Category Archives: Society News

Society News – Please send your news items to webeditor@mknhs.org.uk

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

Photo above © Joe Clinch: Spiny Restharrow Ononis spinosa 

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 and the Planning Team will review it 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

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

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 )

 

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

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.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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/

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

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

 

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 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

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

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

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)

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Report of visit to Stony Stratford Nature Reserve 17th May 2022 – Joe Clinch

This was the Society’s first evening visit to the Reserve since 2018. It attracted over twenty members and three visitors, and we were particularly pleased that Honorary Life Member John Prince was not only able to join us but also to complete the one and half mile circuit of the Reserve – when asked if he could manage it the response was ‘Well, I have got my stick with me!’. I distributed a habitat and species checklist which I had prepared following two reconnaissance visits the second accompanied by Martin Kincaid.

The group walked clockwise round the Reserve from the Car Park. We started with a quick look at some more recently introduced Bluebells and Ramsons under the trees to the left of the road to the car park before moving on to the rough meadow area at the south end of the reserve. We stopped several times here to identify the plant life. The highlight was the Meadow Saxifrage in flower – one of only two locations where it can be found in Milton Keynes.  The area is monitored and managed by the Parks Trust to encourage its spread and to control invasive species. Also of note in this area is Field Wood Rush.

Meadow Saxifrage and Field Wood Rush (Photo © Julian Lambley)

We stopped on the path through the woodland to the west side of the Reserve to get a glimpse of the original Sand Martin nesting wall which is now used by a pair of Kingfishers but no sight of them tonight. At this same spot Julian Lamley spotted the exuvia (discarded laval skin) of a broad dragonfly probably one of the Chasers.


Dragonfly exuvia (Photo
© Julian Lambley)

The next visit was to the bird hide which gave the opportunity to observe Common Tern (six pairs) noisily flying back and forth, Lapwing (two or three pairs) and a single Oystercatcher, all of which nest on the gravel-topped island in the largest of the lakes.

The walk along the bank of the River Ouse started through a plantation of Cricket-bat Willows which are grown commercially by the Parks Trust. The vegetation along the banks was dominated by a Comfrey species, Cow Parsley and White Dead Nettle in flower to be followed by Great Willow Herb, Meadow Sweet, Burdock, and Hogweed later in the summer.

By the time the group reached the small strip of replanted meadow species parallel to the A5 (D) viaduct drizzle had turned to heavy rain and this curtailed the visit for many but a few stalwarts were able to enjoy flowering Red Clover, Ragged Robin, Common Vetch, Birdsfoot Trefoil, and Cuckoo Flower with Yellow Rattle, Great Knapweed, and Meadow Cranesbill to follow. The walk back to the car park was taken at speed but one unusual plant was observed where the path crosses a ditch – Gipsywort (Lycopus europaeus).

It was not a good evening for observing insects but Mike LeRoy identified Common or Red-headed Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis) and many Mayflies were in evidence (sp.). Grey Heron was seen and Cuckoo heard as additions to the bird list.

The habitat and species list as updated following the visit can be found here. For those wanting further information about the Reserve including its history, click here or go to the MKNHS website, click on Wildlife Sites and scroll down to Stony Stratford Nature Reserve.

 

Joe Clinch, visit leader

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dormice in tree-tops. Will you volunteer to find them?

Volunteers are wanted, to help find dormice in the tree-tops at Little Linford Wood. Our MKNHS member John Prince founded the North Bucks Dormouse Group in 1998, when dormice were successfully reintroduced to this Wood. Ever since then, volunteers have worked with John to check dormouse boxes monthly through summer to autumn.

Now John is taking this to the next stage with dormouse boxes mounted on platforms that are hoisted to the tree-tops. The platforms have been made. They are ready to be hauled up. The Dormouse Group need more people to manage and monitor these dormouse platforms, so we know where dormice are.

If you would like to find out more about how and when you could help, please contact Gwen Hitchcock by e-mail: gwen.hitchcock@wildlifebcn.org, or by phone on 07872 418281.

Thank you.

Photo: Dormouse in Little Linford Wood June 2020 (courtesy of John Prince/Joyce Taylor Moore)

Training opportunities from BMERC, the Bucks Environmental Records Centre

BMERC are planning to run four courses this year about:

  • How to make a good Record
  • Mosses of Buckinghamshire
  • Introduction to Veteran & Notable Trees
  • Introduction to Surveying for the Noble Chafer.

These courses will be free for recorders and other volunteers. This is a generous opportunity for Milton Keynes Natural History Society members and others.

One course will be online: the others will be at various sites across Buckinghamshire. Further details are in the box below. Fuller details about each course will be sent later to those who have said they are interested.

At this stage BMERC aren’t looking for firm bookings, merely expressions of interest. Once booking starts, this will be managed on a first-come first- served basis. You can  express your interest by completing the sign-up sheet, which you will need to download and send back to BMERC: erc@buckinghamshire.gov.uk.

The sign-up sheet can be found here: Training-courses-signup-sheet-20220513

Title Organiser Trainer(s) Date(s) Format Location
How to make a good record BMERC Kieron Brown Autumn (October? tbc) Likely to be a pair of sessions, each 1-2 hours long. Online.
Bucks’ mosses BMERC Sean O’Leary (County Recorder) End May – first half August, weekday dates will be available. Most likely half day sessions. Onsite, at various venues around Bucks. Some may not normally be open to the general public.
Introduction to Veteran and Notable trees BMERC Claudia Bernardini and Matt Sharp assorted weekday dates possible On-site sessions, likely to be half days. Onsite, at various venues around Bucks. TBC
Introduction to Noble Chafer surveying and habitats (including frass hunts and likely nectaring.) BMERC Julia Carey End May – End July On-site sessions, 2-3 hours long. 2 dates likely, which will either be Tuesdays or Thursdays Pitstone Green Farm Museum, Pitstone.

 

 

 

 

 

Bury Common walk 10 May 2022 – Ann Jones

It was still dry after a period without rain when around 25 members walked a route around Bury Common on the 10th May. Some of us walked through the paddocks down by the river – a permissive path, as the paddocks are owned by Mill House (I believe). This allowed us to get a rather distant view of the little owls in the willow which can be seen from across the first paddock. Little owls have been in this vicinity for years. It was probably a little early in the year to see the first damselflies although I have seen some since.

At the end of the paddocks, on reaching the lower meadow, and getting safely across the bridge with a rotten middle, we turned up left towards the main common and met up with those walkers who had avoided the stiles on the riverside path. We walked along the boundary between the upper and lower meadow. This field has not been fertilised nor grazed for many years now, and can be rich in plantlife. We walked around the lower meadow and the botanists amongst us were busy checking out plants.

