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 

Whitchurch Hill – 21 September 2016

Ian Esland led a walk which started from the car park of Goring Heath Parish Hall at Whitchurch Hill on Wednesday 21st September. The route started out along footpaths and across fields to the top of Whitchurch-on-Thames, then continued north-westwards along the Thames Path towards Hartslock. A Red Admiral butterfly was seen on Ivy blossom, while House Martins and juvenile Swallows flew high overhead and several Chiffchaffs were spotted. Butcher’s-broom, Spurge-laurel, Hart’s-tongue Fern and Wall Lettuce were amongst the sightings along this stretch. Some of the smaller Ash trees beside the path had dead leaves, possibly suffering from Ash Die-back. The route then led steeply up through the bottom field of BBOWT’s Hartslock Reserve. Hawkweed Ox-tongue, Small Scabious, Clustered Bellflower, Marjoram and Wild Basil were all still in flower. Turning back eastwards along the track at the top of the reserve, Buckthorn and Spindle bushes were laden with berries and there were Dark Mullein and Toadflax flowers at the side of the track. A Bullfinch and several Long-tailed Tits were heard. A Beefsteak Fungus was growing out of the side of an oak tree near Coombe End Farm. The next footpath crossed a field where a worn Small Copper butterfly was seen. Further on, several Small White butterflies were visiting flowers in a cottage garden. Back in the car park, there was an enormous bracket fungus, more than a foot wide, at the base of a Douglas Fir. It was later identified as Dyer’s Mazegill Phaeolus schweintzii. The walk was followed by lunch at the Sun Inn.

Pictures by Ken White and Laurie Haseler

Crookham – 17 August 2016

On the hot day of 17th August Rob Stallard led 13 members and guests on a walk around Crookham (four joining us at a later point on the walk). The four mile walk went through a diverse range of habitats. Crookham Common is much less visited than neighbouring Greenham Common to the west.  Rob took the group from the Travellers Friend pub through silver birch woodland to the southern boundary which had an impressively large oak stool right next to an ephemeral pond formed by gravel extraction. The oak had an impressive growth of chicken-of-the-woods fungus. Continuing west in the welcome shade of the birch trees, wood sage (Teucrium scoxrodonia) and earthballs (Scleroderma citrinum) were seen and one was dissected showing its black interior full of spores.  A small clearing had betony; greater bird’s foot trefoil and common toadflax. Across the road the second part of Crookham Common is open heathland with ling (Calluna vulgaris), bell heather (Erica cinerea), gorse and dwarf gorse (Ulex minor). An ancient path then went down the steep slope to the ford across the River Enborne; it had a shady stretch with a fine colony of hard-ferns (Blechnum spicant). The walk then followed the meandering river for two miles. The field to the south had grown peppermint and a good range of butterflies were seen on the few remaining plants on the field edge including: Green veined white, Small skipper, Comma and Painted ladies. The banks of the river were mainly cloaked in Himalayan balsam but other plants included Small teasel (Dipsacus pilosus), Dame’s violet (Hesperis matronalis) and Trifid bur-marigold (Bidens tripartita). Leaving the river the route went through a conifer plantation and then along an ancient trackway with many old pollarded field maples. Near a bridge over a ditch a common frog was seen. A steep climb back up to Crookham had a nice flowery ditch on one side. Red admirals, holly blue, gate keepers, and speckled wood butterflies were seen. Along the walk back to the pub swallows were seen already thinking of departing. At the pub many had lunch and a welcome drink after the heat of the sunny day.

Report by Rob Stallard

Pictures by Rob Stallard and Laurie Haseler

Greatbottom Wood – 13 July 2016

The excursion on Wednesday 13th July was led by Jan and Jerry Welsh. On a fine day, a large group met at the Red Lion at Peppard to look at the flora of the Chiltern beechwoods. The walk down to Littlebottom Wood took us past the old trees on the boundary bank of Peppard Common, near which was a white specimen of Herb-Robert Geranium robertianum. The north-east slope of the wood has a rich flora in spring and has a greater variety of tree species than is normal for Chiltern woodlands. The hedge linking Littlebottom Wood to Greatbottom Wood was also rich in species, particularly with Spindle Euonymus europaeus. In Greatbottom Wood, a steep climb to the north-east had a variety of ancient woodland indicator species: Woodruff Galium odoratum, Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa, Three-veined Sandwort Moehringia trinervia and some Ramsons Allium ursinum, the latter possibly originating from a disused pheasant enclosure at the top of the slope. Close by here was a chalk pit with a track just inside the edge of the wood with Spurge-laurel Daphne laureola, Sanicle Sanicula europaea and Wood Spurge Euphorbia amygdaloides. Further down the slope there were old saw-pits and orchid species were present in the vicinity of chalk pits; White Helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium, Green-flowered Helleborine Epipactis phyllanthes, Bird’s-nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis and a single specimen of the saprophyte Yellow Bird’s-nest Hypopitys monotropa.

We passed the sandy excavations from a badger sett before reaching the boundary of Greatbottom Wood and Oveys Wood. This is the location where Vera Paul, then a schoolgirl, had found Ghost Orchid Epipogium aphyllum, though it has not been seen in this area for a number of years. Numerous White Helleborines were seen around an old wood boundary and within a further chalk pit an unusual sub-species of Violet Helleborine Epipactis purpurata rosea, with little or no chlorophyll, was seen and photographed.

The walk returned along the valley bottom then to the pub where a good lunch was enjoyed.

Report by Jerry Welsh

Pictures by Rob Stallard