Natural History walk at Basildon Park on Friday 25 May 2012 at 11 am
Chris Bucke led with Colin Dibb as co-leader. Martin Sell came by invitation and there were three others including Mike Abrahams. The weather was hot and very sunny with a cloudless sky but with a fresh easterly breeze. It became evident from the start that birds were not going to be conspicuous probably due to the early heat of the day. A wren and blackbird were noted from the path up through the yew wood and, on the open top, a crow, wood pigeon, buzzard and red kite were seen. The bulbous buttercups in the parkland were slightly senescing and there were just a few flowers left of the Star of Bethlehem. Jackdaws, robin, great tit, blue tit, chiffchaff and blackcap were seen or heard further in to the green walk. Butterflies included brimstone, orange tip, speckled wood, holly blue and peacock. The common spotted orchids in the valley were present in fair numbers but somewhat retarded with no blossom as yet.
Walk Leader Fred Taylor
7 guests – all female!!
2 from Maidenhead, 2 from Checkendon, 2 from Reading ,1 from Pangbourne.
Weather: Sunny and warm, with heavy dew and a light breeze.
Trees are now turning to Autumn shades – the Guelder Roses are vivid reds at the top of Pheasant Park. The Walnuts, Horse Chestnuts, Sweet Chestnuts and Beech Mast are nearly all off the trees. Leaves are falling all around.
A few Field Mushrooms are still showing in parkland. A few other fungi were seen but not in great numbers.
One Roe deer was grazing in the newly created woodland pasture area.
A family of Mistle Thrushes and other thrushes, probably Redwings, were in the tops of the parkland trees. Large numbers of corvids in the Park were feeding on cow-pats. These included Rooks, Jackdaws and Crows. Also Jays and Magpies were noisily active in the wooded areas.
One grey squirrel in the Sweet Chestnut trees at the top end of the park was noted. Not a single butterfly or moth put its head out.
Report on walk led by Fred Taylor & Colin Dibb at Basildon Park on 16th September 2011.
Weather warm and (late) summery. Some cloud and a little wind, 8 walkers. A slow and long walk lasting 3.5 hours. The long walk completed by five, three turning back after an hour.
Points of interest included:-
The Hawthorn bushes at the entrance to the Pheasant copse at the top of the park have black haws. (Some are very dark red – almost black). Guelder Rose shrubs are laden down with berries, more than I have ever noted in previous years. Horse Chestnuts in the park are not as badly-affected as last year by the Leaf Miner Moth. Sweet Chestnut has potentially a record breaking crop of nuts (if they all fully mature).
Two deer (probably Roe) seen beside the top path – disturbed from a raspberry patch. Good crop of nuts on Hornbeam trees. Still a few blackberries.
There were sightings of Red Admiral – feeding on the early Ivy flowers. Speckled Wood, A White at distance and a Small Tortoiseshell. The Ivy was also attended by Hover flies and other insects. Several Hawking Dragonflies were noted.
The Buzzards were vociferous in the top wood. The adults are still attending their offspring. Nuthatches were noisy as ever, and both Green and Larger Spotted woodpeckers were seen. The canopy was active with Bluetits and Great tits. Crows flew over the Park and woodland. No Hirondines were seen.
There were many deposits of Fox Scat throughout the length of the walk. It contained many seeds and pips. There continue to be many paths and tracks from the Badgers, although the latrine at the exit from the wood is no longer in use.
The Hidden Valley actually smelled of hay. There are still the drying flower stalks of Spotted Orchids to note. Colin found the remains of Adders Tongue fern and one stalk of Ragwort. Eyebright is still abundant.
The Park is now beginning to take on the hues of autumn. There is a promise of spectacular displays of colour from the Beech, Hornbeam, Spindleberry and Acers. (This group includes the Sycamore/Maples in the Park). We can look forward to some good photo opportunities over the next few weeks.