I had hoped that the kestrel nest I had spotted and watched weeks earlier would have been inhabited but it had been abandoned for a while and was still abandoned although we saw the kestrels. However an eagle-eyed person spotted a large raptor nest on the other side of the river but visible from our path. At the time it was thought this was a buzzard’s nest as a black tail and brown upper body of a bird could just be seen. (However, photos I took a couple of days later revealed a red kite on the nest, and I also saw a kite perched nearby.) We paused at what is called locally ‘the beach’ to watch a number of silvery fish jumping out of the river.

It was a lovely evening with almost a mackerel sky some of the time, and larks were still singing as we walked the lower meadow. Finally, as we walked back to the car park through the “cut” (where the ‘railway-that-never-was’ was to be sited) we had a lovely sunset.

The Common is also known as Bury Field. There is an account of its history here: https://newport-pagnell.uk/history/bury-field/. And thanks to Mike LeRoy for letting us know of the much more extended account here: https://www.mkheritage.org.uk/nphs/bury-field-history-and-walk/ Thanks also to Martin Ferns, in particular for joining me on the recce, providing information on the site’s history and leading the non-stile route and keeping an eye on the rear.

I also wrote a small piece on Bury Common during the first 2020 lockdown which is available on the MKNHS site: https://mknhs.org.uk/spring-on-bury-common-ann-jones/

Ann Jones

 

Bird list Bury Common 10 May 2022 (not necessarily comprehensive – just what was noted)
Songthrush
Buzzard
Swifts over Newport Pagnell town
Reed buntings
3 Skylarks
Grey Heron
Mallards
Swallow
Red Kite
2 Kestrels
2 Little Owls
Sedge Warbler
Female Goosander
Raven
Pheasant
Whitethroat
Rooks
Long-tailed Tits
Hobby?
Jackdaws

Other sightings of interest
Hundreds of buttercups
Yellow iris in flower Iris pseudacorus
Great Burnet Sanguisorba officinalis
Red and Black Froghopper Cercopsis vulnerata
Common Frog (deceased)

Walk to Yardley Chase to hear nightingales, 3 May 2022 – Julie Lane

It was a very pleasant mild evening when 20 of us met up in Olney for a 5.5mile hike cross-country to Yardley Chase to hopefully listen to a nightingale. I had done a recce the night before and knew he was back singing in his usual spot so was very much keeping my fingers crossed that such a big group wouldn’t affect his performance!

On the way we saw a several hares and a brief glimpse of a small group of fallow deer which included several white individuals. The primroses and bluebells were putting on a good show in the hedges and woods and we passed a magnificent oak tree with a huge girth. As we approached the area where the nightingale was we saw a barn owl in the distance quartering the edge of the field. We slowed down and crept quietly up to the nightingale who was happily warbling away in the woodland out of sight. I felt it was important that we kept our distance as they are rare breeding birds and I didn’t want to disturb him. In some ways that was a pity as we weren’t near enough to appreciate the sheer volume of his song but it was still a magical experience in the gathering gloom when the other birds were starting to quieten down for the night – although the local song thrushes were still putting up stiff competition.

Recording of nightingale singing, Yardley Chase 3 May 2022 (Recording by Julie Lane)

After a while in his company we turned for home, surprising a fox on his nocturnal wandering. Sadly the grasshopper warbler I had heard the night before was silent, or had moved on, but we were thrilled to hear brief utterances of a second nightingale in another part of the wood.

Whilst crossing the field of beans we were treated to the sound of two lapwings calling in the dark – a lovely end to a special evening. Thank you to all who came – you will have slept well afterwards!

List of notable species seen (not comprehensive)

Birds
2 x nightingale singing
Barn Owl
Cuckoo
Raven
Whitethroat
Blackcap
Yellowhammer
Song thrush
Willow warbler
Chiffchaff
Lapwing
Grey partridge

Mammals
Fox
Hare
Fallow deer including several white deer

Moths
Silver Ground Carpet
Green Carpet
Brimstone

Plants
Primrose
Cowslip
Bluebell
Lesser celandine
Bugle
Ground ivy
Perforate St John’s-wort
White deadnettle

Society Walk at Howe Park Wood SSSI – 26th April 2022

 Our first Tuesday night outdoor meeting of the season took place at Howe Park Wood last week. Leaders Colin Docketty and Martin Kincaid were joined by around 30 members who were clearly keen to get out and reconnect with old friends. Although the traditional rain stayed away, it was a grey, chilly evening and by 8.30pm we were all learning the new skill of torchlit botanical ID.

Martin mentioned that most visitors head straight into Howe Park Wood and don’t pay much attention to the species rich meadow between the wood and Tattenhoe Street (V2). So the walk began with a look at this and the three ponds nearby, where a devoted moorhen sat calmly on her nest bemused by all the attention.

Cowslips are prolific this year and the carpet of cowslips in this small meadow was a delight to see. Martin also pointed out the spreading population of Sainfoin, which will flower in June. This species is relatively new to Milton Keynes but has been present at Howe Park for 4-5 years now. A few Common Spotted Orchids were found in rosette but no Bee Orchids could be located as yet.

Entering the wood from the main northern entrance, we soon saw the expected spring species, dominated by Bluebells and Greater Stitchwort. Wood Anemone, Bugle and Lesser Celandine were all easy to find too, Common Dog Violet less so.

One of the objectives of this walk was to identify likely nest sites of Red Kite, which certainly nested in the wood in 2021 and has been seen carrying sticks. Kites teased us in the evening with their whistling calls, but one was seen towards the end of the night flying off of a probable nest.

We made a lengthy stop at the clearing in the wood which holds a small pond. Carla Boswell explained that the Parks Trust has tried repeatedly to fence this pond off from dogs, but that the rustic fencing has again been vandalised and nothing of it remains. The water is therefore very turbid and little marginal vegetation remains on the side nearest the path. However, patient watching showed us that the pond still holds a healthy population of newts. Both Smooth Newts and the larger Great Crested Newts were observed swimming to the surface, taking a breath and quickly diving again. The night was too cold for most invertebrates, but a Great Diving Beetle at the pond was a nice sighting.

Moving into the western side of the wood, we turned our attention to bats. Our route took us past two trees which Harry Appleyard has found to contain roosting Noctule bats. We could not hear bats at these trees, but a single Noctule bat and both Common and Soprano Pipistrelles were seen later by various members. Colin and Martin had found Goldilocks Buttercup on their recce visit and were pleased to show people this diminutive woodland flower. This was where our torches came in useful as the light faded! One species searched for without success was Early Purple Orchid, which has become very scarce in the wood in recent times. (Happily, Janice Robertson found several flowers later in the week and her photo is shown below.)

Early Purple Orchid, Howe Park Wood April 22 (Photo © Janice Robertson)

The last stop was to look at the veteran Crab Apple tree on the north-west edge of the wood. This venerable tree, affectionately known as ‘Edna’ (any Simpsons fans out there?) is currently in flower and looked even more impressive in the dwindling light.

