Blog Archives: WildEssex

#WildEssex Walks: Brightlingsea East End

Thanks to our lovely group of nature fans for joining us on our walk at the East End of Brightlingsea. The weather was pretty perfect – fairly warm with just a bit of breeze to stop us overheating, and things just got better and better as we discovered wildlife along the way, including a surprise find at the end of the walk, and finishing off with a welcome pub lunch.

Having met at Hurst Green (we are reliably informed by a local friend that Hurst is an ancient word meaning ‘triangle’), we followed the quiet road down towards the estuary, taking in the views of the saltmarshes After a short walk along a section of seawall, we spent the last hour in the ‘plantation’ area searching out insects. A chance encounter with a dog walker alerted us to a large patch of orchids in the next field, which we duly checked out (having successfully negotiated the rather steep steps and board-walk) and weren’t disappointed!

So what did we find?  Too many things to mention for a complete list, but in summary:


Several species of Lepidoptera – Red Admirals, Green Veined Whites, Ringlets, Essex Skippers, Meadow Browns, Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks (the latter in their larval stage – big fat caterpillars 😊).  Other larvae included Cinnabars on Ragwort, along with one flying adult.

Beetles – ‘thick thighs’, Two-spotted Malachites, 14-spot and Harlequin Ladybirds, evidence of Bark-beetle in the form of wonderful ‘aboriginal art’ on a dead Elm trunk…

… plus a large weevil Liparus coronatus with gold ring and blotches (rescued from certain crushing in the road in my hankie then released nearby): this is Nationally Scarce and something we have only seen twice before, and only within a kilometre of this very spot.

Bugs – Woundwort Shieldbug, Dock Bugs plus a few tiny weeny Green Shield-bugs in an early nymphal stage.

Flies – a few attractive hoverflies, including this Helophilus pendulus, plus a very small fly which liked one of our group and stayed with her for a while – it would seem to be, we think, a tiny example of a Slender-striped Robberfly.

Not many bees were encountered, but in the same insect group we found evidence of the ZigZag Sawfly on Elm, with larva munching.  These are so fascinating and new to the area only a couple of years ago!


Lots of second-brood singing including Whitethroats, Reed Warblers, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Greenfinches and Blackbirds, while a Little Egret flew over at one stage.


Some of the many we admired included Teasel, Chicory, Woody Nightshade, Salsify and two Bindweed Species (Large and Hedge) on opposite sides of the track for comparison….

The trees in the plantation were predominantly native and included Aspen, rustling tremulously in the light breeze…

The sea wall produced Sea Beet and Crow Garlic with patches of Sea Wormwood, and Common Sea-lavender coming into flower on the marshes…

And of course, not forgetting the Pyramidal Orchids, dozens of spikes just about at their peak of flowering.

Something new for ‘Wild Essex’ walks, was a pub lunch to finish off proceedings. This was a very sociable end to an enjoyable morning – at least we found it so – and we hope everyone else did too! 😊 Thanks to the Rosebud for their friendly service and good food and beer.

Hope that you will all be able to join us on another event in the not-too-distant future.

#WildEssex bug-hunt in St Mary’s Churchyard, Wivenhoe

A wonderful morning with a group of enthusiastic children discovering the bugs and beasties in St Mary’s churchyard, Wivenhoe. Such a joy to see their faces light up with each find! Thank you to the church for organising, parents and grandparents for accompanying them and most of all the children themselves.

Here is just a selection of what we found…

And on top of that, there were the galls. On the Walnut tree, famously planted from part of the tree in the garden of The Greyhound that was felled by the 1987 ‘hurricane’ two types of mite gall were very obvious: the common blister gall of Aceria erineus

… and the much smaller, redder pustule gall of Aceria tristriata. This is rather special – the map on the National Biodiversity Network website shows just 12 locations in the whole country where it has been recorded. That is certainly an underestimate, as we have subsequently found at least two further ‘new’ locations in the past year, but clearly it is uncommon, and therefore part of the biodiversity of the churchyard to be treasured.

