16 March - Woods southwest of Great Missenden

Four members began our first field meeting of the year in Upper Hollis, where we looked at an interesting collection of trees on the verge, including a Wollemi pine and some unusual Acers. Then we entered Angling Spring Wood, an ancient woodland dominated by beech and hornbeam with some holly, yew, birch, cherry and other trees. The smaller trees were coming into leaf and a few fruit trees were already flowering, as was dog’s mercury. Some areas of the wood were carpeted in new bluebell leaves. On entering the wood we found a badger midden. From the main path that bisects the wood we heard a jay living up to its Welsh name of ‘wood screamer’ and eventually managed to see it. Great tits and wrens were also calling and we had sightings of the former. 

Leaving Angling Spring Wood, we headed south to Atkins Wood past flowering blackthorn hedges and remarkable hornbeams that had been laid many years ago. Lesser celandine was in flower and we added woodpigeon, blackbird and red kite to the bird list. I had observed a singing skylark in the field west of this wood the previous week, but the weather had been stormy since then and we thought the wind was still too strong for the bird to display. From the edge of the wood we saw flowering gorse, magpie and carrion crows, and heard a green woodpecker. 

Moving east into the adjacent Hobbshill Wood, we came across a group of chaffinches which, on closer inspection, included a few bramblings with their distinctive orange backs. We noticed, but could not identify, some striking fungi, mosses and lichens. The hazels and pussy willows were covered in catkins. The circular route took us past Roald Dahl’s former home and past a hedgerow occupied by house sparrows. Just before re-entering Angling Spring Wood, we found dog violets and a green hellebore in flower. 

Thanks to Trevor Brawn for stepping in to lead this enjoyable walk. 


14 April - Wilstone Reservoir and the Black Poplar trail 

Five members and one visitor parked at Wilstone Reservoir on a bright morning with a cold wind, despite which we soon observed the first of several swallows on the walk. On the water we saw a common tern as well as great crested grebe, tufted duck, coot, Canada goose and black-headed gull. A pied wagtail was at the water’s edge. Several plant species were in flower on the banks: blackthorn, English stonecrop, dandelion, lesser celandine, white deadnettle and daisy. Here we found two seven-spot ladybirds and heard a song thrush. 

Having walked around the corner of the reservoir, we struck out along a footpath to Wilstone village. Along the way we found a goat willow covered in catkins and the flowers of red deadnettle, common field speedwell and ground-ivy. We saw woodpigeon, jackdaw, blue tit and great tit, and heard a wren. On the edge of the village we found the first of the area’s cluster of rare black poplars, having noticed its red catkins on the ground. 

The village was home to chirping house sparrows and we saw a honeybee outside the village hall. Across the playing field from here was a patch of bluebells where a blackbird was foraging. Having crossed the Grand Union Canal we found a black poplar that was still hanging on to its catkins, known as ‘devil’s fingers’. Continuing across farmland, we heard a chiffchaff and saw a cormorant fly over. A robin landed on the path just ahead, shortly before we watched a small tortoiseshell butterfly. The cold wind meant that insects were otherwise in short supply. 

At Millhoppers Reserve, we saw a singing blackcap, heard a green woodpecker and found flowering cowslips, dog violet and lords-and-ladies. This was also a good place to have a close look at the black poplars with their distinctive forked silhouette and gnarled bark. Towards the end of the walk we added four more bird species: buzzard, kestrel, starling and goldfinch. 

Thank you to Alan Power for planning the walk and to Trevor Brawn for stepping in as leader at short notice. 


16 June - Local walk: River Chess and Chesham Bois Wood

Six members attended this local walk starting at the Moor car park in Chesham. We began making observations as we skirted the playing field before entering the wood along the River Chess, which we followed as far as the fishing lakes. 

