Hosehill Lake – 6 December 2017

On the grey, mild and calm morning of Wednesday 6 December, thirteen members gathered in the car park of the Fox & Hounds, Sheffield Bottom, Sulhamstead before setting off to sample the birds on the adjacent Hosehill Lake Local Nature Reserve on a walk which was led by Ken and Sarah White. A good presence of Pochard, mostly males, was just as well, for apart from the odd Grey Heron there was not much on the water. Blackbirds and Song Thrush lurked in the scrub, and Great Spotted Woodpeckers   “chipped” from the tree tops. We progressed westwards into Bottom Lane, and along the southern edge of Woolwich Green Lake; this had a lot of Coot –  always a good indicator that there will be other interesting birds present. This proved to be the case with more than 20 Shoveler resting and roosting on the far side, and in between a spread of over 35 Wigeon feeding on floating aquatic vegetation, interspersed with Tufted Duck and the occasional Great Crested Grebe. A late-flowering Wild Angelica caught the eye on the ground while Goldcrest & Treecreeper flitted about overhead in the Alder trees.

We continued along Bottom Lane at the foot of a coppiced Ash & Hazel hangar, a perimeter of the Thames Valley Police Training College. Patches of Wood Spurge Euphorbia amygdaloides & Dryopteris sp. are the last vestiges of the ground cover as the now overgrown coppice has canopied overhead, with re-coppicing sadly long overdue. As we turned off the lane and headed north across the flood meadows, a cottage garden was full of Redwing and Fieldfare – all busy stripping off the red berries on a large mature Cotoneaster. As we watched a flock of 8 Egyptian Geese fly overhead, a distant Mistle Thrush was singing, Goldfinches adorned the tops of Alders feasting on the seeds, a female Sparrowhawk circled and glided off, and an occasional Red Kite flapped by.

Waxy red Guelder-rose berries were seen in the hedgerow beside the towpath of the Kennet and Avon Canal and the sun briefly shone through a break in the blanket cloud. The next source of interest was the second Bottom Lane gravel pit, the Fisherman’s Lake. Although it is now screened off by a sturdy wire fence, we still managed to find a good number of smartly plumaged Gadwall, and on the far side of the lake there was a trio of rather dapper Red-crested Pochard;  2 males with their ginger-coloured shaving–brush hairdos escorting a rather plainer plumaged female. Some late flowering Bramble Rubus fruticosa was of particular note on the way back, as were brief views of a Marsh Tit for the tail enders which rounded off a final tally of 47 bird species!  A second Sparrowhawk, this time a male, rewarded the early arrivals back at the pub car park, overall a pretty good haul for a local morning stroll.

Report by Ken and Sarah White

Pictures by Ken White and Laurie Haseler


Benyon’s Inclosure – 15 November 2017

The autumn colours were close to their best when Jan and Laurie Haseler led a walk at Benyon’s Inclosure near Silchester on the misty morning of Wednesday 15 November. Starting from the southern end of the woods, the route led northwards along a gravel track through a pine plantation. Bilberry plants below the pines had a good crop of berries. The track dropped steeply down towards a stream and the walk continued along a path which followed the side of the valley. There were big clumps of Hard Fern and a few specimens of Lady Fern. A pair of flies were mating on the dark slimy cap of a Stinkhorn which was growing beside the path. The stream flowed into a lake with a resident flock of Mallards. On the return part of the walk, a Grey Heron flew up from the waterside and a Cormorant was spotted roosting in a tree above the water. The walk continued along the eastern side of the woods, climbing steeply over a ridge, dropping down to an orange stream and then following a gravel track northwards. Various fungi were spotted, including an attractive specimen of Plums and Custard, a pale pink Russula and a group of striking black fungi with white gills which were identified as some sort of Melanoleuca species. The yellow jelly fungus Tremella aurantia was found, parasitising the brackets of Hairy Curtain Crust Stereum hirsutum, which in turn were growing on cut logs.