The value of churchyards cannot be overstated. Enclaves of the near-forgotten countryside of our past, a refuge for wildlife as well as for the soul, especially when the wildlife is actively encouraged in by the retention of long grass and flowers to feed the insects all summer long. And inspiration for those who will come after us, those for whom we must do our level best, to ensure their world is still a world worth living in.

#WildEssex charity walk to Alresford and Cockaynes Reserve

Thank you to you all for joining us today on our inaugural Charity Picnic in aid of our chosen charity Buglife.  The weather played ball – not too hot/cold/wet/windy – but a nice combination of all.  Perfect walking and chatting weather in fact.

From the beautiful Wivenhoe estuary we walked up to Alresford Old Church, where we sat and ate our picnic lunches.   A pit stop at The Pointer followed, then stroll back to Wivenhoe via Cockaynes Reserve.

Not too many words about what we saw: suffice to say plenty of birds…

… lots of flowers…

… and of course an array of insects and other invertebrates, as befits our charitable donation. The little things that help the world go round!

We are grateful to you all for the donations – £110 raised – and to Emily especially for manning the ‘rubbish bag’ for collecting unsavoury objects en route.

The Wild Side of Essex: Heath Fritillaries in Hockley Woods

The largest contiguous ancient woodlands in the county, Hockley Woods sit astride the ‘southern Essex Alps’, a ridge of London Clay capped with sands and gravels. They were the focus for the latest Naturetrek day trip, searching for Heath Fritillaries.

And what a treat the steaming hot day provided! Fritillaries flitting en masse throughout the main coppice in numbers greater than I have ever seen before, an estimated 500 on the wing, possibly more than anyone else has seen on one day in Essex since well before their extinction in the mid-20th century. What a pity that this spectacle was witnessed by just our select group of three of us…

Some had clearly been on the wing for a while, maybe a week or so, to judge by  the fading and wear, but there were many  fresh, pristine ones, rapidly getting on with the business of making next year’s generation.

It has been a long, complex story of neglect, extinction, research and reintroduction but we do now have a thriving population of the fritillaries. But we should not rest on our laurels – the main arena will start to lose its allure as coppice regrows and the food plant is shaded, and some of the rides are showing the signs of missed management. So more ride work and more new coppices is the answer.

Other butterflies were few and far between – we are firmly in the ‘June Gap’ – but included Holly Blues and Speckled Woods, and single Meadow Brown and White Admiral.

Micromoths included a few Green Oak-rollers and lots of Gold-barred Longhorns, albeit too warm for dancing displays.

The frit fest may have been the main course, but there were plenty of other rich pickings as well. Although late in the season for woodland flowers, there was plenty of interest in the open ride sides, with Bush Vetch, Foxglove, Heath Speedwell and Yellow Pimpernel, along with flowering Honeysuckle, and of course Common Cow-wheat, foodplant for the fritillary.

Some old Silver Birch trees were heavily infested with Birch Bracket fungus…

… while Birds, mostly heard, included Chiffchaff and Blackcap, singing Stock Dove and displaying Common Buzzard, and family parties of Long-tailed, Great and Blue Tits.

And then the remainder of the insects and invertebrates. Emanating from the numerous Wood Ants’ nests was a Four-spotted Leaf-beetle…

…. and other sightings included Black-striped Longhorn beetle, Figwort Weevil and Spear-thistle Lacebug along with hoverflies, bush cricket nymphs, spiders and much more.

All kinds of everything: rich biodiversity in the heart of suburban south Essex. More than 30 years since I notified the woods as an SSSI, I am very happy to report they are now in an even better state than when I moved on (even after years of pandemic pressure), thanks to the management work of Rochford District Council.



#WildEssex – Furze Hill, Mistley

A gorgeous day blessed our walk at Mistley today.  What contrast to our Wrabness trip a month before!

