Monday, 13 June 2016

Plant Hunting in the Chilterns

Saturday looked to be a pretty good day, with a slight chance of a shower so Colin and I decided to go out, but with no birds to go for (famous last words) we went out to the Marlow area to look for insects and plants.
I am starting to try and record more than just birds, butterflies and dragonflies these days. Moths are a bit of a problem apart from a few fairly easy families, and the recent bee field guide has opened up a can of worms regarding my old garden list. I'm doing ok on Ladybirds and Grasshoppers but beetles bugs, flies and so on are currently no-go areas. At least my horticultural knowledge is helping with the wild flowers but I don't think I will be taking part in any Pan-Species listing competitions for a long time.
We called in at Remenham on the Thames first thing and had a search for Club Tailed dragonflies. It might have been a bit late really but I had seen photos of recently emerged specimens from the Severn so it was worth trying. Lots of Banded Demoiselles on the riverside vegetation but not much else really. I have a couple of poor bee images to identify, and there were a few Mayflies as well. Few notable birds though Colin's favourite Egyptian Geese were out in force. I had a backup Club Tail site up river at Pangbourne which we were intending to get to later in the day, but the radio announcement of a town carnival meant we never bothered.
Most of the morning was spent at the Warburg reserve. It was rather overcast, warm with high humidity so it was a bit hard going as we explored much more of the reserve than our usual quick circular walk. A few Greater Butterfly orchids were out by the entrance gate, but seemed a bit past their best. The small number of White Helleborines were also looking poor, and there was no sign of any Birds Nest orchids up one of the steep side tracks though a pleasant discovery was the large numbers of Herb Paris plants here.

Back down on the main track, one solitary Bee Orchid was found,though a bit more interesting were the Common Broomrapes among the Hawkweeds.

The main colour scheme of the open rides and meadows was yellow, with the Hawkweeds and Yellow rattle being the most prominent plants with a some pink provide by Common Spotted Orchids, and the buds of Fragrant and Pyramidal Orchids. A little bit of blue and pink was also provide by Milkwort.
The map in the visitors centre took us out of the reserve on a long detour across a field to the south west where Green Hounds-tongue was highlighted. I'm familiar with Hounds-tongue but this was a new one on me a quick crib from a field guide in the car before we started failed to highlight the fact that we were looking for a more slender plant with smaller flowers.

We were rather miffed to find a few plants once we had returned to the main part of the reserve though these did not look quite as good. At least we picked up a few butterflies on the trek, with a few Common Blues, Holly Blues and our first Meadow Browns.
We had bumped into a group of butterfly enthusiasts earlier and found them again as we returned. They had had a few Brimstones and Dingy Skippers but weather conditions were not ideal, so we were all very surprised when two Silver Washed Fritillaries flew past. I would not have expected to see any for several weeks and am now wondering if they were Dark Greens (not sure if they occur at Warburg though).
After a bit of lunch a quick run round the wild life garden produced the usual Fly Orchid, and among the many tits on the feeders were a pair of Marsh Tits-a species that somehow has eluded me this year.
A few years back we payed a visit to Homefield Wood to see the Military Orchids and as it was a short distance away we popped in. The two small fields were covered in them, most were caged as usual but some were free of obstruction. The ones in the open were fading but those plants in the shade looked very nice.

The smaller field (more a woodland clearing really) had smaller numbers but the fenced off area was interesting due to the large number of rather variable Fly Orchids, as well as some decent Bee, Common Spotted, Fragrant and Pyramidal Orchids.

As mentioned earlier we did not go to Pangbourne and with it getting on we decided to call it a day and returned home. Having spent much of the day in a communication black hole-no phone service and no pager signal the news that a Purple Heron had spent all day at Rye Meads was rather devastating. There was no chance of getting there before the reserve shut, and the last sighting was pretty much the same time I first heard about it. Very few records from Herts, the last being at Amwell in 1989, so a much needed tick for most (including me).
A rather gripping image from Alan Reynolds is here

Naturally I had to get down to the Lea Valley on Sunday Morning and hope for the best. I decided to go to Amwell-one or two had suggested that the Heron may have flown in this direction. It was raining when I got there joining Trevor and Roger, and another. Three Little Ringed Plovers were very active, continually flying around and calling. Some of the Black Headed Gulls had chicks as had many of the Coot, Moorhen and ducks. A pair of Egyptian Geese had eight young-they used to breed every year though the young were always predated by Pike (according to Barry, typically losing one every day from fledging so these have lasted a lot longer than usual).
Trevor and co had gone for a walk so I was on my own when a Common Sandpiper flew through calling. Never got a good view as it was some way away when I located it. A Spotted Sandpiper was on Brent Reservoir yesterday, but had departed overnight so it was shame it was little more than a silhouette.
When Barry arrived conversation turned to the Heron, his much needed Black Billed Cuckoo, and other recent retirement trips. John Bartlett arrived and joined in as well, with reminiscing of the early Scilly days and other major twitches thrown in for good measure. The Lammergeier, Dalmatian Pelican and the recent Alpine Accentors featured heavily, as did the Black Winged Kite just across the channel.
Barry had also been to Tyttenhanger during the week to try and find the Downey Emeralds (new for Herts I think) that had been seen there. He had failed largely due to not knowing the right spot but luckily someone who had seen them turned up and filled us in. No news from Amwell about the Scarce Chaser and Norfolk Hawkers this year, though  assuming that they did breed it might be another year before the nymphs emerge. Both Emerald damsels are on the wing at Hertford Heath again, so thats another place to visit assuming I ever get a weekend with sunshine.

Needless to say the Purple Heron was not seen all day.

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