Sunday, 16 March 2014

Ashampstead Common

The last posting was all about local flooding, however since 3rd March there has been no rain at all and most places are well into a drying out phase. I have had to start watering one or two things in the garden. Even so, groundwater is still at a very high level, the road I used to drive back was flooded in three places along the bottom of what is usually a dry valley. The forecast was for it to be the last of a long series of warm sunny days so I took the opportunity of exploring a relatively local area for a walk of six miles. Ashampstead Common is a large area of mixed woodland that I had only passed through briefly some time ago. Here is a map of the six mile walk.


View Ashampstead Common in a larger map

Some areas of the Common have mature trees, others have saplings quickly filling in.

Ashampstead Common,woods

With all the sun there were plenty of birds busy proclaiming their territory including great tits; chiffchaffs; blackbirds; wrens; green woodpeckers; yellowhammers etc.. What was more surprising was the large number of butterflies I saw. Within a hundred yards from the car I had spotted four butterflies; three of these were Comma butterflies (Polygonia c-album).

comma,butterfly,Polygonia c-album

At this time the older woods are carpeted with dog's mercury bearing tiny greenish flowers. I think these are the male flowers; different distinct clumps bear either male or female flowers not both and they can be some distant apart. The foliage is subtly different too.

dogs mercury,Mercurialis perennis

I continued to see more butterflies, including Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell. However I spent ages trying to get close to this rather timid specimen, to my surprise it was a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). Most of the ones you see are summer migrants; with the very mild winter there must be a fair number that have survived and are now out and about again.

red admiral,butterfly,Vanessa atalanta

I did not pass through any villages, so there were few buildings to admire. This upmarket 'cottage' was near Burnt Hill.

building

I saw this strange 'spire' from a distance and when closer could recognise it as a tree that had snapped off some years ago.

strange tree

The joy of winter walks is seeing the full majestic shape of trees. This mighty oak is a good example.

oak

In a few spots on the edges of woodlands were a few violets, never more than a handful of plants together.

violet

I took a similar shot to this one some years ago at this time of year and it looks just the same. Somehow it does make the lane look rather inviting.

Ashampstead Lane

Spring flowers that are always pleasant to see are barren strawberries (Potentilla sterilis). It looks like the real thing in leaf and flower but does not produce a succulent berry. It is usually a bit earlier too.

barren strawberry,Potentilla sterilis

There were more butterflies which I had to patiently stalk to try to get a good picture. This is another over-wintering individual - a small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae). The warm summer produced large numbers of most species last year and with the mild winter there should be enough adults to start off the next generation this year.

small tortoiseshell,butterfly,Aglais urticae

By the side of a lane I discovered a quantity of Hemlock (Conium maculatum) . It is at its most poisonous at this time of year, and without the clear purple blotches on the stems it would be quite easy to mistake for something edible.

hemlock,Conium maculatum

It would not be Spring without at least one picture of Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria). It does not flower for very long but when it does it brightens up many a hedgerow.

lesser celandine,Ranunculus ficaria

Before long my path led me back to Ashampstead Common; this area has a few Scots Pines in the distance.

Ashampstead Common

When nearly back at the car I decided to see if the first part of my path still had a glut of butterflies. I was very happy to see this fine specimen of a Peacock butterfly (Inachis io).

peacock,butterfly,Inachis io

I was struggling to work out why there were so many in this area until I looked up and saw that a pussy willow was the food source attracting them. I had previously seen a pussy willow with a number of different species of bee on it. Luckily my camera managed to catch this Comma butterfly.

pussy willow,comma,butterfly

For such a short walk I saw far more butterflies than I would normally expect to see at this time of year. I had worried that they might not have been able to find sites to safely hibernate through the deluge of rain. If we do not get any sharp frosts it looks as though we are set up for a good butterfly year.