Several of us ( including the special co-leader, Eleanor) arrived by train and immediately tucked into a good coffee and cake from the Zero Waste van-man at Mistley Station. When all were assembled we set off through Edme works (with that distinctive malty smell permeating the air), under the railway line and into the first of our varied habitats – a field used sometimes to graze cattle, but today was just full of Meadow Buttercups  and other wild flowers, such as new-sprung Hogweed flowers round the margins and fungi sprouting on the sites of now long-gone cowpats.

And of course there was also the grasses, many species in fresh flower, and both diverse and beautiful as shown by this Cock’s-foot and Yorkshire-fog.

A Small Tortoiseshell skipped between buttercups, and the big old parkland trees held both Jackdaws and Rooks, whose cawing rose to a crescendo as a Raven swept in (no doubt on the lookout for an easy chick meal) – a dramatic addition to the Essex skyscape over the past five years.

At the foot of Furze Hill, the local springs that led to the 18th century marketing of Mistley Thorn as a spa town coagulate into a streamline fringed with massive Alder trees, harbouring singing Wrens, Blackcaps and a Song Thrush. The leaves were covered in the small galls of the microscopic mite Eriophyes laevis.

A pleasant walk along a leafy lane ensued (welcome shade!) – many wayside and woodland flowers to be admired, from blue Alkanet and Germander Speedwell, to yellow Wood Avens and white Cow Parsley (going over) and Ground Elder (freshly out), along with many Nettles supporting a myriad of insect life.

After a short walk through a woodland clearing we arrived on to the rec ground where we divided into two groups. Eleanor and Granny went to spend a happy hour on the swings whilst the more ‘grown-up? 😊’ ones enjoyed a walk through the woodland, admiring the natural beauty, in particular the ancient trees.

Of these Old Knobbley was, of course, the star attraction.  According to a rather lovely book by Morag Embleton ‘Old Knobbley the Oak Tree’, it is some 1000 years old and has seen a lot of changes!  Chris’  blogs have more information too Furze Hill, Mistley: home to the Ancients | Chris Gibson Wildlife and #BringingNatureToYou : branching out to Furze Hill, Mistley | Chris Gibson Wildlife.

Then where Brambles were bursting into flower, another natural resource was being exploited to the full by Honeybees, bumblebees, Red Admirals and many others, including late-instar nymphs of Red-legged Shield bug Speckled Woods and numerous Gold-barred Longhorn Moths sunning themselves on the leaves.

We completed our session with a stroll over the recreation field itself, which in places has avoided too-regular mowings and been allowed to grow.  Lots of Birds-foot-trefoil (a favourite of bees and Common Blue butterflies) was blooming, together with Lesser Stitchwort, Common Cat’s-ear, Mouse-eared Hawkweed and Sheep’s Sorrel, indicating the sandy nature of the soil. A briskish walk up School Lane back to the station brought the morning to a close.

As always the pleasure was ours, and we hope that everyone enjoyed the experience.  Some of the group continued into Manningtree for a lunch, and we carried on to Harwich to spend the afternoon on the beach.

Looking forward to seeing you all before long, and just to finish with a final mention to be sure to check yourselves for ticks after a countryside walk these days.  Ticks – advice on protection, prevention and removal | Scouts


One Tree Hill Country Park

Last year I wrote here about returning to some of the places in South Essex where I started my conservation career. Yesterday I had the opportunity for a couple of hours to visit the Langdon Ridge again, at One Tree Hill Country Park, and as I reported before, I was again very pleasantly surprised, seeing the site not just as an ecologist and botanist, but someone for whom invertebrates have become a much more important part of my natural consciousness.

Yes, of course the plants are still impressive, with Yellow Rattle in abundance, alongside Common Spotted Orchids, Corky-fruited Water-dropwort and Salsify, among many others.

