Author Archives: Martin Ferns

MKNHS PLANT GROUP: SHENLEY WOOD REPORT – 28 APRIL 2024

What’s that plant – and why?

Twelve Society members (and one Parks Trust volunteer) braved a decidedly cold, damp, and sunless morning for two hours at Shenley Wood for the inaugural event of the newly formed Plant Group. Because of the wet and boggy conditions all our observations and identifications were made from the triangular route hard-core path in the east of the Wood or off the route into the Wood from the car park.

Shenley Wood is designated as Ancient Woodland and also as a ‘County Wildlife Site’. It is owned and managed by the Parks Trust. The surface geology is mostly glacial boulder clay and drainage is poor despite some ditches. Pedunculate Oak (Quercus robur) and Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) were the dominant mature tree species observed with an understory of Hazel (Corylus avellana), Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Bramble (Rubus ‘fruiticosus’) and Rose (Rosa species). Bluebell (Hyacynthoides non-scripta) was the dominant ground species of the wooded areas but the path edges and small clearings offered more light and here we were able to identify many more species:

Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa), Bugle (Ajuga reptans), Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), Primrose (Primula vulgaris), and Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) as might have been expected but also Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) in profusion (not yet in flower), Pendulous Sedge (Carex pendula), Wood Sedge (Carex sylvatica) , Bush Vetch (Vica sepium), Common Figwort not yet in flower(Scrophularia nodosa) – or was it Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata)? , Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) , and more.

 
Bugle Ajuga reptans (left)  Bush Vetch Vica sepium (right) (Photos © Bob Phillips)

We had hoped to find Early Purple Orchid in flower (Orchis mascula) but the orchid leaves that we did find could have been either Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) or Early Purple Orchid.  One of the key indicators of Ancient Woodland is Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis) but none was identified in this section of the Wood (though it had been seen in other parts, on the recce). There was a plentiful supply of specimens on the ground of canopy-emerging leaves and flowers of the Pedunculate Oak – perhaps the combined work of grey squirrels and strong winds the previous night. With the benefit of a hand lens we were able to identify the small dark female flowers as well as the more familiar male yellow catkins.

Along the short walk between the car park and entry to the Wood we identified several shrubs, bushes, and plants on the route. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), and Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) were close together and Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana) nearby with all but the Dogwood showing their white blossom. This offered the opportunity for examination of the essential differences of leaf form, florescence, and stem colour. At the edge of the car park, Sticky Mouse-ear (Cerastium glomeratum) was new to many of us:  a hand lens allowed us to view the glandular hairs on the stem and leaves.


Close-up of Sticky Mouse-ear to show glandular hairs on a stem (Photo © Bob Phillips)

A full list of species observed and identified is being prepared with comments and notes where necessary. This list including some of its queries will be input to a more formal Record of Listings which aims to be compatible with the requirements of BMERC in most respects although it is not anticipated that Group members will be able to acquire the skills necessary to submit formal records without further external training support.

In what way was this event different to the evening walks of the Society’s Summer Programme? Certainly, there was much more time for detailed examination of the plants we saw, checking field guides for distinguishing features, and sharing this knowledge with each other. Planning Team members were on hand to guide participants to planned stopping places and in practice we broke into a number of smaller groups in order to follow up particular interests. We also found that for some plants identification proved uncertain especially when not yet in flower and in these instances, we decided to list them as such. We also decided to list only those species that we observed either at the recce or the event itself, and to rely on our own identification skills. This was to avoid the temptation of assuming that because a plant had been seen before in Shenley Wood that was what it must be (e.g. the Figwort and Orchid species). We concluded with a welcome offer of tea or coffee.

To read more about the Plant Group go to the website under Programmes then Plant Group in the drop-down box to find an Information Sheet. The next event is from 10.30 am to 12.30 pm on Sunday 2nd June when the habitat will be the grassland, hedges, and limestone scrape of Stonepit Field.

Report prepared by the Planning Team (Charles Kesser, Jenny Mercer, Di Parsons, Carla Boswell, and Joe Clinch), with special thanks to Janice Robertson for her local knowledge and joining us on the recce, Bob Philips for his photographs, and Richard Schmidt for sharing his field notes with us.

07 May 2024

MKNHS Pilch Field visit – Tuesday 30 April 2024 – Report

A group of about 20 visited Pilch Field SSSI on a cool but dry evening – not entirely dry underfoot, but dry enough once we navigated our way past the ponds near the entrance.  Jenny and Di were well prepared and carrying bundles of sticks to mark areas where less common plants were found. Pilch Field is an amazing Site of Special Scientific Interest, well-managed these days by BBOWT, comprising old ploughland left as pasturage about 200 years ago after the Enclosure of the open field agriculture of ‘Ridge and furrow’, in the Parish of Singleborough.  Its damp areas of fen vegetation are treacherous and we avoided them – though the wonderful show of Marsh marigolds was in the middle of the western swampy part of the big field.

There was plenty to see in the larger field, with only a couple of members venturing into Little Pilch. Cowslips and Green-winged orchids are in profusion on the ridges; bugle too. The furrows are much damper and full of Hard rush with some sedges seen. The cool April weather has delayed grass growth this year, and Adder’s tongue fern was easily spotted. Often 1 square metre of this atypical fern was seen (Jenny noted at least 10 areas of 1m2) and one of 2m2 as we walked back. No sign of Moonwort so far this year though.


Adder’s tongue fern (Photo ©Bob Phillips)


Hoary plantain Plantago media, distinguished by its ‘crinkly’ pleated leaves,
with Yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor (Photo © Janice Robertson)

Yellow rattle was plentiful, and beginning to flower, but much of it stunted. Meadowsweet was much in evidence, but will not be in flower for another few weeks; likewise Marsh thistle.

Towards the end of the visit we had a great treat finding 2 Twayblade orchids …in bud… just before we turned back towards dusk, having had to abandon going into Little Pilch. Jenny had never seen twayblade orchid in Pilch in 30 years of visiting. They were near the site where Early Marsh orchids are sometimes found in June-July, though none seen last year…

Twayblade (Photo ©Bob Phillips)

A list of plants and birds observed can be found here .

 

Report prepared by Jenny Mercer and others

A late Dawn Chorus walk – and many other activities

For those who missed a guided walk on Dawn Chorus day on Sunday 5th May, there is another chance on 11th May at Marston Vale at the later time of 10.00 am (not quite dawn, you might think!) just a stone’s throw from Milton Keynes, over the border in Bedfordshire: Millennium Country Park, Marston Moretaine, MK43 0PR

https://www.marstonvale.org/Event/late-risers-a-dawn-chorus-bird-walk-11may2024

The Marston Vale website www.marstonvale.org contains news of many other interesting activities, many of them family-oriented, but some more specialised.

Also of interest is the BCN Wildlife Trust website, wildlifebcn.org, which has details of a wide range of activities and events, including their programme of Wildlife Training Workshops, which are open to members and non-members alike.  There are also useful identification guides on the website.

And although MK is actually within the ambit of BBOWT (Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust), much of what BCNWT manages and arranges is as close or closer to MK than BBOWT’s equivalents.

 

Invertebrate specimen box – Free to a good home

Chris Coppock has a well-made 1950s (or earlier) wooden box for insect specimens.  Hinged in two equal sections, not glazed but cork-lined top and bottom.  It’s quite worn and not suitable for display purposes, but possibly for a collecting trip or storing specimens.  External dimensions 354 x 254 x 90mm.  Free to a good home.

If interested contact Chris on email: christophercoppock@live.co.uk  or call 01908 265519 to arrange handover.

ECLIPSES OF THE WORLD: Sheridan Williams – Zoom recording 23.04.24

In this talk, postponed from December 2023, Sheridan Williams aimed to tell us about his travels to see total eclipses around the world, together with some of the outstanding wildlife he has encountered in the process.

Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties it was not possible to show the section of the talk focussed on that wildlife. Sheridan has agreed to return at a later date to complete his talk!

To view a recording of the talk, click on the link below and enter the pass code when prompted to do so (Please note, the recording is in 2 parts).

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/mmWpHXSR3wb0dfdL8i6EuAtQOIvE6zB3CO32i5Hn4DJn9WlvIH-WqRWnQaSMNHyc.Lj16AWkFAoq-C9oa

Passcode: JY@^4kYF

BIRDS AND THEIR EGGS – Douglas Russell – Tuesday 16th April – Zoom Recording

Following on from his talk in 2022, we welcomed back Douglas Russell, Curator of Birds at the Natural History Museum, Tring. Douglas has very recently published a new book on this subject and he talked about his research into the nests and eggs of birds worldwide.

 N.B. All images and quotes from the book remain  © Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

Douglas also alerted us to the forthcoming summer exhibition at the Natural History Museum: Birds: Brilliant and Bizarre https://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/birds-brilliant-bizarre.html

To view a recording of the talk, click on the link below and enter the pass code when prompted to do so.
https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/h4V3ouYtXYhxVnqL4ZJHEH_eDuLyc5acilOleQSS7RDyx77HXrA-t9c20jGjBhJQ.HJ8zChFsXMhM71Ou

Passcode: Twf*Xfv9

First MKNHS Plant Group meeting 28 April 1030-1230

The first MKNHS Plant group field meeting takes place on Sunday 28 April , from 1030 to 1230.

Details of the meeting are given below. If you want to come along, please register your interest by sending an email to Joe Clinch: joeclinch@btinternet.com

More details about the MKNHS Plant Group can be found here.

28 April 10.30-12.30
SHENLEY WOOD: MKNHS Plant group – Leaders Carla Boswell and Jenny Mercer

The first of the Plant Group’s activities in 2024 will centre on field work at different habitats where we will practise our identification skills at the species level initially concentrating on flowering plants (and, where we can, grasses, rushes, sedges and trees) and listing species observed in a systematic way. Improving identification skills will rely heavily on the sharing of knowledge between participants.

Meet at the Merlewood Drive car park, Shenley Wood.  MK5 6GG (off Tattenhoe Street). grid ref: SP823356, what3words: timed.luck.parked

Launch of the MKNHS Plant Group (What’s that Plant – and Why?)

Photo © Joe Clinch: Pyrimidal Orchid  Anacamptis pyramidalis

The purpose of the Group
The MKNHS Plant Group will launch its activities this summer. Its aim is to stimulate interest in plants and particularly to improve the level of plant identification skills within the Society by sharing knowledge, skills and resources.

Who is the Plant Group for and what kind of activities will it organise?
The Group is open to all those members of the Society who support its purpose and who are able to give more time to the activity than is usually possible through the Summer Programme events which it will complement. Activities will centre on field work at different habitats where we will practice our identification skills at the species level initially concentrating on flowering plants (and, where we can, grasses, rushes, sedges and trees) and listing species observed in a systematic way. Improving identification skills will rely heavily on the sharing of knowledge between participants.

Over time, we hope to build up knowledge of local sites including the possibility of working with partner wildlife organisations. We also hope that participants will also enjoy the pleasure of observing plants in their natural setting, and of having a better understanding of their role in the local ecology.

Activities in 2024
Three field events are planned for 2024 each in a different habitat (all on Sunday morning from 10.30 to 12.30):
1. Shenley Wood 28th April: Ancient Woodland habitat
2. Stonepit Field 2nd June: Meadow, limestone scrape, and hedgerow habitat

3. Location and date still to be decided but will be in July or August, with a different habitat to the above
(Full details will be posted on the Society website).

2024 will be a pilot year, which the Planning Team will review in the autumn.

What resources will participants need
Those participating in events should bring a flower identification field guide: the Society website has an excellent summary of these (See Society Website: Reference then Identification Guides, then scroll to Flowering Plant).  A hand lens (ideally x10 magnification) will also be needed for some species – we hope to have some to lend. Members will be welcome to bring an identification App but at species level we shall concentrate on the botanical features that are needed for greater identification certainty. (Some suggestions of Apps can be found here, with members’ comments on their usefulness and limitations.)

Communication
Information about the Group including Planned Events will be publicised on the Society website with short Side Bar reminders about upcoming events as for other Society activities. For those that register an interest, email will be used for circulation of event specific information prior to it and for emergency announcements. An informal Plant WhatsApp group will also be established for those that opt to join (and thereby agree to share their mobile telephone number).

How do Society members register their interest in the Group?
Send an email to joeclinch@btinternet.com.

How are activities being planned and organised?
A Planning Team has been taking forward the work to establish the
Group. Charles Kessler leads the Group and chairs the Planning Team: other members are currently: Jenny Mercer, Di Parsons, Carla Boswell (secretary of the Team), and Joe Clinch.

WILDLIFE IN THE LANGUEDOC REGION OF FRANCE: Matt Andrews – Tues 26 March – Zoom Recording

Unfortunately, our scheduled speaker Nick Marriner had to pull out at the last minute. Once again, our Chairman Matt Andrews stepped in with a beautifully illustrated and entertaining talk about the wildlife to be seen in the Languedoc region of France.

The Zoom recording can be viewed using the link and password below. It will be available for 30 days from the date of the talk

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/hv4_FZUpIXuTcP_7yzUZZ2cnvecHAj-FZp-MQCGMMMJ4s-g7gGesz0t76sGZLtc7.URT3USHzTxatwh18

Passcode: XVQ&2jps

URBAN FOXES Prof. Dawn Scott  – Tues 19th March – Recording

Professor Dawn Scott is one of Britain’s leading mammal ecologists, specialising in interactions between humans and wildlife. She is a familiar face from appearances on TV programmes such as Springwatch and is perhaps best known for her longstanding studies of urban foxes. She gave us a fascinating and very informative talk on this subject.

The Zoom recording can be viewed using the link and password below. It will be available for 30 days.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/55hWziFzmxF4Hv0nL5Lma19YgLJzdnYmuttzWP1YfoYJRPJ81A-kwNYv0lOdq66C.ylxp9AEgX2R7NKoS

Passcode: DD^pn5F0

 AGRICULTURE ON MARS AND THE MOON! Prof. Nigel Mason – Tues. March 5th – Recording

Nigel Mason is Professor of Molecular Physics at the University of Kent and an eminent astrobiologist. He examined the feasibility of human agriculture in our solar system, the problems involved and work currently underway to try to address them.

The Zoom recording can be viewed using the link and password below. It will be available for 30 days.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/Fm0jVCdH5uI38xva80xasm7wF4g_LWBZk7wZ2a134ZOwO2rseUTteG1fqMd-ph_U.h6oVThyVXJz3OGUo

Passcode: #8FqRFYB

Our Chair speaks – Matt Andrew’s 2024 AGM address

Welcome to the 55th Annual General Meeting of our Milton Keynes Natural History Society (MKNHS).  Since 1968, the society has been meeting on a regular basis with our current president, Roy Maycock being one of the three original founding members of the society.  We have been gathering here at Bradwell Abbey since 2005 and until recently, Roy has been present at the vast majority of these meetings and it is only infirmity which prevents him from attending now. 

Over the past twelve months, the MKNHS has proven able to meet the stated aims and objectives of the society:

  • To promote public interest in wildlife;
  • To provide a meeting place for people with Natural History interests;
  • To encourage the study and preservation of our flora and fauna;
  • To provide a forum for Natural History debate.

The society owes a debt of thanks to so many of its members for hosting wildlife walks and talks throughout our 12-month calendar. We are one of the very few organisations who meet on a weekly basis and in order to ensure there is a varied and relevant programme of events for our members to enjoy, a lot of hard work and preparation is necessary.  It represents a remarkably good return for our £25 annual membership fee in my opinion!

Your committee consists of six active members of the society as well as the society’s officers and we all try to ensure that the society’s activities and events are properly thought out, prepared in advance and ultimately run smoothly and professionally 

In particular, I would like to record our thanks to Martin Kincaid and Diana Parsons for ensuring the evening talks and presentations are pre-arranged for the forthcoming seasons.   Martin has decided to stand down now from his role as vice-president and from the committee, I wish to personally express my thanks to him for everything he has done on all of our behalf over the past years.

Your committee meets on a quarterly basis and there is a full agenda for each of these meetings which are held on Zoom.  I wish to thank Mervyn Dobbin, the society’s secretary for his dedication and thorough recording of these meetings as well as being the society’s principle receiver of external requests and e-mails from various outside organisations and parties who wish to communicate with us;  he is the person who prepares the rest of the committee with agendas for the quarterly meetings. He invariably ensures these communications are sent out to the committee members with recommendations and suggestions as to how they might be responded to.

Our treasurer is Linda Murphy and she has generously agreed to carry on this role for the next 12 months.  The role of treasurer for any organisation such as ours demands accuracy, timely responses to banking requests and attention to detail and Linda’s reports for each of the committee meetings are always easy to read, understand and accurate.  She should be commended for keeping our society’s funds and accounts so well and our thanks are also due to Anne Strutton for assisting Linda and double-checking the accounts.

The website is an absolutely essential part of our communication strategy and Martin Ferns, Jagoda Zajac and Linda Murphy are the driving forces behind this exceptionally important aspect of society communication. Thanks are also due to Bob Phillips for looking after the Recent Sightings page. We thank too Rebecca Hiorns for her invaluable contribution to the website maintainance and content prior to her retirement from this part of the society’s activities.   Over 100,000 views of the website have been recorded since its inception in 2015, quite an achievement and a good indication of the interest and concern local MK residents have for the preservation and care of their local wildlife and habitats.

Over the period of a year, there will be many changes to the society’s membership;  we maintain just over a hundred members on our books, many of whom regularly attend our meetings, be they indoors or outside on our wildlife walks during the warmer months.

The level and variety of knowledge and indeed, expertise enjoyed by our society is reflected in you, our members and the identification pages on the website are testament to this exceptional pool of knowledge.

Mike LeRoy has been instrumental in campaigning for more recording of wildlife sightings and along with Jenny Mercer and Joe Clinch, encouraging the establishment of more regular and established identification guides on the website.  Mike mentioned this in last year’s AGM and it is high time we followed this up with some action.

Anne and Mark Strutton continue to excel in providing a quiz for us all every December, this always provokes a lot of thought and much laughter too, I want to thank them both for putting together what must be a very time-consuming but much looked forward to, now annual event.

Tim Arnold is deserving of everyone’s appreciation for taking on the role of technical expert for our presentations and enabling Zoom participants to log into our evening talks.  This is no small task, presenting Tim with all sorts of technical issues to deal with at very short notice in view of the myriad different computer systems brought along to our talks.

Tony Wood is a stalwart of the society and every week without fail ensures with Paul Lund that the room here at the Cruck Barn is both ready and prepared.  Joe Clinch is also an essential component to this aspect of room preparation and shut-down. They all arrive prior to the rest of us and then stay beyond our closing time to ensure the room is properly shut down and made good for the next users.  Paul is also owed thanks for continuing to win at least one prize (1st this year) in the annual photographic competition …!

If I haven’t mentioned you or other individuals specifically, this is because there is so much valuable work being carried out by you as a group of people with nature at the heart of your activities and I apologise if you have been missed out for a specific mention … 

Finally, there are always going to be occasions when members here either leave the society or indeed, sadly cannot be with us any more and here I am referring to our dear and valued friend, Colin Dockerty who passed away suddenly in the autumn of 2023.

Colin was a regular contributor to the society’s activities and even if you hadn’t joined one of his many guided walks around Milton Keynes then you would undoubtedly have enjoyed the coffee, tea and biscuits he provided at every indoor meeting.  He was instantly recognisable as he usually wore shorts even in the most inclement weather; I recall meeting him last summer inside the Milton Keynes shopping centre, shorts and rucksack making him easily seen even from several shops away!

Colin has left a big hole in the society’s activity agenda which we are attempting to fill but he also left a legacy for the society in the form of a huge library of natural history books which his family have kindly donated to us for forthcoming book sales, yet to be announced.  Many of these publications are specialised and rare and we will be offering these for sale at some time in the near future with all the proceeds helping to bolster our funds.

On a personal note, I wish to sincerely thank you all for entrusting the role of Chair to me. It is a privilege and honour even to be considered for this position and I hope that I have fulfilled this role to the best of my ability and to your satisfaction.  I am endeavouring to set up a national group of single points of contact for all wildlife societies such as ours with a view to having regular contact with other like-minded organisations, enabling the sharing and dissemination of information pertinent to our interests.  The influence and power of persuasion such a potentially huge group of erudite, nature-loving people in this country could bring to the table could have huge ramifications for persuading or dissuading many aspects of national or local land and wildlife management policies and I believe should be of benefit to all of us.  I am sincerely hoping to report this exercise both complete and functioning by this time next year.

An AGM such as ours can be a potentially dry and unexciting part of the group’s yearly activities but it is an essential part of making us what we are.

There are several forthcoming vacancies on the society’s committee which must be filled by this time next year and I would ask each and every one of us here tonight as well as those members unable to attend to consider whether they could assist with the committee.

We are as strong as the number, diversity and knowledge of people we have in the society and your views and opinions make us what we are so please do seriously consider going onto the committee, if only for a year in order to ensure the MKNHS moves on from strength to strength over the years ahead.  Without new committee members the future of the society in its present form may even be in doubt so we as a group really do need to consider this future-planning issue.

The society represents all that is good for our natural environment and in Milton Keynes we are blessed with many and varied habitats providing homes to all manner of wild and remarkable things.  Let us keep on endeavouring to ensure that we provide a space for those myriad species of flora and fauna to thrive in and to ensure that our own fascination and wonder at the variety and beauty surrounding us is given a place and format to share our interests, concerns and knowledge through the Milton Keynes Natural History Society. We surely owe this not only to ourselves but to future generations of people living here who need to both enjoy and cherish the astonishing abundance of wildlife found in our region.

Matt Andrews
12 March 2024

Website update – and an invitation

The MKNHS website is run by a small group of members. Rebecca Hiorns has had to drop out at the beginning of 2024 from her ‘webmaster’ role due to her work commitments, but we are lucky that Jagoda Zajac has stepped in as webmaster, joining Linda Murphy and Martin Ferns on the editorial team. In addition, Bob Phillips looks after the Recent Sightings page.

We are now working on redesigning the website to make it more attractive and improve its useability both on computer and mobile devices. This should be ready to switch to in the next few weeks.

We would still welcome any members with an interest in the website to join the team. No website experience is necessary – though it is welcome, of course.

Specific tasks which we are looking for help with are:

  1. Adding and classifying members photos for the Photo Gallery, so they can be easily searchable.
  2. Updating a new monthly calendar of MKNHS and other local events of interest to members
  3. preparing/editing the bi-annual Magpie Digest of website articles, for circulation to members without easy access to the website.

If you are interested, please get in touch with any of the editorial team at one of the weekly meetings, or by email to webeditor@mknhs.org.uk

Martin, Linda and Jagoda
1 March 2024

PER-WHO? Ayla Webb – Tuesday 27 Feb – Recording

Photo: Finca Las Piedras Research Station, Peru

PER-WHO? BUTTERFLIES AND OTHER EMOTIONS IN OXFORD AND THE AMAZON –Ayla Webb – Tuesday 27th February – Recording
Ayla Webb discussed her general disappearance from the Society over the past four years. She outlined her project work on Vapourer Moths carried out at Oxford University and talked about her involvement in the Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon’s Lepidoptera Project, including her experiences living and working at a field station in the Peruvian Amazon.

A recording of the talk is available on request until the end of March. If you would like to view the recoding, please send an email to Webeditor@MKNHS.org.uk

John Wickham lecture: Seahorses in the UK – Neil Garrick-Maidment – 20.02.24 Recording

This year’s John Wickham lecture was given to the Society on 20th February by Neil Garrick-Maidment on Seahorses in the UK. The lecture was recorded, and is available online until 20 April, through the following link:

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/play/VXbsddXgdfCNHO5Nr7h5bkpAYemG9LmFD-UTJePvOqDpw6YmM3LDfGQJmXul_ruOPEofesTD9pCHrpfz.EpikBnkLs-0ObXih

Passcode: 6jCi?TpB

 

AN INTRODUCTION TO FRESHWATER FISH – Gary Fowler – 6 February recording

Society member Gary Fowler is known as a very knowledgeable birder… but he is also a keen angler. On Tuesday 6 February, Gary gave us an illustrated talk on freshwater fish, among our most overlooked animals, starting with those species found in our local waters.

The Zoom recording can be viewed using the link and password below. It will be available for 30 days.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/play/YTU55VHakNrGvjzuwT3ZDlsc9RRLHWSFvQz1gIjmYLiDuBR6ZGpGWHHsmig96_B0tyeYeqjnKpzAy252.jZ8xpV7aVuof7mC_

Passcode: B9VMW@?a

The importance of flower-visiting insects in gardens – Hils Erenler – 24.02.24 – Winslow

Chris Roberts of the GREENER WINSLOW group has suggested MKNHS members might like to come along to this talk on Saturday 24th February 2024,
Local ecologist, Hils Erenler, will talk about The importance of flower-visiting insects in gardens
2.30 pm St Laurence Room, Market Square, Winslow MK18 3AB
Open to all.
Refreshments will be available.