A little way back from the edge of the track was a deep pit, which exposed the different layers of gravel to a depth of several metres. The Silchester Gravels were laid down about 450,000 years ago, around the time of the maximum extent of the ice sheets across Britain. Different layers of gravel had different sized stones in different coloured substrates. Work has recently started on a new area of gravel extraction in the north-west corner of Benyon’s Inclosure. The site was surrounded by a knee-high, solid fence. Apparently an ecologist has been working in the area, removing amphibians and reptiles, and the fence is there to prevent them returning to the danger zone. The next path led along a drier and more open section. A few of the Bell Heather and Ling plants were still in flower and tufts of Purple Moor-grass were an attractive golden-yellow colour. Further on, a Muntjac deer crossed the path. The route then returned to the main stream valley. Down on the valley bottom were enormous clumps of Greater Tussock-sedge. A flock of Redwings were feeding on the abundant crop of Holly berries in the woods. After passing the lake again, the route ran along a stretch of hedge-lined lane before leading back into the woods. Pale leaves on the ground came from a Whitebeam, a surprise find in such an acid location. Finally, Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits and Goldcrests were amongst a mixed flock of small birds in the trees near the end of the walk. Everyone then continued to the Calleva Arms for lunch.

Pictures by Ken White, Sue White and Jan Haseler

Mortimer – 18 October 2017

Maggie Bridges and Marion Venners led a walk round Mortimer on the damp grey morning of Wednesday 18 October. The walk started from the Fairground Field and headed southwards along a footpath behind the houses. Soft Shield-fern, Hart’s-tongue Fern and Male Fern were all found growing on the shady side of a deep ditch next to the path. The footpath then crossed arable farmland, with Field Pansy and Redshank in flower beside the path. The route continued along a quiet lane, with Black Bryony berries and Robin’s Pincushion in the hedgerow at the side. A flock of Chaffinches flew down into a neighbouring field. The next footpath led through a grassy field, following the West End Brook to its junction with the Foudry Brook. There were abundant sloes in the hedgerow here. The water level was very low in the brook. Betony was in flower on the bank next to the stream and Common Knapweed was flowering in the middle of the field. Two Goldcrests were spotted in a tree beside the path and a flock of Goldfinches were seen in a big Oak. There was a very big Field Maple beside the path and an Oak across the brook had a Beefsteak Fungus growing out of its trunk. The route led past the church, then circled back westwards towards Wheat’s Farm. A Speckled Wood butterfly was spotted sheltering down in the grass and Hedge Woundwort, Common Toadflax, Sharp-leaved Fluellen and Marsh Cudweed were added to the plant tally. A family of Pied Wagtails were perched on the fence between 2 horse paddocks. The footpath continued past a row of lime trees, then along a hedgerow with Field Rose still in flower. The path then led through a wood of Holly and Birch, with Common Earthballs and a troupe of greyish coloured fungi. It came out by the far corner of the Fairground Field, where orange, red and white Wax-caps and Yellow Club fungi were found and Devil’s-bit Scabious and Tormentil were in flower. The walk was followed by lunch at the Horse and Groom.

Pictures by Laurie Haseler

Swyncombe – 20 September 2017

Jan and Laurie Haseler led a walk starting from Swyncombe Church on Wednesday 20 September. The leaves on the Horse Chestnuts beside the track from the church were brown from the leaf miner, contrasting with the green foliage on all the other trees. The route led down the valley, through a short stretch of woodland and then out into arable fields. A Thorn-apple plant with both flowers and a spiky seed head was an unfamiliar sighting. A section sown with bird seed had tall flowers of Perennial Sow-thistle growing in front of maize, with both Large and Small White butterflies on the wing. Kestrel, Red Kite and Buzzard were all seen here. The next field had an interesting collection of arable weeds growing in the margin, including Dwarf Spurge, Scarlet Pimpernel, Field Madder, Black-bindweed and Field Pansy. Skylarks were singing high overhead. The walk continued across another arable field, along a short stretch of road and then steeply up through woodland to Swyncombe Downs. There was a profusion of Wild Candytuft, mostly in flower but also with patches of the distinctive seed heads. Other flowers here included Dropwort, Pale Toadflax, Harebell, Common Rock-rose, Stemless Thistle, Wild Thyme, Small Scabious and Wild Mignonette, A Small Copper butterfly was nectaring on Wild Marjoram. The views from the top were superb, stretching from Aston Rowant to the north-east, across much of Oxfordshire and even as far as the distant line of the Hampshire Downs. A small party of Swallows flew southwards over the ridge and a pair of Ravens flew overhead. The route continued eastwards along the ridge. Whitebeam, Buckthorn and Dogwood were all covered in berries. An open grassy section had abundant Pale Toadflax, Devil’s-bit Scabious and a few Juniper bushes. The track joined the Ridgeway, climbed steeply up through woodland and then dropped down the other side, before the final climb back up towards Swyncombe Church. Several flower spikes of Dark Mullein were seen here. Most of the group then went on to the Shepherd’s Hut at Ewelme for a relaxing lunch.