But even with a chill north-easterly breeze and patchy cloud keeping temperatures down and suppressing insect activity, all it took was to find the lee side of a hedge or scrub patch, and there was plenty to see, from Burnet Companion and Speckled Yellow moths  and other Lepidoptera …

… bugs, beetles and sawflies …

… scorpion-flies everywhere …

… spiders …

… to a plethora of flies of all description. Just check out those wonderfully plumed middle legs on the male Dolichopus popularis long-legged flies!

Essex as a county is much maligned, especially the south, but in wildlife terms, the enclaves of diversity are still with us, for all to appreciate.

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the abundance of May…

A prefect day in May, and the Beth Chatto Garden was teeming with life…

Let the Feeding and Breeding commence! First the feeding: the plants may largely be non-natives, but they still supply nectar and pollen to the needy:

It was particularly exciting to see my first Painted Lady of the year. Vast numbers were reported moving through France a week ago, and this was (hopefully) in the vanguard of a substantial invasion this summer.

And this plump caterpillar munching a rose  was that of a Copper Underwing moth:

On the breeding front, Red Mason Bees were provisioning their nest holes, and love was in the air for damselflies and Speckled Wood butterflies (look carefully and you can see a second pair of antennae).

And all around the garden, insects of every description basking in the knowledge (or so I like to think) that they are as safe here from the insidious barrage of deadly pesticides as anywhere in our landscape.

And of course there was also a flower or two(!) and fantastic foliage, all helping to support this abundance of life. Come and visit the garden and find it for yourselves….

The Bounty of May in Cockaynes Reserve

It was a wonderful morning for a walk. The Cuckoos were calling and more Speckled Yellows were on the wing than I have ever seen before. The newly-minted wildlife was performing superbly, and the following is a selection of the pictures. Few words: just enjoy the bounty!

Best find of the day, however, deserves a mention: a Slender-horned Leatherbug, a species we have never seen before and a rather local insect of dry habitats in south-eastern England.

A selection of other bugs included the eggs of a Gorse Shield-bug and dancing Birch Aphids at the end of many twigs:

In addition to the flighty Speckled Yellows,  Latticed Heaths were on the wing, and the mass of munchers included Drinker, Lackey and Dunbar moths:

Fresh dragons and damsels were on the wing, at least six species in total:

And on top of all that, a kaleidoscope of beetles, flies and spiders…

Not forgetting the mini delights of the flowers on the bare gravels, including Smooth Catsear (‘the smallest “dandelion” in the world’) at one of its very few Essex sites.

All in all, a May morning to remember.

Hawthorn and Cow Parsley Time

Everyone has their trigger, that sensory experience which strips away the years. For me it is the musky, musty, mingled scent of Hawthorn and Cow Parsley after a May shower, my personal madeleines. Back to the 1960s, a schoolchild in shorts (some things never change!), cycling around the lanes on the Yorkshire Wolds, finding my feet and laying down my roots in Nature.

And as so often, this year it coincided with the most bounteous explosion of diversity. This week in #WildWivenhoe has seen a tentative Spring transformed, the trees enveloped in every shade of green…

…fresh foliage catching the light, and bringing beauty even to a Nettle…

… new flowers appearing daily…

…and old friends, including non-native beauties like (Ever)Green Alkanet and Lilac doing the heavy lifting of feeding the insect masses. To denigrate these because of their provenance is pure ecoFascism.

And the appearance of new insects has been simply stupendous. That most stunning of beetles, Neon-striped Tortoise Beetle, emerged en masse on our Sea Beet (some three weeks earlier than last year) while Two-spotted Malachite Beetles have started on their long summer of gracing our umbellifers, the new ones having that special bit extra iridescence.

And of course a host of other beetles too….

Another mass emergence in the shape of Phoenix Flies, a nationally scarce species with its stronghold along the Essex coast…

Hoverfly diversity has shot up over the week….

…with lots of other flies also in the mix.

Basking bugs adding to the bounty….

And then the rest…a wonderful mix of spring stragglers and summer emergers, from the first damselflies and bush-cricket nymphs to scorpion-flies and Elm Zigzag Sawflies.