Since it was our first Tuesday night walk for some time, Martin opened up the Visitor Centre so that people could enjoy some refreshment and chat. It also gave us a chance to see again the impressive MKNHS banner created for our 50th Anniversary in 2018, featuring photos taken by many of our members down the years.

 

Winter 2021-22: Wildlife in the local area – Tony Wood

The trees are turning green with some in blossom, some plants are in flower, birds are singing, and there is frogspawn in the ponds – yes, it`s spring again; but before we get too excited, how did our local wildlife fare during the past winter?

Generally, it was a mild winter with a few exceptions. The end of the year recorded the warmest New Year`s Day on record, January was the sunniest and driest for East Anglia, and during January we suffered three storms, Dudley, Eunice, and Franklin.

Once more our society members have been using our website to record their sightings and this is a summary of these records during the period October to December 2021, and January to March 2022:

Mammals – During the first three months of this year there have been records of otters at Great Linford Reserve, Stony Stratford Reserve, and the River Ouzel near Caldecotte, During December last year a water vole was seen in the Stony Stratford area and at Little Linford Wood a hare was recorded. Both myself and my neighbours have been blessed with regular nightly visits with badgers to our gardens throughout the winter, and during March two young ones were reported.

Butterflies and other insects – On the 6th October a Painted Lady was seen at Caldecotte, a species that unusually there were very few records of in 2021. The bright sunny days in February attracted a variety of butterflies starting with brimstones and during the following weeks tortoiseshell and comma.  Other unusual insect records included a Buff-tailed bumble bee in my garden as late as 30th December and a western conifer seed bug at Bradwell Common on 10th October. It would appear that this bug was first recorded in the UK in 2007.

Birds – The winter months attract numerous sightings of birds passing through the local sites particularly the lakes. There were numerous records of large white, little and even cattle egrets, pintails and goosanders. But during the last three months of 2021 the following unusual local records were submitted:
Willen Lakes – rock pipit, black redstart Siberian chiffchaff and Mediterranean gull
Floodplain Forest – 3 whooper swans, and a ruddy duck
Caldecotte -great northern diver
Furzton – Slavonian grebe
Newport Pagnell – hen harrier
Back Wood, Brickhills – 3 crossbills

During the first three months of this year the following special birds were recorded locally:
Floodplain Forest – marsh harrier, peregrine and curlew
Linford Lakes Reserve – bittern and marsh tit
Stony Stratford Reserve – oystercatcher
Walton Hall, River Ouzel – 4 Bewick swans
Willen  – avocet
Caldecotte – mandarin duck
Magna Park – Siberian chiffchaff

A fantastic selection of wildlife sightings locally during the past winter – congratulations.

With spring and summer ahead of us there will be a plethora of species to enjoy, So share your records on our Society`s website, and as usual look, learn, record – but most of all, enjoy.

Tony Wood
26 April 2022

Walk in search of Wood Anemones led by Colin Docketty and Mike LeRoy – Linford Wood, 10th April 2022

16 members and friends joined the 10th April Sunday morning walk through Linford Wood. A map was handed out to show the paths and compartments of this 39ha (97 acre) wood. As soon as we had left the TV-mast car-park a few newly-emerged Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea came into view beside the path. This plant is an Ancient Woodland Indicator, an AWI.

There were three handouts during the walk. One about Woodland History & Management, another about Current Woodland Management, and the third was a Species List, giving a brief summary of flora and fauna worth looking for at various times of the year.

The ‘search’ for Wood Anemones Anemone nemorosa (AWI) could not have been easier. There were few sections of the wood where there were not carpets and swathes of hundreds and thousands of these in full view along the edges of many woodland compartments. A sunny morning made the whole Wood bright with their whiteness – though a few small clumps had a pinkish-violet hue.

Wood Anemone (Photo © Julian Lambley)

Among them were Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria which had emerged many weeks before. Scattered among the trees, deep into the wood were bright clumps of Primrose Primula vulgaris (AWI) that had flowered in February and still looked fresh. Scattered among and beyond these, often deeper into the Wood were the earliest Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta (AWI) coming into flower, with plenty more emerging around them. Dog’s Mercury Mercurialis perennis (AWI) was in an almost continuous spread along the edge of most ditches and paths and in flower, but few people notice it or its slight spikes of male flowers that look rather like catkins, or the female flowers on separate plants that have wider leaves.

We were asked to look for two kinds of small, low-growing purple flowers. One is very common, not only in woodland: this is Ground-ivy Glechoma hederacea. The other is the family of Violets Viola. The ones we were looking for are tiny and easy to miss. These are the Early Dog-violet Viola reichenbachiana (AWI) and the Common Dog-violet Viola riviniana (AWI). Probably, the ones we saw were V.reichenbachiana which flowers earlier than V.riviniana, but checking the features on such small plants requires very close attention and, even then, there are hybrids of these two. Several we saw were exquisitely delicate and beautiful. It was too soon for Sanicle Sanicula europaea (AWI) to be in flower but Chris Coppock found its lower leaves, which are similar to those of Wood Anemone but with a few distinctively different characteristics.

Early Dog Violet (Photo © Julian Lambley)

We walked in a broad circuit along a path around the north of the Wood and back to its centre before heading down the broad central ride to the southern end. But before heading further south we took a brief look at Herb Paris Paris quadrifiolia (AWI) that were only just emerging in the shade of other plants. When we reached the southern end of Linford Wood it was too late to fit in a visit to Stanton Wood, so we passed the peaceful pond beneath trees close to H4 Dansteed Way and returned up the western side of Linford Wood. Here we noted leaves that were probably of Yellow Archangel Lamiastrum galiobdolon (AWI) which should flower around May with bright yellow flowers like those of dead-nettle. Further on we passed some shrubs of Spindle Euonymus europaeus, noting their dark green and rectangular stems. This is an undistinguished plant until autumn when its bright pink and orange fruit makes it highly visible.

All the time there were the sounds of birds. Greater-spotted Woodpecker were drumming, and Green Woodpecker were yaffling but perhaps the noisiest sounds were the squawks from five boisterous Jays flying back and forth together. Little was heard from Nuthatch, but there was a Buzzard flying over and calling to another at the top of a tree.

Throughout our walk there were occasional bumblebees busily in search of pollen and nectar and a few queens still searching for nesting sites. Those we saw were mostly White-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lucorum or Buff-tailed Bumblebee Bombus terrestris, but there were also some Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus pratorum. One Brimstone Butterfly Gonepteryx rhamni sped away from us along the ditches.

There has been plenty of woodland management work during the winter, with Ash Fraxinus excelsior trees at risk of falling being removed near paths, and their timber and logs either waiting to be removed or laid to rot down as useful deadwood for use by invertebrates. At a few points we could see standing ‘deadwood’ well away from the paths: trees in decline left to provide nest holes for bats and birds and soft rot for saproxylic beetles to use. Already there had been new plantings of trees and shrubs to take the place of felled and fallen trees. Some Pedunculate Oaks Quercus robur had been planted by volunteers, from acorns grown-on from this Wood. Oaks tend not to regenerate naturally within the closed spaces of established woodlands.

