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 – 17 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

Aldworth – 15 February 2017

On Wednesday 15 February, Julia Cooper and Ian Duddle led a circular walk on the Berkshire Downs, starting from Starveall above Aldworth. Spurge-laurel plants were in flower beside the first stretch of track, as was Common Field Speedwell in a nearby field. Rosehips were the only berries in the hedges – the Hawthorn berries had already been stripped. A flock of about 25 Corn Buntings was calling from bushes at the side of the track. There were also good numbers of Yellowhammers and Chaffinches and Skylarks were singing overhead. The adjoining field was lying fallow, with abundant seeds from clover and other plants. Sections of bank beside the track had leaves of Salad Burnet, Common Rock-rose and Wild Thyme. A little further on, Julia explained that the sheep in another field were eating stubble turnips. These are drilled into the stubble, without ploughing, after the grain has been harvested. The resulting turnips are quite small. The sheep were eating them down to ground level and their dung was also helping to fertilise the field. The route back looped round Lowbury Hill, passing a string of 11 young race horses which were being walked gently along the track. A Buzzard flopped down from a fence post to the ground, then flew to a more distant fence. In the grassy field above Juniper Valley were 2 Roe Deer and big flocks of Starlings and Fieldfares. The next stretch of track climbed steeply between high banks. A magnificent old Beech beside the track had 18 different stems leading up from its base. The walk had started in mist. As it progressed, the cloud lifted somewhat and views extended, then in the last stretch, the forecast rain band arrived – time to retire to the Bell at Aldworth for lunch.

Pictures by Laurie Haseler

Upper Basildon – 18 January 2017

On Wednesday 18th January, a day of bright sunshine and hard frost, Susan and Peter Twitchett led a circular walk which started from the car park of the Red Lion pub at Upper Basildon. The route led along the recently-resurfaced path from the Primary School to the Village Hall. Beside the path, Red Dead-nettle and Groundsel were in flower, while a plant with shiny hairless green leaves puzzled the botanists. Close inspection and the use of plant keys in the pub at the end of the walk revealed that it was Annual Mercury. The walk continued steeply down through woodland to Hook End Lane, where the first of 3 Stinking Hellebore plants was in flower. The next footpath led up towards the Royal Berkshire Shooting School at Tomb Farm, where the second Stinking Hellebore plant was found, then continued first along a sunny field boundary, then through Hazel Coppice. Dog’s Mercury was coming into flower and the first Bluebell leaves were spotted. Growing out of a tree stump was a shiny orange cluster of the fungus Flammulina volutipes. Catkins were coming out on the Hazels and about 25 Fieldfares were seen in a nearby field. The walk continued past Grim’s Ditch and down a shallow valley, before turning sharply back towards Drift Farm, where the third Stinking Hellebore plant was found. On a bank by the farm were Snowdrops, with a few specimens in flower. The group then headed back to the Red Lion for lunch.

Pictures by Laurie Haseler

Burghfield Common – 23 November 2016

On Wednesday 23rd November Jan and Laurie Haseler led a walk around the woods and heathland between Burghfield Common and Mortimer. Starting point was Wokefield Common car park, which was very full because a conservation group were working at the nearby pond, clearing out some of the Bulrush and removing overhanging branches. The walk started out across Wokefield Common and Starvale Woods, where sightings included a flock of Redwings and a mixed flock of tits. In the south-west corner of Starvale Woods is a line of magnificent old Beech trees. Growing up one of them was a line of Porcelain Mushrooms and a tuft of Oyster Mushrooms. The Porcelain Mushrooms were a dull off-white, no longer the glossy white specimens that had emerged several weeks before.

The route continued across the road and into the eastern section of Holden’s Firs, where there had been a forest fire at the beginning of May 2016. Most of the burnt trees had been cleared away. Dull yellow tufts of Purple Moor-grass dominated the wetter sections. Gorse, Dwarf Gorse and heather were all regenerating in the drier sections. Both Cross-leaved Heath and Bell Heather were found in flower. There were also waist-high flowering plants of Heath Groundsel. A number of species of fungi were noted in the fire area, including False Chanterelle, Purple Brittlegill and the Deceiver. In the south-east corner of Holden’s Firs is an open heathery clearing with two Bronze Age round barrows. On the way back, a large clump of Orange Peel Fungus was found on bare gravel at the side of the track. There was some debate as to whether a Hypericum species with red stems and glossy black berries, which was growing on the bank of a sunken trackway, was Tutsan or a garden escape. The final section of the route led back across Starvale Woods. Red Campion and White Dead-nettle were both seen in flower here. The track dipped steeply down and more steeply up as it crossed a stream valley, before returning to the car park, where the conservation group had been making good progress with their pond-clearing. Most of the group then went on to the Red Lion at Mortimer West End for lunch.

Pictures by Rob Stallard and Laurie Haseler

Loddon Valley – 19 October 2016

On Wednesday 19th October Renée Grayer led a walk along the River Loddon from the George Inn at Woodley to Sandford Lake and Lavell’s Lake in Winnersh. The sun had just come out when we started the walk on the south-east side of the river. We followed this path until we reached a pedestrian bridge, which we crossed, as the path here on the north-west side is better and less muddy. Through a gate we entered a field grazed by cows. Knapweed and Fleabane plants in fruit suggested that this field will be full of flowers in the summer. Another gate and bridge led us back to the Loddon. Along this stretch of the river we saw and smelled many plants of the invasive Indian Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), still in flower and apparently not pulled out here. We also saw the big spiky fruits of Branched Bur-reed (Sparganium erectum) on the edge of the water. On our right-hand side was White Swan Lake on which white (Mute) Swans were swimming indeed and also a Great Crested Grebe. After crossing Sandford Lane to the Lavell’s Lake area, one of the members led us to a site where she had recently observed the unusual Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria), a rare alien plant. There were three specimens showing fruits and red buds, but unfortunately no flowers. After crossing the road we approached Lavell’s Lake, where three Red Admirals were flying between the hedgerows full of Brambles. Here and there were Spindle trees with beautiful pink berries, some of which had opened showing their orange seeds, a strange colour combination with the pink. Water Mint and Purple-Loosestrife were in fruit along Lavell’s Lake and Bristly Ox-tongue was still in flower. Looking from the hide we saw a Lapwing, many Tufted Ducks, Gadwalls, Pochards, Canada Geese, Coots, Snipes and a Heron. On the way back, a Cormorant was drying its wings on an island in Sandford Lake. Along the Loddon was a stand of Bulrush (Typha latifolia) in fruit, and the hedgerow showed two pretty Hedge Bindweed flowers, white with pink stripes. In the grassy edge of the path were some Water Chickweed plants (Myosoton aquaticum) still fully in flower. We were now close to our starting point and on our return had lunch in the George Inn.

Report by Renée Grayer