Blog Archives: Cockaynes Reserve

An October week in #WildEssex with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays

Honeyguide’s second #WildEssex week (the first being back in May – see here) saw north-east Essex largely cloaked in grey, with occasional heavy rain especially in the first two days. Despite the near absence of sunshine, a good time was had by all, the weather and wildlife both reflecting the turning of the seasons. Thanks as always to Wivenhoe House Hotel for accommodation and food in such glorious parkland surroundings, Beth Chatto Gardens and Essex Wildlife Trust for sites to visit and their visitor centres. And of course the wildlife of the area sends its thanks to participants: the conservation contribution will find its way to them via the good works of the EWT.

Monday afternoon 4 October

After checking-in at Wivenhoe House Hotel, a gentle potter around Wivenhoe Park introduced us to wonderful trees, young and old, some Pedunculate Oaks pre-dating the landscaping of the park in the mid-18th century, and a selection of specimens from almost all corners of the world. All three species of redwood, Turkey and Red Oaks (the latter sadly not yet really starting to light up with the fires of autumn), Deodar, Atlas Cedar and Cedar-of-Lebanon, fruiting Sweet-chestnuts, Strawberry-tree (in flower and last-year’s-fruit simultaneously) and in direct lineage from the Peninsular Wars, the two most venerable, gnarled Cork Oaks you are ever likely to see. As for the Magnolia grandiflora, it kicked off a week of botany using all the senses, its dinnerplate-sized flowers regaling their surroundings with the glorious scent of lemon cheesecake.

A few fungi were starting to appear on the older trees, including several emerging Beefsteaks and Chicken-of-the Woods …

… but insect life in the cool breeze was restricted to a few robber-flies and Rhododendron Leafhoppers.

Of course, the signs of insects were apparent, in the form of galls. The underside of many an oak leaf bore the galls of Common Spangle and Smooth Spangle galls, the larval homes of Neuroterus quercus-baccarum and N. albipes respectively.

Tuesday 5 October

For the only time in the week, it dawned clear and bright after very heavy overnight rain. As we splodged down through Wivenhoe Park, the sunlight shone its magic on the architecture (where Modernist meets Brutalism), several whinnying Dabchicks, and the trees alike.

Two species in particular seem to be fruiting well this year, Dog Rose and Hornbeam, in stark contrast to, for example, the oaks: irruptive Jays, which had just started arriving on our shores, are likely to find lean pickings this winter.

By the upper Colne, it was high tide and the only birds were Black-headed Gulls, Mallards and Teals, with Skylarks in semi-song over the fields. But the intense blue sky made up for avian deficiency, especially when counterpointing Silver Birches (with Birch Bracket fungi), the trunks in the photo having only just been vacated by a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Between the spiky showers that developed in the afternoon, the woods were full of roving bands of tits and Treecreepers; Wivenhoe Quay had a bumper crop of Jersey Cudweed; a Hawthorn Shield-bug sunned itself on a fence post; and perhaps the most beautiful Hogweed umbel ever offered its resources to the diminishing hordes of pollinators.

The Walnut tree in Wivenhoe Churchyard had, as is usual, the large blister galls of the mite Aceria erinea, but more excitingly the small pimple galls of A. tristriata – when we first found this a few weeks ago and looked at the National Biodiversity Network maps, we found it has been identified and mapped only 11 times previously in the whole of the country.

But most exciting of all was something that was over in second, so fast there was no opportunity to photograph or intervene. A caterpillar was dangling in a silken thread from the tree canopy. As we looked close, we noticed a small parasitic wasp actually walking down the thread, and when it found the caterpillar, quick as a flash it stung it, presumably laying an egg or eggs, leaving the hapless larva to intense wriggling, its ‘not quite dead, yet!’ throes….

Wednesday 6 October

A day at the Naze, the most easterly point of Essex, a windswept headland, but still we persisted in cool, hefty, blustery north westerlies! Not surprisingly. any small birds in the scrub were keeping well out of reach of the blow, but surprisingly perhaps birds were arriving in off the sea, even against adverse winds. Meadow Pipits and Starlings were most numerous; the stars of the show were single Great Spotted Woodpecker and Short-eared Owl. Flocks of Swallows and House Martins, with a few Sand Martins, were drifting southwards all day.

Hog’s-fennel was just coming to the end of its flowering on the clifftop, Annual Sea-blite and samphires smearing the salt marshes with their autumnal tints, and Sea Rocket and Prickly Saltwort bringing life to the embryo dunes.

A Sea Aster Mining-bee stranded away from its food wasn’t going anywhere in the by now fearsome and cold wind, and another taste/smell opportunity arose with Golden-samphire and its ‘essence of shoe polish’.

On the shoreline, Turnstones, Ringed Plovers and Grey Plovers fed, although keeping low and out of the breeze, while offshore, a steady trickle of small flocks of Brent Geese, Teals and Wigeons flew by, with a few more highlights in the form of noisy Sandwich Terns, a close-in Red-throated Diver and an immature Gannet.

Walking back along the shore, of course the internationally significant geology took centre stage, London Clay and Red Crag cliffs, full of fossils and other clues to the environments of the times they were laid down, with the skeletons of last winter’s erosion a stark reminder of constant change in the natural world.

As we emerged back on to the clifftop, right at the end of the day, we found the wind had indeed dropped as forecast, and the only hint of sunshine for the day brought out a basking Red Admiral.

Thursday 7 October

Our final full day, calm and mild but unremittingly grey, took us further down the Colne Estuary, from Wivenhoe to Alresford Creek, then back along the high route on the ridge of the Essex Alps, taking in the very well-restored (for wildlife) gravel pits at Cockaynes Reserve.

Wivenhoe waterfront, attractive, arty and historic, also harbours plenty of botanical interest, from White Ramping-fumitory to the nationally rare Four-leaved Allseed (like the Jersey Cudweed a couple of days earlier, eking out a living in the cracks of block-paving, in those few spots where it is able to evade the incessant rain of Roundup). Heading out on the sea wall, upper salt marsh specialists included Strawberry Clover and the pungently scented Sea Wormwood.

Bird numbers increased as we headed downstream against a rising tide which concentrated the Redshanks, Black-tailed Godwits and especially Avocets into flocks, the latter reaching an impressive 150 or so birds. A Kestrel hunted along the sea wall, while a Buzzard ran the gauntlet of the local corvids, and Meadow Pipits and a Song Thrush migrated overhead.

