Thursday 30 June 2022

Oliver Road Lagoons Bioblitz - 29th June 2022

Yesterday I was invited to help out with a community bioblitz at the old West Thurrock power station fly ash lagoons – now known as Oliver Road Lagoons.  It was hosted by the Essex Wildlife Trust and Thames Chase and gave me a second chance to have a look round after my visit last year.   Amongst those assembled were Yvonne, Phil and Mel, as was Graeme Lyons and I was fortunate to spend the day helping him in the search for the Distinguished Jumping Spider with able assistance from Tiny Recorder.

Tiny Recorder - smiling before he dipped on the Jumping Spider

We may have failed but I learnt an incredible amount in such a short time.  It was not a day for photography with poor light and frequent showers but having someone who could put a name to almost anything that moved regardless of how tiny it was, was quite humbling.  I did not even attempt to note down everything (there were at least four other Jumping Spiders I think) but gleaned a few bits that will aid me in the future.  I am hoping that Graeme can help me with my missing spider names!  There were Crab, Labyrinth, Orbs, Long-jaws, Harvestman, Wolf, Wasp and Money Spiders to sift through.

Heliophanus flavipes

Labyrinth Spider - Agelena labyrinthica

 Odiellus spinosus- Harvestman with short legs 

 Help required please! 

Tiny male Wasp SpiderArgiope bruennichi

Philodromus sp

Xerolycosa nemoralis

It was not all about Spiders and we found a Sand Runner Shieldbug and the nymph of a Blue Shieldbug which Yvonne was overjoyed about along with countless Groundhoppers, three Grasshopper and three Cricket species, four Bumblebees and just three Ladybirds.

Blue Shieldbug - Zicrona caerulea

Groundhopper nymph - not identifiable at this age although I did see an adult Common

Field Grasshopper

Immature pink Field Grasshopper

Tumbling Flower Beetle - Variimorda villosa - My first away from Ranscombe

Oedemera nobilis

Green Dock Beetle Gastrophysa viridula I think

I am trying to remember the name of the Wasps that we found ‘roosting’ under the rocks first thing – sure it will come to me and there were lots of active Anthophora bimaculata hurtling around when the sun decided to show along with a couple of Philanthus triangulum.  A superb Ammophila sabulosa was on the prowl for caterpillars with dashing runs and quivering antennae and a couple of large Ruby-tailed Wasps were noted.

Ammophila sabulosa

Anthophora bimaculata

Astata boops - what a name! Thanks Grant

A biggish Ruby Tailed Wasp possibly Hedychridium sp

A biggish Ruby Tailed Wasp possibly Hedychridium sp

There were very few Butterflies and just a couple of active moths with Burnet Companion and DowdyPlume seen along with a pretty little one called Aethes tesserana.  Graeme showed me the burrow of a Green Tiger Beetle – it has chamfered edges to the entrance but we never saw one of these actual beasts. There were a few leaf mines in the Birches and Antony helped id one as Parornix betulae and there were one or two Stigmella aurella on the Brambles.

Aethes tesserana

Burnet Companion

Parornix betulae 

Dowdy Plume Stenoptilia zophodactylus

Stigmella aurella

Green Tiger Beetle burrow

Dark and White-lipped Hedge Snails

Flies were very thin on the ground with singles of Xanthogramma pedissequum, Episyrphus balteatus and Eristalis tenax representing the Hoverflies and just a couple of RobberfliesLucilia, Pollenia and Sarcs although I think that I had a Satellite Fly - Miltogramminae sp but will wait for Phil’s input.

Haematopota pluvialis 

Kite Tailed Robberfly Machimus atricapillus 

Lucilia sp

Metopia sp - a Satellite Fly

Pollenia sp 

A couple of Emperor Dragonflies zoomed around and Azure Damselfly was the only other Odonata seen and flying things with feathers were fairly sparse but it was good to hear Cetti’s Warblers and singing Lesser Whitethroats in such an industrialised environment.

Peltigera sp of Lichen - thanks to Bob V for the help

Botanically both the Broad and Narrow-leaved Everlasting Peas were in flower, Yellow-wort, Pyramidal and Common Spotted Orchids and I remembered to look for the Oak-leaved Goosefoot and Sea Milkwort.

Black Nightshade Solanum nigrum

Buck's Horn Plantain - Plantago coronopus

Common Centaury - Centaurium erythraea 

Narrow-leaved Ragwort - Senecio inaequidens - I thought it was American but is in fact South African

Oak Leaf Goosefoot Chenopodium glaucum

Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea - Lathyrus latifolius

Narrow-leaved Everlasting Pea -Lathyrus sylvestris

Common Spotted Orchid

very lilac Pyramidal Orchids

Yellow-wort - Blackstonia perfoliata

All too soon it was time to pack up after an intense but rewarding few hours grubbing around on my hands and knees!

Perhaps Tiny Recorder will come and visit Ranscombe at some stage for some quality botanising?

Tuesday 28 June 2022

Kentish Nature Walks #42 Ranscombe Loop and Beltinge Beach 28th June 2022

Today was my last day with the RSPB and rather delightfully I had a ‘meeting’ at Ranscombe Farm of all places to go on a tour of the arable aspects of the reserve with Ben site manager.  I met up with Nicole, Mark, Matt and Eliza from the RSPB Turtle Dove Project at 10am before heading of for a slow amble down to Longhoes where the Broad-leaved Cudweed was putting on a good is slightly understated show and we managed to find Long-stalked Cranesbill still in flower and a nice selection of chalky arable edge plants with Sanfoin, Vervain and Rock Rose.  The Viper’s Bugloss was scattered liberally through the field but it was a ‘white year’ and the Stinking Chamomile was dominating although I did not realise quite how scarce a plant it was.

