Posted by: Ross Gardner | May 29, 2011

Never a dull day

Great Crested Grebe (Ross Gardner)

Hanningfield Reservoir on an overcast, rather blustery May afternoon that constantly has you wondering whether it’s about to rain or not, is rarely one to prompt thoughts of a long and varied list of species for a day’s visit.  Not that the list is the most important part of an experience of the countryside.  The Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Hanningfield offers a most satisfying mixture of open water, mixed woodland and grazed fields, which combined always to leave you feeling like you have been given that dose of the outdoors that got you out of the front door in the first place.  It is with its birds that many associate it.  The winter brings them to the reservoir in their thousands; the spring and summer offers the chance to see the grebes, gadwall, terns, and others raising their families; while the autumn passage throws up the chance of the more unusual passing through.  Over the years I have seen well over a hundred species and there will be those that have seen many more.  Mention should be made, on this visit, of the swift in their hundred, criss-crossing the sky over the water, from which an abundance of insect food had presumambly emerged.  A spectacle indeed.

The woods, of course, also has its birds, as the family parties of blackcap, chiff chaff and long-tailed tit reminded us.  It was the woods that, on this occasion, gave a delightful reminder that, where nature is concerned there is rarely, if ever, a dull day.  Never before in fact, do I remember observing quite so much variety in a single visit to the place.  It was not just the birds however, that provided such quantity (although the thirty odd species seen and heard was no mean figure).  To the invertebrate life that teems among the woodland, it would take more than low cloud and the threat of rain to keep them from view.

Nemorpha degeerella (Ross Gardner)

It took ten minutes to leave the car in the car park.  A low spread of blossoming bramble gave an indication of what was to come.  Early-nesting bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) workers tended the flowers, while a speckled bush-cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima) nymph clambered among the thorny stems.  A dronefly (Eristalis arbustorum) was lazing about on one of the leaves, no doubt hankering for the sunshine, but no such accusations of lethargy could be levelled at the Degeer’s longhorn moths (Nemorpha degeerella) that were swarming over the low, scrubby tangle, golden wings gleaming, even in the absence of the sun’s rays.

Further into the reserve and progress was not much quicker.  The longhorn moths we had seen by the car, along with sailor beetle (Cantharis rustica) and red and black froghopper (Cercopis vulnerata), were to be seen pretty much all along the pathsides and woodland edge, but for while, every few metres revealled something new.  Numerous dark bush-cricket (Pholidoptera griseoaptera) nymphs crept about the rank vegetation, barely a quarter of the size they would reach in adulthood.  The yellow and black ichneuomon wasp, Amblyteles armatorius, ominously searched among the foliage for moth caterpillars in which to implant its eggs.  A pile of sawn spruce logs further along yielded a close view of that most impressive of ichneumons, Rhyssa persuasoria, alongside a beautiful, freshly emerged small angle shades (Euplexia lucipara), a moth whose larvae feed on bracken and other ferns.

Leucozona lucorum (Ross Gardner)

The flora surrounding the damp ground of a pond provided a change of conditions and habitat to search among.  Creeping buttercup flowers attracted the attentions of an attractive little hoverfly by the name of Leucozona lucorum, quite distinctive with the pearlescent band around the abdomen and the dark smudges on the wings (Volucella pellucens is similar, but larger).  Also to be found on the flowers was the common pollen beetle, Oedemera nobilis, metallic green with the male especially recognisable with his swollen hind legs, and the striking red and black bug, Corizus hyoscyami.

By the time we had returned to the car, a list of forty invertebrates had been compiled, along with various other bugs, longhorn beetles, hoverflies, bees and spiders.  All of this, I should add, through just casual observation.  With a sweep net or beating tray, what more about the place would have been revealled?  The weather can be dull, but nature never is.

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