The delights of the natural world, solace in our troubled times. And thank goodness for #NoMowMay, helping to provide the nectar and pollen resources which underpin these riches. Well done Wivenhoe Town Council, where the Daisies and Dandelions of the King George V field are now supplemented with Buttercups and Red Clover, Germander Speedwell, Sand Spurrey and Subterranean Clover — something for everyone!

#WildEssex Walks: Wrabness and the Stour Estuary

Rain, rain and more rain…a feature of our half day walk around beautiful spots of Wrabness, but hopefully not the only memory to be taken away😊 . Our thanks to everyone for their perseverance….’it may brighten up later’….but despite the less-than-perfect conditions we still got a flavour of this relatively unspoilt area, and we hope that it was worth getting a bit damp for!

The morning got off to a mixed start – slight issues with the car-parking payment facilities but the prospect of a coffee and use of a loo in the little community shop more than made up for any initial annoyances. We covered quite a distance over the four hours, our first port of call being the House for Essex, the whacky but very interesting Grayson Perry creation.  If you get the chance, do try to visit this on a sunny day, when the whole exterior seems to shine and glow. And to our eyes at least a very fitting addition to the newly-designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Next, East Grove was a pleasant little diversion from the main route – a perfect little woodland boasting many plants, including Butcher’s Broom, Bugle, Greater Stitchwort and of course Bluebells aplenty.

The juxtaposition of tidal mud and ancient woodland is exceptionally rare in Essex, and the smell of the estuary was a feast for the nose!


Peering out from the trees, we could see a couple of hundred Dark-bellied Brent Geese on the shoreline. The icon of the Essex coast in winter (we are home to a fifth of the world’s population), the Stour is one of its renowned departure points for its return migration…

…and sure enough, a chorus of burbling, and off they went. Next stop the Taimyr Peninsula? Or at least a staging post in the Baltic.

Walking along the seawall we were able to admire many other shore birds: Shelducks, Oystercatchers, Little Egrets and  more. The quiet conditions (hardly any people on foot and a welcome lack of light aircraft overhead which seem to enjoy being noisy), and the damp, still air made Bird Listening (as opposed to Watching) an important part of the day. Farmland birds were in full voice, including Skylarks, Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats, with more distant Cuckoo, Nightingale and Yellowhammer.

Along this stretch we found virtually the only insects of any note – St Mark’s Flies.  These dangly-legged beasties emerge at roughly the same time as our hirundine visitors, providing food for them after their long flights from Africa. Among the big boys was a smaller, more colourful species, Downland Bibio.

An innocuous field of peas turned out to have a fascinating story – these have been bred to be leafless, the leaflets now being just tendrils which twirl around each other allowing the plants to huddle together, as protection from wind and heavy rains etc. Something we were having to come to terms with ourselves! And some of the Oak trees along the cliff-edge were already laden with galls, even on the leaves which must have burst only a week ago. One or two had huge numbers of large Oak-apples, on one of which we found a micro-hyperparasite, a tiny, long-tailed wasp, presumably a parasite of the gall-causer, itself a tiny wasp!

Next part of the route was along the beach.  Of interest was the geology – the cliffs (SSSI) showing ‘ash layers’ in among the London clay… visible evidence of when these parts were covered in ash from volcanic activity in Caledonia many millions of years ago.  The rocks – part of the Harwich Stone Band (forerunner of the Rolling Stones??) – from which local VIP buildings such as Colchester Castle have been partially constructed – were all around, to be admired, and some adorned with festoons of seaweed. This beach and a similar one at Harwich are the only natural rocky shores between north Norfolk and north Kent.