The saltmarshes, bedecked in autumn tints, included patches of salmon-pink, rather uncommon, Perennial Glasswort, with Common Cord-grass still in full bloom.

Poking from many a Cord-grass flower spike were the fruiting bodies of the parasitic Cord-grass Ergot, itself being hyperparasitized by the orange fungus Gibberella (‘Big Fleas have Little Fleas etc ….’!). The Cord-grass strain of Ergot is much larger and protuberant than the more normal form which infects grain crops and other  grasses, as we had seen earlier in ornamental Lyme-grass around the car park.

Other fungi included the always dramatic Fly Agarics underneath (and intimately associated with) the Silver Birches of Grange Wood.

Returning homeward along the crest of the Essex Alps, one characteristic plant of the gravelly soils was the local speciality Lesser Calamint, its crushed leaves a delightful mix of mint and citrus, with a fleeting medicinal top note. Along the ancient trackway of Cut-throat Lane, Butcher’s-broom was remarkably already in flower. Or should that be ‘still’ ? – the books say it flowers from February to May…

Close scrutiny of the undersides of Oak leaves al last revealed examples of the beautiful Silk-button gall, the third of the common three Oak spangle-galls of the week. Sycamore leaves had the microfungal splotches of Tar-spot, and dead Elms, the tell-tale signs of the bark-beetle that proved their nemesis by introducing Dutch Elm Disease fungus, while larger fungi included some impressive Parasols.

Cockaynes Reserve produced its usual crop of diverse wildlife, a very wide range reflecting the mosaic of post-gravel extraction habitats, including ancient woods, scrub, heathland and wetland: Maze-gill, Reindeer Moss, Blue Fleabane, Chicory, Angle Shades moth, Green Shield-bug, Birch-catkin Bug and several impressive Robin’s Pincushion galls on Dog-roses.

Friday morning 8 October

After checking out, we reassembled on the final morning at the renowned Beth Chatto Gardens, just a couple of miles down the road. Beth was an early advocate of sustainable and ecological planting, the right plant in the right place, and the garden reflects that. Full of interest for the gardener with an eye to the future, it is also full of wildlife, albeit a little suppressed today by the misty, moisty veil of autumn.

Insect life was really focused upon the late nectar/pollen sources, with Red Admirals on the Michaelmas-daisies and Hornets, hoverflies and Honeybees on the Ivy flowers; otherwise it was a few Dock Bugs along with a closely related Box Bug, the latter a relatively new arrival in these parts. A final example of one of the pervasive themes of the holiday, the flux and flows of Nature, both natural and in response to our mismanagement of the planet, that both raise concerns about ‘the now’ while offering hope for the future.

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So, all in all a very good week, and let’s hope that it will not be the last. One week, with 25 kilometres of walking and only 50 driving – a feast of wildlife on my doorstep and it was a pleasure to share it with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays. A listing of most the interesting wildlife we saw or heard during the week is available as a pdf, OCTOBER REPORT LIST.

The Wild Side of Essex: day tours of the Colne Estuary with Naturetrek in August

Two walks this month, one at either end of the period, marked the transition from midsummer to the approach of autumn. Both were in lovely warm, largely sunny, weather and there was plenty to keep the two groups interested. As always a mix of everything featured on the ambles, from birds to insects to geology to social history of this lovely part of north-east Essex.

Bird numbers on the estuary have built during the month, especially the returning waders from northern climes, many still in full breeding plumage at least at the start of the month. Black-tailed Godwits built from 20 to 400, Avocets from 40 to 80, along with growing numbers of Curlew and Redshank, and a few Turnstones, Lapwings and Greenshanks.

On the saltmarshes, Sea-lavender has peaked while Golden Samphire picked up the flowery baton, and will shortly be passing that on to Sea Aster. All are great places to look for nectaring butterflies and other insects.

Other saltmarsh and sea wall specialists flowering well included Greater Sea-spurrey, Crow Garlic, Common Toadflax and Strawberry Clover, the latter localised to those spots that the furthest tendrils of the tide just reach.

Along Wivenhoe Waterfront, the two botanical highlights of Jersey Cudweed and Four-leaved Allseed flowered throughout the month, albeit overshadowed by the ‘Second Spring’ of Tamarisk.

Some other botanical highlights included Duke-of-Argyll’s Tea-tree and Tansy, both a magnet for hoverflies and bees…

…together with the flowering glories of the dry, skeletal soils of the Essex Alps: Lesser Calamint, Blue Fleabane, Trailing St John’s Wort, and our precious patch of Heather.

As far as insects are concerned, Purple Hairstreaks were still on the wing at the start of August, while by the end of the month, new brood emergences of Speckled Wood and Red Admiral were apparent. The latter were especially a feature of the few Buddleias in the Cockaynes Reserve, with sometimes twenty to a bush, along with similarly pristine Small Tortoiseshells, Commas and Painted Ladies, and the last few tattered Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers.

The caterpillars of Cinnabar and Buff-tip, ripe for pupation, were in evidence, along with many other insects, from robber-flies to jewel-wasps.

And as always at this time of year, dragonflies have been abundant. Common and Ruddy Darters and Migrant Hawkers predominated, but they also included Brown, Southern and Southern Migrant Hawkers, especially around Cockaynes.

While Yellowhammers were still singing for our first walk, the second was within silent woods, save for the plaintive autumn cadence of Robins just starting up.

Highlighting the turn of the season, Sweet Chestnuts are fattening, Heather blooms are fading, fungi are sprouting and galls forming on oak leaves and rose bushes….

And it is to galls we turn for the highlight of the month. The large Walnut in St Mary’s Churchyard has long featured the lumpy, brain-like pouches of the common gall mite Aceria erinea, but this year it features alongside the smaller, redder and rarer galls of Aceria tristriata. On consulting WildGuides’ Britain’s Plant Galls, it ‘seems to be of very local occurrence’, and according to the NBN there are only 11 previous UK records, the nearest being in the vicinity of Norwich, Peterborough and Oxford. Always a surprise in store with @Naturetrektours in #WildWivenhoe!