Pictures by Laurie Haseler

Blackwater Valley – 23 August 2017

Mud and puddles greeted the 17 members who met for a walk, led by Ken and Sarah White, through the northernmost edge of the Bramshill Forest plantations and along the flood meadows of the Blackwater River. The recent rains had refreshed a lot of the vegetation such that many species were found bearing flowers.  The walk started on the south side of the river on the acid Quaternary sands & gravel, a site of former gravel extraction which ended about 25 years ago. Mature Scots Pine along the boundary have given way to new successions of pioneering plant communities which raced to fill the formerly bare ground and lake edges. Some conifer planting occurred, though much of the regrowth seems to have been from wind-blown seed. Ling, Bell Heather and Gorse dominate the ground, but in between these, patches of Dwarf Gorse Ulex minor in full flower contrasted beautifully with the mixed pinks of the heathers. The rides and pathways offered herbaceous interest in the way of Corn Mint Mentha arvensis, Brooklime Veronica beccabunga, three of the plantains including Plantago coronopus, Common Centaury Centaurium erythraea, Blue Fleabane Erigeron acris, Hare’s-foot Clover Trifolium arvense and Slender Rush Juncus tenuis. Large swathes of Common Fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica kept the yellow-flower theme going. Forestry plantings included not only 6 species of conifer but also some Black Locust Robinia pseudoacacia and Southern Beech Nothofagus sp. Various fungi were breaking through the ground but the best by far was a textbook Parasol Mushroom Macrolepiota procera. The final calcifuge was Alder Buckthorn Frangula alnus, now bearing some black fruits.

As we approached the footbridge back over the river, flowering Common Hemp-nettle Galeopsis tetrahit attracted a lot of attention, as did the Greater Celandine Chelidonium majus and a white flowering form of Selfheal Prunella vulgaris, but for the first members on the bridge a fast disappearing Kingfisher made a quiet approach worthwhile.  Orange Balsam Impatiens capensis studded the riverbank water’s edge, and surprising numbers of Banded Demoiselles Calopteryx splendens flitted up and down the gently flowing Blackwater River.  A superb Southern Hawker Aeshna cyanea was photographed not far from the river. We then passed through numerous horse-grazed meadows, and the damp London Clay soils here yielded a continuous margin of willows and Alder; other marginal plants included Gypsywort Lycopus europaeus and Himalayan Balsam Impatiens glandulifera. The clay fields to the north of the river are mixed with sands from the Tertiary capping on Farley Hill which has resulted in a rich sandy loam. The first field was a dense sward of flowering Italian Rye-grass Lolium multiflorum, previously cut for silage earlier in the season, but growing back strongly; a specimen of Dwarf Mallow Malva neglecta was growing on the footpath edge. The next three fields had very recently cut and harvested Lucerne [Alfalfa] Medicago sativa ssp. sativa which had attracted the attention of at least 11 Red Kites and an amazing flock of 60 Pied Wagtails, a mix of adults and juveniles.  The Lucerne field margin along the footpath had been missed by the cutters, and was a delight to investigate: Bugloss Anchusa arvensis in full flower alongside Field Pansy Viola arvensis and the odd Common Poppy Papaver rhoeas.  The ancient ford crossing the Blackwater – used by the Roman Road linking London to Silchester – was a daunting prospect to wade through at 2.5 feet deep, so the footbridge just a bit further on was much appreciated and provided the walk’s second Kingfisher. The group tail-enders had to make do with a fine stand of Common Club-rush Schoenoplectus lacustris, and the wailing of two young Buzzards overhead learning to fly with their parents in what had become a bright and breezy day. After the walk, most of the party stayed on for lunch at The Bull at Riseley.