You might also like to look at their website: www.greenerwinslow.uk
The group has 3 aims:
1) To research, promote and undertake activities that help reduce carbon output in the Winslow area
2) To promote and undertake activities that improve local biodiversity
3) To promote and protect local green spaces
They have a wide variety of activities working to achieve these aims.

Photo: Dark Green Fritillary on buddleia  ©  Martin Kincaid

RIDING THE WIND AND SUN FOR 50 YEARS & OTHER STORIES – Dr Derek Taylor – 30th January – Recording

Our very own Dr Derek Taylor has worked in renewables and ultra-low energy building design for over 50 years. In his talk he explained how renewable energy has grown from almost zero to become the dominant form of energy and the least expensive form of electricity.

The recording will be available to view for 30 days from the date of the talk.
Follow the link and put in the pass code when asked to do so.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/jnaTZV75J9eHfWNZl3mF9KVe3or0W4iyEgSWN-p5xgvoscDOjjfJqrE81JsAGmkF.PqjJLj5G6ZJ89lPJ

Passcode: 712^7Uud

BSBI’s annual New Year Plant Hunt – how to take part

The New Year Plant Hunt takes place this year from 30th December to 2nd January. It is an annual event run by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland when people – whether absolute beginners or experienced naturalists – across Britain and Ireland head out to see how many wild or naturalised plants (not garden plants) they can find in bloom in their local area at midwinter.-

Perhaps surprisingly, many plants are still flowering in midwinter, with nearly 500 different species recorded during last year’s Hunt. Many of these are widespread, common and easy to identify, but BSBI will provide help with identification for everyone, including total beginners.

It’s easy to take part. During the four days around New Year, 30th December – 2nd January, take a short, leisurely walk outdoors, noting wild flowers in bloom. Submit your finds via our online form and you’ll be contributing to vital climate research. There is a recording app you are encouraged to use, either on your mobile or on your computer

More information, including how to register, can be found here:
https://bsbi.org/new-year-plant-hunt

 

 

 

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MKNHS Photo Competition 2024 – Entries by 16 January please

The Society’s annual Photo Competition takes place in January.

As last year, the format will be a print competition. That is, entrants need to submit prints rather than digital photos online.

There are five categories;
1. Birds
2. Plants & Fungi
3. Insects
4. Other Animals
5. Astronomy, Landscapes, Minerals etc.

A maximum of two prints can be entered into each category. (10 prints in total per entrant)
Maximum print size is A4 (210 x 297mm)

The deadline for submission of prints is 16th January, with the entrants judged by members at the Tuesday evening meeting on 23rd January.

Prints may be submitted at the Tuesday meetings on 9th and 16th, or by post to:

MK Natural History Society
c/o City Discovery Centre
Bradwell Abbey
Milton Keynes
MK13 9AP

No prints will be accepted after the deadline of 16th January.

The winner receives a small shield to keep and the large shield to hold for a year.

May the best photograph win – it’s up to you!

Queries to webeditor@mknhs.org.uk

Book now for WT BCN’s 2024 training courses

Booking for 2024 training courses run by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire (WT BCN) is now open to non-members. https://www.wildlifebcn.org/get-involved/training-workshops

The WT BCN Wildlife Training Workshops 2024 leaflet has 23 courses listed, from ‘Identifying Winter Trees’ to ‘Pond Dipping for Adults’, and ‘Woodland Plant Communities’, or learning to use identification keys on an ‘Introduction to Wild Flower Identification’, ‘Introduction to Dragonflies’, and many more.

You can download the leaflet here: https://www.wildlifebcn.org/sites/default/files/2023-11/WTBCN%20Training%20A5%208pp%202024%20FINAL.pdf

Book early to avoid disappointment. These courses are popular.

STOP PRESS: Applications for the BSBI Identiplant course in 2024 are now open.

The sooner you submit your application for the Identiplant course, the better. Places are limited. This online course has skilled tutors and is run by the BSBI (Botanical Society for Britain & Ireland). The BSBI say: ‘Identiplant is intended for beginners who have some knowledge of plants and are ready to advance from identification by matching pictures and remembering names to a systematic approach, using scientific names, written descriptions and keys. This results in the confidence and accuracy that is essential in identification and leads to further progress, either independently or through field meetings and courses or recording groups.’

Find out more on https://identiplant.bsbi.org/ and on https://identiplant.bsbi.org/applications. The closing date for applications is 31st December 2023.

 

Tributes to Colin Docketty

Three tributes to Colin follow from his friends in the Society
(Photos courtesy of Colin’s sister Marion)

Colin Docketty was born in north-west London on 28 January 1943.  Leaving school at the age of 15, Colin went to Pitman’s College and after that began work at Euston House for British Rail. He would remain with the railways for his entire working life and his passion for trains and trainspotting was infectious. Colin’s sister Marion tells how his love of trainspotting and ‘collecting trains’ evolved into a similar interest in watching and listing birds, and thereafter wildlife in general, although he had had some interest in nature from an early age.

Marion remembers how Colin was close to death in the early 1970s. He had been suffering from cancer and had been treated with chemotherapy – then very much a new treatment. Colin was on life support and the doctors gently explained that it might be time to switch off as he was unlikely to recover. But Marion felt Colin squeeze her hand and persuaded them to give him more time. Soon afterwards, Colin made a full recovery and was determined to live life to the full.

 
Colin, sister Marion and other family members

Colin lived with his parents in Watford and by the mid-1980s was working in administration at Melton House near Watford Junction. Colin was introduced to John Blundell by a mutual friend and he and John would go on to become good buddies and would make regular railway journeys in later years. John remembers how he would usually bump into Colin in the canteen – his love of good food legendary even then! Colin took voluntary redundancy in 1990 and moved to Milton Keynes in 1993. The house in the Lakes Estate was bought primarily to house Colin’s vast collection of books (his mother had had enough by then!) One of the advantages of living here was that Colin was close to Blue Lagoon Local Nature Reserve and ‘the bluey’ as he called it became his local patch, giving him countless hours of pleasure looking for birds, wildflowers, butterflies and dragonflies among other delights. He led a number of society visits to Blue Lagoon in the years to come.

Colin made many friends at MKNHS and in his own quite way made a vast contribution, particularly in the last five years or so. He has been our chief refreshments person – ensuring that tea and coffee is provided at indoor meetings and has planned the Christmas party for some years. He has also served on the committee and helped to plan and lead several society trips further afield. Perhaps his most valuable contribution was organising and running a series of Sunday walks, beginning in the aftermath of the 2020 COVID lockdown. When meeting indoors was still impossible for our society, these local walks were a vital way for us to keep connected and indeed helped us to recruit a number of new members. His almost encyclopedic knowledge of the Milton Keynes (and indeed UK) transport system came in handy to many of us!

Sadly, the last trip that Colin planned, he did not live to attend. Harry Appleyard welcomed 13 members to Spurn in Humberside last weekend (27-29 October) and we assembled a list of birds and wildlife that would have delighted Colin, not least the woodcocks we saw coming off the sea – a favourite bird of his. We drank a toast to him on the first evening. He would have loved the food.

Colin passed away suddenly on 19 September 2023. He is survived by his siter Marion, his niece Yolanda and two nephews, Adrian and Sidney. The family were incredibly welcoming when Matt Andrews and Martin Kincaid attended his funeral and wished to acknowledge their thanks to all his friends in MKNHS. Wherever he is now, let’s hope the buses are running on time.

Martin Kincaid

 

I was very sad to hear that Colin had died.  Once you met Colin, you didn’t forget him and I certainly won’t.  My wife, Mairi, only met him once but on the day I heard he had died we were able to have a long conversation about him! He was undeniably different!  So here are just a couple of my reminiscences.

Most of you will remember Colin from the MKNHS meetings at Cruick Barn or summer field meetings. I also saw him at Cruick Barn where our conversations usually started by him asking me about my latest trip abroad as a tour leader. He wanted as much information as possible to assess whether that trip is one he should take in future years. In all, he accompanied me on three trips abroad, but I had not previously met Colin when I led a trip to Florida around the turn of the century. Before we left London airport I had found all, bar one, of my fellow travellers. I sat in a packed Jumbo Jet as we waited for the last embarkee.  At first sight, as he appeared down a gangway, dressed exactly as you would expect, I just knew it was Colin!  There were 15 other people on the trip, as I had to remind Colin occasionally, since he asked more questions than the rest of the group put together. His appetite for information and answers was almost insatiable.  I just wish I could have answered all of them with complete confidence, since Colin seemed to have seriously misplaced trust in my infallibility. So we had many conversations during the trip, not least at several dinners, since the seating arrangements of most of the motels we used did not promote communal dining, but retro booths. Colin’s appetite for information was not entirely based on me. Some of the reserves we visited had gift shops – and more importantly book shops – attached.  I’m not sure how much spare luggage space Colin had planned, but he bought a lot of books!

On one of the first occasions he turned up at a birdwatching walk which I was leading, I asked who had given him a lift.  No-one. Two buses and a walk had done the trick. What about getting home? Well, a lift to a specific bus stop was welcome but he never asked for a lift home.  The one situation which did allow him to accept a lift home was the prospect of a tortuous, very late night journey from Heathrow Airport.

Over the years I was always curious as to how on earth he had got to various often remote nature reserves in the UK, or the USA, by public transport.  In describing precisely every stage of the journey, the answer became obvious – by meticulous planning,of course. Public transport operators sometimes let him down, or made mistakes, which Colin never did!

However there was one form of transport, of which Colin was not at all fond….ski lifts.  During a trip to Bulgaria, on which there were several other MKNHS members, this was an essential part of the itinerary.  The birds and butterflies at 2000m near Bansko, on Mt Pirin, could only be sought with the aid of two ski lifts. Eventually, with the quite accurate assurance that I had never been on a ski lift either, we took the plunge, metaphorically speaking, together, holding hands!  To the great amusement of more hardened ski-lifters!

Happy days! I shall miss you, Colin.

Andy Harding

 

The many members of Milton Keynes Natural History Society remember Colin with fondness. Not just as a smiling face above the coffee cups, as he managed the provision of refreshments with commitment and kindness.

He was much more than that. Colin was an excellent naturalist over many branches of natural history. But even more important was his knowledge of when and where to find natural history, and his enterprise in searching them out via the local and not so local bus routes.

The real benefit we all gained from him was his enthusiasm for organising and sharing trips to encounter nature. For the past years he organised and lead Sunday walks round local places full of nature. The Society gained many members who started with one of Colins walks.

On top of this he liked to organise short trips away or take part in ones organised by others. I went on a trip he organised on the Isle of Wight. It was a bit too windy for the butterflies and birds we hoped to see. We saw a hedge covered in the gossamer of Ermine moth caterpillars, and saw Nightjar and Woodcock on our last evening.

The other trip of his that I went on, had much more problem with the weather. The week after the queen’s jubilee was very wet in the Chilterns. It was good fun hiding in left-over marquees, and watching the success of the Red Kites introduced to the area.

Thank you Colin, for being part of our society, we owe you our gratitude for all you have done for the society, and for being a great character.

Di Parsons

 

Other tributes can be found here

https://mknhs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Colin-Docketty-a-couple-of-reminiscences.docx

THE PROBLEM FOR FUNGI – ESCAPING THE BOUNDARY LAYER – Justin Long – Tues 24 Oct – Recording

THE PROBLEM FOR FUNGI – ESCAPING THE BOUNDARY LAYER – Talk by Justin Long – Tuesday 24th October – Zoom Recording

Our resident mycologist, Justin Long, described the challenge faced by terrestrial fungi – how to disperse their spores to ensure maximum distribution – and the myriad ways they have evolved to achieve this.

A Zoom recording of this talk is available for members to view for 30 days. If you would like to view the recording, please contact Linda Murphy (lindamurphy49@btinternet.com )

 

2024 Wildlife Training Workshops by BCN Wildlife Trust

The programme for the 2024 Wildlife Training Workshops by the Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cams & Northants (WT BCN) has been issued to their members and will be added to their website for everyone else in the next few weeks. The following kinds of day course are planned for 2024, among many others:

  1. ‘Introduction to Winter Tree Identification’
  2. ‘Introduction to Wildflower Identification’
  3. ‘Grasses I : A Beginner’s Introduction’
  4. ‘Grasses 2: Practising Grass Identification’
  5. ‘Pond Dipping for Adults’
  6. ‘Introduction to Dragonflies’.

If any of these interest you, keep checking the WT BCN website: https://www.wildlifebcn.org/get-involved/training-workshops

But check the date of the programme, as currently they are still showing the 2023 Training Workshop programme. Book early because most of their courses book up quickly.

Mike LeRoy
October 2023

Getting serious about identifying plants – an Identiplant course

Nine years ago, two MKNHS members, Mary Sarre and Mike LeRoy, signed up to do an online plant identification course called Identiplant. It was a serious attempt to get a grounding in identifying British flowering plants.

Identiplant has 15 study units, for which course notes were available to download every two weeks. These were an information note, with plenty of line-drawings and diagrams, and a question sheet. Each unit had course work which needed to be completed and returned. You sent this back to your tutor who then provided specific, useful and encouraging comments and suggestions.

The first few units were about: Naming and Classification of Plants, Terminology, and Learning how to use Keys. After that, most units focused on one of the larger flowering plant families. Participants had to find some of the species in the wild in order to complete the Unit’s question sheet. You can view sample Units and Question Sheets here:  https://identiplant.bsbi.org/sample-units

If you would seriously like to get over the step to become more confident about how to identify the plants you see, Identiplant is well worth considering. But make sure you will have enough time to complete the course. Mary Sarre completed it :Phil has commented that she found it ‘stretching but well worthwhile’. Mike LeRoy reached just short of the last two Units because of unavoidable other commitments. They both found the course was of a high quality and very useful.

After a few years in which Identiplant had stopped running, it has been restarted and is now led by the BSBI (the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland) and a team of tutors. Every year that Identiplant has been run, more people apply than they have capacity for. Applications for the 2024 course will open in December 2023, but you will need to move fast if you want to be considered for next year’s course. If you are interested, why not make a note to check in early December for the application form?

The BSBI says about Identiplant: “Do you want to learn to identify plants from Britain and Ireland correctly, confidently and accurately, to learn how to use a Flora and to follow a botanical key? Identiplant could be the answer. Created to take near beginners to an intermediate level, Identiplant is for those who want to get started with serious botany.”

There is a fee: in 2023 this was £300, which is very good value for the quality and quantity of information provided and the support of your tutor: it is far less than the cost of a holiday. BSBI say: “Non-professionals may be able to obtain a grant or bursary, especially if they are volunteers with an organisation that records or conserves wild plants. The BSBI and the Wild Flower Society both award grants annually; check availability and eligibility.”

The standard Identification book used for the Identiplant course is ‘The Wild Flower Key’ by Francis Rose, revised and updated by Clare O’Reilly, 2006.

You can find more information about the Identiplant course at: https://identiplant.bsbi.org/

Mike LeRoy
October 2023

 

THE NATURAL HISTORY OF ROCKY SHORES – STEVE BRADY – Tues 17 Oct Recording

For many years Steve Brady was a member and officer of the Society, until he retired to explore the rocky shores of Pembrokeshire. During a visit to Milton Keynes, Steve returned to give this talk to the Society. In it he explained how this special environment works, what is to be found there, and why its natural history is so rich.

The recording will be available to view for 30 days. Follow the link and put in the pass code when asked to do so.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/RneMIZwzxYyrkDqEIP_6XN5f4LZMpahX5FFCbxat2tNsiTuiRTfMsLXQDJGhjFoU.ahED08x5CRKijKuf

Passcode: JMCih#G6

BNHS Conference “Freshwater Invertebrates in Beds” – Sat 11 Nov – LAST CHANCE TO BOOK

Stop Press: Last few places, last chance to book for the ‘Freshwater Invertebrates in Bedfordshire’ conference run by the Bedfordshire Natural History Society on 11th November at Marston Moretaine. Good value at £25: seven illustrated talks, and it includes hot drinks, finger buffet lunch and free parking. Book now using the attached booking form.

Bedfordshire Natural History Society (BNHS) will be hosting the upcoming conference titled “Freshwater Invertebrates in Beds” on Saturday 11 November at the Forest Centre in the Millenium Country Park, Marston Moretaine, MK43 0PR.  This one is about Freshwater Invertebrates in Beds (not to be confused with the current news scare about ‘bugs in beds’!) .  BNHS used to run these conferences every two years, so this will be a welcome return of day conferences that have been to a very high standard.

The conference is open to members and non-members, and it would be good if plenty of MKNHS members to go to this conference on 11th November. But you will need to book soon as these events usually get fully booked and tightly fill the conference room at Marston Moretaine Country Park centre. If you do book and can share transport, please do.

Full information can be found through the BNHS website: https://www.bnhs.co.uk/index.php
Further details and ticket booking form can also be found here.

BNHS say: “If you would like to attend the conference please complete and return the form according to the details featured. Payment is preferred by online bank transfer. Alternatively cheques can be sent – again details are provided.
Once the form and payment have been received an email will be returned to confirm your successful application. Tickets and programme can be collected upon arrival at the Centre.

We look forward to seeing you at this important event.
The BNHS Conference Working Group”

The Secret Life of Flies – Recording of talk by Erica McAlister Tuesday 10th October

Erica McAlister is Senior Curator of flies at London’s Natural History Museum and a national authority on Diptera. She is the current President of the Amateur Entomologists Society. We were very fortunate to welcome her on Tuesday to give us an insight into these much maligned and misunderstood insects.

There were problems with the sound for the Zoom participants which were also on the Zoom recording. Following a lot of work by Tim Arnold to boost the sound and add subtitles, the recording is now available as a YouTube video which can be viewed here:

https://youtu.be/2zrXBM_olOE.

For the best view, use headphones and switch on the subtitles.

LEARNING TO IDENTIFY SPECIES: Why not book a course? – Mike LeRoy

You can try to teach yourself, or you can learn with others and with experts. It can be frustrating how slow it is to learn to identify species on your own. But it takes time, and most of us need help.

Another way forward is to book on a course. I used to go on weekend courses at FSC field centres every year. They were my annual holiday. The benefits were: residential field centres that served excellent food, a group of friendly people all keen to learn, a skilled tutor, and enjoyable practical sessions out in the surrounding countryside. Over the years I enjoyed courses at Field Study Council centres such as at: Flatford Mill in Suffolk, Preston Montford in Shropshire, Juniper Hall by Box Hill in Surrey, and Kindrogan in Scotland.

Flatford Mill FSC centre is in the old mill alongside the pond that is in the famous painting by John Constable, The Haywain. In the background is Willy Lot’s Cottage: that was where I had my room for one of the courses. Beside the river was the meeting place where we had introductory talks and worked at learning, with a knowledgeable tutor on hand.

The FSC has branched out from field studies centres in three important ways:

  • It continues to publish those excellent fold-out cards that are a useful introduction to various species; some of us found the one about grasses worked well at the MKNHS meeting on 19th September:
    FSC publications: https://www.field-studies-council.org/shop/

A more local range of options is the excellent day courses run each year by the BCN Wildlife Trust (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire). A decade back, two of us from MKNHS went on a series of evening courses about Ground Beetles, led by Brian Eversham the CEO of BCNWT, who has given fascinating talks at some of our MKNHS meetings. I have much enjoyed their day courses and training workshops, mostly in Northamptonshire.
https://www.wildlifebcn.org/get-involved/training-workshops.

Even more local is a series of courses in Buckinghamshire, starting soon, entitled ‘An Introduction to Invertebrate Recording’. These are supported by the Bucks Invertebrate Group and BMERC, the County Environmental Records Office, and will be run at BBOWT’s Dancersend Nature Reserve near Tring. There are four sessions: on 22 and 29 October, and 19 and 26 November. There will be no charge, but donations to BBOWT will be welcome to help cover costs.
Buckinghamshire Invertebrate Group – Training courses (google.com)

There are other courses available across the UK and online. Some are free: for most there is a fee. Think of it as one of your holidays.

If you would like to discuss possibilities, do have a chat with me at an MKNHS meeting.

Mike LeRoy

COLIN DOCKETTY

Society members were shocked and saddened last weekend to learn of the death of Colin Docketty on 19 September. Colin had been taken to hospital from the gym he attended and died after arrival at hospital.

His sister made contact with the Society to let us know as she was aware of his involvement with and commitment to MKNHS.

His funeral is at Kingston upon Thames Crematorium on 16 October at 11 am.
If you want to write to his family, contact Mervyn Dobbin at info@mknhs.org.uk.

An obituary and opportunity to contribute memories/tributes will follow.

THE CAMARGUE – ZOOM RECORDING – talk by Matt Andrews – Tuesday 3.10.23

THE CAMARGUE – ZOOM RECORDING – talk by Matt Andrews – Tuesday October 3rd
Society Chairman Matt Andrews is a regular visitor to France and showed us some of the wildlife highlights of one of Europe’s most celebrated wetlands – the Carmargue.

The recording will be available to view for 30 days. Follow the link and put in the pass code when asked to do so.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/tm5T9oVFOVBckzswZeZKdj2eUe59c36wsmxUfqaQE3qFrr73R65dVSR8n4qWLpJh.V9KzpzRzxhss6021

Passcode: Lr3u^*sZ

WILD CYPRUS – ZOOM RECORDING – Talk by Tim Arnold – Tuesday 26th September

WILD CYPRUS – ZOOM RECORDING – Talk by Tim Arnold – Tuesday 26th September
Cyprus has a rich fauna and lies on a key migration route. Society member Tim Arnold visited the island in Spring 2023 and presented some of the many birds, flowers, insects and other wildlife to be found there.

The recording will be available to view for 30 days. Follow the link and put in the pass code when asked to do so.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/eHUrE_DMdvgYyP25my9MLoXCvVURcsH69tSuNRSDUrI-_SqfDMGpNRYtRetJ5RgB.p8nqa3cIskUhR_hZ

Passcode: 9tDzb?h%

HAZEL DORMICE – ZOOM RECORDING – Tuesday 12th September

THE PEOPLE’S TRUST FOR ENDANGERED SPECIES – ZOOM RECORDING – Tuesday 12th September
Nida Al-Fulaij
 is Conservation Research Manager for the PTES. She gave us an introduction to the charity’s work and an update on national conservation efforts for Hazel Dormouse.

The recording will be available to view for 30 days. Follow the link and put in the pass code when asked to do so.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/xjwde9lT6MnY-JfPbjHWjQQuThj6TDjw_KxkcfOjmmG88BXds6Rt_EW1GmlooaX2.DbFq-_GOEWjh4UOE

Passcode: JqLvze0^

Autumn Photos request

Paul needs your photos of autumn wildlife, birds, mammals, insects, plants etc to use in the website banner, which we change according to the season. No big prizes but local fame and acknowledgement of your work.
He needs photos that say ‘Autumn’.
Please send jpeg images to ; pplund@gmail.com

Willen Lake North walk – 22 August report – Martine Harvey

Photo of moon © Peter Barnes

Willen Lake North was the focus for this MKNHS walk and we started at the Willen Pavilion car park. Walking anti-clockwise, in the direction of the Peace Pagoda, we stayed close to the lake to look out for Dragonflies and Water Rail. A Common Gull was spotted on the water as we approached. We were then lucky to spot a juvenile and adult Common Tern perched on the poles by the water’s edge, along with some Black Headed Gulls. A young frog was spotted further on, in the grass.


Black-headed Gull and Common Tern (Photo © Martine Harvey)

Walking towards the bird hide, we heard the call of a Water Rail as a Jay flew above into a tree. From the bird hide, several Migrant Hawkers were seen, and a roost of Cormorants were up high in trees across on the island. We then spent some time by the small bridge looking for Dragonflies but unfortunately did not see any. As the sun dropped low in the sky, we saw a Great Crested Grebe in silhouette and further in the distance a family of Tufted Duck.

Near the weir, an unidentified Dragonfly was seen and noted in case it could have been a Lesser Emperor, but unfortunately no ID was made. House Martins and Swallows were seen in the distance, up high as the light levels dropped. On returning to the car park a Noctule Bat was seen and heard with a bat detector.

Many plants were noted on the walk including grassy tall phragmites which grows profusely at the water’s edge. There were good flower heads on the tall stalks; they are large, ranging from near black to a glorious deep purple-red at this time of year, and becoming beige to a creamy bleached white by the spring.

Many people enjoyed the walk, and the evening sun was especially beautiful as the crescent Moon started to appear.

A Plant list is being prepared, and will be added in due course.

Martine Harvey
August 2023

Society walk at Olney Riverside – 15th August 2023

Olney Church across the meadow (Photo © Derek Taylor)

In previous years, this walk along the Ouse has been very popular when undertaken in May or June, usually co-led by Julie Lane and Martin Kincaid. A late summer visit still proved rewarding though.