 

The Wild Side of Essex: day tours with Naturetrek in July

The Wild Side of Essex returned to the north of the county in July, with one walk each on the Colne Estuary and at the Naze. As has been customary this ‘summer’, the weather was a mixed bag, but the wildlife still performed admirably…

Our day on the Colne early in the month, ostensibly midsummer, was unseasonably windy, sometimes cool, sometimes humid, and often rainy…all in all, quite challenging conditions for wildlife-watching. Even the birds seemed to think it was autumn, with a hundred or so Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits (most in good russet plumage, and presumably failed breeders), and smaller numbers of Curlews and Redshanks.

The first fledgling Black-headed Gulls were out and about, and we got great views of Reed Bunting, Stock Dove and Song Thrush in sheltered spots. Common Terns were actively commuting overhead, taking fish they had caught on the estuary inland to their gravel pit breeding sites, and there were lots of Swifts hawking over both Shipyard and Church, as the sound of a barking Muntjac drifted over from the far side of the estuary on the stiff southerly wind.

The saltmarshes bloomed with Sea-lavender, Sea-purslane and Sea Beet, along with Cord Grass, Sea Plantain, Dittander and Golden Samphire.

Other exciting plants included Jersey Cudweed and Four-leaved Allseed on Wivenhoe Quay alongside beautiful patches of Mexican Fleabane, and Nodding Thistle, Wood Sage and Hoary Cinquefoil on the top of the Essex Alps, where Sweet Chestnut flowers were just emerging, filling the air with their mushroomy scent.

And even though insect activity was suppressed (Essex Skipper, Painted Lady, Emperor Dragonfly, Silver Y and Black-tailed Skimmer being the best), there were plenty of other things to see such as galls, leaf mines and fungi, albeit speaking more of autumn than summer!

The late-month Naze walk was altogether more summery (albeit grey at first), becoming but hot and sunny and eventually very humid. Always predictable of course is the fascinating geology, whatever the season, whatever the weather…

Many of the birds were distinctly sandy – summer-plumaged Sanderlings by the water’s edge (with a few Dunlins, Turnstones and Ringed Plovers); Sand Martins breeding in the cliffs; and Sandwich Terns roosting on the beach.
A wide range of flowers attracted our attention, from the common (but beautiful in full bloom) Spear Thistle and Common Fleabane to the scarcer specialities Golden Samphire, Corky-fruited Water-dropwort and Hog’s Fennel.
Stone Point was beginning to look especially flowery, the low dunes with Sea Rocket, Sea Mayweed, Prickly Saltwort and Sea Spurge, while a small proportion of the flowering Marram clumps was infected with Ergot.
Common insects were in abundance …
…while insect stars included the beautiful pink form of Meadow Grasshopper, a large (and fortunately quiescent) Saltmarsh Horsefly, and a tenacious Bee-wolf humping around its unfortunate prey, trying to locate its nest.
Something for everyone with @naturetrektours!

#WildWivenhoe Bug & Botany Walks: Cockaynes Reserve

Thank you for joining us on our June explorations. Quite long walks for our ‘B&Bs’ and two hours not really long enough to do the reserve justice, but we did see a lot of things which took our fancy.   STOP PRESS – we are hoping to arrange a half day trip there under Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays banner on Thurs 12 August.  10am – 2pm for £25.  A short stop for lunch will be factored in.  If this appeals let me know.

Anyway, back to our walks for June and what a change in the weather from our last B&B outings – the cold wet of May transformed into bright sunshine and considerable heat. The natural world was loving it  – the flowers were bright and beautiful,  and insects were everywhere doing their thing. We ran two separate events, on consecutive days, and here is a summary comprising the best bits from both:

The lane from Wivenhoe to the edge of the Cockaynes reserve was in itself interesting – a plant (rather rare in a national context) White Ramping Fumitory, is thriving in Wivenhoe and was seen growing at our assembly point.

En route we encountered Sand Martins (which now nest in the Cockaynes gravel-pits) resting on telegraph wires, the song of Skylarks,  butterflies including Small Heaths, and tiny creatures were represented by froghoppers, or rather signs of them in the form of cuckoo-spit. These tiny bugs use their ‘straws’ to suck up plant juices into which they blow air and squeeze the bubbles out the other end; they have to process a lot of sap to get enough nitrogen for growth, and the copious exudate also provides protection for the nymphs from environmental extremes. Plants included Greater Celandine, with its yellow sap, and lemon-yellow Mouse-eared Hawkweed.

Once into the Reserve, a walk through Villa Wood alongside Sixpenny Brook was, as always, a delight –  in fact it proved irresistible for one of our Monday group who just had to have a paddle. 😊  Invertebrates of note were Yellow-barred Longhorn moths plus the tiny nymphs of both Speckled Bush-crickets and Lesser Marsh Grasshoppers.

The area known as Cockaynes Wood, a cool refuge from the strong sun, has a charm of its own with old trees and amongst the plants the uncommon ‘ Common’ Cow-wheat.  On emerging into the light we were amazed by the number of Azure Damselflies – they too had emerged, in large numbers, to begin their lives and 30 or so individuals were flitting too and fro amongst the Bracken.  A fabulous Tiger Beetle was seen on a dusty path, but wouldn’t stay still for long to be admired.  Luckily Chris managed to get a snap of it…

Birdsong accompanied our mornings, from Chiffchaffs, tits of all denominations, Blackbirds, Yellowhammer and Whitethroats.  A quick foray into known Turtle Dove territory allowed one group to savour the purring sound of summer (sadly now very hard to find) but the song is fading now as (hopefully) the birds are now happily mated and so have no need to proclaim who and where they are.

Amongst many plant of note were Yellow Rattle,  Stinking Iris, Scarlet Pimpernel, Sand Spurrey, Climbing Corydalis and my favourite White Bryony, which is also loved by the new-on-the-scene Bryony Bee, one of which put on a fleeting show.

  

Other creatures encountered included brightly-coloured-and-proud-of-it Cinnabar moths and the Nationally Scarce Club-horned Wasp Monosapyga clavicornis. 

A stunning female crab spider Misumena vatia , an arachnid which catches its prey by stealth and not with the aid of a web, was brilliant to see, along with an 11 spot Ladybird which is not one we have seen on many occasions. Bio-control of pests was evident with many plants with aphids also having resident ladybirds (in all stages of development, eggs, larvae and adults).

A bumblebee-mimic hoverfly Merodon equestris posed for one of the groups, and the Red-and-Black Froghopper is always a crowd-pleaser.

Thanks again for your support – details of next month’s (and other) events will appear in our next nature newsletter.

