Thursday 5 August 2021

South Essex fields, ditches and wildlife rich wastelands - 2nd August 2021

On Monday I made my way north of the Thames to have a poke around some more of the Bulphan Fen farmland to give me more of an idea of what to expect once the farmers are on board.

Footpaths are few and far between and I chose my ingress point off the main road through West Horndon only to find Footpath 4 pointing directly at a shimmering golden Wheat field so I tried further along and found Footpath 8 from within the houses.


It took me south through a couple of ploughed fields to start with that had many loafing gulls but the edges were and ditches for the first half a mile were mercilessly mown and even the ditches and up under the sparse hedges had been scalped.  There was very little wildlife at all with just a few Meadow Browns, a couple of singing Yellowhammers and a family of Green Woodpeckers but thing improved once I got beyond Field House and crossed a swishing Barley Field.

Not a bird following the plough or even in the same field



This next section had a tributary of the Mardyke running alongside it and was deep and lush and probably a bit overgrown but was bordered by a fine grassy herbal margin and an on off thick hedge.  As such there was so much more insect life with Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Whites, Peacocks and Red Admirals and both Common Blue and Brown Argus.  Sphaerophoria and Episyrphus balteatus were the two common Hovers an there were few Bumbles and Honey Bees too on the Ox Tongue, Water Mint, Teasels and Great Willowherb.


Brown Argus

Small White


 Episyrphus balteatus and Sphaerophoria


Sphaerophoria sp on Perennial Sow Thistle

A Long-tailed Tit family and several Whitethroats and Blackcaps moved ahead of me as I approached the big Willows surrounding the fishing lake at Slough House.  I did not try to gain entry but hopefully I may be able to do so in the future via a friend who has access.  He saw three young Cuckoos along the back edge the following day that must have fledged almost at the same time.

The invisible lake was bordered by the aforementioned willows but then by an amazing buffer strip of Nettles, Thistles and Ox Tongue that must have been 20m wide on three sides.  It was alive with insects with many more Butterflies, Bees and Hovers and a few Migrant Hawkers and Darters.


Helophilus pendulus on Bristly Ox Tongue

Bristly Ox Tongue

The Buffer

Perennial Sow Thistle

The old barn tucked among the modern ones had Barn Owl pellets so that bodes well too.  I continued down China Lane a ways before cutting through a Wheat field (with a path) to Footpath 142 where I crossed the sluggish Mardyke.

A male Banded Demoiselle posed for me but I think it was too choked for Scarce Chaser that I had seen about a mile downstream.  The adjacent field was a sea of yellow Oxtongue with a couple of old Oaks stationed in the middle.  Four more male Yellowhammers were in song and trekked back north where the grassy margins had more Meadow Browns and a single Marbled White.   

Banded Demoiselle


Small Tortoiseshell

The Mardyke is down there somewhere


Marbled White

The Mar Dyke veered away from me again as I headed back up to West Horndon pausing only to have a good look at a raised carp lake near Tillingham Hall that looked very welcoming with its Lesser Reedmace and Phragmites margins with Water Mint, Sedges, Fleabane and Gypsywort.  However to my surprise I only saw two brief Emperors and no Damsels and not a single bird.


Lesser Reedmace

I crossed the last barren Wheat field back up to the main road and cut back to my car.  I was wet from the waist down having had to wade through the grass and wet from the waist up through the surprisingly warm morning sunshine on a predicted cloudy day!


From here I headed up to the A127 and then down onto Canvey for a play in the famous Dragonfly Ditch.  I did not take long to get there and I was soon in amongst the Blue Eyed Hawker action.  In fact I only walked a couple of hundred metres of the ditch and still saw 17 male and three female BEHs while countless Scarce Emeralds (Robust Spreadwings as we call them in Lesvos and a couple of Commons were seen in the sedges.  I did not look too hard for Southerns this time though.

I spent my time trying for flight shots of the male Blue Eyes and was pleasantly surprised but the results once again.  They truly are a stunning Dragon and it is wonderful that they now part of our Thameside insect fauna.

Just how I got so many in focus male Blue eyed Hawkers I do not know

Scarce Emeralds

Scarce Emerald

The Clegs were not much of a problem and after a fairly close encounter with the inquisitive cow herd I decided to amble back passing a couple of Six Spot Burnets on the Teasels on the way as well as my first Lesser Marsh Grasshoppers of the year amongst Field and Meadow.

Lesser Marsh Grasshopper

Six Spot Burnet

From here it was time for a lunch pick up and then onto Canvey Wick where amazingly, as usual I bumped into Richard Stanley and the litter crew.  It does not matter which RSPB site I visit down here, Richard always seems to be where I chose to go and after chewing the fat I pottered off around this most strange of places.


As usual the visit was insect centric with plenty of Hover action with a couple of tiny Paragus, Chrysotoxum festivum and Eristalinus sepulchralis the pick and amongst the Hymenoptera there were some feisty Bee Wolves which allowed me the chance of some more aerial shots, Anthophora bimaculata, Dasypoda hirtipes and Cerceris rybyensis.  I saw quite a few other small species, especially on the sandy area but I really do need someone to guide me in the field with bees and I am lost for the most part as to where to start.

Eristalinus sepulchralis

Helophilus pendulus

Chrysotoxum festivum

The tiny Paragus sp

Chrysotoxum festivum


Beewolf - Philanthus triangulum

Unknown small Wasp

An unknown large Megachile sp

An unknown large Megachile sp

Bombus terrestris

Dasypoda hirtipes - male I believe

Dasypoda hirtipes - male I believe

There were a few Butterflies and Silver Ys, a beady eyed Onocera semirubella along with Six spot Burnets on the Marjoram.  The only big Dragonflies that I saw were Migrant Hawkers.


Small Copper

Common Blue

Six spot Burnet

Six spot Burnets

Onocera semirubella 

Silver Y

Unknown Fly

Field Grasshopper

Long-winged Conehead

Kentish Snail

Clumps of the naturalised Rose Campion dotted the site along with three Ragwort types, Large Flowered Evening Primrose, some Scentless Mayweed that had grown very tall, a fine yellow Sedum, Broad-leaved Sweet Pea, Jersey Cudweed and a solitary clump of Ploughman’s Spikneard.

Rose Campion

Large Flowered Evening Primrose

Broad-leaved Sweet Pea

Ploughman’s Spikneard

Jersey Cudweed

Hemp Agrimony

Scentless Mayweed

Sedum sp

Blue Fleabane

Young Sparrowhawks could be heard whining from the Birches and the sound of Curlews drifted up from Holehaven Creek.

With the clouds scooting in from the south west and the temperature dropping I cut my losses for the day.

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