A short walk from Olney market square brought us to Church Street. At one of the mill-side houses, Martin pointed out a large quantity of bat droppings on the white window ledges of the house. Some of these were the pellets of pipistrelle bats but there were also the larger, twisted pellets of brown long-eared bats. Little did we know the grand finale these bats had planned for us!

At the river, we soon saw Banded Demoiselles and Common Emerald damselflies and also spotted Minnows and Rudd in the clear water. One of our newest members, Rob Andrews, spotted some Yellow Wagtails flying over and a single juvenile Goosander was fishing in the river. In previous years we have seen family groups of this species, which has nested at Olney Mill for the past decade. Rob later found a male Redstart in one of the hedgerows crossing the fields. Although distant, most of the birders managed a glimpse of this lovely bird.


Juvenile Goosander (Photo © Julie Cuthbert)

Our attention soon turned to riparian plants. We found some nice stands of Flowering Rush in the ditches and along the river. Further along, we found the naturalised Orange Balsam, Marsh Woundwort and the bright deep flowers of Skullcap. Mid-stream, the white flowers of a Water Crowfoot could be observed, although we were unable to identify this to species from such a distance. Kingfishers were active, calling regularly, and eventually two appeared and gave brief views to the group.

We walked back towards the church across the fields, picking up Speckled Bush-cricket and Roesel’s Bush-cricket with bat detectors. Jenny Mercer identified Musk Thistle in the fading light.


Musk Thistle (Photo © Jenny Mercer)

On reaching Olney Mill at dusk, the bat detectors were overwhelmed with the sounds of echo-locating bats. We all stood and watched in amazement as dozens of bats emerged from the house and began their evening flights. These were mostly common pipistrelles although a few larger bats seen may have been brown long-eareds. We returned to the market place at around 9pm having enjoyed a memorable walk – in August sunshine!

Martin Kincaid
August 2023

Elfield Nature Park – Tuesday 8th August 2023 report

A visit to Elfield Nature Park – Tuesday 8th August 2023 – Carla Boswell
All photos © Sue Lafferty Hayward

Elfield Nature Park is around 4 hectares of mixed woodland, mature scrub, open grassland and a series of ponds. The site is rich in wildlife, with its range of habitats supporting dragonflies, bees, butterflies, birds, amphibians and bats. It is a secure nature reserve which is not open to the general public.

Thank you and well done for those of us that braved the weather; it was drizzling somewhat as we navigated through the Bowl access roads, whilst the Event organisers were packing up the Reggae Festival from the previous weekend.

A hardy bunch of 10 of us met up, including members of the Elfield Bushcraft Group to assist with gate access, for a good hour’s walk round the site.  Wellies felt essential but it soon stopped raining and the skies cleared. As were we leaving the sun was setting and the bird song re-appeared.  Since it was a bit damp, we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to check the artificial covers objects (ACOs) for amphibians and newts rather than focusing on Plant ID, as we were missing many of our botanists.

With Great Crested Newts being a protected species, licence holder Carla Boswell was able to check the ACOs, which are a combination of metal, carpet and bitumen squares, and record our findings.  Sadly, there were no reptiles due to the wet and low temperature. Nevertheless, although we are just outside the survey season, through checking 13 ACOs we uncovered a total of 10 Great Crested Newts.  5 adults and 5 juveniles.


Great Crested Newts (Photo © Sue Lafferty Hayward)

We also uncovered some Great Crested Newts in other locations: one of the tree stumps in the car park and a big stone along the track.  Elfield Nature Park has recently been a receptor site for amphibians trapped from the development site opposite.  Let’s hope they don’t move back!

Elfield Park looks completely different to last year’s dry parched visit and is looking very lush and green, with lots of interesting fungi too.  The main walking track, up the middle hill, is a carpet of bird’s foot trefoil, a sight to behold!  We discovered some Red Bartsia on site, something we’re not sure if we have seen before in Milton Keynes  (identification confirmed subsequently). We were too late in the year for the orchids but perhaps we can revisit earlier in the 2024 programme.

  
Unidentified fungus, left; Red bartsia, right  (Photo © Sue Lafferty Hayward)

The finale for the visit was a peek into the honeybee hives, hosted by James Chew and Colin Bowker from the Elfield Bushcraft group. James and Colin took on the initial couple of hives at the site and have since grown their broods and collected swarms from across MK to have 12 active hives this year.  They also sell their honey and perhaps there’s a potential winter talk on their beekeeping activities for the society?  This year’s honey is darker and fruity from bramble flowers, and James has sent his honey off for pollen DNA analysis!


Honeybees  (Photo © Sue Lafferty Hayward)

Elfield Bushcraft group of friendly independent volunteers is open to new members, to help maintain and improve the site.  The main activities include sharing bushcraft skills; such as fire-building, shelter-making, knot practice and wood-whittling. They use basic tools to improve the natural environment and carry out tasks for The Parks Trust, such as mending fences, observing wildlife and tending plants. They meet every Tuesday from 11am to 2pm finding time for a chat over food and hot drinks too.  They hold taster sessions before joining and group members pay a small fee each month into the kitty to finance supplies.

For more information please contact: ElfieldBushcraft@gmail.com

Carla Boswell
August 2023

 

Four moss species new to Pitsford identified by MKNHS member Frances Higgs and fellow bryologist Rachel Carter

Four moss species new to Pitsford identified by MKNHS member Frances Higgs and fellow bryologist Rachel Carter

The latest edition of BCN Wildlife Trust’s e-newsletter contains an interesting story item about the identification of 4 moss species new to Pitsford Water Nature Reserve in Northamptonshire during a survey day in May

The two bryologists, Frances Higgs and Rachel Carter, discovered these four species new to the site: Hypnum jutlandicumPolytrichyum juniperinum, Thuidium tamariscinum and Pleurozium schreberi. The last of these hadn’t been recorded in Northamptonshire since 1899! Many of you will know Frances as a long-standing MKNHS member.

The full story, including more details about the mosses identified, can be found on the BCN website, in a blog by Isabella Clarke:
https://www.wildlifebcn.org/blog/isabella-clarke/survey-day-gathers-new-moss

 

Spurn: The Adventure Continues! – Harry Appleyard

Above: Spurn Lighthouse view © Harry Appleyard

It’s been a few months since I finished my Practical Conservation Traineeship at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Spurn National Nature Reserve. I came to the area determined to use my newly-gained conservation skills and knowledge back home in Bucks but I soon fell in love with the area and admittedly was not prepared to leave it so suddenly in October 2022! Fortunately though, with thanks to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, I have been able to return in 2023 to lead some of their Bespoke Birding Tours across the Spurn area.

Spurn’s Bespoke Birding Tours are tailored for small groups of up to 6 people, spending the day on the lookout for the many birds the area has to offer while providing guidance and tips on their identification, by sight and sound. With reserve transport for part of the route, the entire length of the Spurn area is covered, including the Spurn peninsula and its neighbouring reserve, Kilnsea Wetlands, from 9.30am to 4.30pm. You can find out more about them, including upcoming dates for the autumn tours here: https://www.ywt.org.uk/bespoke-birding-tours

My first set of the tours this year took place around mid-April, with a mixture of winter stragglers and newly arrived spring migrants spotted across the area. Dark-bellied Brent Geese, one of Spurn’s familiar winter visitors, were very slow to leave this year, with them still being present past mid-May. They gather here in the hundreds every year, mainly between September and early May, spending a lot of time feeding around the mudflats of the Humber estuary before heading back to their breeding grounds in Siberia. A lone Fieldfare was seen feeding near the southern tip of the reserve and a late wintering flock of 7 Pink-footed Geese were seen landing at Well Field, near the northern edge of the reserve on 18th April’s tour.


Brent Geese at Kilnsea Wetlands -19.04.2023 © Harry Appleyard

As a few remnants of winter lingered, small numbers of Yellow Wagtails and Sand Martins were a sign of warmer times ahead, while some of the remaining Bar-tailed Godwits around the wetlands were gathering their stunning fiery breeding plumage. By early May, many of the familiar summer migrants had returned. Common Whitethroats were singing across much of the Spurn area, while a few Wheatears were still dropping in on passing visits. Whinchats seemed thin on the ground this spring, so it was good to point out a couple in the last week of May, one at Parade Ground near the southern tip of the Peninsula and another by Well Field at the northeast corner of the reserve.


Gadwall x Wigeon with male Garganey, Kilnsea Wetlands – 30.05.2023 © Harry Appleyard

A photogenic oddity in the later tours of the season was a suspected Gadwall x Wigeon hybrid at Kilnsea Wetlands, seen side-by-side with a male Garganey on spring passage on 30th May. All other birds on 31st May were overshadowed by the arrival of Spurn’s 6th Great Snipe, which was spotted landing in Clubleys Meadow by Jacob Spinks, a short distance from the Spurn Discovery Centre. A rare vagrant for Britain more likely to be found in northwestern Europe, it soon attracted a crowd. There couldn’t have been a much better end to a birding tour with it still being on show in the late afternoon, favouring a small pool where it continued to delight countless more birders from the local area and further afield to 3rd June.


Great Snipe, Spurn 31.05.2023 – Harry Appleyard

Not quite of the same calibre as the Great Snipe but mid-way through my last spring tour on 15th June I spotted my own rarest Spurn bird, a Nuthatch! It was given away by calls as it flew over Burrow Pit at the north end of the reserve, mobbed by 2 Meadow Pipits as it made its way south. Though they are a familiar sight in many of our landlocked woodlands, they have so far generated less than 25 records in the Spurn area, making them an even rarer visitor than some of the more exotic migrants like Hoopoe and European Bee-eater! It was re-located shortly afterwards by two others at the Warren Cottage but not seen to leave.

Some of Spurn’s other inhabitants took the spotlight throughout the season. It was a productive year for the Green Hairstreak butterfly, which are plentiful across the Spurn peninsula but a few were also present further north near Kilnsea Wetlands this year. Several species of odonata were on the wing on the warm sunny afternoon of 16th May, including a male Red-veined Darter which was the first recorded at Spurn since 2021. Initially looking like a very early Ruddy Darter at first glance, its suspiciously blueish lower eyes were apparent in a low fly-past and its identity was quickly confirmed by Adam Hutt and Tim Jones, who also noted the subtle reddish-veins in the wings from my images. It is believed to be both a resident and migratory species here, with this one possibly being a recent arrival from continental Europe.


Male Red-veined Darter, Spurn 16.05.2023 © Harry Appleyard

This spring certainly didn’t disappoint, with a wide variety of both Spurn’s regular and scarcer species being on show. You can never quite fully predict what you will find on these tours, so there’s always a thrill in pointing out a species that has just arrived or is not often found there. It’s always a pleasure to talk about the area, the changing landscape and the conservation work in its many forms being undertaken to maintain it. Again, many thanks to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for bringing me back to this amazing little part of the world and the Spurn Bird Observatory for their hospitality and local knowledge.

If you would like to find out more about Spurn National Nature Reserve, click here:  https://www.ywt.org.uk/nature-reserves/spurn-national-nature-reserve

Harry Appleyard
July 2023

Flitwick Moor Site Visit: Tuesday 4th July 2023 – Joe Clinch

Flitwick Moor in heavy rain is not the place to be for a site visit; alas, the Society’s first since 2019 was on such a day and this was reflected in the very low turnout for the occasion. It is an unusual and special location. Its SSSI status is based on the very uncommon habitat for southern England of an alkaline peat mire of the flood plain of the River Flit (a tributary of the Ivel which in turn flows into the Great Ouse) being acidified by Greensand springs. It is managed by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust. The peat was extracted commercially until 1960 resulting in large areas below the level of the water table and some just above the former being dominated by Alder and the latter by Silver Birch and Pedunculate Oak with open areas of sphagnum moss, reeds, sedges, and ferns. The Reserve also includes a rough grass meadow area on slightly higher ground. This report describes the various habitats visited and some of the species observed and the annex provides a cumulative checklist of the Society’s sightings at this location, including additions from the recce and visit this year.

Flitwick-Moor-checklist-for-Tuesday-4th-July-2023.pdf

Wet woodland

The recently replaced board walk takes the visitor along the dividing line of the two woodland habitats. We accessed one of the boggy clearings which had been recently cleared of the dominant Common Reed (a grass) and experienced the squashy feel of sphagnum moss under our feet. We had hoped to find Cotton Grass (a sedge) an important indicator species of acid peat here but to no avail; the Marsh Thistles stood high and erect here being excluded from the clearing work.

The next stop was to look at the ferns. Bracken grows mainly on the slightly higher ground whereas the elegant Broad Buckler Ferns were mainly at the edge of the lower ground. Wood Dock was a new sighting for this area. A rusty coloured stream is crossed, one of several that are fed by the iron rich acid springs (called Chalybeate which was bottled and sold as cure-all in the 19th century). Honeysuckle fights for light where the canopy is thinner and Raspberry has established itself in this unlikely habitat.


(Wood Dock © Phil Sarre)

Rough Grass Meadow

Trees line this large area on all sides. It is a mix of coarse and soft grasses, and flowering plants with a few scattered bushes. Some parts are well-drained; others not.  Meadow Vetchling, Tufted Vetch, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Greater Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Hedge Bedstraw, and Lesser Stitchwort were identified here along with patches of Yarrow, Common Knapweed, a Hawks-beard (probably Smooth Hawks-beard), Lady’s Bedstraw, and Hogweed. Nest mounds of the Common Yellow Ant – a metre or more in diameter with an underground chamber of at least the same size – are scattered across the area.


(A Hawks-beard, probably Smooth Hawks-beard © Phil Sarre)

The wetter areas along the boundary of the wet woodland included Meadowsweet, Water Pepper, Scented Mayweed, Yellow Iris (no longer in flower), Purple Loosestrife, and Field Horsetail. Insects which normally thrive here were not to be seen but we did disturb a Common Frog in two different locations. A small detour at the far end of the meadow took us to the banks of the alkaline River Flit. Hemlock so dominant in 2019 has been cleared and a species new to our list, the Himalayan ( Indian) Balsam, may be next for removal. Russian Comfrey continues to thrive here.

Overview

Flitwick Moor has a special ‘primaeval’ charm of its own and to walk through the wet woodland is to observe a different natural world so I hope that members will be encouraged to visit over the coming years. Its habitats are reflected in the diversity of wildlife that can be seen. But do try to pick a dry day for it!

Thanks

My thanks to Phil Sarre for accompanying me on the recce, and to him and to Charles Kessler for taking part in the species identification. My first Society visit to the site was on a recce in 2016 with Roy Maycock as my mentor and he did the same for me again in 2019. Most of the plant species identified on the checklist date back to these visits so a special thanks to him also.

Joe Clinch, Visit Leader
July 2023

 

Stonepit Field Site Visit, Tuesday 6th June 2023

Above: Birdsfoot trefoil at Stonepit Field (Photo © Joe Clinch)

The evening of the visit was decidedly cool and dull with a fresh breeze – not ideal conditions for flowering plants and invertebrates which were the main focus of the planned evening. There was a surprisingly good turnout given the conditions with over 20 members and visitors, and once again we were able to enjoy the remarkable biodiversity of this site. In a brief introduction, Joe reminded the group of its history.  The tree-lined south-eastern border had been planted by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation in c. 1970. The main meadow areas including the limestone scrape were developed from 1993 onwards by the Parks Trust on previous farmland thus providing a habitat for calcareous loving meadow flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs: an exemplar of how an uncommon biodiverse habitat can be created. The balancing ponds were added in 2007, associated with Oakridge Park housing development.

Based on three separate recce visits to the site (thank you Mike LeRoy and Jenny Mercer for accompanying me) and listings from previous visits, a Checklist of species that might be observed that evening was distributed to members. The aim was to identify as many as possible of the species listed and to add to it any new sightings for the draft cumulative list for the site which Mike had initiated in 2019. To manage the number of participants in this underfoot plant sensitive area, the group was split into two with one led by Linda Murphy and the other by Joe. The species list from the evening can found through the link below, and highlights are summarised in this short report.

Stonepit Field MKNHS Species list 06.06.2023

Meadow areas

These cover much of the site interspersed with paths, ‘hedges’, and clumps of trees and shrubs. There is a rich mix of grasses and flowering plants which included the semi-parasitic Yellow Rattle; Salad Burnet; Common Vetch; Meadow Buttercup; Bulbous Buttercup; Ox-eye Daisy; Beaked Hawksbeard; Goats beard; Meadow Cranesbill; and Red Clover. Common Broomrape, a parasitic species which was abundant and widely distributed in 2022, had virtually disappeared with only a few specimens found in just one area.  Pyramidal Orchid was a welcome addition to the meadow species list. Charles Kessler was able to identify eight species of grass on the checklist for us including the delicate Quaking Grass.


Pyramidal Orchid and Quaking Grass (Photo © Joe Clinch)

Limestone scrape area and its edges

The species of the scrape area proper had clearly suffered from the dry weather of last summer and the cool spring particularly the Bee Orchids which were few in number and stunted with yellow- brown deformed leaves. Scrape edges have fared better and here the Bee Orchids were healthy although fewer in number. Birds-foot Trefoil (see main photo, taken several days after the visit), Horseshoe Vetch, Kidney Vetch, and Common Rockrose were also doing well here.  Amongst species new to the area this year are Selfheal; a Thyme species; and Common Blue Daisy (globularia vulgaris) commonly called Globularia (see photo below). The latter is not a native British wildflower. It is found in continental Europe in rocky calcareous habitats. How it arrived is a mystery.


Common Blue Daisy Globularia vulgaris (Photo © Julian Lambley)

Tree/shrub margins, rough ground and pond areas

Six spring white-flowered trees above the scrape were seen in close proximity, albeit for the first two named the flowering season was already over: Whitebeam; Wayfaring Tree; Guelder Rose; Dogwood; Hawthorn; and Common Elder. Flowers at the edge of the tree/shrub areas included Hedge Bedstraw; Red Campion; Marjoram; and new to the list Wild Liquorice (see photo below, taken several days after the visit); Bush Vetch; and Bladder Campion. The Yellow Irises in full flower made a splendid display at the pond edges. Much of the Gorse on the banks above the pond has died back; the reasons for this are unknown but may again be the drought of last summer.


Wild Liquorice Astragalus glycphyllos (Photo © Joe Clinch)

Birds, Mammals, Amphibians and Reptiles

Harry Appleyard again undertook the task of bird identification at the site. As he puts it, it was ‘a fairly drab and dreary evening for June, so unsurprisingly there weren’t as many birds as on previous visits but there were still several species keen to have their voices heard, the loudest of the bunch being a Song Thrush which seemed to be mimicking an Oyster Catcher…….Singles of Blackcap and Chiffchaff were heard singing, while overhead trios of House Martins, Swifts and Little Egrets were seen, the latter flying over the ponds throughout the evening.’  A Red Kite flying over is new to the list for the site which now stands at 40 species

A Muntjac (see photo) showed itself to Harry before disappearing into the woodland area. A Hedgehog carcass on the scrape was examined by Martin Kincaid – probably a Badger kill. Common Frog and a dead Grass Snake found by Julian Lambley completed our vertebrate sightings.


Muntjac (Photo © Harry Appleyard)

Invertebrates

The cool dull conditions were not good for finding invertebrates, with no Butterflies, Damselflies, or Dragonflies seen. But two new moth species were identified: Drab Looper; and Shark Moth. There were also three insects at various stages of development new to the list: a Longhorn Beetle; Common Pill Woodlouse; and Field Grasshopper plus one spider – the Flower Crab Spider. These sightings were the result of active collection by Simon Bunker, Paul Lund and Martin Kincaid.

Overview

This is an important site for observing calcareous loving plants and the invertebrate species that depend on them. Our evening visits are a snapshot in time of its biodiversity and it is encouraging that we continue to add to our knowledge of how diverse it is.  Members will find yet more species to enjoy later into the summer.

My thanks to: Society members for turning out on such an inclement evening and for their active involvement in the evening’s activities; to all those who helped with identification already named plus Jenny Mercer and Linda Murphy for plant identification; and to Mike LeRoy for checking the nomenclature of the Species Listed annex and sharing his knowledge of the site with me.

 

Joe Clinch, Visit leader
June 2023

The Big Meadow Search 1st June-31st August

The Big Meadow Search (BMS) is a citizen science project which aims to encourage people to record plants in an area of grassland of their own choice.  The idea is to get them outside, to look at what they’re walking through, and to learn to identify the plants they find, thus raising awareness and interest in grasslands and their importance.  It began in 2021 as an initiative by the Carmarthenshire Meadows Group in West Wales, and was at first only intended to be carried out within our county; but it generated interest beyond Carmarthenshire and beyond Wales too, so we soon expanded it to cover the whole of the UK.

The BMS species tick list is based on the National Plant Monitoring Scheme grassland indicator species, plus additional species of interest from meadows and grasslands – but all plants found should be recorded, whether on the BMS species list or not.  Any type of species-rich grassland can be searched; meadows, churchyards, road verges, amenity grassland.  Obviously, if it’s not public access land, make sure to get permission!

To take part:

  • Select your grassland
  • Record the location name, grid reference and date
  • Walk around and write down all the plants you can see
  • If you aren’t sure on a species, take photographs from multiple angles of the flower heads, basal and stem leaves, upper and lower leaf surface, leaf base shape and either post on our social media or email to us and we will try and help to identify the species
  • Enter your results on our website and once we have finished our BMS analysis, we will send them on to your local environmental record centre (LERC)

You can find lots of information on our Facebook page Big Meadow Search, or on our Twitter account @bigmeadowsearch, or you can get in touch via email on bigmeadowsearch@gmail.com.

We have produced a book based on the social media posts containing ID tips using vegetative features for plants on the BMS tick list, and information on some of their associated invertebrates, galls, and fungi.  It’s available by mail order and costs £10 plus £2.70 p&p.  If you would like a copy, contact us on bigmeadowsearch@gmail.com.

Our website (www.bigmeadowsearch.co.uk) has lots more information, and you can enter your findings directly on the website.  This year’s BMS will run from June 1st until August 31st.

Laura Moss and Andrew Martin

Society Walk at Sewell Railway Cutting, Beds – 23rd May 2023

Photo of Corn Bunting © Martine Harvey

This was a visit to the nearest area of chalk grassland to Milton Keynes, the Sewell Railway Cutting. A short-lived railway line operated here, between Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable. One of our late members, Wally Lancaster, had been a train driver here in the 1950s and he always enjoyed revisiting the site to enjoy its flora and fauna. Wally and his wife Joan, who passed away very recently, were stalwarts of the Society for many years so it was nice to remember them.

It was a clear, sunny night and a good number turned out. A short walk from French’s Avenue brought us to the start of the railway cutting and immediately we could see a variety of chalk grassland flora including Common Twayblade (abundant), Chalk Milkwort and Kidney Vetch. One plant which we had not seen in the past was Star-of-Bethlehem, but we found numerous clumps low down on the banks. It was interesting to note that those in shade were already closing whilst those flowers in full sun remained open. On previous visits, we had noted how scrubby the embankments were but happily, work has been undertaken to remove much of the scrub creating much more open, sunny areas for flora and insect life. However, it was probably a bird that stole the show. A male Corn Bunting was holding a territory in a hedge and gave great views as he sang his jingling song! Sadly, turtle doves, which we heard here in the past, were not heard and are now probably absent from this area but we were able to enjoy Swallows and Swifts soaring overhead. A female Kestrel perched up on our return leg.


Male Corn Bunting singing © Julian Lambley

We eventually made our way to the ‘bottom’ of the nature reserve where it intersects with part of the Icknield Way. Here we were able to look across to the chalk cliffs of Totternhoe Quarry. We watched rabbits enjoying the evening sunshine and a Roe Deer was spotted. Invertebrates were a little disappointing as the temperature dropped quickly, but Green Carpet moths were emerging and Tim Arnold captured a specimen of Agonopterix heracliana .  Towards the end of the walk, Martin Kincaid managed to pot a specimen of the iridescent ‘long-horned moth’ Adela reaumurella. This was a female – the antennae of the male are about two and half times its body length! The only other insect of note was a Greater Bloody-nosed Beetle. When handled, this beetle did indeed have a ‘nose bleed’, or to be more accurate, emitted reflex blood from its mouth, a defence strategy which provokes most predators to drop it. A single Red Admiral was the only butterfly.

We returned to our meeting point at around 9pm and a few of us then went on to The White Lion, Chalk Hill, just down the road from some refreshment.

Martin Kincaid

Society’s visit to Pilch Field 2.5.2023 – Jenny Mercer

Pilch Field (Photo © Jenny Mercer)

The photo above shows the ridge and furrow of these unimproved Pilch fields pastures. When Singleborough parish enclosed these fields the old pattern of ploughing remained as a “footprint” of the former landscape.

Plants which prefer the better drainage on ridges include Green-winged orchids and Cowslips, which are out just now.