A week in #WildEssex with Honeyguide

Almost a return to normality – a group to lead for more than a day! Five days for the six to get to know each other and me, to gel into a group of friends, not merely fellow travellers and clients. And based at the by-all-accounts excellent Wivenhoe House Hotel – sadly because of the ‘rule of six indoors’, I was unable to join them for meals, but next time perhaps – and I think everyone had a comfortable and wildlife-filled week. And that is, to some extent, despite the weather: the first few days continued the May theme – cool, breezy and damp – but the sun came out properly for that last two days, and what felt like April was tumbled headlong into Summer.

Monday afternoon 24 May

A gentle potter around Wivenhoe Park introduced us to wonderful trees, young and old, some Pedunculate Oaks pre-dating the landscaping of the park in the mid 18th century, and a selection of specimens from almost all corners of the world. All three species of redwood, Red Oak, Atlas Cedar, Horse-chestnuts, Monkey-puzzle, eucalypts, and in direct lineage from the Peninsular Wars, the two most venerable, gnarled Cork Oaks you are ever likely to see.

Green Woodpeckers mingled with the multitude of Jackdaws, and family party of Long-tailed Tits huddled together brought the significance of the cold weather into sharp focus.

The catkins of oaks were liberally adorned with currant galls, caused by the same wasp that produces spangle galls in its second, late-summer generation.

A few Red Admirals and Orange-tips introduced  flashes of colour to a dull day, but otherwise insect life was almost restricted to a few ant-like Miris striatus nymphs. And, the very first thing we found proved to be one of the rarest insects of the week, a Juniper Shield-bug on Lawson’s Cypress: the available records suggested that in Essex this has previously been recorded only in the south-west of the county.

Tuesday 25 May

The second day dawned dull, breezy and showery, although as it progressed a few spells of warm sunshine encouraged bird song and brought out the insects, especially where sheltered from the wind. Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps predominated, with a couple of Nightingales, one is very full song, only 10 metres from us – but sadly not in view. Swifts and Swallows seemed still to be arriving, some continuing to push north, and Sparrowhawk, Yellowhammer, Buzzards and Red-legged Partridges added to the bird interest as we walked down the tidal River Colne from the University to Wivenhoe.

Rounding Ferry Marsh Local Nature Reserve, the newly-expanded reedbeds held dozens of singing Reed Warblers, along with a few Cetti’s Warblers and Reed Buntings, and whinnying Dabchicks. Salsify and Dittander were two of the special plants of the sea wall…

 

…then as we walked along Wivenhoe waterfront, attention shifted to the block-paving of the former port and shipyard, and its surprising flora of Buck’s-horn Plantain, Chives, White Ramping Fumitory, Jersey Cudweed and (Two-leaved) Four-leaved Allseed.

Close to the tidal barrage,  the saltmarshes produced flowering Scurvy-grass, and Common Cord-grass with its attendant (and seemingly increasing) Ergot fungus, perhaps pointing to one reason why the invasion of Spartina is not such a problem in Essex.

Although the Bluebells in Wivenhoe Wood were almost finished, Red Campion, Greater Stitchwort, Bugle and Yellow Archangel coloured the woodland scene, and the shelter of a hedge on the walk back to the hotel provided the warmth needed for St Mark’s Flies, Noon-flies, dance-flies and soldier-beetles to be taking advantage of the feeding opportunities at Alexanders flowers.

Nearby, Bugloss in the field margin pointed to an insect-rich area, with Hairy and Forget-me-not Shield-bugs and a mating pair of Rhombic Leatherbugs.

And on similarly sandy soils atop the ‘Essex Alps’, we found both Subterranean and Knotted Clovers in their by now well-known location in the King George V playing field, and then again in much larger quantities across Wivenhoe Park, a previously unknown site to me.

Wednesday 26 May

An early morning, pre-breakfast but not quite first light, potter around the Park produced Rabbits and Jackdaws en masse, together with singing Goldcrest, Coal Tit and Mistle Thrush.

The wind had gained a touch of the northerly: it started cold, and remained at best cool, all day, especially on the windswept clifftop and beaches of the Naze. But, as ever, in the lee of scrub patches, when the sun came out so did the insects, from picture-winged flies to hoverflies, and Green Longhorn moths to a Wasp Beetle.

Our first Speckled Wood and a Slow-worm were also in the warmer enclaves of the John Weston Reserve, along with a near-pupation Oak Eggar caterpillar and a still-unfurling Angle Shades.

Botanical interest on the clifftop was mostly the red smudge of Sheep’s Sorrel (bespangled in places with Bird’s-foot Fenugreek), swathes of Alexanders, and dead Gorse, pruned by the ferocious cold of April. But the scrub still hosted singing birds, with maybe 20 Whitethroats and half-a-dozen Lesser Whitethroats, at one point showing side-by-side for comparison.

Out at sea it was generally quite (for example, no terns at all), although single Eider and Brent Goose lingered offshore, and several Harbour Seals showed their snouts between dives.

On the sandy beaches, Sea Rocket was in flower already, and it was good to see a couple of pairs of Ringed Plovers still gamely battling on with breeding in the face of unprecedented disturbance pressures. Very appropriately, the Essex Wildlife Trust’s Save our Shores project, aiming to combat the growing problem of ignorance and selfishness, is to be the beneficiary of the conservation contribution from this Honeyguide tour. We saw at first hand the problem of out-of-control dogs and vacant/arrogant owners when pairs of Lapwings and Oystercatchers were disturbed off their nests on an adjacent fallow field, although fortunately the birds returned to brood within a few minutes.

And then it was the cliffs and geology. Internationally significant, spanning the multitudinous stories of the past 50 million years, with fossils from Eocene palms to immediately pre-Ice Age Left-handed Whelks. All that, and contemplative beachcombing to round off another very full day…

Thursday 27 May

Our final full day, by now in lovely warm sunshine, took us further down the Colne Estuary, from Wivenhoe to Alresford Creek, then back along the high route on the ridge of the Essex Alps, taking in the very well-restored (for wildlife) gravel pits at Cockaynes Reserve.

Bird-wise, the estuary was quiet save for Shelducks, Redshanks and Oystercatchers, a small fly-past flock of Knots, and Turnstones roosting on an old pontoon.

