Wednesday 15 April 2020

Green Urban Birding: Strood – Ranscombe Farm - Cobham Estate – Crabbles Bottom Loop – 15th April 2020

After some early morning chores at home I headed straight out with a vague notion of where I wanted to go.  As it turned out it was the most satisfying walk I have done so far mostly through rolling chalk downland, woods and farmland that started once I got back up to Ranscombe Farm on the south side of the M2.

Whizzing over the Medway
I headed south along a route I have never taken and through the vast rolling fields that this innovative flora reserve has created and maintains for some of our very threatened wild flowers.   

Ground Ivy and Marjoram
An escape route to Cuxton
Path heading into the distance - not a soul around

The fields were covered in the early stars of the show with carpets of Dandelions, Ground Ivy and Creeping Buttercups and I will return to see it in its full summer glory. I did find a few little clumps of pale yellow and white Field Pansy and there were plenty of Speedwells and Groundsel too.

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Brassica of some sort


A couple of Whitethroats sang from boundary Brambles and Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs dominated the treeline as usual. Just into these wooded areas had also been cleared and managed and Yellow Archangel and Bugle were already in flower amongst the Primroses, Bluebells and Stitchwort along with what I think is Wood Spurge and big shiny clumps of Spurge Laurel were obvious against the lesser leaf cover.

Yellow Archangel


Cow Parsley

the leaves

budding Old Man's Beard

Wood Spurge

Common Gromwell

Spurge Laurel

Whitebeams offered up their new silver leaves like praying hands and Wayfaring Trees were the prominent tree flower on show. 



Magpie in Whitebeam

Wayfaring Tree



My route took me up The Valley before I veered off to rejoin the main woodland edge path after first traversing a Beech Hanger with some fine old trees. Wood Anemone and Violets dotted the ground but once again bird song seemed un-naturally limited given the time of year and warm still weather. A solitary Holly was just coming  into flower and clumps of Stinking Iris still had last years seed pods attached.

Whitebeam and a Beech with canopies aligned with the upslope wind

New Beech leaves


Wood Anemone



Holly flowers

with Andrena flavipes

Stinking Iris

Random tree in the wood... showing some NHS love in chalk

Gean - Wild Cherry

Wild Service Tree

I now had meadows and then wheatfields dropping away towards the railway line to my south with expansive views of a swathe of almost unpopulated countryside. Skylarks sang and Buzzards mewed.

The managed path edges held numerous Beeflies busy hovering in front of Speedwells and Ground Ivy and Peacocks descended to Dandelions and the last of the late Blackthorn flower.

Dark-edged Beefly on Speedwell




One particular sun splashed Ash trunk had several Sol worshipping flies adhered to it with several Musca autumnalis, Mesembrina meridiana, Gymnocheta viridis and a cracker of a hoverfly Ferdinandea cuprea.  This was a species that I first saw last autumn on the other side of the woods nearer home so it was good to find a spring one here too.

Ferdinandea cuprea

Mesembrina meridiana

Mesembrina meridiana

Gymnocheta viridis

Gymnocheta viridis

Musca autumnalis
Pine Ladybird

The undulating chalk path popped me out near the old dairy in the Cobham Estate where I appeared from the woods last Tuesday so I took a different route back and instead of heading across the golf course I went north on the path up towards the old School. The Daffodil display was superb and Jackdaws and Stock Doves called from the solitary ‘park’ trees and I discovered a Rookery of 32 nests by the old brick kiln ponds.  This is the only rookery I have seen over the last week of walks and I am puzzled why they seem such a scarce bird inland around here.  

Onto the Cobham Estate

The road past Ashenbank was visible to my west and I have often thought as I have driven along there that the big gnarled Oaks and Chestnuts must have Little Owl. I looked but had no joy although a Mistle Thrush was singing well.

The path started to head for home and across the next open grass area I was pleased to hear the distinctive yelp of a Little Owl! Result!  I headed that way but could not find it n the venerable old tree I approached but I did add Ring-necked Parakeets to my lockdown walk list.  This is the closest I have ever had them to home bar a singleton over the old aviary about 15 years ago.

I followed the path towards CTRL and it snuck though a style to mirror its passage east passing some hidden VERY private fishing pools within the woods. The signs were pretty clear about who could and could not come in... no dogwalkers, walkers, sightseers, photographers.  Strangely enough it was empty of grumpy fishermen but disappointingly there was nothing else on the now tranquil pools either!

The warm bank opposite had lots of hoverflies including Eristalis pertinax, Platycheirus sp, Melanostoma scalare and Syrphus ribesii along with several Nomad bees that I think are Nomada flava.  I even got to see a Beefly egg laying with little flicks of its abdomen although I thought that they were meant to do it into the entrances of bumblebees nests?  She was just being random!

Nomada flava I think


Red Campion

I now crossed over the M2 and headed back through Crabbles Bottom to get me back to Crutches Lane.  Bullfinches sang from two spots as I walked along and an Orange Tip eventually stopped long enough for me to get a shot. 


Orange Tip

Orange Tip

The old trees in this ancient orchard are cared for by Shorne Parish Council and they turn back the clock to how the trees used to look back when the fruit was picked with ladders and love. These are so much more appealing than the strips of little fruit factories that I have seen on my walks with their thin head high branches and poisoned strip of land at their feet. 

These lovely old trees have weary boughs that touch the ground in places and are riddled with holes and cavities.  I suspect that many of them are old enough to remember providing refuge for nesting Wrynecks in the 1940s and 50s.  The fact that there were at least two singing male Bullfinches in them should tell you something...

I pushed up the hill back to Watling Street and the last stretch before home stopping only to ponder over some Caper Spurge growing in a chalky spoil heap outside a house and the billowing pompomness of the pink and white ornamental Cherry trees that line my road.

Caper Spurge

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