Tuesday 16 June 2020

Green Urban Birding: The Big Bexley Loop 16th June 2020

I had agreed to meet up with his place in Bexley this morning for a reciprocal amble around some of his Lockdown patches that he has discovered on foot. It was warm and muggy and heavy rain was threatened but we ambled out at 10am anyway with fingers crossed and waterproofs left behind.

Like my own routes it started out completely suburban and passed through the Sparrow filled roads that I surveys 15 or so years ago for the RSPB.  It was nice to hear that they are still doing so well in this area. Carl pointed out a Blackcap singing but confessed to having never seen one so that was on the to do list for the day.

It is very ‘hilly’ round there and the view south showed us Joydens Wood which would be on the return leg of the walk.

We cut through the park with its Jackdaws and Parakeets and then cross into Hall Place Park, crossed the River Cray (complete with two Brown Trout) and then headed across the unnecessarily mown fields to get up to the railway and A2.

A short section on the busy main road and then we dropped back down into Braeburn Park which felt like a bit of naturally reclaimed brownfield with rubble showing through here and there but there were plenty of flowers and associated bees along with a few hovers and butterflies including several very fresh looking Small Tortoiseshells.  Blackcaps and Whitethroats sang and Greenfinches where asking ‘whhhyyyyy?’ at several points. 

Small Tortoiseshell

From here it was a wiggle through the wooded section of Dartford Heath where Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps dominated and it was just not sunny enough to encourage any ride loving species of butterfly to come out. A patch of Foxgloves glowed pink in the shade of an Oak.


A dash across the A 2018 and onto the proper heath complete with frazzled grass, Heather and Gorse. It was like late summer out there with everything crunchy underfoot.  Grasshoppers bounced away and a most that I got a good look at appeared to me Field.

Bell Heather

Field Grasshopper

A sandy pathway was dotted with holes but it needed the sun to come out again to bring out the creators and as hoped in came the Bee Wolves.  These are always one of my favourites with their oversized heads and powerful jaws. 

Bee Wolf - Philanthus triangulum

A family came by and the little lads asked what we were watching so much to the Grandmother’s horror I told them fun facts about catching Honey Bees, paralysing them, grubs and getting eaten alive.  They loved it...

Once over the A2 the path went down through Wilmington past some a stables and closed cattery with the sound of several Nuthatches and the expected Parakeets in the Sycamores and Ash trees and then out onto Hook Green which was a superb piece of scrubby grassland with swathes of Hogweed and Hawksbeard in flower.   

A typical urban footpath tunnel!

The Old Diary

We found several Pyramidal Orchids and a Marbled White dashed through and we made our way up towards the stables where Swallows already had a brood on the wing and Linnets were singing to start all over again and the citrus scent of Spanish Broom filled the senses.


Pyramidal Orchid

Hawksbeard Alley

Spanish Broom
I saw two Dasypoda hirtipes on the Hawksbeard as we went through along with a few common hovers and bees and several Small and Large Skippers,

There was obviously an electricity supply issue going on as there were at least two large generators plugged into the mains telegraph poles and Carl joked about needing it heat the swimming pools as the house are quite palatial. Having Googled our route I think he was correct...

The view from the  side of the biggest property looked out and over the Thames and I suspected through my camera that it was 'my' bit of Essex and it would seem that I was correct with the old river out of view in between.

We followed a narrow path between two of these gardens with woods on either side which included some truly massive Wild Cherries.  There were more Nuthatch and a calling Tawny Owl before we popped out by the Ship Inn on Puddledock Lane. Oh if only it had been open.

Gean - Wild Cherry

The path took us across the road and alongside a dwarf wheat field and then a poisoned yellow barren one.  There was no wildlife to be seen.  Strawberries and Raspberries were being harvested on the other side of the path but there were no scrumping opportunities to be had.

We crossed Birchwood Road and transacted the golf course just as the first few drops of rain started but it held off as we entered Joydens Wood.   

There seems to be very little in the way of native tree species in the wood with big blocks of Spruce and Sweet Chestnut and the majority of the Quercus appear to be Red Oak or similar. 

A pile of what I think are excavated Sarsons Stones piled in the wood

Eristalis pertinax - female

Eristalis pertinax - male

However, it was a pleasant spot and surprisingly hilly and sandy in places.  We found a bench for lunch and had a male Emperor and Black-tailed Skimmer cruising up and down while a Song Thrush surveyed us from a log.

Song Thrush
Speckled Wood

A Tachinid

It was now warm enough for the Gorse seeds to start exploding and we could hear the pinging of pods as we continued onwards.  I had been on the lookout for White Admiral and was chuffed to find at two at some clearing Brambles. Carl found one down on the path and I managed a few shots before it glided back into the canopy.

White Admiral

White Admiral

Wood Ants in their nest

Once out of the wood we diverted through two large, horse filled paddocks where a fine old Oak stood and then crossed the A223 and down Water Lane into Foots Cray Meadows.   

And this Sweet Chestnut was even grander than the Oak
A Blue Plaque on the wall of Loring Hall proclaimed it as the old residence of Robert Stewart, - Viscount Castlereagh who was British Foreign Secretary from 1812 and was (amongst other roles) central to the management of the coalition that defeated Napoleon.

The Cray is a chalk stream and runs crystal clear through the meadows. I doubt that anywhere it is over a foot deep and you could see some good sized Chub swimming, Trout-like amongst the flow.  


And some fry!  Chublings?

Banded Demoiselles danced in the dappled shade and a male Grey Wagtail preened on a mid stream stick before coming even closer to pick for flies on the Water Crowfoot trapped near the bank. I even managed to show Carl a male Blackcap at long last!

Banded Demoiselle - female

Grey Wagtail

Even the families playing in the river did not disturb the wildlife from doing what it needed to do.

We made it to the Five Arches Bridge and the Grey Wagtail came and joined us there while some huge Carp cruised in the pool upriver of the weir with two broods of Tufted Duck practicing their diving techniques.  

Grey Wagtail


Tufted Ducks

Emperors, Black-tailed Skimmers and three Damselfly species were around the edges as we retraced our steps back along the opposite bank before cutting through an area of grassland that seems to be called Bexley Playing Fields on the maps!  If this is what it used to be then the new look is a great one!

If you like Ring-necked Parakeets then there are certainly enough around... if you don't? Well, sort of tough really!

Carl has heard Skylarks here before and Swifts zoomed overhead while I was able to introduce him to what wild Horseradish plants look like.  I could smell them as I went past and went back for a look.

A Marbled White and Essex Skipper were seen too as we aimed for St John’s church steeple in Bexley and the final uphill mile back to his home.

Carl had one last place to show me; a small stream rather grandly called the River Shuttle although I believe he and his son have another more onerous name for it. Although not as clear as the Cray it was still clean running and well vegetated although largely canalised as it is amongst the houses but no sooner had Carl dismissively pointed at the offending waterway than a Kingfisher zipped under the bridge and up river. 

Seldom short of words, he could do nothing but laugh.  It was the first Kingfisher he had seen for about 30 years. It sat up out of view but was calling all the time and zipped back towards us and the looped back into the watercourse where its calls were joined by another. A quick peak revealed a very nice sandy bank on the slight bend and it would seem that perhaps they may well be a regular feature at this spot for him from now on.

That last uphill section was not much of a problem after that even after nearly 13 miles in the sunshine.  A cup of tea was most welcome.