The grazing marshes were dominated by Divided Sedge, with Brown-tail Moth caterpillars in many a bush, and although only singing sporadically, a Nightingale in Grange Wood did give us chance to watch it as it fed on the ground.

Moving inland, it was flowers and insects all the way, from Purple Gromwell, Star-of-Bethlehem and Butcher’s-broom to Flower Crab-spider and Red-and-black Froghopper….

 

…and for the lovers of the obscure, a couple of bagworms, including the Virgin Bagworm.

Cockayne’s Reserve really launched the sights of summer (six species of Odonata, including an unfurling Four-Spotted Chaser) interspersed with spring lingerers such as Brimstones, Speckled Yellows and Bunny Bees.

And then the sounds: those icons of summer – Cuckoo and Turtle Dove, both at a premium nowadays – and the surprise of the week, a singing male Golden Oriole, heard for half an hour before it flashed its way through the foliage. A poignant reminder of Honeyguide holidays from pre-Covid days.

But nothing of the hoped-for highlights of Green Hairstreaks, no doubt related to to the frost scorch of the Gorse.

And finally, although it was starting to cool down rapidly, a dusk wander around Wivenhoe Park with the bat-detector produced good numbers of Soprano Pipistrelles.

Friday morning 28 May

After checking out, we reassembled on the final morning at the renowned Beth Chatto Gardens, just a couple of miles down the road. Beth was an early advocate of sustainable and ecological planting, right plant in the right place, and the garden reflects that. Full of interest for the gardener with an eye to the future, it is also full of wildlife.

Joined by Jude as ‘super-spotter’, we found more than enough insects to keep us happy until lunchtime, including moths, small and large, from Nettle-tap to Lime Hawk…

… Cinnamon Bug to Crucifer Shield-bug …

… Two-spotted Malachite Beetle to Acorn Weevil…

… and Alder-fly, Scorpion-fly and Painted Lady.

Then in a fitting finale, as we had been searching for them fruitlessly all week, six Green Hairstreaks, lighting up the garden with metallic green fairy flashes, A perfect ending.

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So, all in all a very good week, and let’s hope that it is the first of many. One week, with 25 kilometres of walking and only 50 driving – a feast of wildlife on my doorstep. Thanks to everyone for helping me rediscover the delights of working with a group for a week. A full listing of all the interesting things we saw or heard during the week is available as a pdf, MAY CHECKLIST.

The Wild Side of Essex: day tours of the Colne Estuary with Naturetrek in May

Three day tours in May, from mid-month onwards would in any ‘normal’ spring have spanned the orderly transition of the seasons. Not so this year: the effects of the very cold but totally dry April were compounded with one of the wettest and coolest Mays on record. Spring came late and, running fast to catch up with itself, the last few days saw a headlong tumble into summer…

Throughout the month, water birds have been almost only the local breeders – Oystercatchers, Redshanks, Little Egrets and Shelducks, with just a sprinkling of winter lingerers in the form of Turnstones, a few Knots and single Black-tailed Godwit and Avocet.

The next stage in the flowering of salt marshes occurred, Scurvy-grass giving way to the pastel pinks of Thrift…

… and on the sea walls Tamarisk, Salsify, Hoary Cress and Spotted Medick all put on a good show.

The reedbeds were full of singing Reed Buntings, a few Cetti’s Warblers and, at least by the third week, lots of Reed Warblers. As with so many other sub-Saharan migrants, including House Martin and Swift, new arrivals which had been held back by adverse winds just kept on coming, their quorum reached only at the end of May.

In contrast, our Nightingales were on time, but the cool weather meant it wasn’t a classic year for song. By the end of May, it was just about over, although a Song Thrush in Grange Wood was doing a great job in keeping the song alive by including whole phrases in its repertoire, thrice-repeated mimicry, the whole gamut of warbling, seeping, chortling, gurgling Nightingale. And Cockaynes at least proved a reliable site for Cuckoos (up to three, sometimes seen well), Hobbies and a purring Turtle Dove.

The waft-in-the-wind, fleetingly fragrant haze of Bluebells became ever more studded with counterpoints of white (Greater Stitchwort), yellow (Archangel) and red (Campion) and by the last week, the blooming of summer was unleashed, everything from Purple Gromwell to Hoary Cinquefoil, Sainfoin to Star-of-Bethlehem, Chives to White Bryony….

… and not forgetting the rarest (and least obtrusive): Two-leaved Four-leaved Allseed!

Insects too were slow coming to the fore with overwintering butterflies like Brimstones and spring-emergers such as Orange Tips taking centre stage. Quite by contrast, Holly Blues and Green Hairstreaks were totally absent until the last days of the month (they should have been around for weeks), when we also saw the anticipated emergence of Small Heaths and Small Coppers.

A flurry of Painted Ladies raised hopes of another invasion year, though it did seem rather to have petered out by the end of May…although there is still time yet.

Speckled Yellows have done well at Cockaynes Reserve, and other day-fliers included the always delightful fairy sprites that are Green Longhorns.

Dragons and damsels again were late coming out, but as the month progressed first the Large Red Damselflies, then the blue ones, and eventually the demoiselles appeared. As usual Hairy Dragonfly was the first of the larger species on the wing, followed swiftly by Four-spotted and Scarce Chasers.

And finally a selection of the other insects and invertebrates which made up this ‘all kinds of everything’ month, the #WildSideofEssex at its very best!

The Wild side of Essex now moves to Hockley Woods and (hopefully) its Heath Fritillaries for June, but will be back at the Colne and the Naze in July, when the first signs of autumn in the form of returning (failed) Arctic breeding waders should be popping up…..

The Wild Side of Essex: day tours of the Colne Estuary with Naturetrek in April

Three #WildSideOfEssex walks on the Colne Estuary with Naturetrek  in the month from the very end of March were expected to span the transition from winter to summer. And so they did, albeit rather in reverse order…

The first post-lockdown walk on the last day of March coincided with the last day of the mini-heatwave, with temperatures rocketing to 22°C – unseasonably, almost unreasonably, hot, even for the Essex Riviera! That very afternoon, skies clouded over, bathing the landscape, by now devoid of birdsong, in cloying yellowish light. Sahara dust was on its way, and when the rain came that evening, the dust blanketed everything as the temperatures plummeted. Thereafter April was a month of no rain, but icy winds from the north-east. Plenty of sunshine, but no real heat, and more night-time frosts than the whole of the preceding winter.

