Tilehurst – 18 April 2018

Rob Stallard led a walk through some of the Tilehurst copses and parks on the hot, sunny morning of Wednesday 18 April, starting from Tilehurst Recreation Ground. The first stop was in an alleyway leading to the Recreation Road car park, where two spiky black and yellow caterpillars of the Scarlet Tiger moth were feeding on the leaves of Green Alkanet. The route continued across Blagrave Recreation Ground to Blundell’s Copse. Wood Anemones were at their peak and the first Bluebells were coming into flower. Other flowers included Wood Sorrel, Early Dog-violet, Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage, Wavy Bittercress and Moschatel. A few clumps of Hairy Woodrush were in flower beside the path, a number of Scarlet Elf-cup fungi were spotted and Soft-Shield-fern and Hart’s-tongue Fern were identified. Newly-emerged Speckled Wood and Holly Blue butterflies were seen, together with Brimstone, Peacock and Comma butterflies which had over-wintered as adults. Turning over a stone in the stream which runs through the copse revealed a small grey freshwater shrimp Gammarus pulex, an indicator of good water quality. In the north-east corner of the wood, there was a big patch of flowering Three-cornered Garlic. The walk continued along roads to Lousehill Copse, passing a patch of grass with the pink flowers of Common Stork’s-bill. The route led steeply down through the copse to a large pond at the bottom. Several Orange-tip butterflies were on the wing, and plant species added to the tally included Yellow Archangel, Wood Speedwell, Common Dog-violet, Brooklime, Gooseberry, Colt’s-foot and Woodruff. A Treecreeper, Jays and a Great Spotted Woodpecker were seen, and Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Stock Dove were heard. After crossing Norcot Road, the next part of the walk went through McIlroy Park. A number of old trackways lead through the park. On the banks of the entrance track were Greater Stitchwort and Bush Vetch and more Speckled Wood and Brimstone butterflies were seen here. The track along the west side of the park led through some big old Beech trees, with some large multi-stemmed specimens growing on the bank beside the track. After a short steep climb, the group emerged on the grassy area at the top, with splendid views down into Reading and across the Thames. The route led along the grassy top, past Wild Cherry trees covered in white blossom, and back into the woods at the north-west end of the park. A sunny stretch of woods here had the best display of Bluebells of the morning and a big black and orange Red-tailed Bumblebee queen was visiting the flowers. After a steep descent and a long climb, the next destination was Arthur Newbery Park. English Elm trees in the south-east corner of the park had flowered a few weeks previously and their green seed clusters were inspected. At the south-west corner of the park is an old thatched cottage, next to a spring which feeds a small stream, which soon vanishes as it drops down into drains near the boundary with the top of the Chalk. The walk continued back through allotments, with an unsuccessful hunt for Slow-worms under old carpet and in compost bins, before heading back to the Victoria pub for lunch.

Pictures by Rob Stallard, Sue White and Laurie Haseler

 

Hurley – 21 March 2018

On Wednesday 21 March, Fiona Brown led a well-attended circular walk which started from the Dew Drop pub, between Hurley and Burchett’s Green. After a frosty start, the morning was bright and sunny. The walk started out through the woods below Ashley Hill, where flowering Primroses, glossy Bluebell leaves and a clump of Soft Shield-fern were seen. Continuing through Warren Row, Sweet Violet and Lesser Celandine were in flower on the bank beside the road. The next path led through the woods on the north side of Bowsey Hill, which were quite wet in parts. Nuthatches and Great Tits called and Spurge-laurel and Hard Shield-fern were added to the sightings. A log had claw marks, perhaps of a Badger, and Muntjac droppings were noted. After a stretch of lane, the route continued along tracks between the manicured hedges of a stud farm. A row of apple trees were smothered in Mistletoe, while at the roadside Whitlow-grass, Hairy Bittercress and a Speedwell were in flower. Footpaths led to BBOWT’s Hurley Chalk-pit reserve. Just below the sunny chalk face, a number of clumps of Hairy Violet were in flower. Solitary bees and spiders were active on the steep slope of chalk rubble. There were heads of Carline Thistle from last year and leaves of Common Rock-rose and Salad Burnet. The route continued along trackways and across a grassy field, where there were superb views across the valley of the Thames to the Chilterns beyond. Afterwards, lunch was enjoyed at the Dew Drop Inn.