Fred Taylor & Colin Dibb
Pictures by Fred Taylor
The weather was dry but overcast and cool for the time of year. On the same Friday in 2010, the park was full of migrating swallows but this year there were only a few swooping around the young cattle. The wildlife verge across the exit road near the start of the parkland walks had its usual array of interesting plants including wild carrot with a dark red flower in the centre of each umbel and scentless mayweed with its thread-like leaves. In flower were white campion, agrimony, ragwort, rough chervil, marjoram and black medic whereas the hemlock was senescent. The entrance to the parkland had mature plants of wall barley grass and weld and common storksbill, knotgrass and autumn hawkbit were seen in the parkland.
In the Pheasantry woodland, the guelder rose shrubs were carrying large numbers of their red, translucent fruits in contrast to the related wayfaring trees with their red and black berries. Sloes were abundant and colourful. The fruit of the cherry plum proved to be ripe. The perimeter brick and flint wall was carrying moss, lichens, male fern and wood sedge on a limited length. The honeyed scent of creeping thistle was remarked upon.
Back on the margins of the exit road, a few plants of wild parsnip were in flower together with both pink and white yarrow, cranesbill, teasel, stemless thistle and a small head of an Allium species.
A visit to the small, artificial pond in the gardens found that three butterfly species were present and attracted by the flowering water mint. The meadow brown had been seen elsewhere on the walk but not so the green-veined white and a pristine example of a small copper. The centre of the pond is dominated by marestail which is a flowering plant of still, limey, fresh water.
Small copper butterfly
Thanks to my co-leaders Susan Twitchett and Chris Bucke and to Dot Lincoln who came for the walk and found herself keeping the records.
Colin Dibb, August, 2011
6 walkers in addition, departing 10.30am and finished at 12.45.
Weather warm with some cloud, a little wind.
We followed the well worn path visiting the top wood, hidden valley and back across the parkland via the Mulberry tree.
Good numbers of butterflies – large white, Marbled White, Red Admiral, Meadow brown (many) Gatekeeper and Speckled Wood in the wood. Also Moths, Garden Tiger – in Hidden Valley and Large Emerald (photo below) on track out of wood after Hidden Valley. The parkland has been mown to clear thistles and this, along with the wind meant no butterflies in the open park areas.
Large quantities of raspberries to eat. Mulberries nearly ready – for Chris next week!! No Spotted orchids now in flower but there is one Pyramid in full bloom on the North facing bank near the seat in the Hidden Valley.
Occasional BlackCap and Chiff Chaff singing in wood. Sparrow Hawk yickering regularly in top wood. No Swallows in the fields!! Sighted three Muntjac in the morning prior to walk.
The blackberries have almosty finished flowering. This may effect the displays of butterflies on the woodland rides over the coming weeks.
Summer flowering plants are now coming into full bloom. The Hidden Valley looks really good. Wild Parsnip will have many insects over the coming weeks.
Good crops of Beech Nut and seeds on Hornbeam. Hazel have good crops – no squirrels. Only one of the two Walnut trees by the entrance gate has nuts! Excellent displays of seed heads on the Wayfarer and Guilder Rose but the Spindleberry crop is patchy.
A good walk with positive feedback.
Colin Dibb led with Fred Taylor as co-leader and Martin Sell who had been specially invited for his bird expertise. Nine others attended including a number of volunteers who had seen the walk details in the newsletter and all completed the 2.5 hour route.
Birds seen or heard included pheasant, song thrush, wren, goldfinch, wood pigeon, swallow, chaffinch, buzzard, blue tit, blackcap, blackbird, greater spotted woodpecker, great tit, garden warbler, chiff chaff, robin, green woodpecker, crow, jackdaw and nuthatch. Notable ‘absentees’ were cuckoo – first heard on 12 April – and red kite. Nuthatches were very quiet in contrast to previous walks when they were numerous and vociferous. A bird box on the left along the Pheasantry and another in the Japanese larches were both occupied by blue tits feeding young.
The hidden valley showed three of its treasures; the common spotted orchid leaves and early stage stems were evident near the seat and in the bottom corner, frequent plants of adderstongue fern were easily seen in the sparse growth of grass. Wild parsnip was showing its basal leaves throughout the valley bottom. Elsewhere, bugle was tending to senesce in the dry conditions but the pink campion was very evident on the higher ground. Common figwort was appearing in the woodland. Yellow pimpernel was found in two locations. The common gromwell was in flower amongst the seed heads from last year. An attempt to find the previously seen star-of-Bethlehem flowers close to the specimen sycamore tree behind the black mulberry bush was not successful.
