Posted by: Ross Gardner | August 19, 2015

Hedgecourt and the Joy of Umbellifers

Hedgecourt Nature Reserve is ideally located for the airport run to Gatwick, one which I am often asked to do.  It was for one such favour that I discovered the place, by accident, a couple of years ago.  On the site of a former millpond it is now a fine wetland reserve managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust, encompassing wet woodland, open boggy areas, fen habitats and more open water.  I have visited a couple times now, but never however, seen it in the summer.

This I have duly rectified and found the place a couple of days ago thronging with life beneath the August sunshine.  Even the narrow stream stepped across from the car parking place on entry to the reserve was quick to draw my eye, with the jerking movements of Water-cricket – not true crickets, but true bugs adapted to the life on the surface of shaded, slow-moving water.  Crickets I would soon find though, in the first of the open areas amongst the woodland filled with a stand of Yellow Loosestrife and where a Southern Hawker dragonfly dominated the airspace among the trees.  The low, sun-warmed vegetation twitched incessantly to the movements of dozens of Dark Bush-cricket, so much so that with the casting of my shadow or planting of my foot their leaping and landing was clearly audible on the leaves.  I found several large females and around these the males were drawn, emitting the occasional chirp of their stridulating forewings and no doubt engaging in much orthopteran posturing, the subtleties of which remaining invisible to the human eye.

A female Dark Bush-cricket (Pholidoptera griseoaptera) at Hedgecourt Nature Reserve. Ross Gardner 2015.

A female Dark Bush-cricket (Pholidoptera griseoaptera) at Hedgecourt Nature Reserve. Ross Gardner 2015.

Wherever the sunlight poured through the tree canopy flying creatures abounded.  Small wonder that one of the numerous Brown Hawker on the wing that day were never far away.  There was little bird-sound, save the twittering of a Long-tailed Tit flock somewhere overhead, or the fluted tweeting of Willow Warbler in the thickets; the latter I did get to watch for a few minutes as one foraged in the open, pecking tiny insects from the underside of sallow leaves.

Much of this abundance of invertebrate life would have been rather harder to observe closely were it not for a certain focal point among the throng.  Wild Angelica along the waterside and Hogweed beside the paths proved a bountiful and irresistible draw for both the insect hordes and any naturalist that happened to be passing by.  The large umbels of tiny flowers were invariable covered with insects large or small, including flies, wasp, beetles and bees.  Hoverflies numbered at least 11 species and the beetles included the tiny red Anthocomus rufus and the large black and yellow chequered Leptura quadrifasciata, sometimes referred to as the Four-banded Longhorn Beetle.  A host of small wasps and solitary bees were to be found, alongside the larger species of social wasps, none of these last being bigger the marauding queen Hornet I saw more than once, snatching unwary hoverflies from the flower-heads.

A small selection of the many creatures that made Hedgecourt hum with life and these without any mention of the Kingfisher along the stream and the faithful company of Speckled Wood amid the trees.  As is so often the case, the reserve in question here provides an analogy for any other place with like habitats and a similar feel.  Get out there and see for yourself

Insect abundance on Hogweed at Hedgecourt. Ross Gardner 2015.

Insect abundance on Hogweed at Hedgecourt. Ross Gardner 2015.

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