia, white dead-nettle, forget-me-not, and periwinkle were all recorded.
We were within walking distance of another meadow but surprisingly we were not able to find any orchids there either, but did add a few additional flowering species to our list including cowslips, guelder rose, wayfaring tree, whitebeam, tufted vetch, scarlet pimpernel and a great tit.
After a fairly relaxed lunchtime stop at The Rye, we set of to explore the BBOWT Reserve at Gomm Valley, After a bit of a climb from our parking area we entered a woodland section with typical plants including, dogs mercury and yellow archangel. Here we also saw our first mammal in the shape of a squirrel and a speckled wood butterfly before we moved out into the meadow finding honeysuckle, cowslips, wild strawberry, rough hawk’s beard, bird’s foot trefoil, oxeye daisy, marjoram, mignonette, fumitory, groundsel and numerous twayblades. Butterflies were seen in good numbers including common blue, holly blue, brimstones and more excellent views of green hairstreak.
Although a visit to The Picnic Site at Prestwood on the way home was possible, we were happy to head straight back to Chesham.
16 June - Finemere Wood - reported by Trevor Brawn
We had a small group of 5 members attending the meeting at Finemere Wood where our prime target was the Black Hairstreak butterfly. Andrea Polden had arranged for us to be met by Stuart Hodges, who is the current black hairstreak species champion, and there were also about 8 other Butterfly Conservation members.
Finemere Wood was originally part of the Royal Forest of Bernwood and had a long history of traditional coppicing management but suffered from being largely cleared felled in the 1950s and 1960s. A diverse mix of broadleaved and conifer woodland has since grown up, with over 200 recorded flowering plant species and a wide range of butterflies and birds. In 2004 an additional 32 hectares of farm land was purchased to further increase the diversity of the area.
The weather was favourable being reasonably warm and dry and we were soon off the mark with a large skipper butterfly, while blue tufted vetch, kidney vetch, cow parsley, agrimony, woundwort and black medick adorned the pathway down to the area of woodland. Both yellowhammer and whitethroat were heard first and then sighted. Lots more plants were noted including red and white clover, bramble, dog rose, cranesbill, mayweed, great willow herb, goat’s beard, lady’s bedstraw and St John’s wort.
Just before reaching the woods, in the hedgerow, we saw our first black hairstreak butterflies. They were in quite poor condition but there was no doubt that we had already struck gold. Further invertebrates soon became visible including a scorpion fly, speckled wood, meadow brown and a clear damselfly.
A little further along we saw a number of common spotted orchids, silverweed, marsh thistle, ragged robin, woody nightshade and stitchwort. After seeing a nice unidentified moth, a number of purple hairstreak butterflies were spotted up in the trees and a white legged damselfly. We then moved to a different area of the wood and on the way back we were all treated to the most stunning view of a black hairstreak butterfly in pristine condition, unusually on the ground. It looked as though it had just hatched out and that, for all of us, was the highlight of the morning visit.
Although not part of the schedule we then went a little further on to Calvert Jubilee and had our lunch there. After a short walk around the lake we headed back home.
15 July - Pulpit Hill
Five members and a visitor decided to go ahead with a trip to this chalk grassland site although the weather had been hot and dry for over a month.
The vegetation was surprisingly green and many species of flowers had survived the heatwave. Those in bloom included agrimony, bird’s foot trefoil, centaury, clustered bellflower, eyebright, field bindweed, field scabious, greater knapweed, harebell, kidney vetch, lady’s bedstraw, possibly large thyme, marjoram, mignonette, mugwort, pyramidal orchid, ragwort, rock-rose, rosebay willowherb, scarlet pimpernel, a species of St John’s wort, selfheal, silverweed, spear thistle, squinancywort, stemless thistle, tall melilot, teasel, welted thistle, wild basil, wild carrot, wild clematis, wild parsnip, wild thyme, yarrow and yellow-wort. We also found many common spotted orchids that had finished flowering, and some of the hill’s juniper trees were laden with berries. In the nearby woodland was some herb Robert, vervain and white bryony. There were several species of dandelion-like flowers that were too difficult to identify.
Perhaps our most notable find was a group of dark mullein plants being fed on by caterpillars of the nationally scarce striped lychnis moth. Many of the adult moths we saw were unidentifiable, but we were able to recognise dusky sallow, silver Y and six-spot burnet. There was a great number of butterflies, particularly chalkhill blue, as well as brimstone, comma, common blue, gatekeeper, large white, marbled white, meadow brown, peacock, silver-washed fritillary, a species of skipper, small copper, small heath and small white. We also saw a female common darter dragonfly, honeybees, red-tailed and other bumblebees, seven-spot ladybirds and a common green grasshopper.