And naturally, this had impacts on the wildlife. Blackthorn was still in tight bud during the first walk, and only just past its best by the third, a good three weeks later than is typical round here.

But nothing if not contrary, Nature had its mixed messages – the first Bluebells were in flower by the end of March, well ahead of schedule, but then spent April in suspended animation, still leading up to a May peak.

Other interesting botanical finds during the month included Greater Stitchwort and Spring Beauty on woodbanks, Stork’s-bill and Early Forget-me-not on the heaths and White Ramping Fumitory closer to the tide:

But not all exciting flowers are showy. Some of the most subtly beautiful are green: Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Butcher’s-broom, Red Currant and the simply unique Town-hall-clock in the woods and Mousetail clinging to just one of the thousands of Yellow Meadow-ant-hills on the marsh.

A surprising number of fungi were found (perhaps as it has been a very wet winter) with Maze-gill, a fruiting Reticularia slime mould, and best of all that beacon of winter wet woodland, Scarlet Elf Cups, in profusion by Sixpenny Brook.

In the heatwave, spring insects were out in force with Bee-flies and Hairy-footed Flower-bees investigating the Red Dead-nettle and Ground-ivy…

… while butterfly numbers faded during the month, numerous overwinterers (Peacocks, Commas and Brimstones) giving way to the first emerging Green-veined Whites and Orange- tips.

And that just leaves the birds. All change! On the estuary, the waterbird numbers dropped away rapidly, although the summer-plumaged, glowing copper, tiger-striped Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits were simply stunning. Overhead several Mediterranean Gulls yowled imperiously and drifted over on implausibly white wings on each walk, while Red Kite and Marsh Harrier were both on the move. And by months’ end, the piping of the waders had largely been replaced by the screech of Common Terns.

Other summer birds were slow to arrive. A few hirundines were around at the outset, but numbers barely changed during the month. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps had made it back before the adverse winds set in, as did an early Sedge Warbler, and then by the second walk, Whitethroats, and the last one, Reed Warblers. Resident Cetti’s Warblers seem more numerous than ever, and it was especially exciting to see a territorial pair of Nuthatches in Grange Wood, as this bird is generally absent on the Tendring Peninsula.

All of the above and more, including good views of both Fox and Muntjac. And what better than on the final walk, to take lunch sitting by Sixpenny Brook, a Treecreeper creeping overhead and singing Nightingales – new in just three days previously – either side?

 

Signs of Spring: Nature Cure at Cockaynes

One of those February days when every little sign of spring brings joy unbridled. When everything feels so wrong it can never get right again, we have the turning of the seasons to reassure us that light and life and will return.

And where better to go to find the promise we though would never come in the depths of the pandemic: arriving before our very eyes, and into our hearts, Spring in the Cockaynes Reserve #NatureCure. A great day to be out, more like May than February, with a blue sky backdrop to Chiffchaffs singing, and Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock a-flutter.

Deep in Villa Wood, by the tinkling, twinkling Sixpenny Brook, Golden-saxifrages have yet to cast their magic on the banksides, but Scarlet Elf Cups are out. This is the species to which survival of this site can be most attributed 35 years ago … it’s a long story but one we hope will be told in the fullness of time in our Field Guide To The Essex Coast.

And Hazel everywhere, tassellating serenely but profusely…

Still there is yesterday’s news, the hangovers from last year: Autumn hues, preparing our eyes for the woodland colours to come, and Autumn fruits – Ivy, helping Blackbirds to reach breeding condition, and Reedmace (please, NOT Bulrush!), maybe a thug in the ponds, but so very important, its cigar-heads stuffed full of tiny seeds, late-winter nuggets of nutrition starting to be dispersed.

At this time of year, the mosses, lichens and fungi which are all too easily overshadowed, literally and figuratively, by the verdancy of summer have a brief chance to take centre stage…

… but every  flower that was open was a joy, especially the Common Field Speedwells on farm fallow, a sea of tiny blue faces tracking the sun across the sky.

 

And each flower at this time of year is a bonus for insects: Gorse buzzing with Honeybees, the first Dandelions waiting for the first queen bumblebees. But insects know where their needs are best met, and for Tree Bumbles especially it was garden Crocuses, with many a flower containing its soporific pollinator, seemingly drunk on the contents.

Away from the flower action, the baskers were out: a Pine Ladybird among the more numerous Seven-spots, and the tiny, hairy springtail Entomobrya nivalis

…  our first shield-bugs of the season, as iconic as the first Chiffchaff. A single Hairy, but lots of Gorse Shield-bugs – note how their antennal colour matches the red of the tips of fresh Gorse spines.

And in one patch, there were several ‘ghost bugs’ – pale, empty adult Gorse Shield-bug skins, the contents seemingly having been devoured by an entomopathogenic fungus. As we have described before (see here), the unfortunate victims were glued to the tips of shoots, the fungus having taken over their behaviour as an aid to the wind dispersal of the fungal spores…

The Wild Side of Essex: Day tours with Naturetrek – December

It was good to be back! After a month of Lockdown v2.0, during which the wet weather of early autumn which plagued several of the September and October tours had faded into distant memory, a brighter prospect seemed in order for the first of the December walks.  Nature of course had the final say….

Our first walk, down the Colne started in a peasouper, visibility little more than 50 metres as we set out. Of course that did mean that any birds we did see were close to, like this Black-tailed Godwit, uncharacteristically probing a saltmarsh just 10m from us:

Moving up the Essex Alps to Cockaynes, fog became freezing fog, encrusting every surface in rime. Not a bird stirred; indeed the only sound was ice fall as the temperature lifted a touch at lunchtime.

Heading back down to the estuary, a welcome spurt of sun illuminated Butcher’s-broom (in bloom well in advance of its usual February-April flowering season), Cordgrass Ergot and its own parasite Gibberella gordonii (continuing the remarkable showing of these two fungi locally this year), and a host of birds – a thousand babbling Brents, two hundred Avocets, and numerous Knots and Wigeons in the glasslike waters of the rising tide …

… until all too soon, the mist rolled in from Mersea, a chill breeze sprang, the temperature plummeted, the views and birds were enveloped, and twilight stole the day, well before sundown.

Four days later, the temperature had risen by almost 10°, although it remained still and the estuary sat in a pool of grey, only a distant glimmer reminding us the sun was still out there. 