Rocks and fallen trees  provided a kind of make-your-bum-wet perch on which to eat lunch, though some sensible people in our group found a nice dry boat under tree canopy to eat theirs!  The conditions weren’t really conducive to leisurely beach-combing, but a few shells of interest were found, including Portuguese Oysters (a rampant non-native, potentially squeezing out our local native variety), Slipper Limpets, Cockles in a variety of attractive colours and a Shore Crab’s carapace. Another highlight of the shore walk was seeing the Sand Martins’ nests in the sandy banks – one of only three natural martin nesting sites in Essex.

Onward and up the bank onto the footpath we wended our way into the Essex Wildlife Nature reserve.  By now the wet weather was starting to really take its toll. The rain soaking up from my feet was meeting that dripping down from my coat, and we began to think we should call it a day a bit earlier than originally planned.  This meant missing out the Woodland Burial Site, but perhaps next time! The Nature Reserve – an important site, luckily rescued from development proposals – really does need visiting in the warm (see our evening visit last year, when conditions were perfect…  Wrabness Nature Reserve on a summer’s evening | Chris Gibson Wildlife ). Today there was no insect life whatsoever, but a few plants were worth a mention – Field Horsetail (diminutive relative of the giants from which our coal was laid down, eons ago), White Ramping Fumitory, Spotted Medick and Cowslip – and the many funnel-web spider webs, liberally laced with mercurial droplets…

The birds were not performing as we had hoped. Not a peep from the local Nightingales nor the Corn Buntings. But one important memory that we must take back from the nature reserve was the purring sound of the Turtle Doves…sadly such a rare thing to hear these days, due to merciless hunting in certain Mediterranean countries and the lack of suitable habitat (all they can find are agricultural wastelands ravaged by pesticides and totally lacking the seeds of ‘weeds’) for those that do manage to make it.  But here at least they can find sanctuary.

At this point our group began to separate – some heading for an earlier train, whilst others of us wandered at a more leisurely pace back to the station.  A little stop at the church (unfortunately not open to allow a sit down!), was worth a few minutes of our time, if only to see Annie inside the bell-cage.  Apparently the church tower collapsed in the 17th century, when the bell was ‘caged’, and seemingly that is where it will stay for evermore. And further along the road, we encountered the second of The Twelve Days of Christmas birds – Partridges (Red-legged varieties) which were enjoying the pea-fields.

Again thanks to everyone who stuck with us, and hope that we can repeat this, in more favourable conditions another year.  Writing this, having been home an hour or so, the sun is shining and we can’t help thinking ‘if only….’…

Wivenhoe Wood – a Symphony in Blue

The very end of April; a sunny morning; no wind; a wander in Wivenhoe Wood – a  recipe for one of the most sublime natural experiences: peak Bluebell! Not just the swathes of blue fading into the far distance, but also (arguably even better) the sweet, intoxicating aroma hanging heavy in the air. Heaven Scent indeed!

Right on the edge of town, the Bluebells are there for everyone to see and smell, the best vistas moving around the wood in the wake of the coppicing regime undertaken by Colchester Borough Council. And there are thankfully few signs of a dilution of  colour and scent from hybridization between the native Bluebells and the gardener’s approximation, Spanish Bluebells.

As always, there was much more on our walk yesterday. Oak trees were profligately shedding pollen into the air and insects basking in the dappled shade…

Blue has erupted in the woodscape after the almost equally impressive showing this year of white Wood Anemones. And from here on into the summer, the blue will fragment, first with white Greater Stitchwort and Garlic Mustard, then deep Yellow Archangel, and finally drawn pleasingly together studded with the pink of Herb-Robert and Red Campion.

But pure blue leaves the lasting memory. Do get out and enjoy it soon as it will have faded within a couple of weeks….

And remember not to take it for granted. Our visions of blue are bluer than many have seen before us, benefiting both from the eradication of Wild Boars several centuries ago and from the light which boosted our woodland flowering after the Great Storm in 1987. We cannot rely on storms (hopefully coppicing is more assured), and with the likely return of rampantly foraging Boars before too long, the replacement of monoculture blue with a more diverse kaleidoscope of colour is perhaps only a matter of time.