Broad-leaved Cudweed

Fasciated Viper’s Bugloss

Walking back up to the car park I found a single Blepharipa pratensis hanging on as well as Cheilosia illustrata and C soror on Hogweed with Myathropa florea.

Phytomyza sp on Hogweed

Phyllonorycter coryli

Ben then pointed a real rarity but I have to admit that as it was a grass I would never have noticed it before now. It was a Interrupted Brome and until a few years ago was believed to be on the verge of extinction and is one of only a couple of actual re-introductions Plant Life has conducted here.

Interrupted brome (Bromus interruptus) 

From here we cut down into The Valley where a second patch of Greater Knapweed was flowering nicely but the Red Sea of last week had been largely replaced but a mosaic with far more Composite Yellow showing through. Narrow-fruited Corn Salad was found here too and I had not realised that the species I have been seeing is another nationally threatened species.

Perforate St John's-wort

Marbled White

Greater Knapweed


Narrow-fruited Corn Salad 

We actually followed the route I took last week up the Valley and once again found Rough Poppy but with the addition of now flowering Marjoram and both Field and Small Scabious.  I found a Dwarf Spurge in the margin which was a new one for me too and just after I predicted some two teneral Blue-eyed Hawkers appeared and began patrolling the sheltered woodland edge.

Dwarf Spurge Euphorbia exigua

Small Scabious

Self Heal


Lunch was take at the top of Kitchen Field where we failed to find any Blue Pimpernel but there was ample recompense with my first truly wild Corncockles although only one actual bloom remained. I flushed a couple of Oncocera semirubella from the grasses and there were many Field and Meadow Grasshoppers but it was too windy for most Butterflies.  Fairy Flax was found near the top and some more Broad-leaved Cudweed.

Not sure on this little white chalk snail - although there were lots


Oncocera semirubella

The Wild Liquorice was still flowering and Marbled Whites danced whenever the wind dropped a little while a Buzzard was getting grief from a Hobby and Peregrine way up above. A large shining Beetle descended from the canopy towards me and landed in front.  My gut was thinking Buprestid but once it was perched up I thought… ‘surely not?!’ and carefully grabbed it in both hands and shouted at the others to come look.  Destiny allowed me to open my book on the right page immediately. It was a Spanish Fly.  Yes, I know, it’s not a fly and yes if you Google it you will get some other interesting opportunities for some discreet shopping but the other uses of this amazing Blister Beetle have been around for centuries although just how someone discovered it’s apparent other properties is beyond me!

The first moments...

Spanish Fly (Lytta vesicatoria) 

Spanish Fly (Lytta vesicatoria) 

The colours were amazing and even the normally hidden abdomen glimmered and sparkled with a sheen of petrol colours.

I might regret posting this video from Mark...

One final confirmatory feature was the sniff test – a quick lift of the lid and pungent aroma of a whole shed full of mice assaulted your olfactory senses.  Mark has had no smell since having Covid – even the Stinking Chamomile did not get through but the Spanish Fly gave Covid Nose a good seeing too!

We released the beast and watch it shimmer away.  A proper magical wildlife moment.  Further on we bumped into Richard (the ex-site manager who was out surveying) and he confirmed that the species had been seen around kitchen Field before but not every year.

Post Fly group selfie was apparently required!

A quick Bramble session added Volucella inflata and pellucens and a Speckled Bush Cricket before we found the last of the flowering Rough Mallow to show the others.  A male Emperor dragonfly patrolled the margins and there were quite a few Commas, Ringlets and Meadow Browns before we dropped down and then up into Merrals Shaw where the Ash die back has been quite bad but has created some nice clearings.  Some superb fungi (sorry Mark – forgotten already) adorned a stump by a burnt out moped and a back at the cars I was able to show Ben a patch of Common Cudweed which I had not realised last week is actually not common at all.

Volucella inflata 

Rough Mallow

white and pink Common Centaury


Dryad's Saddle

A sacrificial bear

Common Cudweed

Somehow five hours had whizzed by and my last day with the RSPB was over after nearly nineteen and a half years.  Nicole came back for a coffee and then we headed out (via roadside Jersey Cudweed) onto the M2 to take her home.  The traffic was pants but being stuck in the outside lane between junction three and four revealed literally thousands of glowing Pyramidal Orchids which you just would not see as you whizz along!

We had chips on top of the cliff at Beltinge and then had an hour beachcombing below.  Nicole and Jason are epic shark tooth finders and I am, well, pants but I did eventually find three myself to add to the ones they kindly gave me.

Nicole found what looks like a fossilised crab or lobster claw as well as a scintillating Sea Gooseberry (Pleurobrachia pileus) which I rescued from the mud and popped in my still empty collection pot.  I soon revived and began pulsating its cilia to move it around with the light refracting as it went.  None of us had ever seen one before and it was quite wondrous.

Sea Gooseberry (Pleurobrachia pileus)

Sea Gooseberry (Pleurobrachia pileus)

Crab claw?

There were sheets of luminescent Sea Lettuce and some other funky seaweeds and a superb Sponge that I have not identified as yet while tube worms pushed up casts before your eyes or squirted water out of their holes!  I found my first ever live Chitons and amongst the many Periwinkles there were Slipper Limpets and Topshells.

Sea Lettuce

Lepidochitona cinerea

Breadcrumb sponge - Halichondria panicea

Crepidula fornicata - a young Slipper Limpet

Med Gulls passed of shore and a Little Egret was patrolling the beach and the sun was dipping so we called it a day and slogged back up to the top of the cliff after a diverse day of wildlife encounters.