Butterflies were not seen except for a few ‘whites’ which may have been female orange tips. A rather comatose queen hornet was closely examined.
A placid female roe deer was observed for some time in open ground well to the left of the causeway. Badger latrines were full near the exit from the woodland on the green route.
Colin Dibb 16 May 2011
Walking group listening attentively to MK-L
Led by Michael Keith-Lucas in outstanding summer weather – in mid Spring!!, a large group consisted of MK-L, Susan T, 19 visitors and 2 additional RDHNS ‘observers’, Colin and Fred., 23 in total.
The weather was warm and dry with a clear sky.
The plant life is already well into Spring growth, with Cuckoo Flower, Archangel and Garlic Mustard abundant. The star of the show was of course, the Bluebell, now at its peak.
Bluebells at Basildon Park
M K-L advised how this date has got earlier by about 4 weeks since the 1970′s. Gromwell (Lithospermum) has new growth up to 40cm. as well as last years dried seed heads still on display. In the meadow, the method of surviving dry weather by two different species of buttercup was discussed. Ranunculus bulbosus has underground bulbs as a water reserve while Ranunculus repens simply dies back to the root stock in very dry weather. Goldilocks (Ranunculus auricomus) was noted in the top woodland.
The trees also had spectacular displays of flowers – Horse Chestnut, Sycamore and some Beech especially. (Although some individual Beech trees are yet to show leaf). The Walnut at the start of the walk had immature catkins. The MAY trees were in full bloom but the Guilder Rose flowers are yet to open.
The insect world was also displaying well. Orange tip, Brimstone, Blue (probably Holly) and Speckled Wood were observed. The eggs of the Orange Tip were found on Garlic Mustard. There were also three species of Shield Bug on the Garlic Mustard, which apparently, has a strong aphrodisiac effect on them!!
There was a good level of bird-song. Three different calls from Nuthatch were noted as well as Chiff Chaff, Great Tit, Black Cap, and of course, Cuckoo. (The Cuckoo arrived here on Tuesday 12th April, according to Granville). A Buzzard was sighted wheeling overhead, and the pair are nesting on the West bank of the Hidden Valley, in one of four large conifers. Pheasants are abundant with Cock birds having set-tos over their plainer looking hens, that are now sitting tight on nests.
No deer were noted today, although there is plenty of evidence with two ‘couches’ seen close to the main path in the top wood. Badgers too, are active both in the wood and the main field. The trapping measures for squirrels must be having an effect as none were seen.
Star of Bethlehem?
Also attached is a picture of Star of Bethlehem, (I believe). This is beneath the large Sycamore growing in the Parkland to the West front of the House, near the end of the normal walk route. Is this a garden escapee?
The Friday natural history walks resumed on 11thFebruary. This year they start at 10.30 a.m. Over the 2010 season the average number walking was 9, with larger numbers walking at the ends of the season, for instance 14 at the end of October. Numbers have been smaller so far in 2011.
It was a splendid autumn for fungi in 2010, with many field mushrooms in the grassland and many species of less edible fungi in the woodland. The autumn colours were better than usual.
The spring began cold and late but the unusually dry February and March weather has allowed things to catch up. The spring flowers were in prime condition on 25th March, with many celandines and primroses, good displays of violets, one very fine group of wood anemones in the woods and many more in the garden. The very first bluebells were showing colour so the display will improve from now until mid- late April. The small trees with brilliant white flowers are cherry plums, the smaller shrubs with creamier flowers are blackthorns. It looks as if this will be as excellent a year for bloom and fruit on the wild shrubs as last year so the guelder roses, wayfaring trees and spindles will put on fine shows. It is too early to judge what will appear in the Hidden Valley during the summer but, after the damp late summer, there may well be even more orchids than last year.
