Saturday 20 March 2021

Green Urban Birding - The Ranscombe Loop - 19th March 2021

Friday is my early rise day to be able to get the rubbish out for our rather punctual dustman, not that 6.45 is early compared to my normal routine a year ago but I was pleasantly surprised to glance outside and see an already bluish sky so I did not dilly dally around an headed out just after eight.

It was not exactly warm though being about 5c and cooler still in the shade and breeze but I was wrapped up and hopeful of finding some sunny and sheltered spot in which to look for insects. My first surprise was the traffic and the associated noise as I walked up the Cuxton Road.  Normally I would wax lyrical about the chattering Sparrows and twinkling Goldfinches but I could not hear a thing and so spent my time watching the verges for any bold early bees of which there were none as it was just too cold.  There was a nice spread of Red Dead Nettles and patches of Sweet Violets and Daisies and five Greylags headed north and towards my house. Rob and I have both seen this species a few times in recent weeks on this route and as any goose over Strood is unusual I do wonder where they coming and going too.




Goldilocks Buttercup

Red Dead Nettle

Wonderful Daisies

Sweet Violets

The Ground Ivy was just starting to flower on the bank just before the Ranscombe car park which was full of cars and vibrant Primroses and more Sweet Violets.

Ground Ivy


Sweet Violet

After a quick look at the now completely ploughed Longhoes I decided to start with Merrals Shaw in which a Song Thrush was belting out his morning refrain. A Goldcrest fed just a few feet away from me and Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits were also actively foraging. 


King Alfred's Cakes - Daldinia concentrica

There was a carpet of Dog’s Mercury and Bluebell leaves with dotted clumps of Lords and Ladies and Primroses but I could not find any Lady’s Smock showing yet. I squelched my way down and then up into Head Barn Wood where I hoped there might be some Sallows with low down flowers but there were none but the Primroses here were the best I have seen and extended all the way into the scrubby edges.

This scene felt like looking into canopy of some distant sweaty tropical forest with towering green columnar trees above a subcanopy of big leaved plants and clambering lianas. Or it might have been Moss, Primroses and Wild Strawberries...


Buzzards mewed overhead in the patchwork of blue and grey and just beyond Clay Pond Wood I found a pair of Marsh Tits which became my fifth for the Ranscombe / Cobham block this season and 8th for the general area which is far better than my one territory of last year!  The male even started singing which was a delightful bonus.

Common Buzzard

Marsh Tits


Skylarks were singing around me and there were a few Meadow Pipits still out in the fields but the only sign of arrival was the odd Chiffchaff singing from within the Chestnuts.


I stopped at Sam’s Clary bench for a cuppa and contemplation and remembered that it was the 15th anniversary of Ken Barrett’s untimely departure while twitching the White Stork at Rainham.  Where those years have gone I am not quite sure. 

A male Andrena mining bee

A Stigmella aurella moth leaf mine because you have not had one for a while!

Lesser Celandine - the flowers are so variable in their shape and form


I checked on the Man Orchid rosettes and a wonderful display of purple and white Sweet Violets before cutting through Kitchen Field (loads of Coltsfoot) and the Brockles where, what I thought were Pyramidal rosettes earlier in the year are now looking more like Bee Orchid.  They are in a heavily walked area so I hope they survive.

Man Orchid

Kitchen Field

Kitchen Field


Brockles Field

At the corner of the field by the carved animal bench I came across a funky fly – as you do. It was plump and had spiky hairs and the most amazing pale face with the eyes set about a mile apart. I was pretty sure that it was a Tachinid but had no idea what one so I sent some images to Annie J and she correctly suggested that it was a Gonia and it took some more work when I got home and input from Phil C to correctly identify it as Gonia picea – a scarce species of the chalk with long grass meadows (like Brockles) bordering  woodland.  I saw eight in this one area rarely getting more than six inches off the ground and flying in lazy circuits! 

