Sarah and Ken White led a walk on the cold but sunny morning of Wednesday 21 November, starting from the Butt Inn at Aldermaston Wharf. A female Blackcap was seen in the car park while the group were assembling. The walk started out along the road to the Kennet and Avon Canal, then turned downstream along the towpath, where a crane had just lifted a canal boat onto a low-loader lorry. At the next lock, the group crossed the lock gate carefully, noted a Welted Thistle which was still in flower, and followed a narrow path around the edge of a secluded gravel pit. A group of Shoveler had joined the usual Mallard, Coot and Mute Swan. The low vegetation by the path was covered in feathery moss, making it look like a forest of tiny Christmas trees. The route led past Padworth Mill and then followed the River Kennet downstream. Ken pointed out a Swamp Cypress in the garden below the mill. A Dabchick was spotted amongst the vegetation on the far side of the river. One of the bankside Alders was inspected carefully. The dark red male catkins were already fully formed. Ken pointed out the smaller female buds which were currently pointing downwards, but would turn to point upwards when the pollen was being released next spring. The ‘cones’ which held this year’s seeds are not true cones – the Alder is not a conifer. Gadwall, Pochard, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and Great Crested Grebe were amongst the sightings on the adjacent gravel pit, together with a flock of about 120 Greylag Geese. A female Kestrel surveyed the bankside vegetation from an overhead wire. After a short stretch of road, the route continued up a track to Old Farm at Padworth, then through horse paddocks to a former nursery site with some interesting conifers. These included a Bhutan Pine Pinus wallichiana and a Moneterey Pine Pinus radiata. The next footpath led down to Padworth College, then on to Padworth Church. A flock of Redwings flew out of the trees by the churchyard and Fieldfares were heard calling. The Norman archway on the north side of the church and the big Yew in the churchyard were admired. The route then led back down into the river valley, crossing a fast-flowing stream where Water Forget-me-not was still in flower. Guelder-rose berries shone waxy red in the field edge by the river. After crossing the Kennet again, the track led back to Aldermaston Wharf and a welcome lunch at the Butt Inn. A Sparrowhawk which flew over the car park brought the morning’s bird tally to 39 species.
Pictures by Fiona Brown and Laurie Haseler