Along this stretch we found the following plants in flower: black medick, bramble, broadleaved dock, cleavers, comfrey, cow parsley, creeping buttercup, cut-leaved cranesbill, daisy, dandelion, dog rose, dogwood, elder, garlic mustard, ground-elder, hedge mustard, hedge woundwort, herb Robert, nipplewort, oilseed rape, pendulous sedge, red campion, rough and smooth sow-thistles, soft cranesbill, stinging nettle, water figwort, water forget-me-not, watercress, white bryony, white clover, white deadnettle, wild privet, wood avens, wood dock, woody nightshade and yellow iris. There were also a few fungi resembling cultivated mushrooms, and some male ferns by the river. 

The insects in the first section of the walk included several species of bees, such as the ashy mining bee, and hoverflies, including marmalade hoverfly. We spent some time watching a group of small tortoiseshell caterpillars feeding on nettles and saw one of the adult butterflies. Other insects noted were harlequin ladybird, swollen-thighed beetle, green-veined white and speckled wood butterflies. We also found a type of gall forming red swellings on the edges of ash leaves, and a garden snail on the fence around one of the fishing lakes. 

The birds near the river were blackbird, blue tit, Canada goose, carrion crow, chiffchaff (heard), coot, dunnock (heard), jackdaw, long-tailed tit, mallard, starling, tufted duck, woodpigeon and wren (heard). 

As we crossed a residential area on the way to Chesham Bois Woods, we saw a red kite flying at rooftop level and found germander speedwell and Pyrenean cranesbill. A grey squirrel crossed the path ahead before I led the group to a grassy area next to Chesham Bois Cemetery. Here we added more flowers to the list: bird’s foot trefoil, creeping cinquefoil, lesser stitchwort, meadow buttercup, oxeye daisy, red clover, salad burnet, wood spurge and a group of early flowering pyramidal orchids, as well as having our attention caught by two goat’s-beard clocks. We also saw meadow brown butterflies and a magpie before entering the woods. 

Our third habitat was home to bush vetch, sanicle and wood cranesbill, but the main species we sought was white helleborine and we found several plants in flower, although somewhat in decline since my visit the previous week. We returned to the Moor through a meadow while watching two red kites courting or fighting. There were yet more flowers and insects to add to the list: agrimony, black bryony, common mallow, field forget-me-not, brimstone butterfly and cinnabar moth. Alan had earlier photographed a slime mould. 

This was a very successful field visit despite the rain earlier in the day. Thanks are due to those who attended, especially Peter Casselden for sharing his botanical knowledge. 


13 July - Holtspur Bottom Butterfly Reserve:

Nine members visited this chalk grassland area on the edge of Beaconsfield, managed by Butterfly Conservation’s Upper Thames Branch. The first plants that drew our attention were some very tall hemlocks by the parking area. Brenda Mobbs, the branch’s Membership Secretary, pointed out the nearby elms which are disease resistant and provide food for the caterpillars of the white-letter hairstreak butterfly. 

The most prolific flowers on the reserve were marjoram and lady’s bedstraw, an attractive combination of pink and yellow. In certain areas this colour scheme was provided instead by common centaury and yellow-wort. Another prominent yellow flower was dark mullein, which hosted many caterpillars of the striped lychnis moth. 

Other plants in flower were: agrimony, bird’s foot trefoil, black horehound, bramble, Canadian goldenrod, common knapweed, common poppy, a species of cranesbill, creeping cinquefoil, field bindweed, field scabious, goat’s beard, great willowherb, greater knapweed, hedge bindweed, hedge mustard, hoary ragwort, hogweed, kidney vetch, mugwort, musk mallow, nettle-leaved bellflower, ox-eye daisy, perforate St John’s wort, pyramidal orchid, red bartsia, red clover, restharrow, ribwort plantain, stinging nettle, traveller’s joy, vervain, white bryony, white clover, white deadnettle, wild basil, wild carrot, wild parsnip, woolly thistle, yarrow, various yellow composites and yellow rattle. 

