October 2022

Burnham Beeches

Four members visited this National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest in the hope of seeing a variety of fungi, and we were not disappointed. The most distinctive and widespread types were magpie inkcap, fly agaric, false death cap and a coral fungus which we could not identify to species level.

Other fungi we were able to recognise were: amethyst deceiver, beech jellydisc, beefsteak fungus, birch polypore, butter cap, candlesnuff fungus, common bonnet, common puffball, honey fungus, jelly ear, lilac bonnet, slender club and turkeytail. We also saw an unusual species which we concluded was probably Bulgaria inquinans. It looked like small black discs, rather like Pontefract Cakes, that covered the top edge of a fallen tree.

Our route took us past the famous Druid’s Oak and many ancient beech pollards, one of which provided a perch for a stock dove. Other birds seen, as we explored the wood and ponds, were buzzard, carrion crow, dunnock, grey wagtail, jay, mallard, moorhen and robin. We heard calls from long-tailed tits, nuthatch and magpie.

There were several large wood ant nests scattered around the reserve, a wasp landed on my rucksack, and we saw a red admiral at the edge of the wood. A pair of common darter dragonflies flew in tandem along the bank of one of the ponds. As for mammals, we saw grey squirrels and a small rodent crossing the path. In the heathland area there was still some heather in flower and we noted the distinctive royal fern.

Thanks to Trevor Brawn and Hannah Webley for co-leading the walk. 

September 2022

Little Hampden Common,

Five members joined lichen expert Paula Shipway to examine these fascinating and varied partnerships between fungi and algae. She noted many examples that we would never have spotted or distinguished from other species by ourselves. Here are some of the species we found on the trees in the wooded part of the common.

Fuscidea lightfootii – green granular crust with white spots

Graphis scripta – long black fruiting bodies

Lecidella elaeochroma – grey with black warts

Parmelia sulcata – grey lobes

Parmotrema perlatum – curly edged lobes

Pertusaria armara – grey with white spots, resembles chewing gum

Pertusaria leioplaca – pale green with warts, a sign of low sulphur dioxide

Platismatia glauca – crisped lobe edges

Ramalina farinacea – green branches

Xanthoria parietina – yellow, nitrogen tolerant

Four of us then walked on a circular route through woods and fields, passing Hampden House and its neighbouring church where we examined the lichens on the gravestones.

The following plants were in flower: autumn hawkbit, bramble, common bird’s foot trefoil, common knapweed, common poppy, common toadflax, corn sowthistle, creeping thistle, field scabious, green field speedwell, herb Robert, lady’s bedstraw, marjoram, perforate St John’s wort, ragwort, scarlet clover, scentless mayweed, selfheal, white deadnettle, wild radish and yarrow. We also identified the grass wood barley.

Insects seen were dor beetle, a fly that had died while emerging from its chrysalis on a tree trunk, hornet, red admiral, seven-spot ladybird, small copper, speckled wood and a white butterfly.

The only birds sighted were red kite, swallow and woodpigeon; we also heard a jay. We disturbed two roe deer on the edge of the wood.

Thanks are due to Paula Shipway for her lichen expertise, Trevor Brawn for leading the walk, and Peter Casselden for his botanical knowledge. 

July 2022

Bernwood Forest and Meadows

Six members travelled to this large area just across the border in Oxfordshire and walked along the wide paths through the Forestry Commission woodland. They were lined with a wide variety of flowers, including damp-loving species in the drainage ditches, and the sunshine brought out a range of insects. Later we visited the meadows managed by BBOWT but were disappointed to find they had already been mown.

Plants in flower: agrimony, betony, bramble, bristly ox-tongue, burdock, common bird’s foot trefoil, common fleabane, common knapweed, common valerian, corn mint, creeping cinquefoil, creeping thistle, figwort, great willowherb, greater bird’s foot trefoil, greater knapweed, hedge bindweed, hogweed, lady’s bedstraw, lesser spearwort, meadowsweet, ox-eye daisy, ragwort, red bartsia, red clover, selfheal, sneezewort, spear thistle, tall melilot, teasel, tufted vetch, upright hedge-parsley, water thistle, white clover, wild carrot, wild parsnip

Butterflies: clouded yellow, brimstone, brown argus, comma, common blue, gatekeeper, green-veined white, large skipper, marbled white, meadow brown, peacock, purple hairstreak, ringlet, silver-washed fritillary, small or Essex skipper

Other insects: broad-bodied chaser, brown hawker, common darter, emperor dragonfly, red-tailed and other bumblebees, seven-spot ladybird, soldier beetle, wasp, wood ant colony

Birds: buzzard, carrion crow, goldfinch (heard) , lesser black-backed gull, red kite, swallow, woodpigeon

Thanks to Trevor Brawn for leading the walk and to the members who shared their knowledge. 

May 2022

Cassiobury Park and Whippendell Wood

Seven members visited this site which was originally part of the grounds of the home of the Earls of Essex. It includes a local nature reserve managed by Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust. We walked along the banks of the River Gade and Grand Union Canal before crossing West Herts Golf Course to spend some time in Whippendell Wood.

Flowers: bluebell, bramble, brooklime, buttercup species, cleavers, cow parsley, daisy, dandelion, deadly nightshade (an impressively large clump on the edge of the wood), elder, forget-me-not species, garlic mustard, germander speedwell, green alkanet, hemlock water-dropwort, herb robert, horse chestnut, pendulous sedge, red campion, stinging nettle, thyme-leaved speedwell, water crowfoot, white deadnettle, wood avens, woody nightshade, yellow balsam, yellow flag iris
Fungi: birch polypore, dryad’s saddle
Insects: banded demoiselle, froghopper larvae in cuckoo spit, green-veined white, harlequin ladybird, hoverfly species, orange tip, red admiral, soldier beetle
Birds: blackbird, blackcap (heard), black-headed gull, blue tit, goldcrest (heard), grey heron, jackdaw, jay, little egret (two good views on the river), long-tailed tit, magpie, mandarin duck with 7 young, moorhen, red kite, ring-necked parakeet, robin, song thrush (heard), woodpigeon, wren (heard)
There were also small fish and tadpoles in pools along the river.
Thanks to Trevor Brawn for leading the walk. 

April 2022

Millfield Wood and Prestwood Local Nature Reserves

Four members visited the BBOWT reserve at Millfield Wood, a mixed deciduous woodland that was owned by Benjamin Disraeli when he lived at Hughenden Manor across the valley. The wood is fairly open, allowing light to a diversity of flowers such as the Chiltern speciality coralroot bittercress, bluebell, goldilocks buttercup, wood anemone, wood spurge, woodruff and yellow archangel.

We crossed the valley into the Hughenden estate and walked along the river, watching a red kite pick up a food item from the ground and eat it in a tree. Having crossed Millfield Wood again, we moved on to Prestwood Local Nature Reserve to join one more member. While eating our lunch we observed a buzzard circling with a few kites. We walked around this small area of chalk grassland and scrub, but added little to the species list.

Plants in flower: cow parsley, cowslip, dandelion, field forget-me-not, garlic mustard, germander speedwell, greater stitchwort, green alkanet, ground-ivy, honesty, lesser celandine, meadow buttercup, primrose, red deadnettle, violet species, white deadnettle, wild strawberry and wood avens

Insects: red-tailed bumblebee and other bumblebees, bee-fly, green-veined white, orange tip, brimstone and small tortoiseshell butterflies. Another notable invertebrate was the pill woodlouse.

Birds: blackbird, blackcap, blue tit, great tit, jay, robin, song thrush, woodpigeon and wren

Thank you to Trevor Brawn for leading the walk.