Tuesday 20 October 2020

Green Urban Birding - The Ranscombe - Cobham Loop 19th October 2020

A combination of weather, Lesvos, lethargy, apathy and quarantine have not seen my out on a local walk from home since the 18th of August but I was determined yesterday to get out into the woods once more.

I headed up the road after breakfast and into the Ranscombe – Cobham Woods complex and almost had the place to myself. The air smelt of damp ground and wet leaves and the scent of autumnal decay. It was not unpleasant but a sign that the seasons are moving on once again. 

I was too late for fungi (at least here) and there were large inky puddles amongst the leaves where once impressive mushrooms had stood but I did find one or two in the end.  I began my walks on the 6th April when the leaves were budding and the forest floor was starting to come to life and now as I approach the end of my enforced sojourn from work it has moved full circle and the same trees that I have watched unfurl, grow, flower and fruit are now giving back to the ground that nurtures them.

Turkey Tails

Candle Snuff

The gusty wind that nipped through the canopy stirred things up occasionally and gave them a shake to dislodge a cascade of spent leaves to twirl down around me with the odd crack and thunk as yet another dark brown Acorn or Sweet Chestnut hedgehog tumbled to the ground.

There was a real feel of the woodland getting ready for winter now, shaking its boughs like a wet dog to remove those adornments it no longer needed.


The floor was littered with the debris of every tree and the Chestnuts have had a superb year.  If memory serves the Romans introduced this southern European mountain species to England but although they grew into magnificent long lived trees, the seeds never developed fully and plumped up like on the continent. But this year seems to be an exception and I busily collected the biggest, fattest Chestnuts I have ever encountered to store away like some ginger bearded Squirrel for the winter fire at home. Perhaps it is a climatic indicator as our seasons subtly change? 


They presented me with numerous photo opportunities and on one slope they looked like a mass of rolling 1960s Star Trek Tribbles. All it needed was a strong gust to animate them.


It was quiet in the woods but Goldcrests were calling all around along with the usual tit species, Nuthatches and Treecreepers while up above Lesser Redpolls, Siskins, Chaffinches and Bramblings called over the canopy in ones and twos.


I cut through the faire damaged Sweet Chestnut and then out across the fields towards the old dairy with Red Admirals in the hedge line after late Ivy blooms and then back into the woods on the south side where I took several hits from the aforementioned ballistic Acorns.   

New Hazel catkins and a tiny leaf mine for Antony...

Black Nightshade

Kentish Snail and Nursery Web Spider

Spurge Laurel standing proud as everything else dies back

Looking south west suggested I would stay dry but it was a grey day and the trees were trying their best to glow with the vibrant yellows of the Field Maples and fiery reds and oranges of the Wild Cherry shining through the gloom.

Field Maple

Field Maple and another leaf mine for Antony
The wondrously od fruits of Spindle

The Highland Cattle were still amongst the trees; grazing silently and amazingly difficult to notice unless they moved.   


The woodland edges had berries in profusion with Hawthorn, Sloe, Dogwood and Privet and lower down there were red dangling ribbons of Black Bryony fruits like a glossy scarlet necklace and the bright orange seeds of the Stinking Iris were starting to burst forth from their capsules.

Stinking Iris

Black Bryony



A few lazy Greenbottles, Bluebottles and a couple of Muscids warmed on posts and signs and three young Common Lizards basked on a bleached log but scampered off upon my approach.

A Mint Beetle which I think is Chrysolina sturmi

I think the top one is Calliphora vomitoria (ginger beard) and the lower a worn Pollenia

And I think this one is Calliphora vicina

There were still flowers to be found, especially after I descended into The Valley of Ranscombe and the list was actually quite impressive with Field and Small Scabious, Field Poppy, Wild Radish, Pale Flax, Bristly and Hawkweed Oxtongue, Centaury, Hogweed, Hemlock, Vipers Bugloss, Dandelions, Speedwells and Clovers. 


Hawkweed Oxtongue

Wild Radish

Wild Radish

Vipers Bugloss

Field Poppy



Pale Flax (if memory serves)

 I saw a couple of disappearing Bumblebees and a small solitary bee that I can’t id along with two Eristalis tenax and a single Syrphus ribesii.

Bee sp - any help appreciated

Eristalis tenax

Eristalis tenax

Syrphus ribesii.

Buzzards circled up in the grey and were very vocal and four Bullfinches bounded off in front of me flashing white rumps as I climbed the hill towards Longhoes. Common Darters were sunning in the exposed chalk path and I counted 17 before I got to the end. 


Common Darter

The Dogwood was particularly richly coloured in this stretch and Old Man’s Beard cascaded over everything with it fluffy seeds awaiting aerial dispersal. I collected a few handfuls as it makes a good firelighter. The Gromwell was going to seed too and each stem looked like it had tiny pearls dotted all over it and I amused myself by identifying oter plants that were now nothing but seed heads.

Back to the Valley



Old Man's Beard

Common Gromwell

Hemp Agrimony

Wild Basil

Carline Thistle

Blue Fleabane

It was back onto the road as usual for the last couple of miles home but even here there was still autumnal colours to marvel at and the spectacle in my local woods will only intensify over the coming weeks especially if Jack Frost comes a calling...


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