Green-winged orchid (Photo © Martine Harvey)

Soon Pignut and Birds-foot trefoil, Salad burnet and a ton of other plants will appear. Hundreds of Common spotted orchids will appear too within the next few weeks, and in July the spiney restharrow with pink sweet pea-like flowers appear. August and September bring a profusion of blue scabious especially in Little Pilch – the smaller field to the north-east of the larger field, accessed through a big gate. In the damper furrows and on edges of ridges, the unusual Adder’s-tongue fern is showing well plus Lady’s smock/Cuckoo flower. It will soon dissapear.


Adder’s tongue (Photo © Bob Phillips)

In the significantly wet areas there are marshy areas where the quite tall Marsh valerian is beginning to show well, and there are Marsh marigolds too, with Bugle and Creeping jenny. Marsh valerian is unusual in having male and female flowers on separate plants. It is the original source of the drug Vallium.

It is also a good site for birds, such as Snipe, which overwinter in Little Pilch. I saw a Short-eared owl last autumn on the highest ridge of the bigger field. And in Little Pilch last Tuesday evening many of us were treated to several sightings of hares and 3 roe deer as we entered the field slowly, and watched carefully.

Butterflies and moths are in good numbers too.

Enjoy visiting this 30 acre BBOWT reserve, which needs volunteers to keep it free from the threatening scrub incursions of hawthorn, blackthorn and bramble. Aylesbury Vale Conservation Volunteers have done good work recently . If interested, offer your services, and there is a BBOWT contact – Leo Keedy. The old overgrown pond area is to be dug out in 2023. Superb news.

Remember, no dogs on this Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), is best as cattle graze from 1st June until 31st October.

Contact Jenny Mercer if you want to learn more about the plants on Pilch.

There are great satellite images on Google maps. Just input Pilch Field SSSI and then select ‘layers’ then satellite image. Amazingly, you can even see the superb ant hills, and some impression of the ridge and furrow areas.

Jenny Mercer

Yellow Archangel ©Ian Saunders Stoke Wood, Stoke Goldington 24 May 2018

May Wildflowers in Milton Keynes – Mike LeRoy

Yellow Archangel (Photo © Ian Saunders Stoke Wood, Stoke Goldington 24 May 2018)

Which spring flowers can you expect to see during May?

Spring flowers in May in woodlands, hedges and beside paths
[AWI stands for Ancient Woodland Indicator]

First, a cautionary note:
When you are examining or photographing flowers, especially less common ones, please avoid creating a trampled path, because this makes them more vulnerable. If you must get close, please reach them by an indirect, more concealed route. Better still, consider making do by taking your photo from further away. Last week, in one of our Ancient Woodlands, a heavily trampled off-path route was created through vegetation, which has drawn excessive attention to a small and declining number of an uncommon flower, putting them at risk.

Herb paris Paris quadrifolia (AWI)
Herb paris is a strange-looking almost ethereal plant. Mostly, it has four (occasionally 3 or 5) broad leaves, almost diamond-shaped, slightly-rounded but pointed and dark-green. All the leaves are towards the top of a slender, hairless stalk and lie flat. In the centre of the leaves a spike holds an unobtrusive, small, single, greenish flower which looks more like a double whorl of pointed leaves. It has eight slender long pale-yellow stamens, at the centre of which is the ovary, a small purple bauble. ‘Is that it?’ you think, when looking at such an understated flower: yes, but that is its mystery. It is largely found in Ancient Woodlands, in MK in Linford Wood in particular. It is a ‘shy’ plant, often partially hidden in the underwood and at edges of woodland rides and there is a delay before the flower shows above the leaves. Paris in the name is not about France but from the Latin ‘par’ meaning equal, which is probably to describe its symmetry. It is in the Lily family (Liliaceae) which has other one-offs, including Lily-of-the Valley, Snakeshead Fritillary, Butcher’s Broom, and Grape-Hyacinth Muscari neglectum; this or its garden-escape version Muscari armeniacum, has also been on show in MK grasslands through April into May.

Yellow Archangel Lamiastrum galeobdolon (AWI)
Think of a white Dead-nettle and imagine it with yellow flowers, but the Yellow Archangel is a far less common Dead-nettle and is mostly found in Ancient Woodlands. The leaves are oval and pointed, with coarse teeth. There are several flowers with each pair of leaves up the stem, Each flower is hooded and with a lower lip. They are bright yellow, with slight red or orange streaks on the lip. The plant’s presence can tend to indicate old woodland banks or ditches. I know only a couple of patches of this in Linford Wood, and they are next to the wood’s boundary banks and ditches. You may also find it in Howe Park and Shenley Wood. One potential confusion is a garden-escape which is very similar but with variegated leaves: Lamiastrum galeobdolon ssp. argentatum (if you know heraldry terminology you may recognise that argent = silver, which is the colour of the streaks on the leaves). I have seen a few of this sub-species on the west bank of the Loughton Brook, in Bancroft valley. It is well worth submitting records of either of these plants, with their exact location. [To know how and where to submit a record of this, you can check the MKNHS website Reference section and click on Recording.]

Herb-Robert Geranium robertianum (AWI)
Herb-Robert comes into flower usually in late April or early May, but the leaves emerge well before that and sometimes remain through the winter. Although it is an Ancient Woodland Indicator it is also common more widely by hedges, in woods and on disturbed ground. It is in the Geranium family (Geraniaceae) and the leaves have a strong mousy smell when you get close. It is one of the Crane’s-bills, so-called because the shape of the seed-head is like the beak, narrow head and long neck of a Crane. Its stem tends to be dark red and hairy. Its flower has five pink petals which have a smooth edge all around. The anthers in the flower are orange or purple. Who was Robert? Probably ‘Robin Goodfellow’ aka Puck, the mischief-making house goblin of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A different account is that it used to be called St Robert, or St Robert’s Wort, after an 11th Century monk who used it medicinally.

Lords-and-Ladies Arum maculatum
Here’s another strange, one-off plant. You have probably been seeing its large shiny green leaves ever since January, beside paths and in woodlands, sometimes in dense clumps. Lords-and-Ladies has three distinct stages, so you may not realise that they are one and the same plant. A single, broad, large and pointed, shiny, arrow-shaped leaf springs upwards from ground-level, and some plants have dark streaks on these leaves. The leaf remains without flower for months until late April and early May when a paler leaf-like structure called the ‘spathe’ emerges and, within it, its purple ‘spadix’. This is stage two, followed by a third stage in July or August, when a cluster of orange-red berries emerge on a spike, from which the spathe and spadix have gone. This flower emits a slight odour that attracts insect pollinators: birds also carry its seeds away. It is a common plant in damp and well-drained shady places and usually numerous where you find it. An old name for it is Cuckoo-pint, but it has many other names, mostly innuendoes. It looks poisonous and it is.

Bugle Ajuga reptan
There are quite a few plants that look a little like Bugle: bluey-purple with quite small leaves, so this one needs careful attention to several of its features. Some people assume that identifying flowering plants is all about the flower, but other parts of a plant are just as necessary for identification. With Bugle, try starting at ground level. Here, its lowest leaves (known as ‘basal’ leaves) are in a circle (‘rosette’) around the base of the plant, and these lower ones are larger and have long stalks. The leaves up the stem are in opposite pairs and are smaller than the basal leaves and tend to be dark-green. None of the leaves have toothed edges. When the plant first emerges, it is scrunched up before the stem stretches fully and the pairs of leaves become spaced out from each other. The stem is distinctive, so feel it. It is square and is hairy on only two opposite sides. The flowers are grouped in stages on the upper sections of the stem. Beneath each group are small leaf-lookalikes called ‘bracts’ which tend to be more purple-green than the leaves further down. The flowering parts (‘corolla’) are usually powder-bluey-purple, but occasionally these are pink or white: their colour has no significance. The shape of the flower is of connected lips, with a tiny top one, two-lobed side ones and a lower lip which is longer. Because this plant spreads through runners, it tends to be in clumps. It is usually in damp and shady grassland or in damp woods or by hedgerows. If you check each of the features above you will be able to avoid any confusion with other plants such as Self-heal, the Woundworts, or the Dead-nettles.

May Spring flowers of grasslands, waysides & grid-road verges

Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus
If you don’t know this plant, it is worth getting to know as you can find it in some meadows and other grasslands in MK, including on some grid-road verges. It is popular with bumblebees and other pollinators, and a sign of good grassland management to benefit wildlife. In this instance, the colour of the flower is significant to distinguish it from other species. The flowers are a rich, deep yellow and often with a tinge of red or orange, which is why some people call it ‘eggs & bacon’. The plant is low down because its habit is creeping, with its stalks lying down, and the stems are solid. But there are other Bird’s-foot Trefoils, including a taller one, Greater Bird’s-foot Trefoil Lotus pedunculatus, with longer narrower leaves; and a variety in some commercial seed-mixes Lotus corniculatus var sativus which stands up more but has a hollow stem and lacks the red or orange tinge to the flower. So look at a good identification book to check for these similar species.

Bird Cherry Prunus padus
Although Bird Cherry Prunus padus is an indigenous shrub or small tree, it is native mainly in northern Britain, but has been widely planted in towns and cities further south, including Milton Keynes. Perhaps it is popular because its long white clusters of flowers follow, in late April or early May, the other white-flowering spring shrubs of March and April such as Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera and Blackthorn Prunus spinosa. The shape of the Bird Cherry’s white flower clusters remind me of the general shape of the mauve flower clusters of Buddleia davidii, but the proper description of such clusters is ‘raceme’ and these ones either droop or stick out sideways. The leaves of Bird Cherry are elliptical and have fine saw-teeth. Its black cherries emerge in July, but don’t try them, they are bitter. Our member, Alan Birkett, suggests that this is why ‘bird’ is in its name as birds do eat these. [See Alan’s Field Guide to the Trees of Britain and Europe which has several photos of every tree, showing more of their features than most other tree guides.]

Lesser Stitchwort Stellaria graminea
Lesser Stitchwort Stellaria graminea tends to flower in May, which is later than Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea. Lesser Stitchwort tends to prefer more open woods, grasslands and rough grass area. It is the smaller of the two, but a critical feature to look for is that the five petals of the flower divide well over halfway down. Take care not to confuse this with other five-petalled white flowers such as Chickweeds or Mouse-ears which are also in the Campion family (Caryophyllaceae). This is where a good field guide is needed so you can see illustrations of these similar plants and compare the descriptions of their features. Just comparing photos is more likely to confuse you. If you search the MKNHS website under Reference and click on Identification Guides, then on Plants, you will find several recommended field guides to flowering plants.

The following should also come into flower in MK during May, in grasslands or beside paths and some in woodlands:
Ragged-Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi
Red Clover Trifolium pratense
Lady’s-mantle species. Alchemilla vulgaris agg.
Self-heal Prunella vulgaris.

You can let MKNHS website Sightings know where you see these. Just send a note, and photo if you can, to:sightings@mknhs.org.uk

Mike LeRoy 4th May 2023

Society Walk at Linford Wood – Tuesday 25th April 2023

Blluebells (Photo © Harry Appleyard)

Over 30 members turned out for our first Tuesday evening walk of the season. In a cold spring week we were fortunate to enjoy a dry and sunny, if chilly, evening. Linford Wood, right in the centre of MK, is our largest ancient woodland site and always a delight at this time of year. Following a brief introduction, we entered the wood and were treated to the sight and sound of a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling from high up in an oak.

The usual spring flora of Bluebell, Wood Anemone, Primrose, Lesser Celandine and Greater Stitchwort were on display although it was clear that the cold spring had delayed the flowering of several species, whilst extending the flowering season of others including Early Dog Violet. Some of the ditch banks had fine patches of violets and anemones. We spent a little more time looking at the flowers of strawberry plants before we settled on Barren Strawberry.

A highlight for some of the group (i.e. those near the front!) was a Roe Deer buck, who crossed the central bridleway ride in front of us before leaping effortlessly over a dead hedge into the closed off ride. It was great to see this animal displaying the agility it is known for. Eagle-eyed Harry Appleyard managed to catch the moment. Roe are becoming more and more frequent in MK and although they are more welcome than the introduced Muntjac, we hope that their numbers do not grow so high that the woodland flora suffers.

Roe Buck leaping in Linford Wood (Photo © Harry Appleyard)

We also heard plenty of birdsong along the main ride, with Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs noticeable. A Jay flew overhead as we waited for the deer to re-emerge. A brief detour allowed us to see two Early Purple Orchid spikes half in flower. Ironically, these are rather late this year.

Martin led the group along the grassy ride known both for its wood carvings and for Herb-Paris. Eventually, we were able to find a good number of plants a few meters off the pathway with just one or two in flower. A first for some of our group and quite an achievement in view of the recent cold conditions.


Herb Paris (Photo © Bob Phillips)

We concluded the walk with a brief visit to the edge of Stanton Wood (on the opposite side of Saxon Street from Linford Wood). There is a nice stand of Wych Elms at the entrance of Stanton Wood and perhaps the best displays of bluebells and cowslips were to be seen on the steep banks either side of the redway here. As the light was fading rapidly, we quickly made our way back along V7 to the car park, where we were serenaded by a Song Thrush. A pleasant start to our outdoor season.

Martin Kincaid

Identification Resources: A survey – Please help

Where do you look for help in identifying or finding out about species?

Did you know the MKNHS website has a page listing a range of ID resources? Identification Guides | Milton Keynes Natural History Society (mknhs.org.uk)

Have you used this page over the last year?

Recently, another range of ID resources was added – a list of Apps which can be used as identification aids. You can find this list here: Apps used for ID and Recording by MKNHS members

The website team have been looking at the ID resources page on the website with a view to up-dating/refreshing the content. We would find it very helpful to know what members find useful and can recommend to others.

In order to do this we would appreciate your answers to the following questions:

  1. Have you looked at the Identification Guides page on the website? (Identification Guides | Milton Keynes Natural History Society (mknhs.org.uk) ) Once? Several times? Regularly?
  2. Have you used any of the resources listed after seeing them on the website? If so, which ones?
  3. Have you dowloaded any of the Apps listed on the website? mknhs.org.uk/identification-recording-apps/
  4. More generally, which resources (not only from the website) do you usually use if you want to find out about or identify a particular species that you are interested in? Please list what you use.
    1. Books?
    2. Other printed guides, such as Identification Charts?
    3. Websites?
    4. Other online sources, such as YouTube videos?
    5. Apps? (including any of those listed through the link above)
  5. Which would you recommend (or definitely not recommend) to others? And why?

Please email your answers to the above questions, to let us know your views/preferences to: webeditor@mknhs.org.uk
Please do so by 15 May 2023.

Thank you!

The MKNHS website team

Dave Roberts

We recently received news of the death of Dave Roberts in early April. Dave was an active member of the Society for many years. A plain-speaking Scotsman with a big laugh and sense of humour to match, Dave was a member of the committee for some time and Chairman of the Society from 1996-98. He and his wife Chris spent many hours mothing in a variety of locations with George and Frances Higgs. They also joined members of the Society on a trip to Israel in the days when groups of members took off to foreign parts as well as exploring local wildlife sites.

Although Dave has not been to Society meetings in recent years, he has kept up with the news and changes via Chris who continues to come to meetings whenever possible. Dave spent a lot of time at the Thornborough and Coombs Woodland reserve and was very fond of the place, so his family have decided to donate in his memory to support the reserve. His death was totally unexpected despite the health problems that he had developed and we send our sincere condolences to Chris and the rest of the family.

An opportunity to learn about Bryophytes (mosses and liverworts)

Photo of unidentified moss on a wall © Linda Murphy

Are there members of the Society who would like to seriously study Bryophytes?

Frances Higgs, the Society’s only Bryophyte specialist, will work with a small group of enthusiasts.

The first meeting will be held at Willen Churchyard on Thursday 27th April at 2pm. Please bring a notebook and pencil, x10 magnification hand lens and a polythene bag.

If you intend to join this group please email lindamurphy49@btinternet.com and go along to Willen on Thursday.

With best wishes for a wildlife rich summer!

Linda

Joan Lancaster

Photo with Joan and Wally 5th and 4th from the left, taken on the occasion of Dorothy Hood’s 90th birthday celebrations in 2001

Joan Lancaster died in mid-March 2023, just a month short of her 90th birthday. She was a member of Milton Keynes Natural History Society for many years, along with her husband Wally who died in 2009. As her daughter Ann has said: “The Natural History Society has been a big part of Mum & Dad’s lives and they made lots of good friends there”.

Joan and Wally were very active members of the Society and were very good friends with near neighbours Margaret and John Wickham. They generally travelled together to meetings and were known as the ‘Bletchley 4’ in some quarters! They were regulars at indoor and outdoor meetings and events such as moth trapping, recording or trips further afield. They were also always very caring and concerned for the well-being of other members.  From 1992 to 1999 Joan was Treasurer of the Society. In later years, Joan and her good friend Margaret would often be Roy Maycock’s assistants, helping him collect plant specimens on society outings. She continued to be an active member until about three years ago when she moved down to Dorset to be nearer to her daughter and other family there.

Her particular natural history interests were in birds and wild flowers and she contributed a lot of time and effort to the plant surveys carried out by the Society at the newly established Hazeley Wood as part of a wider monitoring programme. She and Wally led plenty of walks on the summer programme for the Society over the years, and a particular favourite was to Sewell cutting, a great place to see orchids and other chalk grassland flowers. By coincidence there will be a walk to Sewell cutting on the summer programme this year on 23rd May.

Apart from admiring the orchids, those who knew Joan may pause a moment to remember her there, “a lovely lady”, a kind and generous person who enjoyed a joke and was always ready to help others. It’s a great privilege to have known both Joan and Wally and we send our sincere condolences to her family.

Linda Murphy and Martin Kincaid

PS For those who remember the people standing in the photo, from left to right they are Kent Fox, Bernard Frewin, Jean Kent, Margaret Wickham, Wally Lancaster, Joan Lancaster, Frances Higgs,  John Prince, Audrey Prince, George Higgs, John Wickham. Dorothy is sitting down. (8 of the group now deceased….)

Milton Keynes wildlife summary: Winter 2022-23 – Tony Wood

Otter at Wolverton Mill in January (Photo©Julian Lambley)

Winter locally was generally mild with East Anglia having the third warmest November on record. In December, however, we experienced icy weather for half the month, similar to January. In March we suffered one day of snow which changed to rain and created floods. Varied weather conditions throughout – so how did it affect our wildlife locally?

Mammals:  There were records received for otters at a variety of sites around Milton Keynes including one photographed walking on ice during December at Willen Lake.

Oher sites during winter where otters were recorded included the Floodplain Forest, Caldecotte, Stony Stratford Reserve, Linford Lakes Reserve, Stony Stratford Mill and Loughton Brook. A Chinese Water Deer was noted at Magna Park.

Insects The first butterfly recorded in 2023 was a brimstone observed in a member`s garden at Stony Stratford. One interesting record was from a lady living in Wolverton who discovered a caterpillar in a cauliflower she purchased in February from a supermarket. She placed it in a jar and fed it cabbage until it changed into a chrysalis. Mid-March it emerged as a moth, dark brown with black spots. Any ideas?

PlantsThe first signs of spring were records of snowdrops early February beside Little Linford Wood and at the same site in March there were signs of primrose and celandine in flower. At the end of March cowslips were noted at Caldecotte.

BirdsThroughout the UK birds have been affected with the avian flu and the RSPB have reported that over200 million birds, and at least 60 species, have died from the infection. There have been reports of three mute swans found dead at Caldecotte Lake and several geese at Furzton.

There was a large murmuration of starlings performing over the `Mutual Fields` at New Bradwell from mid-February to mid-March at 5 pm to 6 pm, and enjoyed by many of my neighbours

Whilst there has been an understandable lack of items to report on insects and plants during the winter months there has been an abundance of sightings of unusual bird species locally. Here are a few:

November – Floodplain Forest: pair of Egyptian goose, Willen Lake a pintail duck and two ringneck parrakeet, Linford Lake Reserve a long-tailed duck, and Tattenhoe Park a great northern diver in flight.

December – Linford Lakes Reserve:  a bitten; Flood Plain Forest: great white egret, goosander, and pintail duck; Tongwell Lake: a short-eared owl, and 8 goosander; Emerson Valley: a willow warbler and 2 chiffchaff;  Willen Lakes: a hawfinch and black swan; Mount Farm: Mediterranean Gull; Furzton Lake: a Caspian Gull; Linford Manor: 2 ring-necked parrakeets – and the highlight, a Siberian chiffchaff at Tattenhoe.

January – Floodplain Forest: a little owl, great white egret, goosander, 17 snipe, and a garganey; Willen Lake a Mediterranean gull and woodcock Furzton Lake and Blue Lagoon a Caspian gull and Magna Park a peregrine falcon.

February – Floodplain Forest : a Caspian Gull, peregrine falcon, little owl, great white egret, pintail duck and oystercatcher; Linford Lakes Reserve: a barnacle goose; Furzton: Cetti’s warbler; Little Linford Wood: 5 marsh tits: and Tattenhoe: 2 common cranes in flight.

March – Linford Lakes Reserve: goldeneye, a ruddy duck and a shelduck; Caldecotte: scaup and a pair of mandarin ducks; Howe Park Wood: a Firecrest; Tattenhoe Park: a chiffchaff and stonechat, and at Willen Lake: sand martin.

Just outside the Milton Keynes boundary two waxwings were photographed at Cranfield and a wheatear was recorded at Great Brickhill during March.

The sounds and signs of spring are now upon us so, as a task, try and observe the 6 most common bumble bees locally. They are buff-tailed, white-tailed, red-tailed, early, common carder and, the once rare but now very common, tree bumble bee. But as usual, look out for all forms of wildlife and observe, record but most of all, enjoy.

Tony Wood
April 2023

Apps used for ID and Recording by MKNHS members

At the MKNHS members evening on 4th April 2023, various members talked about the apps they use as identification and recording aids. You can find a summary of information about the apps mentioned in the Reference section of the website  here.

Some are purely identification tools, handy to use from your phone or tablet. A few are also recording channels: for instance, BirdTrack and iRecord.

Also in the list are 3 location finders (what3words, GridReferenceFinder and OS Maps) which enable you to pinpoint where the sighting was made.

Many thanks to Linda Murphy for compiling the list .

Don’t miss Brian Eversham’s talk – our best of the year!

Talk by Brian Eversham, Tuesday 7th March 2023:   ‘Wildlife Recording in Changing Times’
The John Wickham Memorial Lecture
Comment by Mike LeRoy

If you missed Brian Eversham’s talk on 25th March, you missed a brilliant account of how wildlife in Britain has changed and declined, but also successful ways to bring some of it back. There is still time to watch and hear his talk, but only until 30th April. It is still on the MKNHS website, here:
https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/fE8f8CEb08A-EVgWSVP98b3eBKNDOj_R4xEc1uek2PGjUjiVgFdTUeyaU4ML1yOn.g6Uw8cxZJM-pVOh3
Passcode: i7P^HMmh

Brian Eversham is Chief Executive of the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust and was previously their Director of Conservation.

Brian’s talk  ‘Wildlife Recording in Changing Times’ was a remarkable scan through the last 100,000 years of British wildlife. But it was more about changes to our wildlife since the last ice sheet retreated than about how we record species. Brian explained changes to woodlands, heathlands, wetlands and grasslands made by wild animals and mankind over the last few thousand years.

He was speaking with the considerable hands-on knowledge he has accumulated over a lifetime, of losses to wildlife as landscapes became more and more intensively managed for farming and human populations increased and industrialised. He showed us extinct beetles from the Bronze Age he had found buried in peat, and marks on fossilised trees, probably of Black Woodpeckers which he thinks used to be in Britain. There were stories of what caused extinctions: the Large Copper butterfly and Fen Violet. He also told us how some lost species have been recovered and are breeding again in Britain: recent examples such as Large Marsh Grasshopper in Cambridgeshire; and the Chequered Skipper restored to Rockingham Forest.

Brian did tell us how wildlife recording originated and how crucial it is to have local knowledge of wildlife, and that this depends on skilled amateur naturalists and natural history societies like ours.

His talk was full of stories of how species have been lost and some restored. He mentioned local places such as Rammamere Heath and the Minotaur beetle that can be found there. With considerable enthusiasm he told us about his study of Elms and how most of these trees still survive.

His upbeat conclusion was about how some young naturalists are becoming skilled by using digital media combined with fieldwork to learn and share their knowledge with others: such as a teenager who is the go-to expert on Springtails.

But you need to hear all of his talk for yourself.

