Monday 4 May 2020

Green Urban Birding: The Downland Loop: 4th May 2020

I was feeling up for another walk this morning and so headed out after a lazy start with the intent of getting up to Ranscombe Farm again to see how the flora had developed since my visit on the 15th April.

I took it easy and stopped to take some pics along the Cuxton Road of the Mouse-eared Hawkweed now flowering on the verge although I am sure the council will feel the urge to mow it soon before it looks too untidy.  

Mouse-eared Hawkweed

Yellow was the colour of this section with Dandelions, Hawksbeard and Sow Thistles in bloom while a vibrant purple Solanum added a splash and the Foxglove Tree on the green is waking up at last with the lilac trumpets appearing alongside tiny budding leaves and last year’s seed pods.



Foxglove Tree - Paulownia tomentosa

Once on the chalk before the M2 I found the first flowering Ox-eye Daisies and Black Knapweed of the season and a Small White was nectaring on some Red Valerian. 

Ox-eye Daisies

Ox-eye Daisy
Black Knapweed

Small White on Red Valerian

The Lesser Whitethroat was still rattling just beyond the bridge and I was pleased to find a lovely scattering of Columbines down the bank amongst drifts of tiny flowered Field Forget-me-nots and Speedwells.



Field Forget-me-not

I retraced my route from before to start with and the margins of the first chalk field were once again superb in the warming mid-morning sun. Two Song Thrushes and several Blackcaps were in song and Starlings moved back and forth with food.

Many of the earlier flowers were now over and the Yellow Archangel and Dogs Mercury were already forming seed pods but the Wood Spurge was still going strong.  The Common Gromwell was coming into flower and Hedge Bedstraw was pushing through the herbage. 

Wood Spurge - Euphorbia amygdaloides

Common Gromwell - Lithospermum officinale

Hedge Bedstraw - Gallium album

Common Rock-Rose and Vipers Bugloss were newly blooming and sulphur Brimstones were floating along the edge. There were still many Dark-edged Beeflies hovering over the path and despite what I said on Friday there were still lots of Epistrophe eligans on the wing here.

Common Rock-Rose Helianthemum nummularium

Vipers Bugloss
Vipers Bugloss

Doves Foot Cranesbill, Germander and Field Speedwells were in the margins and Perforate St John’s Wort was now showing through.   

Long-stalked Geranium- Geranium columbinum

Germander Speedwell - Veronica chamaedrys

Common Field-speedwell - Veronica persica 
Hoary Cress -  Lepidium draba

And this is why Perforate St John’s Wortis so called

A few tentative Elders were in bloom and some of the Hawthorns were now largely over but I did find a very fine pink flowered specimen.



A sunny spot by the railway held a little group of Myathropa florea and they even landed on me as I lingered to watch them. From here it was up past the Buttercup meadow which now had Common Mouse-ear growing along the fence-line.

Myathropa florea

Common Mouse-ear - Cerastium fontanum

There were more Blackcaps and Whitethroats singing as I entered the Valley and Skylarks were serenading unseen.

The main Valley fields had greened up since mid-April and Dandelion clocks now outnumbered flowers and the rosettes of Field Poppies abounded.  By scanning either side of the path as I walked up I was able to find Field Pansies, Wild Radish, the minuscule Field Madder and one clump of vibrant Crimson Clover.


Dandelion & Common Carder Bee

Field Madder - Sherardia arvensis

Wild Radish
Crimson Clover - Trifolium incarnatum

Crimson Clover - Trifolium incarnatum

Field Poppy - a taste of things to come

There were countless micro bees that were too small and too quick to get anything on and lots of Flesh Flies and a few Greenbottles searching out the leavings from inconsiderate dog owners. Peacocks power glided and all three Whites flounced and a Merodon equestris alighted on the path.

Flesh Fly


Merodon equestris

I did not divert off to the south this time and stayed in the Valley to the start of the woodland where Bluebells still glowed in the dappled light. A few hoverflies were encountered on the outer fringes and an Empid (possibly Empis tessellata) was on the prowl and I later saw one with a smaller fly.  Gooden's Nomad Bees were very common although they kept eluding the camera.

I suspect that this hover may be Cheilosia vulpina - must try harder!

Green Shieldbug
Empis tessellata

I cut across one last field beyond this finger of wood and then started the loop back on the upper path towards the farm.  I sat on the Kitchen Field bench to give my shins a break and was joined by a pair of Marpissa muscosa who were patrolling their chosen fencepost.  This is our largest Jumping Spider and is always good value if you get to spend some time with them.

Marpissa muscosa

Marpissa muscosa

Down at my feet a Silpha tristis snail-killing beetle ambled purposefully by and this drew my eye to a small patch of Common Milkwort and Sanicle.  Several Andrena bees were floating around and have been confirmed as A. scotica

Silpha atrata
Common Milkwort

Andrena scotica
Black Bryony

Up through an Oak and Hornbeam grove the remnants of an engine block and front chassis sat incongruously in the grass.  It was not so much the ‘why was it there’ question but the ‘why only the front end?’ that perplexed me.  I am sure someone out there will know what it was before it died a horrible death!

The Sweet Chestnut coppice pushed in from the north side of the path with silver trunks gleaming and there was a scattering of Bluebells and Bugle underneath and the first fronds of Bracken were making their presence felt with leaves rolled up like clenched fists ready to unfurl and aggressively  take over the lower storeys.

Bugle - so tall and almost orchid like!



Put 'em up!

The view out the other way was huge and green looking south east somewhere to the east of Maidstone.

I wandered on passing an active Badger sett and a patch of Butchers Broom that still had fresh red berries as well as the tiny little flowers under the pretend leaves.

Who lives in a house like this?

Butchers Broom

Before long the path came back to the wheat fields above the farm and then along the edge of a year old coppiced swathe where more Bluebells flourished and a Garden Warbler serenaded me from some Birches in a heartfelt outpouring of bubbling magic. It is one of my favourite songs of any British bird and it makes me smile even now just thinking of that encounter.


Garden Warbler
Always room to squeeze in a Mesembrina meridiana

From here the path headed back into the woods past a big clearing with stacked chestnut logs but still no Tree Pipits but I did find a couple of spikes of Early Purple Orchid and a wild Honey Bee nest high in an Oak.

Honey Bee nest


All too soon I was at the footbridge over the Eurostar that would lead me onto Bligh Road and the downward perambulation to home and some lunch.


  1. Nice to see a few Insects Howard. At my local Gardens there is absolutely nothing. I saw a Narcissus Fly today and that was it. Nice pictures Howard

    1. Starting to find a bit more out there now!

  2. Just to say how much I am enjoying this lockdown series, Howard. Your writing style is easy to read and I'm learning loads about our wildflowers from your blog - thank you!
    Matt Evans

  3. My pleasure Matt...
    Writing is good for me and if others like it too then that is even better!