John Lerpiniere led a well-attended walk at Bradfield on the morning of Saturday 9 July, starting from Troopers Field at Rushall Manor Farm. John was ably assisted by Liz Butcher and Jo Parsons, who walk the local butterfly transect. The weather was initially warm but cloudy, but gradually became sunny and hot as the clouds cleared. Swallows were nesting amongst the farm buildings and Skylarks were singing high above. The walk started out north-eastwards along a track which led to Scratchface Lane, then crossed into first Round Copse, then Owlpit Copse. Enchanters Nightshade, Yellow Pimpernel, the grasses Wood Mellick and Wood Millet, and an enormous old multi-stemmed Field Maple were found in the woodland.
Owlpit Copse contains two fields which are topped in the autumn, but have not been cultivated for many years. They have a rich variety of flowers, but John commented that there has been a worrying increase in Bracken cover in recent years. The first field was alive with butterflies – Ringlets, Meadow Browns, a few Gatekeepers, Marbled Whites and many golden skippers. The Large Skippers had distinctive dappling at the outer edge of the wings, but it was much harder to tell the tiny Small and Essex Skippers apart in the field. Photographs confirmed that both species were present. A particularly confiding Comma butterfly perched on a number of different people. Two moths, a Rosy Footman and a Buff-tip, were spotted perching on vegetation and a young Toad was found. Flowers seen here included Greater Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Tormentil, Common Spotted-orchid, Wood Spurge, Wood Sage, Slender St John’s-wort, Marsh Thistle and Common Centaury. There were also some unusual pink Self-heal flowers. A black and yellow longhorn beetle Strangalia maculata was seen feeding on the flower head of a Marsh Thistle and a Red-legged Shieldbug Pentatoma rufipes was found on Bramble. A single Silver-washed Fritillary flew along the line of trees at the northern edge of the field. There were tantalising glimpses of a Purple Hairstreak butterfly flying round the upper branches of a lone oak which stood in the middle of the second field. One of the highlights of the morning was a Dark Green Fritillary butterfly which flew low over the grass with characteristic fast fluttering wingbeats. John commented that there have been a number of sightings of Dark Green Fritillary in the Owlpit Copse meadows in recent years and they may have established a new breeding colony.
The next part of the walk was along a wide ride through Greathouse Wood. Flowering Upright Hedge-parsley and Musk-mallow were found here. The ride is lined with Bramble and its blossom was attracting a number of butterflies. Members at the front of the group were delighted to see two specimens of the target White Admiral butterfly. Those at the back had to make do with good numbers of Silver-washed Fritillaries. At the end of the ride was a hub area with a large Buddleia bush at its centre. The Buddleia blossom had attracted a variety of butterflies, including new generation Brimstones and Peacocks, a Large White and more Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns. Sometimes it can be a good place to spot White Admirals – but not alas on this occasion. The final part of the walk led back through Owlpit Copse and Round Copse to the start. Speckled Wood butterflies were added to the species tally and there were occasional glimpses through the edge of the wood of the valley of the River Pang stretching out below.
Pictures by Fiona Brown and Rob Stallard