It was flowers that had taken most of our attention, because April to June is probably the best time to see these in ancient woodlands. But they were set against the character of all of Linford Wood, which varies from compartment to compartment, and has the grandeur of a woodland that is over 700 years old.

Mike LeRoy
April 2022

 

My World of Bats – Daniel Hargreaves – Tuesday 12th April – on Zoom

A recording of Daniel Hargreaves talk about Bats around the world is now available to view for the next 30 days.

To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/wWQqz5gfjZNhdldHWkBWjqwrmEJWOC5fkaop9XJjZVqio8BUOv7zTKEzY6a42al1.HvwUXbEGpc1s68lK

Passcode: 8#Nb?K&Q

To find out more about the work of the Bat Conservation Trust and support their work go to:

www.bats.org.uk

Dancersend: Cradle of Nature Conservation – An illustrated talk by Mick Jones MBE – Tuesday 5th April – on Zoom

A recording of Mick Jones’ talk about the Dancersend Reserve is now available to view for the next 30 days.

To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/7pfHv199by_Xc4V4ztSwMwH16uiZH-hrkbySy0-IDL1GBRfuopNfC-fyoEOftmfC.0APYcSgDdqeMq21K

Passcode: 1W8$x9Ki

A trip to Florida in the company of our Chairman Matt Andrews – Tuesday 29th March – on Zoom

A recording of Matt Andrew’s talk about springtime in Florida is now available to view for the next 30 days.

To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/6MZRCiMwe0UjIHaNa1a2xVL56pBfJw3t9RzEqiZXDeX_XKhTfUBDpt_ZTZyMv_66.MIHaTOHSXNWMRulr

Passcode: 70ufW7K.

3 Sunday morning walks – Reports from December-February – Colin Docketty

Sunday 12 December – Caldecotte Lake – 11 participants

Weather mild and cloudy, then some rain (which did not stop us), followed by sun later.
We did a complete circuit of the lake at a slow pace, taking 3 hours, including stops to look at things.

We saw a cormorant colony in the trees, Canada Geese and one Greylag, Swans, Little Egrets, Grey Heron, gulls including Black-headed, coot, moorhen, mallard (the only ducks), Little Grebe (10) and a Great Crested Grebe. A juvenile Great Northern Diver was present but not showing well. I saw it myself briefly for a second, before I it dived, and I could not relocate it. Also, Julian got a very distant photograph of it with his new large lens. I was hoping to show it to everyone, but the bird decided otherwise.

Passerines seen were Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed tits, Goldfinch, Song Thrush (2), Robin, Blackbird – and a Cetti’s Warbler calling.

A swan had come to grief after hitting the Bletcham Way road bridge. Nothing is wasted – the unfortunate death of the swan was a bonanza for a fox which had a few days of easy dinners. There was just enough for Sunday’s dinner. On Monday morning, all that would be left following the unfortunate accident would be the skeleton bones.

We also saw several Spindle trees with red ripe fruit.

The walk was enjoyed by all.

Sunday 16 January  – Tongwell Lake – 17 participants

A very nice walk on a sunny winter’s day.

Tongwell Lake is a good place to see Goosander, and we saw 6 male and 3 female. There were many other birds too: Pochard (pair), Wigeon (3), Shoveler (pair), Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose (1), swan, Moorhen, Coot, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Great Crested Grebe, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull (1) and a Water Rail was heard.

Passerines – Redpoll (3 in a tree), Dunnock, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Blackbird. Robin, Goldcrest, Grey Wagtail, Siskin, Carrion Crow. Also a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming on top of a lamp post, and a Red Kite.

There was an attractive Portugal Laurel nearby one of the houses around the lake.

Sunday 6 February – Ouse Valley Park and Floodplain Forest Nature Reserve, Old Wolverton – 20 participants

After 2 hours of heavy rain, 20 hardy participants turned up at Manor Farm at 10.30. We first walked down to Holy Trinity Church to view the snowdrops. In the churchyard was a lovely Cedar of Lebanon tree. We also saw two active badger setts.

On the Floodplain we found Goosander (pair), Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Moorhen, Coot, Black-headed Gull, Cormorant and Little Egret. A large flock of Lapwing was also present. A single Lapwing was seen in perfect plumage, the light showing its green back and red legs to perfection – a sight not often seen. We also saw the Konik ponies which are there to keep the vegetation down.

A peregrine was seen sitting on the side of the waste facility chimney – there is actually a pair which have taken the chimney as their home. They are probably too young to breed yet, and could possibly be from the successful breeding peregrines at Stadium MK, or the Bucks Council office in Aylesbbury. When they are older, they will probably breed, but meanwhile they are defending their home from other peregrines.

The morning finished with a rainbow in an arc against a cloudy background, but it only lasted a minute, gradually vanishing from left to right.

An enjoyable walk, despite the very rough weather.

Colin Docketty

Exploring the Origins of Life – A Scientific Programme – Zoom talk by Professor Nigel Mason – Tuesday 1st March

A recording of Nigel Mason’s talk on Tuesday 1st March is now available to view for the next 30 days.

(Unfortunately the first 10 minutes of the talk were not recorded)

To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/sBJh14CcO7ybg7rTx34Mcj5dmtVnMYyptCy6YFP8OSZMObtm800NKXzyiAL1NbwA.tNJwjrUCSCtRCVEw

Passcode: P$0=ec4E

Bird Surveys of Britain – Zoom talk by Mike LeRoy,  Tim Arnold, Kenny Cramer and Andy Harding – Tuesday 8th February

A recording of this talk on Tuesday 8th February is now available  to view for the next 30 days.  To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/KUi4vZOOTh99e3DHF-TmT6w-_HJoafQu_fHAwCLsvteD4-rfWuTum6cmXPnVSh7G.PDyZgNLz5BSjMh87

Passcode: C07y.6s#

Farmland Conservation in the Chilterns  – Zoom talk by Nick Marriner – Tuesday 1st February

A recording of Nick Marriner’s talk on Tuesday 1st February is now available  to view for the next 30 days.  To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.

The recording is in two parts. To move from one part to the next, click on the forward arrow below the video where is says ‘2 recordings’

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/MXVKbrEiuk5ZCHHlKVvxvzo00TMfZOiNvsY-y8xNK4IUcsVBJvuniiKfGul_VB6V.kugFQeS7y3slEtBl

Passcode: D13!R3Vy

Would you like to be part of our team?

This is your chance to get involved with helping to run our brilliant Society!
We have lots of new members in the Society and we are hoping that some of you might be prepared to get involved in its smooth running. Anyone would be very welcome to get involved and will receive full support from the committee.