Mike LeRoy
6th April 2023

April wildflowers in Milton Keynes – Mike LeRoy

 Wood anemone Anemone nemorosa (Photo © Julian Lambley)

Which spring flowers can you expect to see during April?  When you see these, how about letting MKNHS website Sightings know where you see these come into flower. You can send photos too: sightings@mknhs.org.uk

There is a PDF version of this article here

April Spring flowers in woodlands, hedges and by paths

We have three ancient woodlands within the City: Linford Wood, Howe Park Wood and Shenley Wood and they have many of what are known as Ancient Woodland Indicators (AWI). The usual March ground flora have come into flower in these woods, but it has been a slow and lingering Spring, so some plants have bided their time. For instance Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa (AWI). The leaves of these started emerging in early March, but only recently have they begun to flower in quantity. These plants are mainly on the sides and edges of ditches alongside paths, but also deeper into the woods. But do remember that their flowers close up in the evening and need sun on them to open up. Its flower is a star-like spread of six (or more) brilliant white petals, with a light splash of pink beneath. This plant spreads by creeping rhizomes so is in dense patches. There will be bright carpets of them in Linford and the other woods as they all come into flower.

Primrose Primula vulgaris (AWI)
Some Primroses Primula vulgaris have been flowering in the woods since the end of February, but there are more now and they are ‘lasters’ so we can enjoy them in their isolated clumps for many more weeks. The ancient woodlands are where to see them at their best.

Barren Strawberry Potentilla sterilis /  Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca (AWI)
If you have Strawberries Fragaria ananassa in your garden, it will be months before you can pick them. But in our Ancient Woodlands you can find two species of wild Strawberries, and both of them are indicators that a woodland is likely to date from before 1600. You can find them most easily in Linford Wood, beside main paths and on the edges of ditches. Neither of these are as large as garden Strawberries but they look like them. They are Barren Strawberry Potentilla sterilis which flowers earlier than the other, which is Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca.

Later on you may see a tiny red strawberry fruit on Wild Strawberry, but Barren Strawberry lives up to its name and bears only a tiny dry fruit. Before Wild Strawberry fruits, what distinguishes these two species are that: Barren Strawberry is a smaller plant, with short runners; it has smaller flowers in which the petals tend to be well separated from each other, while the petals of Wild Strawberry overlap; there is a subtle distinction between the leaves of these species: the end tooth of a Wild Strawberry leaf sticks out, but on the Barren Strawberry it is slightly set back from the adjoining teeth; finally, the Barren Strawberry leaf is matt, not shiny, and a dull bluish-green, while the Wild Strawberry leaves have a longer stalk and look glossy green. Perhaps distinguishing the two of these would be a good test of the reliability of any App you may use?

Wild Strawberry is in the Potentilla family, which is mainly Cinquefoils. Barren Strawberry is in the Fragaria (Strawberry) family, together with the Hautbois Strawberry Fragaria moschata which was introduced to gardens from mainland Europe and has become naturalised in the wild. As far as I know the Hautbois Strawberry is not present in Milton Keynes, which is helpful as it is sometimes wrongly identified as one or other of the native species.

Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta (AWI)
Hybrid Bluebell Hyacinthoides x massartiana
Spanish Bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica
Everyone knows what a Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta looks like, with its deep blue colour and drooping flower-head. But the thicker-stemmed Spanish Bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica was brought to this country, escaped into the wild and hybridised with the native as Hybrid Bluebell Hyacinthoides x massartiana. So it is possible to see all three in the wild, though Hybrid Bluebell is much more common than the Spanish Bluebell. All three species have occasional variant colours of pink or white flowers.

Key points about the native Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta are: the flowers are straight-sided and do not gradually widen out; all the flowers are on the same side of the stem and droop down; their anthers are cream (but some of the hybrids’ are too); the leaves are slender and their tips are hooded, a little like the prow of a slender boat.

For the next most common, the  Hybrid Bluebell Hyacinthoides x massartiana, look out for: broader leaves; flowers spiralling around the stem; blue anthers (or cream in the white form of this flower); the tips of the petals are slightly curled back; and the stamen is fixed to the inner side of a petal half way up.

The Spanish Bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica is similar to the Hybrid Bluebell, but:  the stamen is fixed to the inner side of a petal low down; and the tips of the petals are not curled back.

You can find plenty of Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta in our three Ancient Woodlands, along a few hedgerows, and in  few grid-road landscapes. The leaves have been emerging throughout March, ready to flower later in April and into May. Why drive all the way to the Chilterns to see Bluebells when we have fine displays in our local Ancient Woods, including Little Linford Wood?

Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula (AWI)
Our Ancient woodlands will have the earliest of our common orchids coming into flower during April. Early Purple Orchids Orchis mascula should appear on some ditch edges, beside paths and under trees. One identifier to look for is dashes of dark  blotches running up the leaves. Apparently at night they smell of tom-cats. You can download a guide to all the British orchids from the Natural History Museum website, the ‘Orchid Observers Identification Guide’: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/content/dam/nhmwww/take-part/identify-nature/orchid-observers-id-guide.pdf

Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea (AWI)
The crisp white flowers of Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea should be emerging soon. The five petals are divided to half-way or less, and are on a slender square-shaped stem with slender pointy leaves in opposite pairs, with each pair of leaves at right-angles to the next pair up the stem. Lesser Stitchwort Stellaria graminea is a smaller plant and tends to flower in May, with its petals divided more than half way down.

Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris
Soon the leaves of Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris will be accompanied by the tall stems, crowned by umbels of creamy-white flowers, so characteristic of roadsides, edges of ditches and damp slightly shaded places. There are many other white umbellifers, so do check identification (i/d) in a good field guide. Don’t confuse it with other similar species such as the deadly poison Hemlock, or Hemlock Water-dropwort or Fool’s parsley. When you are sure of your i/d, it is worth searching where side-branches meet the stem. You may find quite a large round black leaf beetle Chrysolina oricalcia whose larvae feed on Cow Parsley. I have found the adult on Cow Parsley by the Bridlepath that runs alongside Old Farm Park and would like to hear of them in other MK locations, as they used to be known as rather scarce, but perhaps they were under-recorded because they hide rather well on Cow Parsley.

Ramsons / Wild Garlic Allium ursinum (AWI)
Ramsons Allium ursinum tend to grow on calcareous soils, such as over limestone. In MK this is largely a narrow band along our northern edge and in a few parts of the Loughton valley. They can be seen in a couple of our smaller woods and few other places in MK. If you see anyone collecting these in large quantities, please let The Parks Trust know, as I have heard from a resident that some people have been collecting them in quantity, perhaps to sell them commercially. You can just enjoy the garlic smell (if you do) as you look at their cluster of delicate white flowers on top of a long stalk, surrounded by two or three tall, straight bright green leaves.

April Spring flowers of grid-road landscapes, waysides and grasslands

The following should also come into flower in MK during April, in grasslands or beside paths and some in woodlands:

Cowslip Primula veris
Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis
Self-heal  Prunella vulgaris
Lords and Ladies Arum maculatum
Bugle Ajuga reptans

 

Mike LeRoy
3rd April 2023

Pine Marten Conservation: talk by Jenny MacPherson of Vincent Wildlife Trust – Tues 28 March – Zoom recording

Pine Marten Conservation in the UK: talk by Jenny MacPherson of the Vincent Wildlife Trust – Tuesday 28th March – Zoom recording

The Vincent Wildlife Trust is a somewhat unsung champion of mammal conservation in the British Isles and is leading the way in restoring one of our most elusive predators – the Pine Marten – to its former haunts. Jenny MacPherson gave us a full account of the revival of this fantastic animal.

To view a recording of his talk, use the link below and enter the pass code when asked to do so. The recording is available to view for 30 days from the date of the talk (28th March).

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/kPzglDzgafdtR74OLs9U5TkN4Y6yq2b7nuBTVmEBWqmxhKj50GI-k1yZ02IzOYGO.PZwSduWsG0tVvlcs

Passcode: B7vY5C.b

Riding the Wind and Sun for 50 years – Derek Taylor 26 April @ MK Gallery

You might be interested to know that Derek Taylor is giving a lecture at MK Gallery on Wednesday 26th April, based on his 50 years involvement with renewable energy and low energy & solar architecture.

Presented in partnership with the Buckinghamshire Society of Architects, this talk will tell the story of how renewable energy has grown from almost zero to becoming the dominant form of energy and the least expensive form of electricity. He will also explore how buildings can be designed to become more energy efficient as well as integrating renewable energy solutions. Additionally, he will describe 25 years of game-changing Renewable Energy Education from the Open University.

The talk will reveal Dr Taylor’s contribution to these fields – interspersed with topical and contemporary developments in alternative technology, renewable energy and in low energy and solar buildings.

The lecture starts at 18.30, in the Sky Room at MK Gallery.

For more information, see the PDF flyer here.

Alternatively go to the MK Gallery website, where you can also book a ticket or two (£8 or £10)

https://mkgallery.org/event/riding-the-wind-sun/

Winter in the Fells – Julie Lane

All photos © Julie Lane

I have been here for nearly six months now and I still have to pinch myself that I am actually living in this beautiful, dramatic part of the country.

As I am writing the cold weather has returned and the snow is falling outside. But overall we haven’t had a bad winter up here: one wet windy couple of weeks and that lovely cold icy period before Christmas with snow on the tops.

I walk nearly every day either down in the valley and along the Lowther river or up onto the fell behind where half an hours trek up hill on good paths and you reach the wonderful view down along Ullswater to the mountains at the end, the highest being Helvellyn. Looking north you can also see my favourite local mountain Blencathra with its twin peaks and east across to Cross fell and the Pennines.

Autumn saw the beautiful colours in the local woods which are a mix of parkland trees of lime, beech and oak and the native woodlands of ash, oak, scots pine and hazel with alders and willow along the rivers. The woods are full of roe deer which are regularly seen as well as the beautiful red squirrels. We seem to be on a dividing line here where red squirrels predominate but there are the occasional greys around which are shot by the local ranger – sad but necessary.

I completely missed the salmon going up the river to spawn but did see them as they came back down afterwards, sad fungal-covered monsters lurking in the side eddies of the river waiting to die. But they had accomplished their mission and hopefully the tiny fry up in the headwaters will continue their lineage for many years to come.

When the rains came Haweswater reservoir gradually filled up and during one particularly torrential storm it topped the dam and the river below became a raging torrent for a few days. The local dippers must retreat to the side streams when this happens.

The valley is full of geese in the winter, mainly noisy greylags flying around in the fields near the river but occasionally the pink footed geese fly overhead in their V shaped skeins calling out with that lovely wild musical song. Lets hope most escape the bird flu which is in the local poultry flocks up here and has been seen in the wild birds at Ullswater recently.

The other sound of winter is the local jackdaw roost which is huge! Every evening they congregate in black clouds of noise cackling settling in nearby trees until they dive down en masse into the conifer belt just above the village. Then all goes quiet for the night until early the next morning when they are up and off to the local fields to forage for breakfast.

The snow when it came was so exhilarating – not enough to make travelling impossible but enough to entice me up onto the fells behind to crunch through the icy crust and breathe in the cold crisp air. The jagged outlines of the distant mountain were breathtaking in the silence of the morning and when the local fell ponies came over for a nose rub I was in heaven!

One of the moorland ponds was fascinating in that it had iced over just after a very wet spell when the ponds were brim full, however as the snow and ice lay there for a few days the level in the pond slowly dropped causing the ice to sink almost two meters and crack along the fault lines.

Spring is not far away now the snowdrops are up and over and it’s the turn of wild daffodils and pungent wild garlic now.

Best wishes to all my MKNHS friends.

Julie Lane
March 2023

 

 

The John Wickham Lecture: Wildlife Recording in Changing Times – Brian Eversham – Tuesday 7th March – Zoom Recording

Brian Eversham is Chief Executive of the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust and was previously their Director of Conservation.

Brian’s talk covers a wide range of circumstances and changes affecting our wildlife and its response.

John Wickham was a long-standing member of the Society and contributed hugely to its development. He held many roles within the Society, latterly as Vice President until his death in 2020.

To view a recording of his talk, use the link below and enter the pass code when asked to do so. The recording was originally available to view for 30 days from the date of the talk (7th March), and this has been extended following requests for more time to view it.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/fE8f8CEb08A-EVgWSVP98b3eBKNDOj_R4xEc1uek2PGjUjiVgFdTUeyaU4ML1yOn.g6Uw8cxZJM-pVOh3
Passcode: i7P^HMmh

Early Spring wildflowers in Milton Keynes – Mike LeRoy

Which spring flowers can you expect to see during March? How about letting MKNHS website Sightings know when and where you see the first of each of these come into flower and include photos too: sightings@mknhs.org.uk

A pdf of this article can be found here.

Early Spring flowers of woodlands, hedges and beside paths
In our three ancient woodlands within the City – Linford Wood, Howe Park Wood and Shenley Wood – the Spring ground flora have started to come into flower.

Dog’s Mercury Mercurialis perennis
One of the earliest Spring flowers to emerge is Dog’s Mercury Mercurialis perennis which began to flower here in February. Although there are extensive lines of it alongside woodland paths and dense swathes of it on the woodland floor, it tends to be overlooked because its flowers are unobtrusive and it is only the dense patches of dark green leaves that stand out. It is worth a closer look because the male and female flowers are not on the same plant (‘dioecious’). If you search for Dog’s Mercury online on the wildflowerfinder.org.uk website you will find a sequence of photos: of the male flower opening up and on separate stems the female flower, part-hidden by leaves. Dog’s Mercury also spreads vigorously by rhizomes, and it can compete for space with Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta, which come into flower later. Dog’s Mercury is poisonous and amongst other effects is an emetic. Some dog-owners seem to think that the flower’s name is because dog’s like it, which is not why some wildflowers have ‘dog’ as part of their common name. Even so, some dogs are said to seek it out and eat it.

Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa
A later arrival in March is the Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa. It’s ‘show’ can be almost as impressive as that of Bluebells. There are path edges in Linford Wood where it covers the ditch edges and spreads into the woodland. The flower is a star-like spread of six (or more) brilliant white petals, with perhaps a light splash of pink. This too spreads by creeping rhizomes.

Primrose Primula vulgaris
Another that flowers mainly in March is Primrose Primula vulgaris. Although we tend to see cultivars of these first on the banks of some of the grid-roads (such as V8 alongside Fishermead) it is also an ancient woodland flower. Small clumps of these in woodlands can stay in flower through to June. But notice the differences between Primrose Primula vulgaris and Cowslip Primula veris (which tends to flower in April) and beware that there is a hybrid of these two around as well, Primula x polyantha = False Oxlip, often as a garden escape. The Primula family can be even more confusing locally because there are planted Oxlip Primula elatior at Woolstone and these have led to another hybrid in that area, Primula x digenea. Oxlip is largely found in the wild in Essex and Suffolk.

Dog-violets
Two dog-violets in particular are found in our ancient woodlands, also by hedges and paths and amongst shrubs elsewhere in MK. Violets are small flowers, soon hidden on the woodland floor by later-flowering plants, so a 10x lens is useful for identification. They are: Early Dog-Violet Viola reichenbachiana and Common Dog-Violet Viola riviniana. You can find an identification aid for these and two other violets on wildflowerhouruk.weebly.com under dinkymoira. You should find a page there, illustrating the differences between each of these. Early Dog-Violet Viola reichenbachiana has rather narrow upper petals that do not overlap, the veins on its lower petal don’t tend to branch much, and the spur at the back of the flower is un-notched. Unfortunately Common Dog-Violet Viola riviniana can be rather variable in appearance, depending on what habitat it is in. But look out for its broad overlapping violet coloured petals, the much-branched veins on the lower petal, and the pale-coloured spur at the back of the flower, and the notch in this. Both of these flowers  have pointy green sepals below the petals. Do let MKNHS Sightings know when you see these dog-violets coming into flower and where.

Early Spring flowers of grid-road trees, waysides and grasslands
Our grid-roads have a sequence of white-flowered trees and the first is not Blackthorn Prunus spinosa: it is Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera. The Development Corporation landscapers knew what they were doing: they planted a sequence, with Cherry Plum flowering from early March and Blackthorn following a few weeks later, followed by the two – more pinky – hawthorns in April and May: Midland Hawthorn Cretaegus laevigata and Common Hawthorn Cretaegus monogyna. The Cherry Plum is also known as Myrobalan Plum. It was introduced but is widely naturalised in the UK. With the Cherry Plum the flowers emerge at the same time as the leaves, but on Blackthorn the flowers appear before the leaves. The Blackthorn has many, long, sharp thorns on its grey-brown twigs, but the Cherry Plum has glossy green twigs that are often spineless. There are many other horticultural plum and cherry varieties of tree elsewhere in MK, but also the native Wild Cherry or Gean Prunus avium, sometimes found in woodlands.

Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria
There is another March arrival: the bright yellow flowers of Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria stand out, and are often in small groups. They have at least eight quite narrow but long petals, each flower on a long stalk, with long-stalked leaves arising around it from the base of the plant. Early Lesser Celandine have been seen in flower already in Great Linford and on Bradwell Common.

Speedwells and other flowers
Another group of tiny flowers that have been flowering for a while are the Veronica family, Speedwells. I have Speedwells in my lawn and they are found in other grasslands. Dinkymoira has an identification page for some of these too at: wildflowerhouruk.weebly.com – look under resources/dinkymoira. You will find it lower left, below a Violet. Other plants coming into flower locally in March include: Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolata and Ground Ivy Glechoma hederacea. You may see these at woodland margins, by hedges, on waste ground and in gardens.

Mike LeRoy
March 2023

Photo of Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria © Martin Ferns

The Natural History Museum Collection of Birds’ Nests and Eggs – a talk by Douglas Russell – Tues 28 Feb – Zoom recording

The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe: The Natural History Museum Collection of Birds’ Nests and Eggs – a talk by Douglas Russell – Tuesday 28th February – on Zoom

We were delighted to welcome Douglas Russell who is Curator of Nests and Eggs at the Natural History Museum and a world authority on them.

To view a recording of his talk, use the link below and enter the pass code when asked to do so. The recording is available to view for 30 days from the date of the talk.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/YpkC2Uh2w_CTJeZWvCC3r9x9qs5OkxSq-tSn8nHsCY4nodXFZwulwDThLJm5l9w.MFsVYlVbc4ooPr9U
Passcode: Xk36#vHQ

 

‘Pocket Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain and Ireland’ – Book Review (Mike LeRoy)

Mike LeRoy has written a review of a new book by Richard Lewington which was published in February:  Pocket Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain and Ireland (Bloomsbury 2023)

Mike says: “Bumblebees look as though they should be easy to identify, but often they are not. This new book is far better at aiding accurate identification than any I have ever used – which is many!”

The full review is can be found here: Pocket-Guide-Bumblebees-Book-Review

Learning more about bumblebees to enable you to identify them will be a good basis for then sending in your Sightings and submitting them as records.

Be My Valentine! The Mating Game in Mammals – a talk by Derek Crawley – Tuesday 14 February  – Zoom Recording

Derek Crawley is Vice Chairman of The Mammal Society. He gave us an introduction to the work of the society and then discussed the mating strategies of some of our native mammal species. The Mammal Society is keen to receive records of any mammal sightings. Go to their website for further information: Mammal records and submission – The Mammal Society

To view a recording of his talk, use the link below and enter the pass code when asked to do so. The recording is available to view for 30 days from the date of the talk.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/QE-rAhshuFKSq8aRL-akq46J0y3w9f-6Sz3OkGLufaXAHbD6a8O3TE7lUyL1j-IL.f9f2rP0kLs7W29oY

Passcode: pHC75Fr^

 

A year of Spurn – talk by Harry Appleyard – 7th Feb 2023 on Zoom

Harry Appleyard is known to all as Mr Tattenhoe for his titanic recording efforts on his home patch but he recently spent a year as a trainee with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust at Spurn National Nature Reserve. Harry’s talk tells us about the many different duties he had at Spurn as well as the amazing birdlife and other wildlife of the area.

To view a recording of his talk, use the link below and enter the pass code when asked to do so. The recording is available to view for 30 days from the date of the talk.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/7UY4I3pPcT-6PIdtO81CKM_cSYEUpTmZoVGRQrG7qhQsJ6VanKc7uv_NNOY-wBw1.tXoaoOavwyF8YlV8

Passcode: .@D@?8Fw

The Whaup – the what?! What’s in a name – Matt Andrews

In my youth, way back in the early seventies, my birdwatching exploits took place mainly within the parish boundaries of the little village of Flamstead, not too far from St. Albans.  I was a lucky lad as the bird life around the village was prolific and it wasn’t difficult to see many different birds on a day’s walking, perhaps taking in five or six miles of strolling across the fields and through the woods which thankfully, are still present to this day.

I would delight at the abundance of some species and bemoan the absence of others… Sparrowhawks were very rare, Buzzard, Raven and Kite non-existent, whereas Tree Sparrows were abundant as were Yellowhammers and Skylarks with House Martins nesting under many old and newer eaves, not something seen there today sadly.  Some of the older villagers used to refer to these birds by their familiar country names; so for instance, Tree Sparrows were Hill Sparrows (the scientific name of Passer Montanus gives a clue to this name), Skylarks were sometimes Laverocks whilst Fieldfare were Jack Birds or even Felties.


Hill Sparrow (Photo © Matt Andrews)

Wood Owls and White Owls were there;  Wood, Brown or Tawny Owls nested regularly in the  old chestnut trees bordering the churchyard as well as some of the tall beeches in one of the local woods whilst White or Barn Owls were in a very few of the old farmyard barns.

Most of the old villagers were former egg collectors so would tell me where they had collected clutches of Butcher Bird eggs (Red-backed Shrike) amongst the furze and hawthorns near to Trowley Bottom, the next village along, whilst several pairs of Cobweb Birds (Spotted Flycatchers) nested back then within the village itself.  How to locate difficult-to-find nests of Nettle Creepers (Whitethroats) or Titlarks (Meadow Pipits) was explained to me, as well as locating the commoner birds’ nests of species such as Dishwashers (Pied Wagtails), Ray’s Wagtails (Yellow Wagtails), Scribblers or Scribbler Larks (Yellowhammers – from their egg markings) and Ebbs or Common Buntings (Corn Buntings) who nested only upon the ground in the corn fields there and required careful and prolonged watching to find their little nests.

These were very observant people and whilst we cannot see their egg-collecting obsession as being either justifiable or acceptable, they did provide an indication of just how much field observation and patience went into their understanding of these birds’ habits and habitats.

Bottle Tits or Oven Tits (Long-tailed Tits) were clearly named from their beautifully constructed nests but Least Willow Wrens (Chiffchaff or Willow Warblers) were more well-known through their size and habits.  Nested in the same Beeches as the Tawny Owls, there was even a pair of Yaffles or Rain Birds (Green Woodpeckers)  – named after their familiar yelping calls and perhaps the clarity of those calls prior to rain showers.

Older publications gave regional country names as well as many more and a copy of Reverend J.C. Atkinson’s British Birds and Nests, which an uncle gave to me when I was around eight years old, has a wonderful collection of these.

Some as mentioned, stem from descriptions of the nests or eggs whilst others refer to size comparisons, plumages, habits and songs;  Night Warbler you will not be surprised to learn is the older term for both Reed and Sedge Warblers whilst the Dunnock or Hedge Sparrow, the latter a name not often used these days, was also known as the Shuffle-wing from the female’s habit of surreptitiously doing just this when advertising herself to a male who may not actually be the father of her current clutch of eggs!

Many of you will undoubtedly know of the Norfolk Plover or the Thick-knee – the Stone Curlew – as well as Johnny Frenchman – the Red-legged Partridge – from their origins and distribution in this country. But who would guess that the Holm Screech was a Mistle Thrush (in early literature spelled as Missel Thrush) or that the Mavis or Throstle was the Song Thrush!  The Tinkershere was the Guillemot whist the Curlew was the Whaup, presumably from its brief alarm calls – what wonderfully evocative names!


The Whaup (Photo © Matt Andrews)


The Tinkershere (Photo © Matt Andrews)

Some of the older names are now making a resurgence too.  The Northern Wheatear is a name once used in Victorian times (along with Fallow Smack, Clodhopper, Fallow Finch and Chackbird ) and is now the modern name for the same bird.  The Northern Fulmar is another such name making a comeback as opposed to simply the Fulmar whilst the Victorians’ Barn Swallow is the currently accepted name for the Swallow.

But it is the Snake-Bird or Emmet-hunter – the Wryneck – or the Fern Owl, Jar Owl, Evechur or Goatsucker – the Nightjar – which stir the boyish imagination in me still of ornithological treasures now largely lost to us or rarer yet than they were.  The origins of many names are steeped in the history of our countryside. 

The Goatsucker name, incidentally, referred to the Nightjar’s believed habit of creeping up upon sleeping goats and using its extraordinarily wide gape, latching onto and then sucking the milk from their teats and of course, causing it to go sour in the process!  They were often killed because of this!

