Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Green Urban Birding: The Ranscombe Loop 7th July 2020



You are probably getting a little fed up of me trudging repeatedly around Ranscombe Farm but to be honest of all the walking areas I have discovered since Lockdown, this has been the most productive, enjoyable and varied and it has been a joy to watch somewhere so close to home that I barely knew, develop through the early spring and into the current summer and hopefully beyond.

This morning was forecast as the best of the week so with some new things to look for courtesy of the reserve Facebook page I made my way up the hill to enter via the main Cuxton Road car park passing a delightful little patch of Fox & Cubs and a carpet of Marjoram on the way.

Marjoram

Fox & Cubs - Pilosella aurantiaca

I set about checking the bank by the cars for I was hoping to find the impressive Large Scabious Mining Bee but there were only a few Common Carders there.  Most of the Nettle Leaved Bellflower had already gone over since my visit last Thursday but there was a zippy Hummingbird Hawkmoth visiting although it soon moved onto easier flowers.  This was my first this year and it really did not stay still long enough for a shot!

Field Scabious

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

I walked up around the corner to where I knew there was more Scabious and immediately found my prize.  Andrena hattorfiana is probably a little bigger that some Honey Bees and this black female had glowing salmon pink pollen baskets from only collecting from her namesake plant. I watched her until she was almost over laden and took off for home.

Large Scabious Mining Bee - Andrena hattorfiana




A bit of an explore of the meadow below the wood produced plenty of Meadow Browns and Skippers as well as a new brood Brown Argus and Brimstone and several Marbled Whites amongst the Marjoram, Bedstraw, Common Centaury and various composites.

Brimstone



Large Skipper
Possibly Green Dock Beetles

white flowered Common Centaury

Volucella inanis was my first this year and the Great Mullein I have been watching was at last flowering.  The Teasel heads were starting their curious process of flowering from the middle then up and down and a few small Musk Mallows were located.

Volucella inanis

Great Mullein

Great Mullein

Teasel

Musk Mallow

Musk Mallow
 
Common Mallow
Into Longhoes, where the yellows of last week were now definitely out flowering the remaining blues of the Bugloss. I walked slowly through the margin pushing a wave of Grasshoppers in front of me.  Most that I saw were Field in various shades along with Meadows and what I am sure were Common Green although I do not see this species that often.  I do not think that they were the winged version of Meadow.  The only one that sat still long enough was a pinkish Field that landed on my hand!


Field Grasshopper

A female Long-winged Conehead was nice to see and there were quite a few more Brown Argus including a mating pair while an Essex Skipper posed for a shot for a change. A male Emperor cruised the meadow for breakfast.


Brown Argus

Brown Argus

Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper on Perforate St John's Wort

Broad-leaved Cudweed was on my ‘to find’ plant list and I found a couple of small plants of this innocuous species along with Scentless Mayweed.  


Broad-leaved Cudweed

Scentless Mayweed
 
The Wayfaring Tree berries were ripening nicely in the hedge where Xylota segnis sucked leaf sap and there were several of what I now know to be Kentish Snails to be seen.

Xylota segnis


Xylota segnis
Wayfaring Tree

Kentish Snail

Leaving Longhoes behind I made my way up through the Ragwort Meadow where the Marjoram clumps were being visited by Meadow browns, Skippers, Whites, more Brown Argus and Brimstones and a solitary Gatekeeper.

Bombus terrestris - Queen

Bombus terrestris - Queen

Brimstone

Upright Hedge-Parsley grew along the fenceline and the Brambles had many Commas, Peacocks and Ringlets and countless Honey Bees. The Creeping Thistle once again held several Cerceris quinquefasciata and two Hogweed heads held the strangest little beetles I have ever seen. 

Upright Hedge-Parsley - Torilis japonica

Upright Hedge-Parsley - Torilis japonica

Comma

Peacock

Cerceris quinquefasciata

Cerceris quinquefasciata

At first I was not even sure they were inverts and prodded one which promptly pinged off the head to the ground but through my camera I could see that these pointy ‘tailed’ things were infact a beetle of some sort. Searching later seems to suggest that they are one of the appropriately named Tumbling Flower Beetles with the nationally scarce Variimorda villosa looking the most likely candidate.

Variimorda villosa

Variimorda villosa

Variimorda villosa
The sun disappeared at this point and the walk up through The Valley produced nothing new bar a single Hoary Willowherb before I reached Kitchen Field.  The colour here had also changed with the windy weekend removing almost every Poppy petal leaving the pinky stems and a sea of Stinking Chamomile shining through.

Stinking Chamomile
 
A Hawker went by and set alarms ringing. It had looked dark and slim and I was sure I saw a blue band at the top of the abdomen but surely not? It returned and I did indeed have a male Lesser Emperor flying around in front of me. There was no point trying for a flight shot against the field so I concentrated on watching it for a couple of minutes before it disappeared. There is quite literally no water on this site that I know of at all but perhaps the surfeit of aerial food is drawing these big dragonflies up here from water sources unknown.

I found several more Broad-leaved Cudweed plants before a short break on the bench and a fresh male Common Blue came to join me while Med and Black-headed Gulls caught flies in a brief patch of blue overhead.

Broad-leaved Cudweed - Filago pyramidata

Common Blue
 
Black-headed Gull

Med Gull

From this point there are numerous ways back but I have been feeling inexplicably tired for the last week and so decided on the steep path back up to the main Darnley Trail path rather than any more circuits. This was a good choice as it took me past the third of the goodies the guys had posted from yesterday – a solitary and very rare White Mullein.


White Mullein - Verbascum lychnitis

White Mullein - Verbascum lychnitis

The gravel path took me up to the wide ride I had descended on the damp walk on the 18th June.  There were Skippers, Meadow Browns and Ringlets dancing around despite the disappearance of the sun but it was definitely warmer than yesterday. Helophilus pendulus and Eristalis tenax were feeding alongside Rutpela maculata on the Brambles and a side clearing had become a sea of Wood Sage with the thrum of Honey Bees.

Meadow Brown

Ringlet

Scorpion Fly

Wood Sage clearing

Once back on the main ride there were more butterflies to be had with two Silver Washed Fritillaries dashing around along with Peacocks, Red Admirals, Commas, Speckled Woods and three Whites. 

Peacock

Red Admiral

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood

Grey Squirrels bounded across at regular intervals and a big Brown Rat was my first away from the River Medway on these walks. 

Grey Squirrel

Brown Rat

Common and Chinese Wormwood, Tall Melilot and Tutsan were added to the new plants for the day and I lingered at the Brambles by the Eurostar Bridge but there were no White Admirals this time.

Chinese Wormwood - Artemisia verlotiorum

Tall Melilot

Tutsan

Tutsan

However, there were all the other encountered species and plenty of Bumbles and a single Purple Hairstreak briefly descended but landed where I could not see it.  There were two dragonflies hunting and although they did not land I got to see them very well and one was definitely a fully coloured up male Blue-eyed Hawker and the other was the rich amber of a female adding to a very strange dragonfly day and a fitting end to the walk before the final mile down the road to home and lunch.