Gonia picea

Gonia picea

Gonia picea

I followed the main ride all the way through to Long Lane stopping frequently to check sunny spots and was rewarded with both male and female Eristalis pertinax and my first Gymnochaeta viridis of the year which was sunbathing on exactly the same Ash trunk as my first one last year.

male Eristalis pertinax

female Eristalis pertinax

Gymnochaeta viridis

Gymnochaeta viridis

Comfry but not sure which one

There were some very confusing Meliscaeva auricollis on the Celandines but I was very pleased to have worked them all out as the same species. They were joined by three Episyrphus balteatus, a couple of Pollenia and Calliphora and some tiny Bees once again. 

Episyrphus balteatus

Episyrphus balteatus


All the above five Meliscaeva auricollis

Pollenia sp

Pollenia sp

Phaonia sp

Calliphora sp

My first Dark Bordered Bee Fly zipped in and then off and the odd Honey Bee and bumbling Buff-tail was seen but not one Butterfly – it was just too cool I suspect.  I did not realise that I had taken some shots of a Nomad Bee till I got home but asusual I am confused!

Dark Bordered Bee Fly

Nomada fabriciana

Nomada fabriciana

Honey Bee

I heard another Marsh Tit and a pink male Bullfinch was singing from an out of reach Sallow but would not come to the front and a male Tawny Owl gave a couple of good hoots from the same area as in late February.

A singing male Bullfinch and inconvenient twigs


I reached the farm and turned back onto the paths towards the woods but there were still blooms to check and I picked up another Gonia picea and a couple of good Andrena bees with A bicolor feeding on a Celandine and what I am told is A trimmerana on the Blackthorn with both male and female present.  I had not even heard of Trimmer’s Mining Bee!

Gwynne's Mining Bee - Andrena bicolor

Andrena bicolor

Trimmer’s Mining Bee - Andrena trimmerana

Trimmer’s Mining Bee - Andrena trimmerana

Trimmer’s Mining Bee - Andrena trimmerana

Trimmer’s Mining Bee - Andrena trimmerana

Quite probably a male Trimmer’s Mining Bee - Andrena trimmerana 

Gonia picea

There were some lovely patches of Field Speedwell and the Walnut trees were just starting to show the flower buds and the Bullfinches were still calling from the main hedge which bodes well.

Walnut flowers

Field Speedwell


I followed the main path into Cobham Woods and then veered off the track and back towards the lower path.  I followed the cattle trails downhill passing more clumps of the cute little Daffodils as I went. Thankfully the Highlands don’t eat them!


My third pair of Marsh Tits was roughly in the usual place and about thirty Redwings moved off in front of me from where they were feeding in the woodland floor. A casual glance to one side revealed a stag Fallow Deer sitting not 30m away in the edge of some Bracken. I stopped, expecting him to bolt but he allowed me to slowly raise my camera and take a few shots before I moved off without spooking him. This is certainly the closest I have ever got to a Deer over here and it was a real privilege to be in his majestic company.

Fallow Stag


Lassioglosum bees (I suspect) on Dandelion

I crossed the muddy paddock with its two horses who watched me with indifference and a Mistle Thrush was busy collecting nest material there. The volume of mud I have waded through this winter is beyond belief!


I stayed on the lower unofficial path and was pleased to find a small party of Lesser Redpolls and three Siskins in the Alders where I have seen them bimbling over before. The only Redpoll shot that I got looks suspiciously like a Mealy...

Mealy Redpoll

I crossed the railway and stopped at some Coltsfoot where a male Anthophora plumipes was hurtling around but refused to stop and further up the track some small bees left me completely confused as I assumed that they were a Nomad Bee and its host bee but now I think they may be male and female of the same Nomad species!  I have asked for help!

There were lots of sunbathing Seven Spot Ladybirds



male Nomada fabriciana

Nomada zonata

Nomada zonata

Coming this way avoided the last of the mud before the tunnel and even gave me the chance to rinse my boots off before the trudge back down my road and even that produced insect rewards with several Dandelion heads having both male and female Andrena flavipes rummaging around in them and rescuing a Bee Fly that had not quite got its wings fully inflated. I popped it on a flower and wished it luck.

Yellow-legged Mining Bee - Andrena flavipes

Yellow-legged Mining Bee - Andrena flavipes

Dark Bordered Bee Fly - sorry about the grubby fingernail!

And never noticed before yesterday that some flats called Snipe Court have actually got a Woodcock on the gate!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Howard, really enjoyed the post. Good luck at work on Monday👍