Twenty four members met at Elfield Park on 23rd August 2016 for the Society’s penultimate outdoor meeting of the summer. Temperatures had reached 30C during the day and it remained extremely warm for the walk. This 3.8 hectare site close to MK Bowl consists of oak woodland, ponds and gullies, wildflower areas and scrub and is closed to the general public, used by The Parks Trust for environmental education and monitoring. For many members it was a first visit.
Martin and Lewis led the meeting dividing the party into two groups. With water levels very low following the long dry spell, we decided that pond dipping was off the agenda and instead focused on exploring the varied habitats at Elfield Park and concentrating on bug hunting. However, the first thing to catch our eye was a group of three Spotted Flycatchers who were catching insects from the oak trees over the first boardwalk. These were visible from the car park but we got even better views from the boardwalk with the flycatchers putting on quite a performance.
Also seen in the oak canopy were Purple Hairstreak butterflies and Migrant Hawkers whilst beating the lower boughs of the oaks brought us a multitude of spiders, red spider mites and earwigs and a single lacewing larva, which looked quite fearsome through the hand lens! Although most of the wild flowers are past their best, Common Fleabane and Slender Bird’s-Foot Trefoil were plentiful and provide a good late nectar source for common blues and other butterflies and moths.
A very impressive specimen of Chicken-of-the-Woods Laetiporus suphureus was found on the footpath at the foot of the steps. This was identified and enjoyed by young Cade Webb. Elfield Park is known for its populations of amphibians and reptiles and these were searched for. Lewis and Martin had found a Slow-Worm earlier in the day but none were found this evening. However, one small tree stump was turned over and beneath it were a dozen or more Smooth Newts, including adults and juveniles. An exploration of the oak wood found the larder of a Song Thrush – a stone surrounded by fragments of snail shells, more sightings of purple hairstreaks spinning in the tree tops and a low swooping buzzard. Martin explained that buzzards had nested in the woodland for the first time this spring and at least two young birds were flying around, possible returning to their nest.
At the end of the evening, the two groups converged back on the boardwalk over the largest pond in the hope of seeing bats emerge to feed. Although conditions were perfect, few bats were seen with just a single Noctule and a single Common Pipistrelle in action. However, the beautiful evening sky gave a nice finale to the night with Mars and Saturn on view.