Even modern names have historically interesting backgrounds;  Barnacle Geese were so named because it was thought even until the mid-nineteenth century that they over-summered at the bottom of the sea and that the black, white and grey Goose Barnacles often found attached to washed up driftwood were in fact the geese hibernating in a larval form prior to hatching out into the adult birds.  This was actually believed by several eminent naturalists including the great Gilbert White of Selborne fame no less who also recorded the fact that Swallows hibernated in winter at the bottom of ponds because they were seen skimming across the water surface prior to disappearing in late Autumn.

The origins and explanations behind these old names give a fascinating insight into the thinking of our ancestors and their beliefs about the habits of species which they couldn’t possibly have known about other than through their own observations.  In many ways it is a credit to their detailed observations which gave us these older names and, although we think now that we have the definitive names, family orders and species nomenclature readily available in the myriad publications available to us, who can possibly say what these same birds will be known as in another century?

We should remember too that similar such names exist for many insects, plants, mammals and fishes and that a whole history of observation and recording from as far back as the fifteenth century awaits examination, much of which is as relevant today as it was when it originated from the naturalists of old.  

I like to think that by referring to many of the older records and publications still available, understanding what they are referring to with regards to habitat, habits and perceived abundance, then applying just a few of the older and wiser methodologies to maintaining our countryside, it may be possible to bring some of these species’ declines back to more acceptable levels and assist too in the preservation of habitat and especially breeding success.

It is not only our modern more scientific approaches to species management which can assist in these recoveries;  look at the success birds such as Nightingale and Turtle Dove are experiencing at re-wilding projects like as those at Knepp in Sussex and Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk, sensitive habitat management from far back re-establishing a naturally controllable balance between managed farmland and nature.

Muir Fowl (Red Grouse) are now managed so intensely on shooting estates to the almost total exclusion of other moorland species that their habitat is now often described as ‘moorland desert’!  If these fragile moorland ecosystems are kept in such parlous states, it is entirely possible that the very grouse they are designed to cater for may well die out due to the lack of the bio-diversity so essential for maintaining a balanced environment…no variety, no heather!  This wasn’t the case even only fifty years ago when the moors were more sympathetically maintained.  


The Muir Fowl (Photo © Matt Andrews)

It was in a publication from the nineteenth century where I first understood how Turtle Doves nested in small, loose colonies and that their breeding success depended upon such relationships.  I can recall clearly finding groups of up to ten pairs nesting within a few yards of one another but never singly in the woods around Flamstead during the seventies, but failed to connect this behaviour to breeding success as our early naturalists with their quaint beliefs in hibernating Barnacle Geese and Swallows had done.

The RSPB were unaware of this when I contacted them about their own Turtle Dove management schemes some years back. They drew comparisons to the Passenger Pigeons of North America who eventually fell to extinction,  with the last lonely bird being Martha who was kept in Cincinnati Zoo until she died in 1914 after the last known males had died in 1910.  They had ceased breeding  several years before because of their inability to nest alone; there being a finite number of pairs required for successful reproduction in the tiny and sparsely separated colonies, they were forced to try and breed in – with extinction being the inevitable result!


The Wrekin Dove (Photo © Matt Andrews)


I leave you with the thought that whilst Cushats (Wood Pigeons), Harry Redcaps (Goldfinches), Aberdervines (Siskins) and Cobblers-Awl Ducks (Avocets) are still in a relatively stable position with some species such as Buff-backed Herons (Cattle Egrets) and Mire Drums (Bitterns) actually increasing in numbers, it is a sobering fact that the majority of familiar British bird species are now in decline, some on what would appear to be
a straight line leading to extinction here!  The Wrekin Dove (Turtle Dove) and Solan Goose (Gannet) as well as the poor old Bonxie (Great Skua) are having a very hard time here now through both habitat loss and change, shooting pressures and latterly, Avian Influenza … all conditions brought about by modern, intensive land-management practices in one way or another.

We know so much about our birds that it is a travesty that we are seeing such huge declines now. Perhaps we can find more clues to assisting their recovery based upon older references in historical natural history literature where our forbears gave names to species reflecting their close observations and association with the countryside.  May the Yeorling, Black Bonnet, Sheep-Stare and Lint-White continue to thrive and prosper as they did over a hundred and fifty years ago and indeed, only thirty years back too!

Matt Andrews
February 2023

The Changing Face of British Dragonflies – talk by  Alan Nelson, 31 Jan 2023 – Zoom Recording

Society Member and Country Odonata Recorder Alan Nelson has been studying these insects in Milton Keynes for over 20 years. With climate change and shifting populations, there are more and more species for us to look out for! Alan outlined these species and their distinguishing features. He encouraged members of MKNHS to look out for them this summer and send him the records.

To view a recording of his talk, use the link below and enter the pass code when asked to do so. The recording will be available to view for 30 days from the date of the talk.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/GF8mCsc51UYusdzjF9tpwWeFDjHaXa7tEHJPz11YIBiNsfpZtxZ6-3CHcJocdhJX.52WRAZKK50StNtIG
Passcode: tDB^dtk7

Newt Conservation Partnership – support for landowners

NCP Landowners Factsheet Feb 21We have recently received information about the Newt Conservation Partnership from the project officer for Milton Keynes. They offer support to land owners for pond creation/maintenance to provide suitable habitat for newts. They cover all the capital costs of pond creation or restoration, and a multitude of other terrestrial habitat enhancement works such as tree planting and high quality grassland creation or restoration.

For more information follow the link to the NCP Factsheet.

 

Tuesday 17th January – RSPB Otmoor: A Wetland Rediscovered – talk by David Wilding – Zoom recording

David Wilding, Otmoor Site Manager, talked about the history of Otmoor and how the RSPB has turned arable fields into an incredible wetland oasis, home to breeding bittern, marsh harrier, crane and snipe.  He then took us on a journey through the seasons looking at wildlife and the work which is undertaken to maintain this amazing place.

This talk was attended by a large audience at the Cruck Barn along with nine other members who attended by Zoom. If you would like to view this recording, use the link below. The recording will be available to view for 30 days.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Qw0gMs_28tF-3KjVKlpHtkt_ZtuZKDxo/view?usp=sharing

Tongwell Lake walk report – 15 January 2023

Above photo: Reeds at Tongwell Lake  (Photo©Harry Appleyard)

Today’s weekend walk took place at the rather overlooked Tongwell Lake, a small lake a short distance north of Willen which can boast an impressive range of birds at this time of year including resident and migratory passerines as well as mixed congregations of waterfowl, sometimes hosting some of Buckinghamshire’s scarcer species. This was just one day shy of a year since the last Society weekend walk here, so it was an interesting opportunity to compare the variety.


Mallard, Male Goosander, Tufted Ducks and Black-headed Gulls (Photo©Harry Appleyard)

As with last year’s visit, birds took the spotlight for most of the walk but there were fleeting appearances from Grey Squirrels and one of the first Bumblebees of the year for a few of us! Many of the same species from last year were present across and around the lake with several species of wintering waterfowl including around 30 Tufted Ducks, 12 Pochard, 4 Shovelers and 4 Gadwall. Small groups of Mute Swans, Greylag, Canada Geese, Black-headed Gulls and Coots were also present on the water while a Grey Heron and 3 Cormorants were resting at the island.
Female Shoveller (Photo©Bob Phillips)

One of the target species, Goosander was on show right away. While last year there were 7 and this year there were 2, their numbers here can wax and wane throughout the autumn and winter, sometimes reaching double figures. A lone male was one of the first birds we saw among a lot of the other waterfowl on the lake but later on it was accompanied by a female, diving and showing well towards the end of the walk.


Male Goosander (Photo©Harry Appleyard)

A couple of birds which were not seen on last year’s visit included Lapwing and Raven. A lone Raven and a flock of around 150 Lapwings passed by shortly after me and Martin Kincaid arrived but later on, several small flocks of Lapwings were seen throughout the walk and a pair of Ravens also flew low over the conifers near the M1. While often on the move, the Ravens have become a much more familiar sight in North Bucks in recent years.


Raven (Photo©Harry Appleyard)

There was a good variety of passerines, some showing much more so than others. One of our autumn and winter visitors, the Lesser Redpoll stole the show on several occasions with small flocks of up to 7 birds seen feeding on birches around the area. We were treated to some excellent views of 3 here last year too, so it was good to see them again in a season that has so far not produced many locally. Surprisingly Siskins were absent this time but the views of the Redpolls definitely made up for their absence.


Lesser Redpolls (Photo©Bob Phillips)

Around some of the more densely vegetated areas there was a small flock of Long-tailed Tits, a Song Thrush heard calling and a pair of Goldcrests which showed very well, with one displaying to the other at close range. A Treecreeper was seen by the north side of the lake while a Great Spotted Woodpecker made a brief appearance in the treetops on the island. At least 2 Red Kites, a Sparrowhawk and 2 Common Gulls were also seen passing by.


Red Kite (Photo©Bob Phillips)

Some early signs of spring included a Dunnock singing, flowering Hazel buds and Purple Dead-nettles* by one of the footpaths.


Purple Dead-nettle (Photo©Harry Appleyard);  Hazel – female catkin (Photo©Bob Phillips)

Thanks again to Colin Docketty and Martin Kincaid for planning and leading this walk.

Harry Appleyard
16 January 2023

* NB Purple Dead-nettle is not shown in many wildflower books as it’s a naturalised plant, which flowers early and dies down in the summer.

“What’s that Plant?” workshop – Howe Park Wood, Sunday 5 Feb

A February walk and introductory workshop for MK Natural History Society members and Parks Trust volunteers. (NB Please wear suitable footwear and wet weather clothing for walking in the woods.) Further details as below:

Location and date

Howe Park Wood Study Centre,
Sunday 5th February 2023, 12 noon to 4pm

Outline for the session

  • 12 noon starting with a walk in the wood for about an hour.
  • 1.00 pm light lunch (the cafe will be open, or bring your own)
  • 1.30 pm Introduction to the Workshop
  • Plant identification – looking at plants found from the walk and introduction to using hand lenses
  • 2.00 pm Introducing Flower Families … looking at The Daisy Family, & possibly others eg rose and primrose family
  • 2.30 pm – How to identify plants when in flower.
  • 3.00 pm Tea break (tea/coffee provided by The Parks Trust)
  • 3.30 pm Questions and discussion from “What’s that plant?” walk and signposting to other resources for plant identification
  • 4.00 pm workshop ends

No botanical knowledge necessary. Some illustrative garden and florist flowers will be available to augment woodland ones. Places are limited so please book as soon as possible by sending an email to Jenny Mercer (jenny.mercer@hotmail.co.uk).

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MKNHS Photo Competition 2023

The Society’s annual Photo Competition takes place in January.

It will return to the past format of a print competition. That is, entrants need to submit prints rather than digital photos online.

There are five categories;
1. Birds
2. Plants & Fungi
3. Insects
4. Other Animals
5. Astronomy, Landscapes, Minerals etc.

A maximum of two prints can be entered into each category. (10 prints in total per entrant)
Maximum print size is A4 (210 x 297mm)

The deadline for submission of prints is 17th January, with the entrants judged by members at the Tuesday evening meeting on 24th January.

Prints may be submitted at the Tuesday meetings on 10th and 17th, or by post to:

MK Natural History Society
c/o City Discovery Centre
Bradwell Abbey
Milton Keynes
MK13 9AP

No prints will be accepted after the deadline of 17th January.

The winner receives a small shield to keep and the large shield to hold for a year.

May the best photograph win – it’s up to you!

Queries to webeditor@mknhs.org.uk

Paul Lund

Birds and Wildlife of Poland: Richard Bashford – Zoom recording -6th Dec

Richard Bashford has made many trips to Poland over the past 20 years and his talk illustrates the breath-taking Beibrza National Park with its diverse wetland birds as well as the primeval forests of Bialowieza. Here can be found most of Europe’s woodpecker species alongside Nutcracker, Pygmy Owl and the star of the show – European Bison.

Over the last few weeks, as some of you will be aware, we have been experimenting with setting up ‘hybrid’ meetings where members at the Cruck Barn are joined by others on Zoom. So far, our small group of Zoom ‘pioneers’ have been members who live in different parts of the UK or abroad. Once we are confident that the system is working properly and reliably, the intention is to make this opportunity more widely available to those members who cannot travel to the Cruck Barn but want to attend a meeting. As part of the experiment, we recorded Richard Bashford’s talk, although the sound input was not working as it should, and an external microphone had to be used. This was sorted out within 3 minutes, but the speaker is audible from the beginning.

If you would like to view this recording, use the link below and put in the pass code when asked to do so.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/Jt-mN0xV7KUNlc1VvH4Klb8J3K7aRmnwe1gQjg3rNG5-BUw3SfGJOdQLObmrGV1t.VOGggorGJ_J8pnXF
Passcode: #F&#APH8

Avian Flu – H5N1 virus

Just as the threat of human virus SARS-Cov-2 is thankfully diminishing, at least in our corner of the world, there is a terrible avian viral disaster raging. This is BIRD FLU ie the virus H5N1. This isn’t the time or place to explore the subject in detail but in case anyone is wondering what they should do if they spot dead birds (or indeed dead mammals as it appears transmission has started occuring) this government webpage may be of assistance:

https://ukhsa.blog.gov.uk/2022/11/17/an-update-on-avian-flu/

In short, the advice to members of the public finding dead or sick wild birds i:

  • don’t touch them
  • call the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77

Defra are interested in hearing about the following:

  • single dead birds of prey (including owls)
  • three or more dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or gulls
  • five or more dead birds of any species

 

Contributed by
Sue Hetherington
27 November 2022

A message from Julie Lane

Lowther Castle from Upper Askham (All photos © Julie Lane)

Hello to all my lovely MKNHS friends

I have now been up in my new home the Lake District for a couple of months and am absolutely loving exploring the area around my temporary rented home in the beautiful village of Askham near the Lowther estate which is just south-west of Penrith. It’s good to have a new cast of wildlife characters to get to know and I have been getting out and walking as much as I can before the winter weather sets in.


Looking towards Ullswater from Askham Fell

From my home I can go up onto the fell where wild ponies, sheep and shorthorn cattle roam and across to Pooley Bridge. Up here I have already seen a large flock of golden plover and am on the lookout for the hen harrier which also haunts this moorland. The short grass is ideal for waxcaps at this time of the year and I have some nice photos of the scarlet wax cap.


Scarlet waxcap


Askham bridge over the Lowther river

I can also go down to the beautiful Lowther river with its backdrop of stunning autumn colours. This river is a salmon river but I have yet to see one of these amazing fish but I did hear a high-pitched calling one early morning and looking down into the river below I saw a young otter making its way upstream calling to its mum – it may well have been lost or rejected so it might not have been a happy ending but it was good to see nonetheless. I have seen dippers, kingfishers and goosanders on the river and one evening watched a female sparrowhawk pluck a woodpigeon she had killed – she knew I was watching her but it was too heavy for her to take off so she tolerated my presence. Red squirrels abound locally but I have also seen a couple of greys which is not good news.

I am sure as the year progresses I will add to my list of sightings and learn more about the natural history of my new surroundings. I will keep in touch and hope to see you all again when I am down visiting Milton Keynes in the future.

Julie

Askham, Cumbria
5 November 2022

Wild Fell by Lee Scofield: Book review by Julie Lane

Wild Fell: Fighting for nature on a Lake District hill farm
by Lee Schofield (Penguin/Doubleday, 2022)

I thought you might be interested to read the following book which gives an insight into the natural history of the area where I now live.

Lee is my son-in-law’s colleague and they both work at the RSPB’s Haweswater Reserve. Lee came to their wedding a couple of years ago and played the guitar and sang wonderfully which was a great treat. He is a humble modest man but very likeable and extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife of the Lake District.  His book is brave, poignant and ultimately hopeful.

I grew up visiting the Lake District regularly for holidays but over the years the pressures on this beautiful place have increased exponentially. Overgrazing of the fells, pollution of the lakes and also the huge numbers of tourists who visit every year have resulted in a degraded landscape with very little wildlife.

This book is an appeal and a justification for change by a man who really knows his subject. He has been working with others to trial and refine ways to run a viable upland farm in a manner that enriches the landscape in Haweswater and allows nature to creep back slowly but surely. He describes how by planting trees, re-wetting peat bogs and re-wiggling rivers they are slowly making progress. It is understandably not easy for other land managers such as farmers who have lived in the area for generations to accept these changes as a necessary movement towards a healthier more sustainable and ultimately more productive landscape. But Lee looks into the pressures they have faced and the confusing and changing political landscape they have had to contend with and is always broad minded in his writing.

This book has a serious message but is also a fascinating and enjoyable read about the wildlife to be found and the characters who work in this corner of the Lake District. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and alongside James Rebanks’ two books A Shepherd’s Life and English Pastoral, I think you get a very balanced view of the pressures and challenges of farming in this beautiful corner of our country as well as a lot of background as to how we have got ourselves into our present nature-depleted state.

Julie Lane
November 2022

 

Wildlife around Milton Keynes May to October 2022 – Tony Wood

PHoto: Clouded Yellow butterfly at Magna Park, July 2022 (© Graham Lynham)

It was certainly a summer to remember with this area of the country suffering with the temperatures achieving 40C, the driest on record, and the driest July since 1911.

So how did it affect the wildlife locally?

It would appear from the records submitted to our website that it did not deter members of our Society from venturing forth around Milton Keyes and enjoying the wildlife.

Mammals – In May a fox suffering with mange was regularly seen in the streets of New Bradwell and a month later accompanied by 3 cubs. A further sighting of this fox was with a dead magpie in its jaws. Otters this summer were recorded in Willen Lake, Linford Lakes Reserve and Caldecotte Lake. An unusual record was one seen in a Bletchley Garden. Surveys continued for dormice in Little Linford Wood and Linford Lakes Reserve both by using boxes and footprint tunnels to identify footprints. Both recorded only woodmice using the tunnels, However, during the October Box survey in Little Linford Wood a single Brown Long-eared Bat was discovered. In July a Chinese water deer and a brown hare were seen in Magna Park.

Reptiles – The Parks Trust have been carrying out two reptile surveys using mats or corrugated iron placed on the ground. The Railway Triangle at Blue Bridge has been checked for several years and always been successful, and has continued to be so this year. In June as many as 9 slow worms were recorded during a single visit. The new site is at `Joan`s Piece` beside the canal at New Bradwell and has been quiet this year with only one toad observed in June.

Plants – The vegetation has probably been affected by the long hot and dry conditions this summer. However, members of our Society have been recording different orchid species. Early purple orchids have been noted during May in Linford Wood, Shenley Wood, and Little Linford Wood, common spotted orchid in Little Linford Wood. In June bee orchids were recorded in Emerson Valley, beside Teardrop Lake, and on the embankment beside the V6 Grafton Street. Just outside the MK area a southern marsh orchid was observed near Great Brickhill in July

Insects – Butterflies were well recorded this year, particularly the painted lady.  Other unusual species included the white admiral, black hairstreak, and dingy skipper in June, and silver-washed fritillary, purple emperor, purple hairstreak and the clouded yellow in July.

Dragonflies and damselflies were well recorded with white-legged dragonflies seen in May, emperor dragonfly in June, and willow emerald damselfly in July.

Moths – October ended with several unusual moths. Top of the list was a Crimson Speckled moth from southern Europe or Africa that appeared in a member`s garden in Wolverton and appears to be a first sighting in Bucks. This is a rare migrant to the UK with most annual records coming from the south coast.

Autumn 2022 has been relatively good for moths {especially migrants} with the unseasonal warm weather in late September and October a major factor. The Hummingbird Hawk Moth is reasoned to have had its best ever year in the UK according to Butterfly Conservation. Martin Kincaid has seen more in his home garden in Oldbrook this year and several were still visiting valerian flowers in mid-October. The spectacular Cliften Nonpareil continues to increase locally. Ayla Webb caught one at home in Newport Pagnell in September and two were recorded at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve. Martin also recorded his first ever Cypress Pug at home on 22nd August and his second on 15th September. The beautiful Merveille du Jour is one of the joys of autumn mothing and Andy Harding and Martin both caught this species at locations including Old Stratford, Little Linford Wood and Linford Lakes. However, I have had a box tree moth in my moth trap regularly from July to October, a new moth for my records. It is worrying to learn it was introduced from South-east Asia and the larvae are considered a pest, feeding on various species of box tree.

Birds – During May at the Floodplain Forest reserve two avocet were recorded together with a shelduck. At Willen Lakes the first swift was observed, a cuckoo heard, and a ring-necked parrakeet flew past. At Linford Lakes Reserve common tern and a wood sandpiper were recorded. In June sand martins were observed entering Linford Lakes Reserve`s `sand castle` built by the volunteers; also two Egyptian geese were noted at the same site. During the same month, ruddy shelduck and redstart were recorded at the Floodplain Forest together with a special red-backed shrike. At Willen Lake a Caspian gull was recorded in July, and another ring-necked parrakeet reported in a garden in Stony Stratford. During August at the Floodplain Forest Reserve a marsh harrier and a redstart were recorded and at Willen Lakes a black-tailed godwit was seen. Two peregrines were noted in September at the Floodplain Forest, and garganey and a rock pipit at Willen Lake. Also, a mandarin duck was observed at Furzton Lake during the same month. October attracted mash tit and raven at Little Linford Wood; stonechat at Willen Lakes; brambling, fieldfare, redwing, and hawfinch at at Tattenhoe; and red=crested pochard at Linford Lakes Reserve.

Winter will soon be with us but don`t let that deter you from wrapping up and reporting your sightings through the Society`s website. As usual I ask you to watch and record – but most of all, enjoy!

Tony Wood
November 2022

MKNHS members beat the Pembrokeshire weather to enjoy their visit – Steve Brady

Eight members of the Society visited Pembrokeshire at the invitation of Pembrokeshire U3A Natural History Group. The group was set up by former MKNHS chair Steve Brady, now living in Pembrokeshire, to whom many thanks are due.

Steve has put together a report on the visit, reproduced here:

Despite appalling weather on their visit to Tŷ Canol Wood on the Friday morning, a group of eight visitors from Milton Keynes Natural History Society, of which our Group Organiser was Secretary and Chairman for many years, enjoyed a successful and interesting visit to Pembrokeshire from 29th September to 2nd October. The visit was part of the U3A’s national celebrations of its 30th Anniversary, involving local U3Aers hosting some of our visitors in their homes.

On the wet and windy morning of Friday 30th September, our visitors plus a few hardy local U3Aers explored Tŷ Canol Wood. Mostly we were sheltered by the ancient oak trees from the worst of the elements and the magic of this very special place shone through regardless.

Amongst the finds were splendid fly agaric mushrooms such as the one below.

After enjoying our unique Celtic Rain Forest our gallant band returned through torrential rain and gales to drive to the ancient Pentre Ifan dolmen. Thence over the top of the Preselis to the Tafarn Sinc inn at Rosebush.

Here we were all made most welcome, and wet apparel dried before the log burner whilst we warmed ourselves up with coffee and hot toddies. We stayed for an excellent meal of fine Pembrokeshire produce, at which we were joined by Geoff and Rowena Winterman.

Next day dawned bright and mostly sunny. In the morning we gathered at Dr Beynon’s Bug Farm near St. David’s, where we were treated to a fascinating introductory talk about the Farm, its history and its important role in local education and conservation by Sarah, the eponymous Dr Beynon. We then enjoyed the amazing range of exotic tropical arthropods kept in their zoo, after which the braver spirits got to handle a few choice specimens.

Lunch followed at the Grub Kitchen, the UK’s first full-time edible insect restaurant. Again, the bolder ones amongst us got to try said edible insects, such as the Crunchy Crickets in the photo above, which those who did enjoyed. There remained time to explore the plots of local wildflowers, Nature-friendly crops and species-rich grasslands on the site – which our Group will hopefully visit next summer (entomophagy optional!) –  before we headed a few miles up the coast to Abercastle.

Here our resident seal experts Pete and Carol Hall enthralled us with their knowledge of grey seal biology and natural history, based on their years of working as volunteers at a local seal rescue centre, before taking us round the coast to see the pups displayed before us on their birthing beaches. A slightly older pup came to see us in return.

A quick detour was made to see the Neolithic Carreg Samson dolmen, with a sighting of Pembrokeshire choughs thrown in to make our visitors’ natural history experience complete. After which what all concerned agreed had been a highly successful visit was rounded off with a splendid repast, none of which was insectile, at the Ship Inn in the lovely village of Solva.

Whilst staying with Jennifer Huggett in Castle Morris, one of our visitors, Linda Murphy, set up a moth trap. On the Friday night she recorded 16 Lunar Underwings and one each of the Beaded Chestnut and the Pinion-streaked Snout. On Saturday night she trapped no less than 42 Lunar Underwings, two each of the Yellow-line Quaker and the Beaded Chestnut plus one each of the Large Yellow Underwing and the Square-spot Rustic. A fine haul this late in the season, and one which may inspire local members to start moth-trapping and recording.