There has been a lot of forestry work during the winter that has opened up the woodland to improve views of the house and of the bluebell areas. A new fence has been erected,which has necessitated clearing brambles (which will return) and revealing the foundations of wartime huts. Next year there should be excellent displays of foxgloves in the areas where soil has been exposed. The park is an excellent area for butterflies and already there are many sulphur yellow brimstones in flight. These, also peacocks, small tortoiseshells, red admirals and commas will have hibernated during the winter. On 25th March the first “new season” butterflies, orange tips, were noted in the garden. Many other species will appear as the season progresses.
There are no public footpaths through Basildon Park so it is a privilege as well as a great pleasure to explore its natural history.
The walks are led by members of the Reading and District Natural History Society, with the Warden Granville Nicholls scheduled to lead the walks on the first Friday of each month during 2011. The walks set off from the stable yard at 10.30am and last no more than 2 hours. There are many opportunities to return earlier.
Please wear sensible shoes for walking as the ground can be muddy and uneven at times.
The weather was unremittingly wet but walking on my own in the morning gave a good opportunity for close observations. The first area of parkland was full of scores of swallows perched in close order on the metal fences around the copses and on the upper dead branches of the old hawthorn tree. They almost took it in turns to dash away to catch insects at nearly ground level particularly under the trees where the cattle had deposited their dung. The old adage about low flying swallows forecasting rain was certainly borne out. This large group must have been a fore runner of the autumnal congregation of swallows which presage their southerly migration. They certainly fooled the eminent naturalist Gilbert White of Selborne who observed flocks roosting in reed beds in early autumn and concluded that they hibernated at the bottom of lakes.
The secret valley certainly lived up to its name. Walking on the short grass of the path near the seat, I saw two stoats appearing from the longer grass on the right some 30 metres away. The larger one, presumably the mother, paid little attention to me and approached to ten metres before disappearing into the grass on the left. The three quarter grown one, presumably a female offspring, was more circumspect and initially retreated to whence it had come. But faced with the prospect of losing touch, it re-appeared and followed up the track and into the long grass in exactly the same place as mother who, by then, was out of sight. Stoats are easily identifiable by the black tip to their tail which still persists when the rest of the fur changes partially or wholly to white for the winter.
The afternoon walk started out in a downpour which surprisingly did not deter the swallows, who were still using the fences in the parkland as they had earlier in the day. Since there were no Basildon visitors who wished to brave the rain (which continued for over an hour), I also had a solo walk to look at the flowers of the hidden valley.
Although the wild parsnip continued to give an overall scene of yellow to the meadow, the recent rains had elicited a surprisingly quick response from other plants. Flowers of eyebright bordered the path, a galium sp had new buds, while the black medick carried both ripe seeds and newly opened flowers. The first signs of autumn were here – the first yew and holly berries turning orange, and the fruit of black bryony looked almost as large as bunches of grapes where it hung from vines along the paths.
The rain became a light drizzle and a few grass moths and hoverflies ventured out while one lone meadow brown butterfly looked for nectar – even he stayed closer to the ground than is normal and I assumed he was ensuring shelter was nearby as rain threatened once again.
Amongst the plants for sale in the stable yard were two small pots of the shrub False Spireae (Sorbaris sorbifolia) which were carrying their creamy white flowers held in a plume at the end of the branches.These were clearly attractive to insects as there was one hornet, one bumble bee, one greenbottle fly and one hoverfly in close proximity and all of them just remained on one flowerhead with no attempt to move away from close scrutiny.
The Badger sett in the old midden near where the woodland path joins the tarmac road towards the house is currently disused possibly due to the collapse of their quarters in the dry conditions. The Walnut tree closest to the gate into the park is carrying a good crop. The grass in the park, due to its ability to produce new shoots (tillers) from its base at ground level, is greening up with the cooler temperatures and some rain.
Along the woodland paths, the mostly white umbellifer now in flower is Hedge Parsley flowering later than most of its family from July to September. All the Wild Parsnips in the valley are showing their yellow flowers. Unfortunately, the Bedstraws and Centaury went over very quickly in the dry conditions. The Common Gromwell still has a few seed bearing heads from 2009.
The most numerous butterflies were Common Blue found in the valley with group of twos and threes dancing together. Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown and Ringlet were frequent and Large White, Small White, Brimstone and Peacock were seen.
Colin Dibb August 2010