Field Event Reports

23 April 2016: A Downs walk from Sparsholt Firs

Leaders: Gillian and Michael Taylor (ANS)

It was a bright but cold day

A small group of six AbNats members, plus our hosts, and enhanced by three local naturalists, met at the Sparsholt Firs car park on the Ridgeway at 10.00 am, where we wrapped up against a biting wind, a cold 6 degrees C, although it was sunny for most of the visit. Initially we walked along the Ridgeway bordered by small hawthorn and blackthorn shrubs, which yielded Chaffinch, Wren and a fine pair of Yellowhammers, with a small flock of Linnets flying over.

Farther along the path we turned down through a cereal field where some had the first glimpses of a pair of Corn Buntings. Throughout the walk the liquid warbling of invisible Skylarks above us filled the air. Reaching Hackpen Hill we had our first view of the Devil's Punchbowl below us and spent some time investigating with binoculars and scopes, what turned out to be a Carrion Crow's nest in a stunted shrub at the base of the Punchbowl. Most of the group elected to follow the tracks around the top, while three descended into the distinctly greener 'Bowl' to search for invertebrates. Both groups warmed up in the sun, benefiting from the shelter from the prevailing wind.

For the 'higher group', Christine Birch (Secretary of Letcombe Conservation Group and a geologist) explained the formation of the Devil's Punchbowl. This group also benefited from the higher terrain and discovered a Buzzard perched on a distant fencepost, joined nearby by a Red Kite; a hovering Kestrel was also seen frequently. The sun-warmed slope also yielded two basking Common Lizards. Our scan for a Wheatear that had been seen on a previous days was not rewarded. This group then took the gradual decent into the 'Bowl' to meet up with the other group where a number of solitary bees were discovered on Dandelion flowers. Being early spring (and a cold one at that), flowers were in short supply with a few Dandelions, Cowslips, White Dead Nettles, Stitchwort, violets and daisy being the only glimpse of colour.

The group down in the Bowl found Garden Tiger moth caterpillar, Red-shanked Carder Bee, Common Carder Bee, Orange-tailed Mining Bee and various other Andrena bees. An number of small mounds of earth with a hole in the middle were identified by Richard as the nests of some species of solitary bee.

Our return trip was somewhat more arduous as the slope was quite steep. There was a welcome excuse to pause at the edge of the cereal feed where a Corn Bunting missed by some on the way down posed somewhat distantly on a fencepost. The final reward came as we approached the car park, where a Whitethroat was discovered in the same bushes that yielded the Yellowhammers earlier.

So around noon thanks were conveyed to our guides and the group dispersed. Whilenot a big haul of creatures seen, the wonderful views and 'fresh' air more than made up for it.

Birds noted:
Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove, Pheasant, Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Robin, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting, Whitethroat, Skylark, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw.
Garden Tiger moth caterpillar (Arctia caja, Red-shanked Carder Bee (B. ruderarius, Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum), Orange-tailed Mining Bee (Andrena haemorrhoa, Ashy Mining Bee (Andrena cineraria, Red-tailed Cuckoo Bee (Bombus rupestris ), Andrenas species
ABNATS:Graham Bateman, Gillian and Mike Taylor, Michael Bloom, Richard Lewington, Rosemary Phillips, Cynth Napper, Ian Smith
LETCOMBE CONSERVATION GROUP: Ian Taylor, Christine Birch, Barry Jameson

Graham Bateman and Cynth Napper