On behalf of the Natural History Group of Pembrokeshire U3A and at the request of Milton Keynes Natural History Society on their behalf too I should like to thank all local U3Aers who helped make this 30th Anniversary event the great success it proved to be, notably Pat Lewis and Jennifer Huggett for accommodating some of our visitors in their homes and Pete and Carol Hall, Geoff and Rowena Winterman and Mary Bartlett for turning out to welcome them. Our Chair, Jan Manning, had hoped to join us at the Ship but sadly was unwell.

Steve Brady
October 2022

College Wood 16 July report – Species list now available

Andy Harding has just submitted the moth list for the MKNHS George Higgs/Gordon Redford night at College Wood Nash on July 16th 2022. He says: ‘The blame for the  lateness of the report does not lie entirely in the south of the county!! I also commend Martin Albertini’s superb organisation of the data.”

A link to the Species list is now added to the end of Andy’s report, which can be found here:
If you want to go straight to the Species List, you can click here

The Excel file includes the all-time list for College Wood, as well as the moths identified on our 16th July 2022 moth night, including the 8 new species added on our latest visit.

Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust

At the last Society AGM, it was suggested that the committee consider taking out membership of BCN Wildlife Trust as a way of supporting the work of the Trust, since this is our neighbouring Trust. A number of members live in that area and we visit some of their reserves at times as part of our summer programme. The Society has been a member of the Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust for many years.

MKNHS has now become a member of BCN Wildlife Trust. This means we receive a copy of their reserves handbook and newsletter, plus some materials suitable for children to encourage their interest. These items for will be available at meetings for anyone to look at. We will also receive news of training courses which we aim to post on the website. Membership does not mean every individual member is entitled to free access and parking at the reserves, but is a way of supporting and raising awareness of the work done by these Wildlife Trusts.

You can read more about the work the BCN WIldlife Trust do here: https://www.wildlifebcn.org/

Linda Murphy (Treasurer)

Fall into nature with Plantlife – events 10-14 October

Plantlife’s ever-popular annual digital events series, Fall into nature with Plantlife, in partnership with Laurent-Perrier is back, between Monday 10th -Friday 14th October.

Plantlife is ‘The Wild Plant Conservation Charity – see  https://www.plantlife.org.uk
or followthe link below:

View full programme and book your place

We kick off with a virtual walk through some of the world’s most magnificent temperate rainforests with renowned conservationist Dominick DellaSala.

Plantlife’s own renowned woodland ecologist and Lead Community Scientist Alison Smith will give us an introduction to bryophytes and the wonderful world of moss!

Lucia Chmurova is Plantlife’s Conservation Officer on the Magnificent Meadows Wales Project. Lucia will give us an introduction to waxcaps, their identification and management in species-rich meadows across Wales.

Keilidh Ewan leads Plantlife’s work in the Cairngorms and will present her team’s work in partnership with the community and other organisations to help save the rare and beautiful twinflower.

Plantlife botanical specialist Sarah Shuttleworth will help us to understand if we’re looking at grasses, sedges or rushes and why it matters!

Our Brecklands champion Jo Jones is joined by Green Squirrel’s Hannah Garcia for an evening of discussion and creativity, exploring the role stories play in conservation and connecting us with nature, with a special focus on the rare Field Wormwood.

Tim Pankhurst, our East of England Conservation Manager has spearheaded a remarkable conservation partnership success over the last 14 years to restore the beautiful fen orchid’s habitat and bring it back from the brink of extinction. Join him to hear how it was achieved.

Lisa Schneidau will introduce The World Tree: a storytelling dedicated to our beloved ash trees, past, present and future. Ash is one of our commonest trees but ash dieback now threatens our temperate rainforests, where ash trees provide a home for many important lichens.

We finish with Rachel Jones introducing us to lichens. You’ll see them on tree trunks, gate posts, walls and car bonnets, on every continent and in almost every habitat, Rachel will show you how to identify them.

We are sure that Fall into nature with Plantlife has something for everyone, we do hope you can join us. Click here to view the programme – some events have limited spaces. Let’s bring nature to your doorstep this autumn.

 

Join the MKNHS Website Team!

If you are interested in helping to keep the MKNHS website up-to-date, lively and interesting we would love to hear from you! There are several ways in which you could get involved.

Julie Lane, formerly a Vice President of the Society, has moved to the Lake District. She was a very active member of the website team and we are hoping to find one or two others to take over the work that she did:

  • encouraging articles for the website for example by approaching members with suggestions for what they might contribute;
  • helping with the writing if members needed support;
  • producing a ‘digest’ of website articles twice a year and sending it to members without internet access;

At the same time our Webeditor, Martin Ferns, is looking for someone who would like to take on the work of updating the Sightings page. This would help a lot when members of the team are away (it wasn’t a problem over the last couple of years, but now travel is back on the agenda….). We also need more cover in case of illness or other issues. You would be given access and trained how to edit this website page

Finally, for similar reasons, we would like to find another member of the team to act as back up for our web-master Rebeca Hiorns. Ideally we’d like to find someone with experience of working with WordPress, but again, this is something that you can learn (as we have!).

If you’d like to help in any of these roles or want to know more, please get in touch with Martin Ferns, Rebecca Hiorns or Linda Murphy at a meeting or email Webeditor@mknhs.org.uk

 

Trip to Skokholm in July 2022 – Ann Jones

The island of Skokholm from the mainland (Photo © Ann Jones)

I’m ashamed to say that when Kenny (Cramer) opened up his invitation to non ringers to spend a week on Skokholm, Pembrokeshire, I knew very little about the island.  I had visited Skomer (not far away but much bigger) very many years ago and was delighted by the colours of the bluebells, thrift and the gulls nesting among them.  I signed up to go, then started planning the week’s food as the island is off grid, so you need to take food, but the system of communal cooking and eating for those who wanted to, kindly planned by Helen, one of the ringers, and the very well planned kitchen made it straightforward.  Skokholm is a bird observatory, so there are a number of research projects taking place and it has a magnificent natural history library and resource room.

We had a week on the island; and as many do, I left a bit of my heart there.  It’s small – just over a mile long, and beautiful.  If you have walked along the Pembrokeshire coast, then the geology of red sandstone and volcanic rock on Skokholm might be familiar, and, aligned with the lichen (including the orangey lichen in the photo below of a young stonechat – I think!), made for lovely colours.


Stonechat (Photo © Ann Jones)

As a non-ringer my interest was the wildlife and photography, although the ringing was always an opportunity to learn and see birds close up.  Being off grid there are no showers but the sun shone most of the time giving plenty of hot water from the solar panels.  I guess the stars of the island must be the puffins.  In 2021 11,245 puffins were counted  and it feels as though much of the island is covered with puffins – very attractive and at times seemingly comical birds.  In one area, Crab Bay, they’re very used to people and will often come right up and jump onto you if you sit still and pull at your shoelaces or steal your lens cap, but I didn’t take the risk of letting them touch bare skin.  Those beaks!


Grooming Puffin (Photo © Ann Jones)

I was also hoping to photograph choughs.  What magical birds! There was a family group of 4 that were often seen on Skokholm, sometimes joined by birds from elsewhere, but they were hard to photograph.  The very dark colouring plus the fact that they move around very quickly made it challenging, although often easy to find as they are sociable and noisy. Ravens also live on Skokholm and I have to say I am very fond of ravens but I didn’t get to see any of these ravens very close up.  Like many crows they hang around in family groups.

Other ‘daytime’ seabird colonies included razorbills, guillemots and fulmars.  (There are no gannet colonies on Skokholm but plenty of gannets fly past).


Chough in Campion (Photo © Ann Jones)

Greater blacked back gulls, lesser black backed gulls and herring gulls nest on the island.  The lesser backs harrass you as you walk through their colony but they don’t attack.  Some greater black backed gulls do torment the puffins, waiting near the burrow entrance and sometimes managing to catch one or a puffling or at least steal the catch that has been brought in for the young.  They also tormented and attacked the Manx shearwaters as they flew into their island burrows at night.  The number of corpses in the morning showed that coming in at night didn’t make them safe.  From my bed I could hear both the sound of the shearwaters (quite difficult to describe, but mesmerising) and the gulls – who don’t necessarily roost at night.  The estimated number of shearwaters in 2018 in an article by Perrins and colleagues (Latin name, oddly, puffinus puffinus!) was 90,000 .   I didn’t get to see these properly as I’m afraid I prioritised sleep over the night walks to visit and ring shearwaters.


Greater Black-backed Gull after feeding (Photo © Ann Jones)

The final stars of the island are the storm petrels: again I didn’t see these as you need to be up after dark. It is very hard to know what the population of nesting birds is: one of the wardens’ blogs comments on how they try to monitor and count the storm petrels: quite challenging.  The amazing wardens post a blog each day, and it is well worth reading.  Each night there is a roll call where everyone comes together to note and discuss what has been seen that day.

In terms of some smaller non-sea birds, Skokholm is full of wheatears, and there is an ongoing research MSc project by Ian Beggs who tweets about the project at @fatsnipe.  I was really happy to see so many as they are a bit of a novelty in MK, and generally only seen on migration.  Stonechats were less common but there was at least one pair.  I had never thought of wrens as island birds, but they are; and ferreting around amongst seaweed, plants and stones etc must expose many insects.  Other small nesting birds include (but are not limited to) many meadow pipits, some skykarks, wagtails and various warblers such as the sedge warbler. Swallows were nesting in one of the buildings and were amazingly successful, with two broods – I think 15 young altogether.


Swallow in hand (Photo © Ann Jones)


Wheatear (Photo © Ann Jones)

There are few mammals on Skokholm.  Rats have been successfully kept out, though mice live there and are being studied.  Rabbits were introduced centuries ago and there is still a good population, including some darker coloured ones, as different kinds were introduced at various times.  The hide in front of the lighthouse where the wardens live, is a great place to sit and seawatch.  I was not fortunate enough to see a dolphin when I was looking, although common dolphins are often seen, but I did see porpoises.  The classic book about the island, which is a great read, is Lockley’s Dream Island.  R.M.Lockley, ornithologist and naturalist lived on Skokholm from 1927 until forced to move by the war. His account of island life is delightful.

It is definitely a trip and island that will stay with me and thanks of course to Kenny for not only organising the trip but also giving me a lift so I could get there!

Ann Jones
September 2022

 

 

BMERC courses on How to Record (and How not to…) -20 and 29 Oct

Annually, and often at the Recorders Seminar, BMERC asks what kind of training you might be interested in which we can help with. One of the questions which keeps coming up in wider conversations is the subject of – “what is a good record, how do I make one” etc?. Clearly wider understanding is key to getting better quality information on all our wildlife. Skills and knowledge of this intriguing but slightly gnarly subject vary, so BMERC has come up with what they hope is a novel solution.

BMERC has hired Keiron Brown – some of you may be familiar with him from his work with the Field Studies Council ( https://www.field-studies-council.org/)  or the Earthworm Society of Britain (https://www.earthwormsoc.org.uk/) to create 2 short webinars to look at this subject. The materials will also later be made available later as YouTube content as a resource for everyone; the course content has been designed hopefully to suit all levels of interest.

The two courses are designed as a pair, only an hour each, deliberately in the autumn when we may be less active outside (apologies fungi recorders!). They are free to you all but you will need to sign up to get access to them; they are booked using on the Eventbrite platform and will run via Zoom on the day.

Bookings are now open, they are grouped into a ‘collection’  which can be located at https://www.eventbrite.com/cc/make-your-wildlife-observations-count-webinars-971289

Or individually at

  1. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/make-your-wildlife-observations-count-how-to-record-tickets-393625062157
  2. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/make-your-wildlife-observations-count-how-not-to-record-tickets-393633697987

We are keen to get as many people to attend as possible so please do sign up. NB you will need to register for each course separately.

More information can be found in this BMERC leaflet

A walk around Willen Lake North – 16 August 2022 – Martine Harvey

Flowering Rush (Photo © Martin Kincaid)

This walk focused on the North part of Willen Lake, which is managed by The Parks Trust to encourage wildlife.

Starting at the Willen Sports Pavilion car park we began by going through the churchyard. We did not have a sunny evening, with a storm forecasted and very dark clouds looming. This meant that visibility was not great. However we did not experience much rain, which was helpful for us but perhaps not for the low water level and dry soil.

On the lake, there were plenty of Great Crested Grebes visible, including one on a nest, a juvenile and two who were doing a rather late courtship dance. Three Common Tern were flying over the lake along with a Cormorant. Two Little Egrets were spotted and two Heron. A highlight of the walk were the two Tufted Duck families. One had very young chicks who were very difficult to count as they were diving underwater – we think there were around seven, which is a good count. A Migrant Hawker Dragonfly was spotted flying low over the reeds and there was also a low flying Sparrowhawk. As we moved around the lake towards the bird hide, we crossed over the bridge to see Flowering Rush Butomus umbellatus, which has umbrella-like clusters of flowers and twisted grass-like foliage.

From the bird hide, not much was visible due to high reeds and the heavy clouds. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of some waders as there had been plenty seen over the previous few days, but we were unlucky. As we moved around the lake the clouds loomed. Near the car park we were lucky to spot a Bat and shortly after, with the aid of a bat detector, we identified both a Common Pipistrelle and a Noctule.  It was a lovely walk and a great turnout of members.

Martine Harvey
August 2022

The elusive Fairy Flax walk from Holy Trinity Churchyard, Old Wolverton, 12.07.22 – Jenny Mercer

The MK Natural History Society group assembled at 7pm at Holy Trinity church, with its fine yews, cedar and black walnut trees and walked north towards the River Great Ouse, through the Ouse Valley Park, managed for cattle-grazing and hay-making by the Parks Trust.   As we walked downhill to the floodplain, we viewed the long-abandoned site of Old Wolverton village on the western side of the path, we crossed a dried-up ditch by the double-gated bridge.

From the bridge on our left, in the ditch just below the hedge, several of the group spotted a plant which no one was confident of its identification.  We used our Society members’ ideas on its potential “ID”, later checking a variety of guides to the British flora, and a variety of “Apps” were “zapped” to seek its possible ID though all of us are cautious about the generally American databases most Apps use.

On a visit about 10 days later Joe Clinch and I confirmed it to be Fools Watercress Apium nodiflorum. It is a member of the carrot family, Apiaceae, and in that damp habitat it might have been Lesser Water Parsnip or a poisonous dropwort, both of which are seriously poisonous.

In the next field we entered a fine area of meadow on the floodplain, now managed by the Parks Trust. (This is River Field East SP 80020 41474.)   A well-worn field path took us through the fine grasses and flowers of mid-July.

I am grateful to Charles Kessler for the grasses list and for his input on their identification, which seemed more possible in high summer when their “flowery heads” seemed to differentiate one from another.

At the bank of the Ouse we walked east towards the Iron Trunk aqueduct, an important historic spot where the Grand Union Canal crosses the river.   When we were right on the riverside below the Iron Trunk, we noted native water lily in the slow-flowing water, as well as Purple loosestrife and Agrimony, alongside “eggs and bacon”, Birds-foot trefoil, a member of the pea family, and Creeping cinquefoil, a member of the rose family.

Some members explored the dry canal embankment just by the brick-built pumping station adjacent or read the Canal and River Trust’s informative signage for the history of the construction of the Iron Trunk, after earlier attempts failed.   We walked through the foot tunnel for people and horses, and continued the walk along the east side of the canal, along the towpath, in a southerly direction towards the Galleon pub.

The canal bank and hedgerow/scrubby woodland on our left side rewarded us with a wealth of flowers, sedges and grasses before we concluded at sunset on the canal road bridge.  See attached Plant List.

Plants of note were checked out by Joe Clinch and myself, with Linda Murphy confirming that Black horehound was seen in the hedgerow.  This was a new find for me; if seen before I’d have thought it would be Marsh woundwort!  I found it really helpful to have many observers contributing information from childhood haunts and other locations in Britain.

Thank you to everyone who participated, and made leading the walk a very enjoyable experience, with the challenge remaining for next year – to find the elusive Fairy flax.

A plant list is attached demonstrating the enthusiasm with which my colleagues, Joe Clinch and Charles Kessler, tackled the major task of identifying such a wealth of botanical diversity. The list contains 69 plants, including 10 grasses.

Plant list – Fairy Flax walk Old Wolverton 12.07.22

Jenny Mercer
August 2022

 

MKNHS mothing at Howe Park Wood, Tuesday 2nd August  2022 – Andy Harding

Lead photo above © Julian Lambley)

Early MKNHS arrivals and a few by-passers were treated to a large ‘keep-net’ of moths caught the previous evening in my garden.  In addition there were 10 small pots containing some fairly easy to identify micro-moths and some macro-moths of similar size! This prompted the obvious question of what distinguishes macros from micros since size clearly doesn’t.  Short answer … convenience. Few took up the challenge with the identification guides provided!  However the information that one pot contained something that wasn’t a moth ignited greater interest.  The occupant was a Tree-Hopper resembling a small Hippopotamus!

During this daylight activity, Rachel and Martin K were assembling a Mercury Vapour (MV) Light above a large white sheet in the middle of the wood, with the generator also powering up another MV trap.

As it grew darker the group slowly drifted towards the lights.  Bats were showing before any moths appeared, but eventually a Brimstone Moth claimed first appearance prize.


Brimstone (Photo © Andy Harding)

Micro-moths such as Agriphila Straminella were largely ignored, presumably because of its narrow straw-like shape, while the somewhat larger and more ‘moth-shaped’ Udea Prunalis was considered  more acceptable fare, despite also being a micro.  Note the lack of vernacular names.


Agriphila tristella (Photo © Andy Harding)

Udea prunalis (Photo © Andy Harding)

July Highfliers, Drinkers and Black Arches mirrored our recent trip to College Wood, Nash.


Drinker (Photo © Andy Harding)

Several Small Phoenix appeared and nearly all with a solid central dark band with no narrow pale wavy vertical dividing line.  Despite this anomaly a different identity could not be found or even suspected.


Small Phoenix (Photo © Andy Harding)

The star moth though was undoubtedly Poplar Lutestring, an attractive species not previously seen by any save one of the group, so six individual moths were most welcome.


Poplar Lutestring (Photo © Andy Harding)

Some of the group had now drifted back towards their vehicles including Harry, who phoned back to say some lads had started a fire on a neighbouring crossroads.  Martin recruited Hassan and Simon to help him advise the miscreants of their folly.  The situation was righted in a friendly way. However A.N.Other had advised the fire service and three firepersons duly appeared clad in full garb reminiscent of astronauts. This was very appropriate since not long afterwards one of a number of individuals (and couples) walking in the wood at night approached and engaged with us, after initially thinking we were aliens.

The final highlight of an excellent evening was a couple of Bordered Beauties, but by 11.30 pm little else of note had appeared in the previous 30 minutes, so the failure of the generator, à la College Wood, was not a great inconvenience, and allowed slightly more sleep for the organisers than originally anticipated.


Bordered Beauty (Photo © Andy Harding)

Thanks to all for attending and the Parks Trust for allowing motor vehicle access to the centre of the wood.

Andy Harding
August 2022

Postscript

2 days later a Poplar Lutestring appeared in our lit porch somewhat adjacent to the back of our car. The species had not appeared in Old Stratford in the previous 12 years of intensive trapping, so had clearly hitched a lift from Howe Park Wood, to which it was returned the following day.  AVH

 

 

 

 

Natural History Museum at Tring: MKNHS Behind the Scenes Tour, 25 July 2022 – Linda Murphy

Following a fascinating talk in the spring by Dr Alex Bond, Principal Curator and Curator in Charge of Birds at the Natural History Museum in Tring, a ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour was arranged for MKNHS which proved to be equally fascinating.

After an introduction by Senior Curator, Hein Van Grouw, we divided into two groups for the tour which covered the different collections. Each was introduced by a member of staff working in that area and we could not fail to be impressed by their enthusiasm and knowledge. Each collection includes bird species from all areas of the world and many thousands of specimens. Researchers from all over the world visit Tring every week to make use of these vast collections alongside the library containing all past and current publications on birds. We saw and heard about so many interesting aspects of the work and research carried out that it’s only possible to give a few personal highlights here!

In the area where bird skeletons are prepared for the skeleton collection, we saw how teams of beetles and larvae are deployed to clean up the bones in an environmentally friendly fashion. Some species prefer fresh meat, others are willing to clean up older, drier specimens. Large birds have to be put into the ‘beetle cabinets’ in sections as they can’t fit in whole. Apparently they aren’t put back together after they’ve been cleaned up. Researchers are generally interested in specific bones to examine adaptations or changes over time or in different habitats rather than whole skeletons, so the bones from each specimen go into an individual box, which also takes up a lot less space!

The spirit collection didn’t involve any ghosts, but a huge collection of jars of all sizes containing whole bird specimens preserved in alcohol/spirit (not the technical name!) We walked past shelves of waders and other water birds. The jar for a mute swan was quite a contrast to that for a Temminck’s Stint!  If researchers want to examine a specimen, it is taken out of the jar for a period, but mustn’t dry out. Many specimens in each of the collections were collected in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The bird skin collection contains thousands of specimens arranged by species/sub-species, by country and region, stored on trays in cabinets with magnetic seals. These days no chemical pest controls are used. They ensure strict cleanliness and check for pests in the area around the cabinets but there are no ‘moth balls’ or similar in these cabinets. The bird skins are basically stuffed birds and the majority were prepared in the field, often just using whatever was available as the stuffing, such as dry grass and leaves. You could only marvel at the skill of those who did this work. The most impressive aspect of these skins for me was the freshness of the colours of the plumage, despite the age of the specimens.


Specimens brought back by Captain Cook from New Zealand (Photo © Peter Barnes)

We were treated to a viewing of some of their most valuable items, whether due to their cultural or historical significance or extinct status, including skins brought back by Captain Cook from New Zealand, skins of the Passenger Pigeon, a North American bird exterminated as an agricultural pest in the 19th century, and finches collected by Charles Darwin in the Galapagos islands, as well as finches collected in the Amazon Basin by Alfred Russel Wallace, who collaborated with Darwin on the theory of evolution by natural selection.  These skins are regularly used by researchers and most of the major books on bird identification have drawn on this collection.


Above: One of Darwin’s finches (Photo © Peter Barnes)
Below: Finches collected by Wallace in the Amazon Basin (Photo © Peter Barnes)


Passenger Pigeon skins (Photo © Peter Barnes)

The egg collection comprises around 300,000 clutches and is growing every year. Since it became illegal to hold collections of birds’ eggs, as well as to collect them, the museum has been offered collections every week, if not every day. Often these have been found in attics by people clearing out after an elderly relative has died. The museum only accepts collections of complete clutches which are documented with species, date and location where the clutch was taken. All others are rejected.


A tray of Dunlin eggs (Photo © Peter Barnes)

The clutches are being used for a range of research projects covering issues not dreamt of when many of the clutches were collected. This is made possible by the huge amount of data available from them stretching back over more than two centuries. For example, research on changes in species’ egg laying dates over time in relation to climate and the drivers for variation in egg colouration. We were shown the collection of peregrine eggs used in the study which identified the effects of DDT accumulating in these birds through the food chain.

I think everyone on the tour found it both enjoyable and very informative. We were impressed by the size, scope and quality of the collections, the variety and volume of research drawing on them, and the evident passion of everyone we met for the work they are doing. If you get the chance to do the tour in the future, it’s highly recommended!

Linda Murphy
July 2022

 

New microscopy page – Bucks Fungus Group

We received the following message from Penny Cullington, Secretary of the Bucks Fungus Group:

We’ve just set up a new page for microscopy on our website which might be of interest to some of you. So far it has just four articles, two of which were produced for our recent microscopy workshop and were well received, and more will hopefully be added including a gallery. The articles can be printed direct and the ‘Details of some common mushroom genera’ includes useful information for field identification as well as microscopy, so may be of interest even if you don’t have / plan to have a scope.

http://www.bucksfungusgroup.org.uk/microscopy.html

 

 

 

 

Mothing night 16th July 2022 – an annual memorial event for George Higgs and Gordon Redford

A joint MKNHS and Bucks Invertebrate Group meeting at College Wood, Nash

All photos © Andy Harding

A period of warm weather suggested good conditions for plenty of moths, even if we could have done with a little more cloud cover.  MKNHS members provided more traps than any recent years, with seven.  Unfortunately this year’s date was not convenient for a couple of south Bucks regulars, but Martin Albertini, our County Moth Recorder, again made the long journey north.

We used Ayla Webb’s large Robinson trap as the gathering point with camping seats suitably arranged to view whatever arrived on the white sheet surrounding it.  The guesses for the first macro-moth to arrive were all wide of the mark, with that honour going to the beautiful July Highflier, or is it Highflyer?!