Report by Ken White

Pictures by Rob Stallard Continue reading Blackwater Valley – 23 August 2017

Turville – 19 July 2017

Rob Stallard led a circular walk starting from the Bull and Butcher pub at Turville on Wednesday 19 July. It was a mild and humid morning, following an evening of torrential thunderstorms. The walk started out up the lane through the village, then turned left onto a footpath up the side of a field. Several tall plants of Stone Parsley were growing at the field entrance and in the field margin were a number of interesting arable weeds, including Dwarf Spurge, Small Toadflax and Sharp-leaved Fluellen. Clumps of Wild Marjoram on the other side of the path harboured Common Blue butterflies and a single Small Copper. Higher up the bank were flower spikes of Dark Mullein and on one of these, 2 caterpillars of the Striped Lychnis moth were spotted. The route then led up through Churchfield Wood, where Nettle-leaved Bellflower, Hairy St John’s-wort, Gooseberry and Wood Barley were amongst the sightings. The next footpath contoured through Idlecombe Wood, with distant views across the valley. Deadly Nightshade and Spurge-laurel were found here. The walk continued down through a grassy field with abundant Wild Marjoram, Common Toadflax and Dark Mullein, across the lane at the bottom, along a track with more Wood Barley and the bright orange fruiting spikes of Lords-and-Ladies and across a grassy field, where a tiny centaury plant with a small, dark pink flower was thought to be Lesser Centaury. Next stop was the privately-owned Gray’s Lane Bank nature reserve. Flowers here included Clustered Bellflower, Yellow-wort, Carline and Stemless Thistle and Ploughman’s-spikenard. Close inspection revealed that the abundant thyme plants were Large Thyme. Their 4-sided stems had long hairs at the corners, the leaves were slightly folded upwards and the stamens protruded significantly from the flowers. The route continued to Ibstone Church, down a steep section of lane, then along a footpath below a wood, where Vervain, Wild Mignonette, Common Rock-rose and Pale Toadflax were seen. The final section of the footpath crossed the grassy field below the Turville windmill. Pyramidal Orchids, a little past their best, were still in flower at the bottom of the field. The walk was followed by lunch at the Bull and Butcher.

Pictures by Rob Stallard and Laurie Haseler

Warburg Reserve – 21 June 2017

Sally Rankin led a walk at BBOWT’s Warburg Reserve at Bix Bottom near Henley on the very hot morning of Wednesday 21st June. Before the walk started, warden Giles Alder showed 3 big hawkmoths from the previous night’s moth-trapping at the reserve – a Privet, an Elephant and a Poplar Hawkmoth. A Garden Warbler was singing nearby and young Tawny Owls were heard calling. Along the open rides, Pyramidal Orchids were at their best and there were numerous butterflies on the wing, including Silver-washed Fritillaries, Marbled Whites, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Large Skippers. The walk started steeply up towards Maidensgrove Scrubs to look at a number of Herb Paris plants. Continuing along Great Hill Ride, then down and across the valley, next stop was a fenced-in enclosure where Narrow-lipped Helleborines (not yet in flower) were being protected from browsing deer. Further on, in deep shade under spreading Beech trees, were the pale heads of Yellow Bird’s-nest. A fenced-in section on the valley side had more Herb Paris. There was also  Solomon’s-seal here, with its leaves being eaten by sawfly larvae. Crossing back across the valley to Big Ashes Ride, sightings included Common Rock-rose, Yellow-wort, Common Gromwell, Fairy Flax and Common Twayblade. A steep climb up Hatch Lane passed Broad-leaved Helleborine and Spurge-laurel plants to a spot where Green Hound’s-tongue was growing beside the track.

The walk was followed by lunch at the Rainbow in Middle Assendon. The cool interior of the pub gave a welcome respite from the day’s heat.