There are currently two positions that we are hoping to fill:

  • Summer programmer/walks coordinator
  • Nature Day Coordinator

Summer programme/walks coordinator

After the sad loss of Mary Sarre who kindly organised our summer walks programme for the last five years or so, with the support of her husband Phil, we are now looking for someone (or two people) to take over the role.

This involves organising a meeting at the beginning of the season to plan the locations and the leaders for the summer walks – this meeting is due to take place on 8th March but the person taking over will receive plenty of support from the committee to run the meeting this year. Then follows the collating of the summer programme and ensuring that the walks run smoothly over the summer season. Further details can be found in the MKNHS Guidance Handbook pages 23-24 (which can be found on the website in the dropdown menu under the Home heading).

Nature Day coordinator

We are also looking for someone to organise the Society’s contribution to Nature Day on 2nd July this year. The day takes place at Howe Park Wood, is now run by The Parks Trust and the local Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) and is a really lovely day out for many families in MK. Our Society initially instigated the event in memory of Bernard Frewin, one of our founding members who used to take his barn owl into local schools to show the children. It then morphed into a very successful annual event (part of a week of nature-based activities) so it would be lovely if we could keep up our involvement. We have our Society display boards on show and we also run a nature-based activity for children which has taken various guises over the years such as quizzes on animal poo, tracks and trails, feathers etc.

Nature Day is always such a fun day – very hands-on and great to see families out enjoying themselves together and learning more about wildlife. I have been the main organiser since the start with help from other members but I would now like to hand over the task to someone else who can bring their own creativity and enthusiasm to the role. I have lots of equipment and ready-made activities that I can pass on to get you started.

****

If you are interested in either of these roles or would like to find out more then please contact me Julie Lane silverteasel@icloud.com or Linda Murphy lindamurphy49@btinternet.com either directly or via the website info@mknhs.org.uk

Julie Lane
30 January 2021

Dinopedia- The John Wickham Lecture – Zoom talk by Darren Naish – Tuesday 18 January

A recording of Darren Naish’s talk on Tuesday 18th January is now available  to view for the next 30 days.  To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.

In this talk, palaeontologist, naturalist, author and researcher Darren Naish outlines the major and fascinating changes in our understanding of dinosaurs and their behaviour as discussed in detail in his book Dinopedia.

To view the recording, follow the link below and enter the pass code when prompted to do so.
https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/VvrviNVAy8cCp-EtY-i

Passcode: KG3uQ*Vb

The John Wickham Lecture is held annually in memory of John Wickham who joined the Society shortly after it was founded in 1968 and undertook many roles in support of the Society including responsibility for membership and communication with members, co-ordination of the Hazeley Wood Study Group and as a Vice President of the Society until his death in 2019. John was a passionate naturalist with a particular interest in invertebrates and scientific inquiry, who was always ready to help other members and share his expertise.

MKNHS Weekend Walk Report – Tongwell Lake, 16th January 2022

Tongwell Lake. All photos © Harry Appleyard

Today’s Society walk was hosted at Tongwell Lake by Colin Docketty. With mild sunny spells and very little wind, it was an ideal day for a winter visit with waterfowl being the main attraction. In recent years it has been one of MK’s most reliable sites for wintering Goosanders, sometimes found in double figure flocks. It attracts many other species of waterfowl including Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Pochard. Bitterns have occasionally been spotted among the reed-beds in the past and the increasingly common Great White Egret was also recorded here for the first time in November 2019.


Male Goosander

Our walk took us on a full lap of the lake, scanning the water, reed-beds, and the surrounding thickets. It wasn’t long before attendees were treated to excellent views of 3 Lesser Redpolls, perched and preening for a few minutes in a small thicket overlooking the lake. One of them was sporting a silver ring on its right leg, perhaps a recent catch from Kenny Cramer at Linford Lakes?


Lesser Redpoll

The dense belt of conifers on the north side of the lake offered brief glimpses of at least 5 Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff while a Water Rail and Cetti’s Warbler called from the reedbeds nearby. Goosander was a target species of our host and luckily at least 7 were present, including 5 males and 2 females spread across the lake. The subtle green sheen to the males’ heads was shown off well by the low winter sunshine. Other species across the lake included at least 18 Gadwall, 20 Tufted Ducks, 3 Wigeon, 3 Cormorants, Great-crested Grebe and 6 Pochard, the latter of which has sadly become a scarcer sight across the county in recent years.


Goldcrest

Some birds perched on the island in the middle of the lake included 3 Redwings, 4 Siskins, a possible 4th Lesser Redpoll and 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers. One of the two Woodpeckers was very keen to be heard as the walk came to a close, drumming on a lamppost near the car park! A Grey Wagtail also made a passing appearance at the start of the walk and a Sparrowhawk and at least 2 Red Kites were seen throughout, circling and gliding in the distance.

Many thanks to Collin Docketty for hosting this excellent walk at one of MK’s overlooked wildlife sites.

Harry Appleyard
17 January 2022

 

 

Gordon Redford and George Higgs memorial moth night – Saturday 17th July 2021  – Postscript

After a lot of work on co-ordinating lists and micro identification following the event, we now have the ‘almost final’ list of moths trapped at this special mothing event.

Just one or two micros remain and await dissection to confirm their identification, the only way to be certain in these cases. This list contains 230 species, confirming the feeling at the time that it was a fantastic night. Big thanks are due to Martin Albertini, Bucks County Moth Recorder, who has pulled the records together and to everyone involved in trapping and recording on the night as well as working through all the follow-up identification.

To remind yourself about the event, read Andy Harding’s news post click here
and to see the moth list for the night, click here.

The photo above is a Peach Blossom Thyatira batis (Photo © Andy Harding)

Camera Icon

Photo Competition 2022 – Round 1 voting open until 25 January

UPDATE: Round 1 voting is now open until end of 25 January. Go to the 2022 Photo Competition page for instructions.

MKNHS Annual Photographic Competition 2022

Due to the fact that we are still unable to meet in person at the moment and the date for a return to the Cruck Barn is not yet certain, we have decided to run the competition via the Society’s website once again with voting by email. The process and timetable are explained below.

The competition is for the Ron Arnold Shield. Ron Arnold was an early member of the Society and a keen photographer. The competition was set up in his memory.

The competition is open to all members of the Society. Any non-members who would like to participate are welcome to join in order to take part (https://mknhs.org.uk/membership-2/ )

There are four categories:

  1. Birds
  2. All other animals, including mammals, fish, insects etc.
  3. Plants and fungi.
  4. Habitats, geological, astronomical.

The following rules apply:

  • This year, as foreign travel has been so restricted, images for all categories should have been taken in the UK between January 2021 and January 2022
  • Domestic animals and cultivated plants are not eligible.
  • People must not be a major subject of any photograph.