A showy pair of Stonechats graced the grazing marshes as we followed the ebb of the tide, and most of the expected estuarine birds appeared in very good numbers. Several hundred each of Golden Plover, Avocet, Teal and Lapwing were noteworthy, making quite a spectacle. Only Godwits seemed fewer than expected, but in Alresford Creek, midway between the inner estuarine muds and the outer estuarine sands, both Black-tails and Bar-tails were feeding together for instructive comparison between this sometimes tricky species pair.

Despite a couple of (relatively) hard frosts in the past two weeks,  there were still plenty of fungi to see, including Coral Fungus, Jelly Ear, Cramp Balls, Maze-gill and Orange Cup, and the last knockings of an exciting lockdown find, the only example we know of Coral Tooth in north Essex. Elsewhere in the county it is known only from Epping and Writtle Forests.

Dense Blackthorn thickets on the shore, the summer haunt of Nightingales, now devoid of leaves and sloes, revealed their value for an intricate array of lichens, filigree frosting the trunks and branches with seasonal grey and sunburst -yellow.

And finally, a sign of hope in these very dark times – literally, metaphorically, medically and politically – the glowing fruits of Stinking Iris, and the first bloomings of spring flowers including Butcher’s-broom and Cow-parsley.

Mid-month it was out to The Naze, the only one of three walks planned there this month that we were able to run.

Lovely winter sunlight turned lichens on the salt-blasted clifftop trees into radiant artworks, while new Gorse flowers attracted a few bumblebees and announced to start of ‘the kissing season’.

As the tide receded, the beach provided rich pickings for us, from Mermaid’s Purses and Piddocks, to mass strandings of Common Whelks…

..and for the sandy foreshore birds: Turnstones, Redshanks, Sanderlings and Bar-tailed Godwits.

And so to the cliffs: recent wet weather had mobilised them into active slumping, mass movement of visceral power, bringing new crops of Red Crag fossils into view for the first time in 2 million years. ‘The Wild Side’ of our coast at its best!

A last scan, as dusk fell, over what had been a very quiet seascape for wildlife throughout the day revealed two or three Harbour Seals, presumably on a fishing foray from the Backwaters. A fitting end to a fine day out!

With new Covid restrictions coming into force around Christmas, it may be some time before these walks can recommence. Keep an eye on the Naturetrek web pages for further news:

The Wild Side of Essex: The Colne Estuary (Day Trip) – Naturetrek

The Wild Side of Essex: Exploring The Naze and Walton Backwaters (Day Trip) – Naturetrek

Cockaynes in late Autumn #WildWivenhoe

A late October walk to the Cockaynes Reserve, damp underfoot and dull (but warm). Not a classic year for autumn colour – still no frost, and the leaves are falling already – but a typical, muted yellow and ochre UK autumn.

Fungi are sprouting everywhere: the season has started at last (October brought at least a whole season’s rain), and in the absence of cold weather may well continue through November…

Perhaps surprisingly, quite a few insects were still on show and active, albeit sluggishly: lots of Parent Bugs (in a range of colour forms reflecting their transition into autumn plumage), and a few Birch Shield-bugs, lacewings and Acorn Weevils:

But alone with ourselves in the woods, there was more, so much more.

The pitter-patter of falling spangles…

… the thump of acorns …

… the earthy, humic smell of renewal …

… and the visible promises of rebirth of the Earth. #BringingNatureToYOU

 

The Wild Side of Essex: Day tours of the Colne with Naturetrek in October

Five day-walks in October saw the change of the seasons, on the estuary itself, and the ancient woods, grazing marshes and parkland of the Wivenhoe area.

But, despite the Essex coast being one of the driest parts of the country, our walks were plagued by weather, often wet, sometimes windy, but usually (thankfully) mild. My descriptions on the days ranged from ‘gun-metal gloom‘ to ‘fifty shades of grey, and sixty grades of wet‘ to ‘rain, rain and .. er .. slightly lighter rain‘…

One one walk, the thunderstorm which enveloped us on an exposed sea wall, after what had been a lovely warm sunny autumnal day, was simply spectacular. Truly, the Wild Side of Essex!

Especially when the sun came out, though, the radiance of autumn was palpable, whether in the wonderful specimen trees of Wivenhoe Park or the ancient Grange Wood running to the estuary shore:

And of course not just trees – autumn also seeps into the leaves of Common Reed, and tints the array of Glassworts on the marshes, making it the best time of year to separate this very difficult group, each with a distinctive autumn hue.

Flowering was drawing to a close, but Cord-grass and Strawberry Clover were still going strong, and Blue Fleabane was a good find in the Cockaynes Reserve:

So too Lesser Calamint, Common Fleabane and Sea Wormwood, though these were notable as much for their scented leaves as for the flowers.

And especially on the greyest days, the rain-washed air was a pristine palette to savour the flavours, the fragrant foliage of Pineappleweed, Walnut and Lawson’s Cypress shining bright in the olfactory gloom, the perfect antidote to the lusty musk of Stinkhorn pervading Wivenhoe Park…!

Turning to the Wivenhoe waterfront and the Natural Art of Block Paving. Certainly not ‘weeds’ – think instead of filigree adornment, that which helps soften the mind-numbing, spirit-crushing straight lines we attempt to force upon the world. 

Leaving the most important pollen and nectar source to last: Ivy, flowering right to the end of the month, and still attracting diverse insect visitors, from social wasps to hoverflies, ladybirds to Ivy Bees, the latter especially numerous on the Ivy hedge of St Mary’s Churchyard.

Other insects were fewer, as would be expected: lingering Common Darters, with a few Migrant Hawkers; sluggish Hornets around their nests; and Speckled Woods occupying their favoured sun-flecks (when available!). Red Admirals included one making the most of the nectar from Strawberry-trees in the grounds of Wivenhoe House: such spectacular garden plants, bearing this year’s flowers alongside last year’s fruits, and memorably awash with the heady lemon scent of nearby Magnolia grandiflora flowers.

Otherwise, insect-wise, it was down to the ones one never actually sees  – the galls, leaf-mines and other feeding signs, which are so apparent at this time of year:

October is fungus season. Usually. But this year, perhaps a legacy of previous spring and summer droughts, it was slow to get going. By month’s end, they were starting to pop up – Beefsteaks to Birch Brackets, Sulphur Tufts to Honey Fungus – and the birchwood-gloom-piercing Fly Agarics lending the essence of autumn to even grey days.  For me though, best of all was the super-sized Cordgrass variety of Ergot, a fungus I have seen only once before.