Pictures by Laurie Haseler

Beenham – 17 May 2017

John Lerpiniere led a walk which started from the Six Bells at Beenham on the wet morning of Wednesday 17th May. First stop was the wildflower meadow of Adrian and Barbara Stacey, which was yellow with Meadow Buttercups, together with Common Sorrel and a few pink flowers of Ragged Robin. A Grass Rivulet moth was found here. The walk continued through the adjoining Greyfield Wood, whose lease is owned by a large number of villagers, including Adrian and Barbara. Adrian told the group about the on-going management of the wood. Flowers found at the start of the walk round Greyfield Wood included Yellow Archangel, Bush Vetch, Sanicle, Bugle and abundant Bluebells. Also seen were Wood Sedge and the leaves of Betony and Wood-sorrel. A black and orange Sexton Beetle was found next to the carcass of a Blackbird. At the bottom of the wood were about 40 Early-purple Orchids, including some tall specimens. Yellow Pimpernel and Wood Spurge were added to the list of sightings here and a rather ginger-toned Toad was spotted. The walk continued back up through the wood to an enormous and very old multi-stemmed Ash. Red Currant bushes nearby had unripe fruit. Two massive Dryad’s Saddle fungi were growing on a tree by the path. In an open stream valley, Silver-ground Carpet and Common Carpet moths were spotted, then pink globules on a rotting tree stump were identified as the Wolf’s Milk slime mould. Towards the top of the woods, a number of Pignut plants were found. Rainwater flowing down a Sweet Chestnut trunk was forming first bubbles, then blobs of foam. John pointed out the leaves of a Hazel which had been partially cut through and rolled up by the Hazel Leaf Roller beetle.  The walk was followed by lunch at the Six Bells.

Pictures by Laurie Haseler

Hermitage – 19 April 2017

Rob Stallard led a walk which started from the Fox Inn at Hermitage on the sunny but cool morning of Wednesday 19th April. A footpath across the road from the pub led up onto Oare Common, where there were big old birch and holly trees, and oaks with spreading form that indicated that they had started life in a more open, less wooded, landscape. Wavy Bittercress was in flower in a damp patch, there were flowers on the Solomon’s-seal plants and the first butterfly of the day, a Holly Blue, was spotted. A tall mystery plant beside the pond in the village of Oare defeated the botanists. Bright orange eggs of the Orange-tip butterfly were spotted on some of the Cuckooflower plants and spikes of horsetails were emerging form the damp ground around the pond. The walk continued over the motorway and then along a track through farmland, where several Small Tortoiseshell and Orange-tip butterflies were seen.

The woodland around Oareborough Hill was carpeted with Bluebells. Other flowers seen here included Moschatel, Greater Stitchwort, Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage, Wood Speedwell and Three-nerved Sandwort. The ancient trackway of Old Street runs between high banks through the Oareborough Hill woods and continues south-eastwards. There were many big old multi-stemmed trees on the banks, including an enormous Wych Elm with apple-green seed clusters. Blackcaps and Garden Warblers were heard, and Brimstone, Green-veined White, Speckled Wood and Red Admiral were added to the butterfly tally. The route led back across the motorway, through Oare and back towards Oare Common. On a bank in front of a house were Primroses, Goldilocks Buttercup, Slender Speedwell and a rosette of Common Spotted-orchid leaves. A footpath across the Common led to the densest Bluebells of the morning, together with Wood Anemones, Pignut leaves and several apple trees which were covered in blossom. The path crossed a field and came out at the bottom of Doctors Lane, where Tansy, Star-of-Bethlehem and Leopard’s-bane were growing on the bank. After walking through a section of Hermitage, the next footpath followed the old railway line. Wood Spurge and Brimstone, Peacock and Holly Blue butterflies were seen here. The walk was followed by lunch outside in the sunshine at the Fox Inn.

Pictures by Rob Stallard and Laurie Haseler

Whitchurch Hill – 15 March 2017

On the sunny and warm morning of Wednesday 15th March, Ian Esland led a circular walk to the west and north of Whitchurch Hill, starting from the Sun Inn. While the group were gathering in the car park, a Buzzard climbed upwards in a tight spiral, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers flew into nearby trees and nesting Rooks made a great deal of noise. The walk started out along footpaths to a viewpoint over the valleys of the Thames and Pang. Early Dog-violets and Lesser Celandines were flowering beside the path and Skylarks, Chiffchaffs, a Bullfinch and a Treecreeper were heard. The route led by further footpaths to Coombe End Farm, where the first Brimstone butterfly flew past. From then on, it seemed as if most hedgerows had patrolling Brimstones. Initially they were all the sulphur yellow males, but later a few paler females were also seen. Red Admirals were spotted in the gardens at Cold Harbour and later a Comma was added to the tally. The walk continued down to Blackbird’s Bottom, across the fields of the Oratory School and into Oaken Wood. Young green Bluebell leaves were showing well and a Marsh Tit was heard. Footpaths through woods and fields led back to Whitchurch Hill, where a Sallow covered in blossom was a magnet for bees. The walk was followed by the usual excellent lunch at the Sun Inn.

Pictures by Laurie Haseler