Format guidelines:

  • Digital images only can be entered, by email to Photos2022@mknhs.org.uk
  • Please use jpg files. Maximum file size 4MB
  • They can be horizontal (landscape) or vertical (portrait).
  • Each member may enter a maximum of 2 images per category. (That’s 8 images in total). If you are submitting more than 4 images, please split between 2 emails, or use WeTransfer.
  • Please state the category of entry for each image and provide a brief caption for each photo stating when and where taken and species if known/relevant. If you submit more than one photo, make sure it is clear which caption goes with each photo!

May the best photograph win! It could be yours!

Paul Lund

 

How the 2022 Photo competition will be run, and key dates:

  1. Send your entries to the mailbox (Photos2022@mknhs.org.uk) by 11pm on 11 January 2022
  2. Members’ photos will be posted in the four categories on the web site photo competition page (Photo Competition 2022) one week after the deadline (i.e. on 18 January 2022)
  3. Members have a week to decide their choice of top two per category for Round 1. Members send in their choices by email to the same mailbox. (Votes to be received by 25 January 2022)
  4. The votes are counted and the top 8 photos selected (top 2 per category). The top eight photos are posted on the website one week after the deadline for voting in round 1 (i.e. by 01 February 2022).
  5. Members have one week to send in their votes for the top three photos. (Votes to be received by 08 February 2022)
  6. Votes are counted and the top 3 selected.
  7. Winners are announced at the MKNHS meeting on 15 February 2022 one week after the deadline for voting for round 2.
    Winning photos will be shown at this meeting and winners will be asked to say something about their photos.
  8. The final 8 will be put on the website gallery page for the photo competition winners 2022.
  9. The winner will be presented with the Ron Arnold Shield to hold for the year (if/when conditions allow). Their name will be engraved on the shield and they will receive a miniature shield to keep.

Please Note! Photos MUST be sent in by 11pm on 11 January 2022 at the latest!

Entries will NOT be accepted after 11 January 2022.

Votes cast after the deadlines for Round 1 and Round 2 will not be counted….

Please note that by submitting photos you are agreeing to your images being displayed on the Society website. Images displayed in the Society gallery after the competition will show attributed copyright.

Recovering lost hay meadows in the UK – Zoom talk by Irina Tatarenko – Tuesday 14th December

A recording of Irina’s talk about the work of The Floodplain Meadow Partnership on Tuesday 14th November is now available  to view for the next 30 days.  To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/D0EK3deAwvpEJIKTbxih59M7Thds-SnHNsH5Bbf6x8WB_io2_F51KBKOqACQFuJT.NJiBufBHJfEXfEtZ

Passcode: s9n#?vah

Caldecotte Lake – Weekend walk – Sunday 12th December 2021

The weather was overcast and drizzling at times but it was warm without wind. Led by Colin Docketty, the walk started in the Windmill car park and began southwards, eventually completing a loop of the whole lake, north and south. Goldfinch were on Teasel by the water near Blue-Tits and Long-tailed Tits. As we progressed around the lake, we spotted gulls of various types and ages. There were some Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls along with juveniles and first- and second-year birds. Little Grebes were spotted in a large group of seven. Further around the lake in another area, three more were seen giving a total of ten. Crossing the bridge near the business park, a Cetti’s Warbler gave a partial song but, as expected, was not seen!

A flock of Goldfinch were in trees near gardens and there was a probable Siskin sighting. A Heron perched high up on a house made a good photo opportunity. A Spindle tree brightened the day with its pink splashes of colour. Under a bridge, a Little Egret stood in a stream patiently waiting for lunch. On approaching the bridge, the bird flew into a tree giving the group the perfect opportunity for viewing. The Little Egret’s yellow feet wrapped around a branch as it watched a Cormorant below.

Towards the end of the walk, two Song Thrushes were seen near the car park chasing each other around some shrubs near the water’s edge.

Martine Harvey

Burnt-tip orchid ©Mary Sarre, Knocking Hoe NR 9 June 2018

Mary Sarre – tributes from members

Lead photo: Burnt-tip orchid, Knocking Hoe NR 2018 © Mary Sarre

Many of us were shocked and saddened last week to hear of the death of Mary Sarre after a long battle with cancer. We send Phil and the family our love and sympathy.

Mary and Phil have been members of the Society for a long time now. Since Roy our President has taken a back seat as our botanical expert we came to rely increasingly on Mary’s in-depth knowledge on all things to do with plants. She has also been a valued committee member for many years (always a quiet voice of reason) and did a great job as our summer programme secretary until ill health forced her to stand down earlier this year. We are so grateful for all she did for the Society.


Mary and Phil at Stony Stratford Nature Reserve, with Joe and others.

I first met Mary, a qualified garden designer, when I had recently qualified in the same profession over 20 years ago. She was generous in her advice and support and it was good to share our passion for garden plants and our experiences when designing gardens for clients. I was keen to introduce wilder elements in my designs as Chris Baines and others were beginning to promote gardening with wildlife in mind – it was an exciting time!

We then lost touch for a few years as I changed careers to work in local schools (that is another story) but when Mary and Phil started to come along to MKNHS meetings it was lovely to see her more regularly. Phil has been the warden of Little Linford Wood for many years and I occasionally joined the work parties at the weekends creating coppiced clearings to open up the wood for the plants and insects etc. I always seemed to manage to get to the one just before Christmas where Mary would turn up along with their two lovely black labradors with hot drinks and mince pies. They always welcomed me even though I wasn’t really a regular!

I have been helping as an assistant editor on our website and Mary had sent me several articles for the website recently including a fascinating piece she had written about mistletoe.

Misteloe – Central Milton Keynes (Photo: Mary Sarre)

The day after receiving the incredibly sad news of her passing I was walking in Salcey and I looked up and saw a tall tree with several large bunches of mistletoe in its crown and there guarding one of these bunches was a mistle thrush (living up to its name). It felt like a strange coincidence as I have never seen mistletoe in Salcey before, but it is at this time of the year that the lime green bunches becomes more obvious as the trees shed their leaves. However the sight was a comfort at a sad time. Nature is a great healer and I hope it helps Phil and the rest of their family to remember the happier times with Mary. They had so many wonderful holidays in their second home up in the Pyrenees and many other beautiful parts of the world.

Julie Lane
November 2021

If others in the Society would like to share their memories of Mary on our website then please send them to webeditor@mknhs.org.uk

From Jenny Mercer

Mary Sarre,  July 1945-November 2021

In the natural world and in gardening, Mary worked with vigour to show the goodness and beauty of the world.
She showed us much.
She knew and taught us much.
She drew nature
landscapes with trees
still life with flowers

She made maps and drafted garden designs which she highlighted in watercolours.
She showed us all kindness and encouraged us to do more in our lives.
She will be missed by me, and by many.

Dear Mary
We value all you gave us.
You taught us many things about life and how to live it, and now you have shown us how to die courageously.
Your voice in our hearts and our love for you remain, and your voice in our heads  will keep on challenging and encouraging us to love nature and each other.