Pictures by Rob Stallard

 

Hailey – 21 February 2018

On 21 February 2018, a dull but dry day with light winds, 15 members met at the junction of the Ridgeway and Swan’s Way.  Julia Cooper and Ian Duddle led us south towards Hailey, and then east towards Woodhouse Farm, where the attractive metal farm sign was admired.  As we passed the farm and buildings, a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming in the nearby wood.  The footpath continued up the hill through arable fields.  In contrast to the almost weed-free wheat crop, arable weeds were growing in the oilseed rape, and Corn Parsley was provisionally identified.  There were a few Fieldfares in the valley and a Yellowhammer in the hedgerow by the track.  A Skylark was singing overhead and two cormorants flew southwards, while Red Kites and a Buzzard were soaring at the top of the hill.

We then entered Mongewell Woods where there was a carpet of Bluebell leaves but no sign of flowers, and Primrose plants were abundant, with one in flower found in a sheltered spot.  There were several Green Hellebore plants to the left of the path in a position recorded in 2006 by Jan and Jerry Welsh.  A Marsh Tit was seen and a Jay was heard calling.  Several pits of various shapes and sizes near the path prompted speculation on their origins as chalk pits, sawpits, sink holes or bomb craters.

After passing Upper House Farm we took the footpath towards Nuffield.  In a strip of woodland were a clump of Sanicle leaves, and a patch of wild Gooseberry just coming into leaf.  The route turned left onto the Ridgeway path – this section runs along Grim’s Ditch and is a diversion from the original Ridgeway.  There was a single Green Hellebore plant by a large fallen tree, and a fine display of many more plants, some in full flower, further down the path in Morrell’s Bottom.  This site was last visited by the Society in March 2003 and we were pleased to see the plants thriving here.

As we continued along the Ridgeway to complete our circuit, there was a Yew Tree in flower, a Raven was heard calling and a flock of about 100 Fieldfares and Redwings flew over us.  Afterwards all the walkers and 2 other members enjoyed lunch at the King William at Hailey.

Report by Julia Cooper

Pictures by Rob Stallard

Ashampstead – 23 Jan 2018

Armed with a copy of Dick Greenaway’s ‘Veteran Trees for the Future’ map, John Lerpiniere led a walk round Ashampstead Common on the morning of Tuesday 23 January. Following severe gales the previous weekend, a number of trees had fallen across paths, making progress tricky. The first notable tree was a 200 year old Sweet Chestnut. This was followed by a big Holly, a 400 year old Beech and some big old Oak pollards. Nuthatch, Marsh Tit and numerous Great Tits were heard.  After crossing the road, the next section had a number of tall conifers, including Douglas Fir, where the cones had distinctive antler-shaped bracts which were much longer than the scales, a Cedar with chunky round cones and a number of Scots Pines. Bright green Bluebell leaves were peeping up above the leaf litter. The path led to the edge of the woods, where many Snowdrops were coming into flower and flowers of Dog’s Mercury were also seen. Veteran trees in this part of the Common included Oak, Yew and Sweet Chestnut. In a puddle in a wet part of the path were Brooklime and a Starwort. Two Roe Deer ran through the woods and two different Muntjac Deer were spotted. Crossing back over the road, a thicket of young Ash trees showed signs of Ash Dieback disease. A very steep-sided chalk pit was circumnavigated in an unsuccessful hunt for a notable Sycamore. The next path led to a wide ride which is kept open by volunteers. The Hazel bushes at the sides were covered in catkins and the first of the red female flowers were seen. Towards the lower boundary of the wood was a big bank with a ditch on the inside, showing that this had once been a deer park and the bank was there to keep the deer in. A big Beech pollard was 5.5 metres in girth and at least 350 years old. The map showed Wild Service-tree beyond the bank but just inside the wood. Careful searching revealed many Wild Service-tree leaves on the ground, but it took a bit of detective work to work out which were the trees themselves. Pale-backed leaves revealed the presence of Whitebeam in the chalky part of the wood, but not much further along the path acid-loving Gorse was in flower. A Buzzard flew low above people’s heads and along the path ahead. The route led back to the car park and the group then continued to the Red Lion at Upper Basildon for lunch.

Pictures by Laurie Haseler

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