This was a new location for the group but was probably not the best month for visiting – in fact August is generally a difficult month as the trees still have their foliage, the birds aren’t singing, and the winter visitors haven’t arrived. We had chosen the location in January thinking it would be perfect for butterflies – but alas they too were hiding from us.
The woods are the largest remaining area of wild-wood that covered Essex after the Ice Age 10,000 years ago. There are several marked tracks and we chose to follow the Valley Walk which as the name suggests leads down into a valley, that has been formed by the northernmost tributary of the River Roach. A stream flows gently through and on its banks in the patches of sunlight, speckled wood butterflies danced around landing infrequently, and when they did were so well camouflaged they were hard to find. The trees are mostly deciduous (ash, birch, sweet chestnut, oak, willow, hazel, wild service tree and coppiced hornbeam): in the 19th century oaks were taken from the woods to be used as piles for Southend Pier. In one glade many large, fallen, dead trunks had been carved into a selection of seats of which we took advantage. Before they fell the oaks had stood for years – a member counted the rings on one and made it 107, which seems shorter than expected considering its size.
One informative member told us that wood ants were brought to the woods by Henry 8th in order to attract pheasants for him to shoot; we saw several active wood ant nests and also came upon two hornets nests, both of which we were keen not to disturb!
None of us are experts on grasshoppers but we found one that was bright green and had very long antennae and therefore is probably a bush cricket and not a grasshopper, so sticking my neck out, I will say it was an oak bush cricket.
It was a lovely morning to be walking in the woods and although the wildlife was absent the conviviality of being with like-minded group members followed by a relaxing picnic meant we could chat and enjoy each other’s company.
There is much more to see in this wood than we saw today, (earthworks, plants that only grow on undisturbed ancient woodlands and of course the wildlife) and have agreed that we will return next May.
Birds: Blackcap, Great & Blue Tits, Crow, Green Woodpecker, Magpie, Wood Pigeon
Butterflies: Spotted Wood, Large White
Flowers: Bristly Ox-tongue, Self Heal, Dandelion, Bramble, Yarrow, Ribwort Plantain, Stinging Nettles, Marsh Thistle,
Fungus: Sulphur Polypore (Chicken of the Woods), Multi-Zoned Polypore
Other: Mosquito, Oak Bush Cricket, Hornets, Wasp, Wood Ants, Emperor Dragonfly, Grey Squirrel, Blackberries, Lords & Ladies Berries.
Next Meeting: September 14th – Tollesbury – Meet in the free Car Park at 10 a.m.