Jenny Mercer

From Sue and Andrew Hetherington

The news of Mary’s death has come as a dreadful bolt out of the blue to us, we had no idea that Mary was even ill.  As relative newcomers, we have no long back history of stories and anecdotes about Mary but we know she was the go-to expert for all botanical questions.  I recall the mistletoe article Julie Lane has mentioned.  Mary wrote about seeing more of it around Milton Keynes and wanted people to tell her about new sightings.  I’ve been keeping a look out ever since and corresponded with her at the time.  We confided in each other that apart from the purely botanical aspect we were fascinated with the mystery and pagan aspects of this strange plant (or should I say hemiparasite) Thus when Julie Lane “posted” her mistletoe and mistle thrush sighting in Salcey on the Society’s facebook page, it was Mary that came first to my mind.  Unlike Julie, I had no idea of what had happened at that time so it feels like even more of a strange coincidence that it made me think of Mary.

We will miss Mary very much and the Society will be all the poorer for her absence.  I shall keep looking out for mistletoe and whenever I see it I shall give a nod to Mary’s memory, I wish I could actually tell her about it though!  We send love and sympathy to Phil, the family and all who knew and loved Mary.

Sue and Andrew Hetherington

From Mervyn Dobbin

Over many years, our paths crossed in different settings. These included: during Marys
involvement with the City Discovery Centre at Bradwell Abbey; as a consultant on garden
design at the Milton Keynes Quaker Centre; and as a member of Milton Keynes Natural
History Society.

At one point, I appointed her to advise me on planting for my own garden. Together, but
with her guidance, we prepared the ground and dug in the spots where the new shrubs and
trees were to be positioned. This working together with her oversight, is a warm memory to
reflect on. The prideofplace in the garden is the winter flowering cherry, which every year
without fail, produces an array of pink blossoms. The small flowers have recently appeared
again, a colourful canopy against the sky, to brighten up the darker days of this 2021 winter.

Mary in her personal relationships always conveyed a reassuring, nonjudgemental
acceptance of others. She was a gentle presence.

Thank you Mary.

Mervyn Dobbin

From Linda Murphy

My memories of Mary always take me to Society evening and weekend summer walks, in a variety of locations, especially Pilch Field. No matter where we have been, there are always plants to look at and identify, some common, some much rarer and exciting, but many of them easy to confuse with other species.  Mary was never taken in by a quick glance. She knew what features to look for and quietly and patiently checked them out to ensure an accurate record of what had been found. She always had a field guide and hand lens, but more importantly, knew how to use them! As Julie says, in recent years we increasingly turned to her for help with plant identification and ‘what do you think this is, Mary?’ became a regular question. But she didn’t just ‘tell us the answer’. She would gently discuss the options using the field guide, looking at leaf shape, stems, hairiness etc. and making comparisons, asking questions of us, too, in a non-judgemental way that put people at ease and avoided anyone feeling they’d asked a silly question. Jenny has talked about how much Mary knew and showed us, and I for one will be thinking of her and remembering her as I look at plants again next season, still hearing her voice in my head and trying hard to live up to her example, to continue plant recording in her memory.


Green-winged orchid, Pilch Field, May 2021 (Photo © Mary Sarre)

Thank you Mary.

Linda Murphy

Quiz night –  Tuesday 7th December – on Zoom

Our annual quiz hosted by Ann and Mark Strutton proved as challenging as usual (not least in getting everyone in and out of the same group/breakout room for each round)! Congratulations to Ann and Mark on pulling together such a varied set of questions once again, covering insects, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, invertebrates and ‘the killer’ general knowledge! It was a very close contest, with few points separating the teams throughout, but the eventual winners were Alan Piggott, Viola Read, Mike LeRoy, Matt Andrews and Linda Murphy.

When these competitions are held at the Cruck Barn, the winning team have gained custody of a mounted picture of a dragonfly. Does anyone know its whereabouts??

During discussion before the meeting, attention was drawn to a petition about the shooting of woodcock https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/595483

Also to a recording of a session at the BTO conference about Woodcock available on Youtube, the middle talk in the session on ‘Wondrous Waders’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88q1rq7pHTs

 

Walton Lake and Ouzel Valley Park North – Weekend walk – Sunday 21st November 2021 – Colin Docketty

Weather sunny and cold. 6 participants.
We walked from Walton Lake to Marshalls Lane, Woolstone, following the River Ouzel and back again. With stops to look at things on the way, we were there for three hours.

We saw 10 species of passerine birds, including a Long-tailed tit which gave us super views of it, and two Red Kites. There were a Moorhen and Grey Heron on Walton Lake, which was devoid of any other water birds, being now a shadow of its former self.

We viewed the Black Poplars. Unfortunately, the interpretation board provided by the Open University has been wrecked by vandals.

Other life included a few species of mushroom, the odd dandelion and one buttercup plant in full flower. No insects were seen as, although sunny, it was too cold.

At Woolstone we saw the medieval fishponds, with an interpretation panel showing what they looked like in their heyday.

Although not a lot of natural history was seen due to the time of year, it was nevertheless a very pleasant sunny walk, enjoyed by all.

Colin Docketty

Wildlife and Scenery in the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica – Zoom talk by Audrey Brown – Tuesday 23rd November

A recording of the talk by Audrey Brown on 23rd November is available to view for the next 30 days.  To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/_aqIChrNbWDgxmRQcY2hTqSZcW4g4Bns4L3GidSaWHiywzavoeyIVd5yzdCODuzM.zltuBf7jOWuo520b

Passcode: r3n5#nmF

Weekend walk Linford Wood led by Colin Docketty – Sunday 24th October 2021

Autumn Tints, Fungi and woodland birds
Weather sunny. 12 participants

We walked every surfaced path in the wood over 3 hours. Unfortunately the trees were very late changing colour this year, and only one tree in the entire wood had autumn tints – a North American Oak.

Most of the wood carvings have now disintegrated with time. There is still a bear and a monkey on the ground, and an owl in a tree. Rupert Bear has succumbed.

Fungi: We saw a fair number of fungi including some species growing in a circle. One very spectacular mushroom looked like a piece of discarded orange peel – the Orange Peel Fungus Aleuria Aurantia.

Orange Peel fungus (Photo © Derek Taylor)

Insects: When it warmed up after midday we saw a Bee Fly, a male Common Darter dragonfly, and several Speckled Wood butterflies, one of which perched beautifully for us to admire and photograph. We also saw a hornets’ nest on a tree, found by a visitor who joined us on the walk.

Birds: We only heard Jay and Green Woodpecker.

A very pleasant walk enjoyed by all.

Colin Docketty

Wild Shetland –  Zoom talk by Steve Race – Tuesday 16th November

A recording of the talk by Steve Race on 16th November is available to view for the next 30 days.