The sky was largely overcast but it was warm enough for butterflies and other insects to be active. The butterflies were mostly marbled white, meadow brown and ringlet with several small white and small and Essex skippers. We also saw a small tortoiseshell, a few gatekeepers, a comma, a few peacocks, a silver-washed fritillary and a chalkhill blue pointed out to us by another visitor. I spotted a wasp-mimicking moth later identified as a six-belted clearwing; we also saw a mint moth of the genus Pyrausta and cinnabar moth caterpillars.

Other invertebrates seen were ants including winged forms and pupae, banded demoiselle damselfly, grasshoppers, honeybee, hornet, ladybird larvae on nettles, pill woodlouse, red-tailed and other bumblebees, Roesel’s and other bush-crickets, seven-spot ladybird, social wasps, soldier beetle (Rhagonycha fulva) and swollen-thighed beetle. Birds were not much in evidence but red kites flew over the valley and we heard a green woodpecker and a wren. 

This was a very enjoyable visit – thanks to Brenda for leading us. 


14 September - Dancersend 

Eight members met at the waterworks at the south end of the reserve on a warm sunny morning. Mick Jones, the long-standing volunteer warden and President of our Society, gave an introduction to the reserve for the benefit of two members who had not visited before. Then he led us past the edge of the woodland area recently added to the reserve and pointed out a disease-resistant elm that had been planted. On a fallen beech tree we saw artist’s bracket fungi with wart-like swellings which Mick explained were the only galls found on fungi, the larval home of the yellow flat-footed fly. The tour continued on the ‘lagoon’ area which has chalk grassland flowers such as marjoram, wild basil, harebell and field scabious. The main attraction at this time of year is the Chiltern gentian – unfortunately we were just too late to see them at their best, most of the larger plants having gone to seed, but there were still many flowers to see. The small areas of bare ground were marked by the spoil heaps of mining bee burrows and we saw various bumblebees and butterflies including small and green-veined whites, brimstone and small copper. Mick showed us a dead willow that had been hollowed out by badgers hunting beetle larvae, and lifted two reptile shelters where we found two young slow-worms, one of them heading into a burrow accompanied by many ants. We headed uphill to an area where devil’s bit scabious grew, but the gentians had been wiped out by last year’s dry weather. Here we watched three chiffchaffs. Mick pointed out two different-coloured mirid bugs on common knapweed, and we saw many of the attractive golden star-shaped seed heads of greater knapweed. Heading back towards the waterworks, we passed through the orchard area which has been planted with varieties of fruit trees that have a local connection, and features a bug hotel where solitary bees have been nesting. 

Mick then left and the members had lunch at the picnic table in Crong Meadow, where I saw a hummingbird hawkmoth feeding on marjoram. We continued the visit by climbing into Bittams Wood and following the ride to Anthill, a slope managed for Duke of Burgundy butterflies, where we observed black-tailed robberflies mating and had an excellent view of a spotted flycatcher making forays from a treetop. At the meadow plots we found more chalk grassland flora including eyebright and wild thyme. By then we had added speckled wood, red admiral and comma to the butterfly list. 

Most of the group returned to the waterworks along the road, so only two of us enjoyed a close view of a marsh tit on the return ascent through the woods. Just before leaving I was very surprised to see a bat in flight, as it was not yet 3pm! 

Other species seen:

Flowers: agrimony, bird’s foot trefoil, bramble, common centaury, hedge bindweed, herb Robert, musk mallow, nettle-leaved bellflower, red campion, red clover, rosebay willowherb, St John’s wort, selfheal, traveller’s joy, wild carrot, yarrow, yellow-wort

Birds: blackbird, blue tit, buzzard, pheasant, red kite, woodpigeon, wren

Other: black slug eating blackberries, grey squirrel. 

Thanks to Mick Jones, Richard Tomlin for navigating, and Sue Taylor, who found the robberflies. 