#WildEssex Walks: Cockaynes Reserve in spring

As often when we offer two dates for a walk, the weather is vastly different each day.  This was definitely the case with our little forays to Cockaynes for this month’s Wild Essex events. Monday was blowy and cold, whilst on Tuesday the sun shone, and the wind had dropped.  (Sorry Keith!).

This report covers some of the highlights that we saw, heard and smelled over both days. As to be expected, the warmer conditions on Tuesday brought out more of our insect friends. In line with the calendar (how do they know?) a St Mark’s Fly was seen, slightly askew with one wing out and the other not.  Possibly it had just emerged and not fully ‘filled out’. St Mark’s Day is 25th April! The following day we witnessed two ‘in cop’ doing what they need to do in the few days that they are alive as adults.

A little Pine Ladybird was busying itself keeping warm on a woodland leaf, and we found some Brown Tail moth caterpillars, new escapees from their conspicuous nest-webs. Their body hairs contain an unpleasant irritant and so contact should be avoided.  The only birds that can eat them are Cuckoos which have specially designed digestive processes to cope.

Famous and important residents to this site are the ‘Bunny Bees’ (Colletes cunicularis) which make holes in the sandy banks on the reserve. These are rare and it is always a pleasure to see that they are still enjoying living near us in Wivenhoe. And a host of other solitary bees were out and about in the sun including this ‘mini-miner’:

Evidence of other insect life was found, without seeing the critters themselves – leaf miner moths which lay their eggs between the surfaces of leaves and the larvae eat and grow, making patterns in leaves as they go, before emerging when fully fed, and also little cases of micro moths which were easy to spot on the rushes.

An Acorn Weevil showed its snout within the unfurling wings of an aquiline Bracken, and a tiny Dyseriocrania subpurpurella micromoth nestled into a Cow Parsley umbel. The warmer sunshine brought out butterflies on Tuesday, including Speckled Woods, Orange Tips, Large Whites and a Peacock.

We were privileged to hear lots of bird song in the couple of hours, and this varied day-to-day too.  We caught the dulcet tones of numerous Mediterranean Gulls (did I say dulcet?  – more like a posh squawk!)  – numbers in this area at the moment are at an all-time-high.  Add to that Chiffchaffs, Song Thrushes with their three-song call,  angry Cetti’s Warblers, rhythmic Reed Warblers, liquid Blackcaps, the increasingly rare Willow Warbler, Robins, Great Tits, Wrens, a bit-of-bread-and-no- cheese Yellowhammer, Linnet (below), Goldfinches and the odd snatch of Nightingale song, but sadly we did not witness its full and beautiful melodious warble.

Happily there was plenty of plant life to enjoy on both days.  This whole area was once woodland, and fortunately after the gravel extraction programme in the 80s, it was not merely filled in, capped with clay and turned over to agriculture, but was allowed to remain and rewild, giving us the reserve we know and love today. Working parties do great stuff in keeping some of the scrub under control to allow the important (and unusual in Essex) stands of Heather to thrive. These would soon be crowded out if Silver Birch and other trees were allowed to take hold.  Other interesting flora included Gorse at its peak, Town Hall Clock,  Opposite Leaved Golden Saxifrage, Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Wavy Bittercress, Greater Stitchwort, Ground Ivy and Heath Woodrush…

…and of course Bluebells, albeit a little worryingly with quite a few hybrids with Spanish Bluebell, paler, less delicate and of lower value to native pollinators.

Fungi are always fascinating, and we were delighted to find examples of King Alfred’s Cakes and a Mazegill bracket fungus.

As always we enjoyed the company of our groups – always willing to listen to Chris’ stories and ask questions and generally join in.  Thank you all!  Look forward to another walk with you before too long. Some of you asked about our fantastic close-up binoculars: they are Pentax Papilio II 8.5 x 21. We would recommend them thoroughly, and it is just a pity we are not on commission, given the number of pairs that have been bought by our ‘bug and botters’ over the past four years!