To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.
https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/B3x-b6DcvZAHM241vmMyPzya-MdpaVCZ1aBgbODANIlLhTl6ntpE8t6GbUKpLYK6.R3ledMQJpLVipAER

Passcode: jQz%7Ehv

Unfortunately the musical background to the short video clip at the end of Steve’s talk is not very clear until about half way through, but the images are stunning as they are throughout Steve’s talk

We are grateful to Sue and Andrew Hetherington for sponsoring this talk.

Justin Long’s talk on Fungi in and around MK (October 26th 2021 on Zoom)

The Zoom link to Justin Long’s  talk on Fungi in and around Milton Keynes will expire shortly. As there is such a lot of useful information in this talk and members may still want  to revisit it, we have downloaded it and stored it so that it can be used as a resource.

If you want to view the video again, please email Webeditor@mknhs.org.uk and request a link to the video.

 

MKNHS Book Review Evening: Book List from 9th November 2021

BOOK REVIEWERS & BOOKS REVIEWED

Below is a list of books which were reviewed at the MKNHS book review evening on 9th November.

2 of the reviews had to be left out or cut short due to lack of time. These are available as links:
Ian Saunders’ review of Ghosts of Gondwana, by George Gibbs
Mike LeRoy’s review of Swifts and Us, by Sarah Gibson

  1. Julie Lane
    The Seabird’s Cry: the Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers – Adam Nicholson  (2018: William Collins)
    [Winner of the Wainwright Prize 2018; USA title: ‘The Seabird’s Cry: the Lives and Loves of the Planet’s Great Ocean Voyagers’]
  2. Charles Kessler
    English Pastoral: An Inheritance – James Reebanks
    (2020: Allen Lane/Penguin Books)
  3. Sue Weatherhead
    Butterflies (British Wildlife Collection, Number 10) – Martin Warren
    (2021: Bloomsbury)
  4. Tim Arnold
    Much Ado About Mothing: A year intoxicated by Britain’s rare and remarkable moths
    James Lowen
    (2021: Bloomsbury)
  5. Mary Sarre
    The Consolation of Nature: Spring in the time of the Coronavirus –Michael McCarthy,
    Jeremy Mynott and Peter Marren
    (2020: Hodder)
    A Claxton Diary: Further Field Notes from a Small Planet – Mark Cocker
    (2019: Jonathan Cape)
  6. Ian Saunders
    Beasts Before Us: The untold story of mammal origins and evolution – Elsa Panciroli
    (2021: Bloomsbury Sigma publishing)
    Ghosts of Gondwana: The history of life in New Zealand – George Gibbs
    (Fully revised edition, 2016: Potton and Burton)
  7. Colin Docketty
    A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies: a celebration of Britain’s 59 species – Jonathan Bradley
    (2020: Merlin Unwin Books, Ludlow)
  8. Mike LeRoy
    Swifts and Us: The Life of the Bird that Sleeps in the Sky – Sarah Gibson
    (2021: William Collins)

MKNHS Calendar for 2022

The Society will be producing a calendar for 2022 following the great success of our first calendar in 2021 which enabled us to make our usual Christmas donation to Willen Hospice, despite not being able to hold our Christmas raffle .

The format of the calendar will be similar to last year, with 12 more stunning photographs taken by Society members.

The price remains £10 per calendar.

To order your calendars, please send an email to info@mknhs.org.uk  with the title MKNHS Calendar and give your name, address and the number of calendars you want to order.

Calendars should be ready for distribution in early December with payment by bank transfer or cheque made out to Milton Keynes Natural History Society. Full payment details will be provided at the time of distribution.

Bird ID Using Song and Characteristics – Zoom talk by Martine Harvey and Matt Andrew – Tuesday 2nd November

A recording of the talk by Martine and Matt is available to view for the next 30 days.

To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.
https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/iteaq0A2xYPiRt1BJCChZLn8jLoHX-fbqcIkYNpBAQUQ_71DrTr_eSNZ2DH7T9uu.sm5KCLrzWkV1UUsv

Passcode: $8?e0=@S

For a better quality of sound for the bird recordings in Martine’s talk, you can listen to the files here:
https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/15Dv1oB-B8kh9GNYcR0kaiIeRLbaZSjSf?usp=sharing
or  here
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/yxsm29vyi65kgy2/AADuVtTObaOXXDf3B1E9wbC2a?dl=0

Members Evening 19 October: the COP26 and COP15 Summits – Mervyn Dobbin

The focus of the presentation was on the loss of biodiversity globally and in the UK and linked to Climate Change causes and effects.  Mervyn asked the question ‘What can we do?’ The Climate Change Summits will take place in Glasgow, COP26 31 October – 12 November and COP15 Kunming, China, from 25 April-8 May 2022.1 Both Summits include goals related to biodiversity, especially the Summit to be held in China next year which is billed as the ‘Biodiversity Summit’.

A recent UK government report on biodiversity ‘Biodiversity in the UK Bloom or Bust’ is available at:
https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/6498/documents/70656/default/

Other reports mentioned during the talk and which might be of interest to members are the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report and the UN Global Assessment Report.  Summaries can be found at:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/aug/09/ipcc-reports-verdict-on-climate-crimes-of-humanity-guilty-as-hell

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/06/biodiversity-what-the-un-has-found-and-what-it-means-for-humanity

Mervyn has written a supportive and encouraging letter to Sir David Attenborough who is the ‘People’s Advocate’ for the COP26 Summit.  Should any member wish to write a similar letter to Sir David, his address is: Sir David Attenborough, People’s Advocate COP26, David Attenborough Productions Ltd, 5 Park Road, Richmond, Surrey TW10 6NS. Mervyn is also writing to his MP and Alok Sharma, President, COP26.

Mervyn gave an example of one unusual way to highlight the importance of the COP26 Summit: a pilgrimage.  Right now, groups of walkers (pilgrims) are making their way to Glasgow from cities and towns throughout Europe. On 12 September, one such group walking from London to Glasgow had an overnight stay in Milton Keynes.  As they were leaving on the next stage of their pilgrimage walk, the group gave a card to their hosts which stated:

‘…..and we make our way in kinship with the peoples and the creatures of the earth who are suffering and displaced by climate change and ecological breakdown.  We do so peacefully and lawfully, ready to engage and learn, because we care and we have hope.’

Members might be interested in keeping in touch with progress at the Summits in Glasgow in November and in China April-May 2022.

Mervyn Dobbin

1 COP – Conference of the Parties

Setting up a Natural History Society in Pembrokeshire – Steve Brady’s Zoom Talk – Tuesday 12th October

A recording of Steve’s Zoom talk is available to view for the next 30 days.

To view the recording, click on the link below:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1kRjnUU8ocgDPNNhGET5mXGrVEyF-hFC8/view?usp=sharing

Steve has provided a link for the video clip if you’d like to hear the seals as the sound didn’t come through on the recording.

Click here: 20200927_154523.mp4