And finally the birds. Migration time, so the occasional Wheatear and Stonechat were right on cue, and at times the visible migration along the ridge of the Essex Alps was quite impressive, with hirundines, Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches, thrushes, Reed Buntings and good numbers of both Siskins and Redpolls. Roving tit flocks, in Wivenhoe Park especially, often held Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs, and on one occasion a very obliging Treecreeper, while around the University lakes and the upper river, Kingfishers usually showed themselves, electric streaks of blue piercing the gloom.

Down on the estuary, wader numbers built through the month, with up to a thousand Black-tailed Black-tailed Godwits and hundreds of Redshanks. Shelducks arrived back from moult migration mid-month, and the feeding and flying flurries, snowstorms of up to 400 Avocets, never failed to impress.

And the best bird of the month, this Osprey which flew low over us for 20 minutes, evidently looking for food, while seeing off the unwanted attentions of Carrion Crows and Jackdaws. The most obliging I have ever seen around Wivenhoe!

All of the above, plus autumn’s bounty, both fecund and full. Hips and haws, chestnuts, conkers and acorns galore, and a supporting eclectic mix of other wildlife, from Muntjac to Eel, bagworms to Lesser Water-crickets. Each walk a cornucopia of biodiversity!

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So that’s it for Naturetrek on the Colne in Autumn. Despite unexpectedly wet weather for most of our five walks, it was fun. After a spell on the Naze, we will return for ‘Winter on the Colne Estuary’ towards the end of November – see here for details and booking. All vestiges of summer will have been swept away by then, but waders and wildfowl will be at their midwinter peak, including our iconic Dark-bellied Brent Geese. And if (as is so often the case) we have had no hard frosts, the fires of autumn may still be burning in the leaves and the fungi season still going strong….

The Wild Side of Essex: Day tours of the Colne with Naturetrek in September

Three tours this month, spanning the transition from summer to autumn, and the weather reflected that. The first was unremittingly grey, but warm and humid, increasingly breezy and ultimately very wet. The second was blessed with liquid autumnal sunlight, at times intensifying into summery fire, which bathed the landscape in welcome warmth. And the third, a misty, moisty, windless day, in stark contrast to two days’ previously when a gale swept through, leaves falling ahead of their time, and branches, whole trees and even power lines felled. The woodland birds seemed subdued by this, save for mournful Robin song, ululating Woodpigeons and the occasional half-hearted Chiffchaffing in the storm-tossed woods.

On the estuary, waterbird numbers were swelling towards their winter peak. Downstream, it was possible to see a thousand Black-tailed Godwits socially distanced on the water’s edge, with other waders for easy comparison, usually including a sprinkling of Avocets, sometimes a twinkling flurry of two hundred or more. Upstream, numbers are always fewer, but the views can be better, and included the first returning Teals and Dabchicks, along with a few Kingfishers, one one memorable occasion being aggressively chased by a male Yellowhammer. A Kingfisher was also seen well on the Wivenhoe Park lake.

Autumn time is migration time, and visible migration was a feature of every walk, whether hirundines of three species, Meadow Pipits, Lapwings or Greenshank. Other migrants to or through Essex included White Wagtails and a Stonechat, but the biggest surprise was a lone Guillemot in the heart of town. Almost as surprising was a Harbour Seal, right up the river, in shallow water, presumably hunting Mullet.

This autumn has been mild so far, and only by the end of the month were the leaves beginning to colour, Norway Maples and the first few Red Oaks heralding cooler days in Wivenhoe Park. But the fruits of the landscape have been simply magnificent, hips, haws, sloes, acorns and so many other fruits seemingly larger and more numerous than for many a year.

Likewise galls, especially those on Oak leaves, buds and acorns. Such abundance, such diversity, without ever even seeing the causal creatures!

The couple of downpours in the month have done little so far to offset the spring and summer droughts: fungi, other than microfungi and brackets, groups which have a lower reliance on moist soils, were few and far between. Until the end of the month at least, when blue-staining Rooting Boletes and Parasols to Shaggy Ink-caps, Beefsteak and Giant Polypore to Chicken-of-the-woods, earthballs to puffballs and Sycamore Tar-spot to Oak Mildew started to appear. And of course, frosts permitting, the season is far from over…

Insects declined as the month progressed, apart from social wasps nesting everywhere on the sea wall, and thronging the flowering Ivies, along with hoverflies and Ivy Bees. Lots of Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers were still active, and even at the month end, there were Willow Emerald damselflies active round the Wivenhoe Park lakes.

Heather Bees (rare in Essex) around Cockaynes and Sea Aster Bees on their eponymous plants completed the triumvirate of late season bees, while butterflies have faded away almost entirely, save for a straggler Meadow Brown, and Speckled Woods in their favoured dappled shade. By the end of the month, Vapourer moths became obvious in all wooded areas, foxy males flying around to try and locate the flightless females.

All groups enjoyed the ‘pavement plants’ (NOT weeds) of Wivenhoe waterfront, including Four-leaved Allseed, Jersey Cudweed, Spotted Spurge, and both Canadian and Guernsey Fleabanes. The saltmarshes were still flowering, with Sea Aster, Cord-grass and Golden Samphire, while Shrubby Sea-blite and the glassworts were just assuming autumn tints.

On the downstream itinerary, we found some lovely patches of our local specialities Strawberry Clover and  Lesser Calamint, and other spectacular nectar and pollen resources included included Common Toadflax, Bugloss on the margins of sandy arable fields, and on the sea wall, Sea Beet in full ‘glorious’ bloom…

In Cockaynes reserve, wafts of Epilobium brachycarpum above Creeping St. John’s Wort covered the former weighbridge area. A new alien plant here, Stace calls it ‘Panicled Willowherb’. We begged to differ, and coined the much more descriptive and euphonious ‘Wispy Willowherb’.

And finally, garden plants do have their uses, even ones apparently designed by committee – the Passion-flowers of Wivenhoe were being assiduously searched for nectar and pollen. And in the gardens of Wivenhoe House Hotel, Strawberry Trees, simultaneously in full fruit and flower, attracted bumblebees, while the incredible citrussy scent of Magnolia grandiflora proved a complete ‘nose-opener’ to me at least. We live and learn every day in the natural world!