July Highflyer

The moths piled in and those which could be easily caught were passed round the audience.  The more attractive species in terms of pattern or colour are always welcomed, such as Iron Prominent, Ruby Tiger and Peppered Moth. The latter is consistently the pale form nowadays.  We wonder whether more dark (melanic) forms were here 100 years ago, at the height of industrial activity belching smoke to coat tree trunks with black dust!  The picture below of both light and dark forms was taken at Howe Park Wood in 2019 (the only dark form individual I have seen in the UK).


Peppered Moths, Melanic and Normal forms

A Small Fan-Footed Wave, not a striking moth at all, drew plenty of interest in the features which enable us to identify it. Indeed this common species outdid the much scarcer Lesser Cream Wave. A much smaller micro-moth, Acleris emargana, displayed its violin shape: small is often beautiful.

Another real star was not a moth attracted to the light above the trap, but one attracted to a ‘sugaring solution’ in which treacle and alcohol are vital ingredients and painted on to four nearby tree trunks. A Copper Underwing, probably Svensson’s Copper Underwing, was the early arrival, followed by a couple of others and the beautiful Herald.

A tour of the traps more distant from our gathering point revealed Hornets in two widely-separated traps, an interesting insect species, but not at all welcome in our moth traps.  In three different traps we found Box-tree Moths, a giant micro-moth, and a new species for College Wood, in its inexorable march northwards, destroying any hedges of Box in its wake.


Box-tree Moth

And so it continued until just before midnight when the generator which was powering three main traps decided to go to sleep and, despite much valiant effort, refused to awake.  There were plenty of moths in the traps, so calling an end to the communal event was not a problem.  Tim Arnold, Ayla Webb, Rachel Redford (how appropriate was it that Rachel was running her dad’s trap here), and I agreed to cover our traps and return early doors the next morning to identify the contents. Linda Murphy processed the catch in her small actinic at this point, so she didn’t need to make her long journey again in the morning: how very sensible!

Nearly everybody left at this point, but Tim had so much gear to power very distant traps that he was still on site close to 1am. Martin Albertini was running two traps at the other end of the wood powered by his own generator. After Tim’s departure I enjoyed a period of personal mindfulness standing alone in the pitch black, until I decided I was better off going to take a look at the large catch attracted to Martin’s lights and help him pack up, so I could secure the site at 1.40am.

What a great night! ….

…..and it didn’t end there.  All the trappers noted above, plus Martin Kincaid,  were on station on time in the morning and began to work through the traps. Scarcity can be of a species or of an unusual form, as illustrated by this buff form of Poplar Hawk-moth.

‘Buff form’ of Poplar Hawk-moth

Both identification and photography are much easier in daylight, so species such as this rather subtle Olive (that’s its name) and the more gaudy Black Arches and Privet Hawk-moth could be enjoyed by us all, as well as the local dog-walkers and their dogs! Spreading the word about the wonderful world of moths is what it’s all about!  That is just what George and Gordon would have wanted.


Olive moth


Black Arches


Privet Hawk-moth

A very long species list is appended to this report through the link below, following meticulous collation of all the trap results. This includes the all-time list for College Wood, as well as the species seen on 16 July, identifying the 8 species we saw which were new to College Wood.

Species list

Thanks to everyone who came to the mothing night and to the Woodland Trust, in the shape of James Stevenson, for again allowing us access to the wood for this special event.

Andy Harding
July 2022

How did you become interested in nature? – Julie Lane

What were the sparks that ignited your interest in Natural History?

Whether you have a lifetime passion for wildlife and the natural world or have only recently discovered its beauty and diversity, those of us who belong to MKNHS have varied reasons for joining the Society. We would really like to know a bit more about what turned you on to nature in the first place.

In my case, my love of all things wild was ignited as a small child during visits to my grandparent’s thatched cottage in the New Forest. There was always a magic about arriving in the dark after a long journey to this beautiful topsy-turvy cottage which smelt of furniture polish, had wonky floors and walls and winding spiral staircases, and where you were at all times accompanied by the quiet ticks and chimes of the grandfather clock. But it was waking up the next morning to see roe deer in the enclosure just behind the fence and great spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches taking food from the feeder just outside the kitchen window when the real excitement began. Walks in the forest, feeding wild horses on the common outside the gate, making dens in the woods behind the cottage, it was just a magical place to visit. I was a very lucky little girl!

No-one in my family was particularly knowledgeable or interested in wild life. It was always me who pointed out some bird or deer out of the car window, but I was exposed to so much nature when I was growing up that I just soaked it up like a sponge and still do to this day. Ask me anything about literature or history or music and I am sadly lacking in knowledge but if it’s wildlife-related then I am interested.

My parents were great walkers and we spent our holidays in wild places, the North York Moors, the Lake District, Scotland. I was dragged protesting up many a mountain but I love these places now and seek them out for my own holidays. I also loved rock pooling as a young girl and that has left me with a fascination for the oceans of the world – I have been swimming, snorkelling and diving in them whenever I have been given the chance ever since.

I could go on, but it would be great to hear from others as to what it was that opened your eyes to the delights of the natural world. Please send in your thoughts – in just a few sentences or a longer article – anything would be very gratefully received.

Please send articles to webeditor@mknhs.org.uk

Julie Lane
July 2022

Life as a Practical Conservation Trainee at Spurn – Harry Appleyard

In October 2021, I was given the chance to join the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust as a Practical Conservation Trainee at Spurn National Nature Reserve. With my boots firmly in the ground as a watcher of my local patch in Milton Keynes, recording birds, odonata and carrying out yearly butterfly transects, the idea of travelling 200 miles to spend most of a year in a totally new environment was initially very daunting but after some lengthy consideration, I decided it was an opportunity that was too good to miss for my career aspirations.

Spurn is located at the tip of the east Yorkshire coast, about 45 minutes’ drive from the city of Hull. One of the country’s most renowned sites for birding, it delivers scarcities and rarities on a regular basis. The sea and the Reserve’s habitats are closely monitored by a dedicated band of local birders and recorders. Located just outside the reserve is the Spurn Bird Observatory, working in association with The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for a wide variety of projects across Spurn and its neighbouring reserve Kilnsea Wetlands.

While it may be as close to the sea as you can get, Spurn’s traineeships are tailored to develop highly transferrable knowledge and practical skills that can be taken to a wide variety of landscapes. Whether you are already familiar with coastal areas or coming from a more inland setting, it’s an ideal place to kickstart a career in conservation. Trainees are quickly given hands-on experience with a variety of tasks including livestock management, site maintenance and use of reserve vehicles.

Some of Spurn’s livestock include Hebridean Sheep and the popular Highland Cattle, which are frequently checked and moved across the site between autumn and early spring. Their grazing helps to prepare the reserve’s wildflower meadows for spring and summer, protecting root systems which could be damaged by machinery and supporting ground-nesting bird species including Meadow Pipits and Skylarks.


Snow Bunting, Spurn 10 January 2022 (Photo © Harry Appleyard)

A large portion of the autumn and winter work involves site maintenance, trimming vegetation near the footpaths and increasing access to the Reserve’s features. There is also the Population Control of Brown-tailed Moths, a species that has had a strong foothold on the Reserve for many years. With their highly irritant hairs they are rarely eaten by birds, prevent the growth of berries and present a health risk to the general public as their caterpillars emerge in early spring. Thought to have arrived from Lincolnshire, the parasitic wasps that typically prey on the species are unfortunately yet to colonise the area, meaning controlled human intervention is currently the best way forward on this SSSI.

A more exclusive task for Spurn over the past few months has been Eelgrass Restoration. Now present in just a small portion of the Humber after a significant decline many years ago, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Marine Team have been hard at work to get this unique species. Some of the rainier days of the autumn were spent making Sea Grass bags, small sacks of Hessian with the tiny seeds and sediment wrapped inside, ready to be planted at the edge of the Humber at low tide.

The everchanging washover is a good place to practise off-road driving. Once holding a road connecting the northern half of the reserve to the southern half, it is now only accessible by the Spurn reserve team and the RNLI, based at The Point. On some days it can be largely flat and smooth with a thin layer of shingle, on others it can be more rocky but negotiable with the Reserve’s 4×4 vehicle.

A more recent task has been installing electric fencing on the Reserve’s thinnest section of beach, the washover, protecting Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers from ground-based predators and preventing human disturbance. Carrying out beach patrols in this area has been a good way of interacting with visitors, raising awareness of ground-nesting shorebirds, talking about other recent finds on-site with the bonus of possibly seeing a seal, porpoise or even a dolphin!


Green Hairstreak, Spurn 30 April 2022 (Photo © Harry Appleyard)

 

As I write this in early June, just over halfway through the traineeship, I can happily say this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s already given me so much knowledge and new skills that I never initially saw myself gaining! With thanks to on-site LANTRA training and practice with Spurn’s Reserve team, I recently passed my Brushcutter training, meaning I and the other volunteers who participated will be gaining a license for using them across other parks and reserves nationally.

It’s also been a massive eyeopener to the everyday running of a nature reserve throughout the year in so many ways – seeing how tasks are co-ordinated around weather and tide times, how events are planned and promoted and the interactions between regional teams within The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. It’s an access-all-areas opportunity, so trainees are at the forefront of the fieldwork and behind-the-scenes projects at the Reserve and heavily integrated with the rest of the team. There’s also the opportunity to partake in external training hosted by The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust at other Reserves in the county.

On days off you are free to your own devices but there is so much to explore and do across Spurn and its neighbouring reserve, Kilnsea Wetlands. For birding the possibilities are nearly endless here, with scarcities and rarities being found on a near daily basis especially around the peaks of spring and autumn migration. Some of my favourite “firsts” from here have included Brown Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Temminck’s Stint, Glaucous Gull, Red-rumped Swallow, and just days after I started in October, Britain’s 10th Two-barred Greenish Warbler which lingered for several days by the Discovery Centre.

I cannot thank the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust enough for giving me this amazing opportunity. It’s been well worth while for gaining confidence in travelling further afield and working in new and exciting parts of the country. The ride isn’t over yet though and I can’t wait to see what the next few months bring!

Harry Appleyard
July 2022

Top photo: Sunrise, Spurn 11 December 2021 (Photo © Harry Appleyard)

National turtle dove survey results warn of low numbers, but solutions give hope

The results of the first ever national turtle dove survey have been published. Whilst the survey is as a result of fantastic effort from volunteers, the population now stands at around 2,100 territories, down from an estimated 125,000 in 1970. Although the results are sobering, there is hope for this ‘sound of summer’ resident.

To read more, follow the link to the RSPB website:
National Turtle Dove Survey

Knocking Hoe National Nature Reserve trip, Saturday 11.06.22 – Matt Andrews

A beautifully sunny and warm day with a breezy aspect dawned on Saturday 11th June as a group of us from the MKNHS met at Pegsdon Way, some five miles west of Hitchin to take a walk around Knocking Hoe, Bedfordshire’s first National Nature Reserve.

The reserve is around eight hectares in size and is surrounded by arable and grazing land with an ancient woodland bordering its eastern boundary.  Our intention was to walk along the private road leading from Pegsdon Road and to gain entry to the reserve via the farmyard at the foot of the main hill, the owner, Mrs Franklyn, having graciously allowed us special access.

However, our first interesting species of the day were on the roadside before we even left the parking spot where a male Lesser Whitethroat was rattling his territorial song for us.  A lovely patch of Pyramidal and Bee Orchids were our first target species, all in near perfect condition and allowing us good photographs without standing on anything else too rare!


Bee Orchid (Photo © Matt Andrews)

As we made our way down the access road, butterflies started to appear and we saw a beautiful and freshly emerged Marbled White as well as several Small Tortoiseshells and a Red Admiral, all resplendent in the late morning sunshine.

Round and Cut-leaved Cranesbill as well as a number of other hedgerow flowers were out as we reached the wonderful, immaculately tended farm garden containing some stunning Peonies and Roses, a prime example of an English cottage garden.  Walking past here and up towards the reserve, we found ourselves at the reserve entrance where, after negotiating a five-bar gate, we entered a magical world of chalk downland wildlife.

Quaking Grass and several vetches were evident here in much longer vegetation than on the hillside we were aiming for but Small Heath and Common Blue butterflies were enjoying this miniature forest world and as we gained height and the walk became considerably steeper, the scrub reduced in height and we were in a land of chalk downland flowers.  Dropwort, a chalk-loving relative of Meadowsweet was everywhere and Pyramidal Orchids were also abundant here.  We made our way around the base of the main hill to an area now marked with tape and little flags to see the colony of Burnt-tip Orchid and we weren’t disappointed, there were still plenty out in flower.  An alternative name of Dwarf Orchid was appropriate as the plants here rarely grow more than six centimetres tall owing to the soil depth and quality.


Burnt-tip Orchid (Photo © Matt Andrews)

There were also Clustered Bellflowers starting to appear as well as considerable numbers of Chalk Fragrant Orchids, the sweet scent of which was just about detectable.  A warm, still evening visit to this site or indeed, Ivinghoe Beacon gives one a much better idea as to their name, their fragrance truly is incredible.


Pasque Flower (Photo © Matt Andrews)

The fluffy grey seed-heads of Pasque Flower were everywhere here and Julian reminded us of a trip he paid here with his wife Ann and Phil Sarre earlier this year when the Pasque Flowers were out in their thousands, much loved by our dear friend Mary Sarre.  There were still a few in bloom though and we enjoyed their wonderful deep-mauve flowers with bright yellow centres.  Paz explained that the name Pasque was similar to her native Spanish name for Easter, ‘Pascua’ the time when traditionally these lovely anemones begin to flower and from where the common name derives.


Pasque Flower seed heads  (Photo © Matt Andrews)

The seed heads though are beautiful in their own right and we enjoyed these, as well as finding the tall, bright yellow-flowered Cats Ears, rather like large yellow hawk weeds.  We checked the basal leaves of each of these until we found several with spots on the leaf, in the manner of Cuckoo Pint or Lords and Ladies.  This meant we were looking at Spotted Cats Ear, one of the extreme rarities this little reserve is known for.  There are barely five other locations for this rare chalk speciality in the entire country so we are fortunate to have one of those sites here.

Houndstongue, Mignionette and Small Scabious were here as well as the Field Fleawort, another downland rarity, this place really does produce on a good day!

The tiny blue flowers of Milkwort were all over the hillside as we moved along towards to the top, eastern end of the reserve when Julian indicated he’d found a fritillary butterfly and indeed, we were all able to see it before it flew strongly off north.  A stunningly fresh and bright orange Dark-green Fritillary, absolutely immaculate!  I have never seen one here before so this really was a good sighting.


Dark Green Fritillary (Photo © Matt Andrews)

We set off along the top path finding the tiny white flowers of Squinancywort as well as aromatic Thyme, both chalk-loving species and then some really big Spotted Orchids at the little pond on the topmost edge of the hillside.

The group split into two at this point as some of us had to make our way back so we made our way down the track leading back towards the farm, finding several ‘tents’ of jet-black Peacock butterfly caterpillars feeding on nettles, as well as Large Skipper and Meadow Brown.

Walking down past the little spinney of Corsican Pines, we found Candytuft, always regular at this location and a flowering Privet bush absolutely covered in butterflies.  Holly Blues, Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and Small Skippers were nectaring here along with a Brimstone passing through.

Such bushes are known as ‘Butterfly Bushes’, an irregular feature of our countryside and this is the first time I have seen one in the UK.  They provide a wonderful but rare spectacle for the naturalist and we enjoyed this opportunity for what it was … a delightful end to a great day out.

Knocking Hoe Reserve is easily accessible throughout the year.  Later in the summer other rareties emerge such as the enigmatic Moon Carrot, again only found in a handful of other locations in the UK along with a now famous colony of Autumn Lady’s Tresses, a small orchid which has been intensely studied at Knocking Hoe for over fifty years.

Walking is fairly easy, though wet conditions will make the terrain challenging – so a dry, August day would be an ideal time to visit and afford one an opportunity to see some of the other chalk downland specialities this lovely little corner of the Chilterns offers.

Parking in Pegsdon Road, the footpath to the reserve is well signposted and a drink and light meal at The View pub adjacent to the road makes a perfect end to a good day out.

Matt Andrews
June 2022

A visit to Fineshade Wood, Northants 29.05.22

At our Summer Planning meeting back in February, Paul Lund suggested a Society visit to Fineshade Wood, Northants (just north of Corby) to look for the Chequered Skipper butterfly. This attractive species went extinct in England in 1976 but a recent reintroduction, as part of the Back From the Brink project, has been successful, and for the first time Forestry England were allowing the public to come and see them in Fineshade Wood.

We decided against a large group visit this year as the population remains very small (further releases are planned) and they still don’t want very large groups visiting.

Instead, on Sunday 29th May, 8 MKNHS members travelled up for a reconnaissance visit! Martin Kincaid worked at Fineshade Wood in 2005-2007 when it was the home of the Rockingham Forest Red Kite Centre, so he had some idea of the layout there. The Red Kite centre is now a cycling shop however.

The weather was somewhat mixed, far from ideal for looking for insects. We went on a 5.5 mile walk through the forest, with most of us seeing only 1 chequered skipper – a male, but we were quite satisfied with that. The butterfly settled on white bramble flower so we were able to see it well and photograph it.

Chequered Skipper (Photo © Sue Bunker)

You can see from the photograph that the specimen was already quite worn and we later discovered that they had emerged in mid-May, somewhat earlier than usual. Butterflies were generally scarce on the day with only Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Common Blue seen although Paul Lund was fortunate to see a Grizzled Skipper egg laying on creeping cinquefoil. Hopefully this compensated for missing the chequered skipper.


Grizzled Skipper (Photo © Alan Pigott)

Other notable findings were a stunning Wasp Beetle, Spotted Flycatcher, Greater Butterfly Orchids and several reptiles. Simon Bunker found an Adder basking at the edge of one of the forest tracks and later a second adder and several Slow-worms were found close to the visitor centre.


Wasp Beetle (Photo © Martin Kincaid)


Slow-worm (Photo © Alan Pigott) NB: this is the rare blue-speckled colour form of male slow-worm.

The café at the visitor centre was very good. The vegan sausage rolls were filling and well-priced.

We will try again in May 2023 and hope for better results. However, Fineshade Wood and the wider Rockingam Forest is a delightful place to visit at any time of year, with abundant wildlife.

Colin Docketty

Society Visit to Oxley Mead SSSI – 7th June 2022

This was a rare opportunity to visit this SSSI floodplain meadow which was transferred to Parks Trust ownership in 2020. The Society last visited this location in 2008 so it was perhaps no surprise that more than 30 members attended.

We were fortunate to have with us Professor David Gowing from the Open University, who leads the Floodplain Meadows Partnership. David led our sizeable group from the meeting place at Oxley Park shops and we walked in a crocodile from there to the mead! Not quite sure what the local residents made of us.

Once in the meadow, David gave us all a general introduction to the site – what makes it special, how it is managed and what we are learning from over 20 years of monitoring. We were greeted by a magnificent display of flowering Great Burnet, Yellow Rattle and Meadow Buttercups. Great Burnet is one of the key indicator species of MG4 grassland and it is abundant in Oxley Mead. Meadowsweet was flourishing but not yet in full flower.

Thereafter, we split into two groups with those more interested in the flora staying with David and Martin Kincaid taking the other group to look for invertebrates. The forecast rain held off and we were able to find plenty of moths including Small Magpie, Silver Ground Carpet, Yellow Shell, Straw Dot and Silver-y. Surprisingly, the only butterfly found was a solitary Small Heath. We also found a host of nymphs of Roesel’s Bush-cricket and a few Dark Bush-cricket. Alan Nelson went to look for damselflies in the ditch but the cool conditions were against him. He did however spot a Hobby flying overhead. Other birds of note were a Skylark singing just outside the meadow and a party of about 8-10 House Martins who were whizzing around the mead. There appears to be a healthy population of these birds nesting in Oxley Park housing estate.

All in all, a highly enjoyable meeting to what is surely the finest floodplain grassland in MK.

Martin Kincaid

Report of visit to Stonepit Field,  24th May 2022 – Joe Clinch

The visit to Stonepit Field (managed by the Parks Trust) was the first since early June 2019, and attracted a good attendance including several new members: a most welcome indication of the growing natural history interest in Milton Keynes. The site was farmland until 1993 and is an excellent example of how in just 30 years biodiversity can be dramatically increased through careful management. (For further information about the site including its history, go to MKNHS Wildlife Sites and scroll down to Stonepit Field.)

The main focus of the evening was to identify and list species especially of the flower-rich grassland and limestone scrape. Members were divided into three groups to avoid underfoot damage to the habitats particularly the scrape area. It was hoped that these activities would: introduce and encourage members to enjoy and return to the site; improve individual identification skills; and contribute to the draft cumulative list of species for Stonepit Field maintained by Mike LeRoy. Current species lists were available to members as a handout at the start of the visit.  Species new to these lists identified during the evening will be added to the cumulative list and are included as an annex to this Report, which can be found here.

The Park has four main habitats: flower-rich grassland; limestone scrape; two ponds and their steep banks; and a woodland strip (the woodland itself was not included in this visit).

Flower-rich grassland

The flower-rich grassland covers well over half the area of the site. Dominant plants in or near to flowering were Meadow Buttercup, Bulbous Buttercup. Oxeye Daisy, Red Clover, Salad Burnet, Common Sorrel, Ribwort Plantain, Beaked Hawksbeard, Common Vetch, Cut-leaved Cranesbill, and Yellow Rattle. These plants were interspersed with the delicate Quaking Grass, Common Birdsfoot Trefoil, Medick sp., Knapweed sp., Lady’s Bedstraw, and Goatsbeard.  Of special interest was Common Broomrape, a parasitic plant without leaves or green pigment, hosted by neighbouring species which is scattered through much of the grassland. Meadow Cranesbill was found in some of the more grassy areas and was coming into flower.


Common Broomrape (Photo © Joe Clinch)

The limestone scrape

The limestone scrape is located roughly in the middle of the site not far from the Car Park. It is not unique in Milton Keynes as a habitat (two were added in Stanton Low Park across the Newport Road from Stonepit Field a few years back) but it is certainly a very special habitat for lime-loving species. At the time of our visit the Bee Orchids were no more than 5 to 15 cm above the ground but not yet in flower: there is virtually no soil here.  In contrast at the edges of the scrape, patches of Birdsfoot Trefoil and Horseshoe Vetch were in full flower together with smaller areas of Common Rock Rose, Kidney Vetch, and Mouse-ear Hawkweed. Some of the plants of the grassland areas survive in stunted form, for example Salad Burnet, Oxeye Daisy, Yellow Rattle and Quaking Grass.


Common Rock Rose (Photo © Joe Clinch)

The ponds and their steep banks

The ponds were added to the site in 2007 as part of the over-flow drainage system when Oakridge Park was developed for housing. The steep banks, presumably spoil from the pond excavation, are home to Gorse, coarse grasses, Creeping Thistle, Dog Rose, Teasel, Stinging Nettles, Hogweed, and self-seeded Hawthorn with small patches of Red Campion and one of Ragged Robin at the edge of the west pond. Yellow Iris borders both ponds.

Identification and listing in these three habitats added 15 species plants to the cumulative list. (Note that some of those listed may require further checking.)

Other Species

Twenty-nine bird species were identified nine of which were new to the cumulative list including Common Tern, Lesser Blackback Gull, Green Woodpecker, Whitethroat and Jay. Little Egret, Grey Heron, Moorhen, and Mallard are regulars at the ponds.


Little Egret and Yellow Iris (Photo © Harry Appleyard)

Only one Butterfly species was seen – the Common Blue – not surprising for an evening visit (a few days later Susan Weatherhead reported on Society Sightings the presence of 9 Small Blues in the scrape area). Four moth species were identified: Mint Moth, Silver Ground Carpet, Light Brown Apple Moth and (thanks to Tim Arnold and Julian Lambley’s photo) Grass Rivulet, all four new to the cumulative list.


Grass rivulet moth (Photo © Julian Lambley)

Red-eyed Damselfly, Azure Damselfly, and Common Blue Damselfly were identified by Harry Appleyard as a first step in establishing an odanata list and St. Mark’s fly was identified by Paul Lund to add to the diptera cumulative list. Although not the primary focus some tree, shrub and grass species were identified of which two may be new to the cumulative list namely Privet and Wild Cherry. Elder and the attractive Guelder Rose were both in flower.

The evening engaged many members present in the process of identification and listing species as well as enjoyment in getting to know Stonepit Field as an attractive ‘hotspot’ for wildlife. There are still gaps in the cumulative species lists, the timing of visits being a key factor here. For example, Harebell is not yet in flower but will be the dominant scrape species in another month or so:  perhaps there would be interest in a July Society visit in 2023?

My thanks to Mike LeRoy for sharing his knowledge of the site with me before the visit and for leading one of the groups; Linda Murphy for leading another of the groups; Harry Appleyard for his bird and odanata identifications; Julian Lambley and Harry Appleyard for their excellent photographs; and to all the members taking part.

Joe Clinch