We were disappointed by the absence of skylarks but carrion crows, red kites and woodpigeons flew over.
This was a very successful visit – thanks to Andrea Polden for leading the walk.
16 September - Captain's Wood and Widmore Wood
Six members met at Greenway Parade and entered Captain’s Wood by the new information board installed by the Chiltern Society, describing the history and wildlife of the site. The trees there are mostly beech with some oak, ash, cherry and hornbeam; volunteers have been removing some of the holly that was making the understorey too dense. While in the wood we saw great tit, blackbird, robin, speckled wood butterfly and unidentifiable hoverflies. We also heard a jay and a green woodpecker.
At the northern end of the wood we walked along a hedgerow overlooking Asheridge Vale. Here we observed spurge laurel and the fruits of whitebeam, blackthorn (sloe), dogwood and spindle. In the neighbouring field we found the flowers of red and white clover, red bartsia, bird’s foot trefoil, wild basil, common knapweed, ragwort, rosebay willowherb, a buttercup, dandelion and other yellow composites. I noticed a brown bug with a distinctive red abdomen visible when it opened its wings. Red kites and woodpigeons flew over as we headed northwest towards Widmore Wood.
This small wood has a similar composition to Captain’s Wood, but there were more fungi in evidence, including a spectacular chicken of the woods with its yellow-orange brackets on a cherry tree. As we explored the site we heard buzzards calling almost constantly, perhaps from a nest we saw in a treetop. On leaving the wood we saw a small white butterfly and later watched a small copper as we crossed the field back to Captain’s Wood. There we were able to find some violet helleborine orchids in fruit.
Despite a relatively short list of sightings, this was a pleasant walk in warm sunshine. Thanks are due to Sue Brawn for leading us.
14 October - Fungus Foray, Lodge Wood, Prestwood
Unfortunately this meeting had to be cancelled, owing to a combination of heavy rain on the day, preceeded by the hot summer, which meant Tony Marshall advised us that there were few fungi to see.
17 November - College Lake
After our October walk was cancelled due to heavy rain, it was a relief to have sunny weather for this visit attended by ten members. The lake held a variety of waterfowl, dominated by wigeon and tufted duck, and we picked out a few gadwall, pochard, teal and female shovelers. We observed a pair of mute swans mating and displaying with arched necks after the cob (male) saw off a rival. Other birds on the lake included coots, moorhens, mallards, Canada geese and cormorants. On the shore furthest from the visitor centre was a flock of lesser black-backed and black-headed gulls with a few common gulls and lapwings among them.
From this end of the reserve we could see seven red-legged partridges on a hillside some distance away. We spent a few minutes at the birdfeeders which were used by a goldfinch, greenfinch, chaffinch, blue tit and great tit. Other birds seen on the reserve were blackbird, carrion crow, jackdaw, red kite and robin; Richard heard a chiffchaff.
There were two plants in flower: dragon’s teeth, a locally naturalised member of the pea family, and a yellow composite. We found several spindle trees with striking displays of their pink and orange berries, as well as impressive crops of haws, rosehips, guelder rose berries and old man’s beard. Fungi included candle snuff fungus and shaggy ink caps at various stages of their development.
This was a very enjoyable trip – thanks to Richard Tomlin for leading us.
15 December - River Chess and Chesham Bois Wood
Six members braved a sub-zero wind to walk along the river from the Moor playing field into the woods. As expected, there were mallards, mute swans and a moorhen on the river. The more notable sightings began with a large family of long-tailed tits scattered among the trees, together with a blue tit. Then I managed to spot a redwing almost hidden in ivy, identifiable by its pale facial markings, and we watched a song thrush and blackbirds. There was also a grey wagtail in the shallow part of the river.
The fishing lakes held distant mallards, tufted ducks and coots, and Richard was able to identify a common gull. Here we decided to prolong the walk by taking a circular route to Chesham Bois Cemetery, where I glimpsed a jay and we watched a soaring buzzard. Continuing through the woods, we came across a beech tree growing on the edge of a steep hollow with a spectacular spread of aerial roots. A robin and a wren accompanied us on the path back to the edge of Chesham.
Having looked unsuccessfully at the pond by the allotments, we stopped by the two channels of the river by the tennis courts and found two little egrets – a species that had appeared at several points during the walk. This time we had an excellent view of one of them fishing by waggling its yellow feet in the water, and while watching it we saw a kingfisher fly off. This was an excellent end to the walk, which was followed by a delicious meal at The Bell in Chartridge.
Other birds seen were black-headed gull, carrion crow, jackdaw, magpie, red kite and woodpigeon; Richard heard a bullfinch.
Thanks are due to Richard Tomlin, who led the walk as a late replacement for Trevor Brawn, and to Barbara Hunter who organised the lunch.