20 October - Fungus foray at Hampden Bottom Farm

Three CDNHS members joined a group from Prestwood Nature for a walk around Hampden Bottom Farm, next to the Chequers estate, led by Tony Marshall and farmer Fiona Waller. Tony had not seen many fungi during autumn so far, but we found a variety of species during the walk. 

The most striking specimens were the giant puffballs about 30cm (1 foot) wide and the beefsteak fungus which indeed resembles a piece of meat. Tony took these home and used them in several meals! Other fungi he identified were wood blewit, ivory and lilac bonnets, conical and rootlet brittlestems, stinking dapperling, amethyst deceiver, common and fairy inkcaps, dark-scaled knight, a species of mosscap, turf mottlegill, field and inky mushrooms, shaggy parasol, redcap, blue roundhead, russet toughshank, sulphur tuft and yellow stainer. 

We had several other notable sightings, particularly witches’ butter, an unusual example of terrestrial blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) which resembles seaweed and grows in the fields after wet weather. There were a few plants still in flower – dwarf spurge, field madder and field scabious – and Tony drew our attention to a fruiting sweet briar which could be distinguished from a dog rose by its gland-tipped hairs. Two yellowhammers flew over and we noticed a buzzard as well as the expected red kites, robin and woodpigeons. A roe deer crossed a field in front of us. 

This was an interesting visit and thanks are due to Tony and to Fiona, who told us about the low-disturbance techniques used to improve the farm’s habitats for wildlife. 


16 November - Otmoor:

Five members drove past flooded fields to this RSPB wetland reserve near Oxford. Soon after arriving we came across a group of teal and the first of many lapwings. The birdfeeders were well used by blue, great and coal tits while a hen pheasant fed on spilt seeds. A few of us were surprised to see a treecreeper on a telegraph pole. Over an expanse of grass and scattered reeds, we watched a distant flock of golden plover and a group of snipe in flight. A stonechat perched on a reed and some of us saw a fieldfare. We had a good view of a kestrel in a tree on our way to the hide, overlooking pools used by greylag and Canada geese and a group of resting wigeon as well as a grey heron. 

We continued our walk along the path between the reedbeds and fields where we saw a total of five brown hares. Through the telescope we watched them yawning and grooming themselves. Other visitors reported seeing three otters at the first screen, but we missed them and the only other mammal we saw was a grey squirrel on the path ahead. There were only a few birds on the pools between the reeds, including four snipe on a tiny island, mallards, moorhens, coots and a cormorant. Some gadwall and shoveler flew over. As we settled down to watch the starlings come in to roost, a female marsh harrier landed on a shrub so that we could easily see her cream-coloured forehead and chin through the telescope. Other raptors were a buzzard and a sparrowhawk. The first flocks of starlings performed a small murmuration but the later arrivals flew in low and went straight down into the reeds. On the way back to the car park we heard a Cetti’s warbler and a wren. 

Other birds seen: black-headed gull, blackbird, chaffinch, goldfinch, magpie, pied wagtail, robin and rook. 

Thanks to Richard Tomlin for leading the walk and identifying many of the birds. 


14 December - Chesham Moor

Four members set off along the River Chess just as a heavy shower ended. Soon we saw the first of several red kites. There were mallards on the river and at the fishing lakes we watched tufted ducks, coots, moorhens and a little grebe.  Black-headed and lesser black-backed gulls were also present, and Richard identified a common gull in flight. As we headed away from the river we observed jackdaws on chimneys. The route took us through Chesham Bois Cemetery where we saw a dunnock in the hedge and enjoyed the view across the Chess Valley. We passed through Bois Wood on the way to the pool behind Chesham Moor Gym & Swim, where Richard and I found a little egret. We saw two buzzards and a kestrel over Pednor Vale on the way to join a larger group of society members for an excellent lunch at the Bell in Chartridge. During the walk I also noted woodpigeons and robins, one of them singing. 

Thanks to Trevor Brawn for leading the walk and Barbara Hunter for organising the lunch.