Field Event Reports

14 April: A visit to Withymead Nature Reserve

Our group was guided by the Reserve Warden, Roger Wyatt

On the first warm spring day of the year, 12 members attended a field trip to Withymead Nature Reserve near Goring-on-Thames. We were met by the wardens Roger Wyatt and his wife Sue, who started by taking us to the Visitor Centre near the car park where we looked at roosts and basking mounds for reptiles, and a pond with a fine display of marsh marigolds. We were told it contained crested newts but did not see any. Brimstone and small tortoiseshell butterflies were flying around. Roger then opened a box containing moths trapped the previous night and the following species were identified: nut tree tussock, Hebrew character, brindled beauty, early thorn, twin spotted Quaker, common Quaker and clouded drab, plus another one that flew away before it could be identified.

We then entered the main reserve and saw a derelict cottage that housed several species of bat before crossing the derelict Saunders-Roe Boat Yard with its slipway and railway lines. It was strange to think that sizeable boats had been made there. After that we split up informally into two groups led by Roger and Sue respectively. We all saw the main features of the site, including a wild flower meadow full of primroses and other plants like variegated yellow archangel and monkshood that were probably garden escapes. The path from here led to a disused well dedicated to a conservation volunteer who sadly died young, and on to a large vertical wooden structure by the river. This was full of holes and was meant to attract sand martins and kingfishers but success had been limited so far. All around this path, and in other parts of the reserve, were large patches of Loddon lilies (Leucojum aestivum), a relative of the snowdrop that is scarce nationally but quite abundant in marshy areas around the Thames and its tributaries. Unfortunately flowering had been delayed by the cold weather and only a few flowers were open. Apparently they are spectacular when in full flower. The reserve was still very wet after recent heavy rain and we had to take a detour to avoid a flooded area. After this a well-made boardwalk led to a bird hide but nothing was visible although kingfishers frequented the area. Beyond this was a dangerous bog that was fenced off as you could sink into the mud up to shoulder level. It was home to otters, mink, yellow-necked mice and water rail but we did not see any of these. A raised lookout with a seat was next which afforded a view over land owned by Christ Church College and with which Withymead has a management agreement. This is home to over 100 corn buntings during the winter months, and also muntjac and roe deer. The reeds are cut every 5 years to reduce build-up of nutrients.

Back in the main reserve we visited another hide with bird feeders that attracted garden birds, and the first damsel fly of the season was spotted there. Some brave members of the party visited the beehives, where one member sadly got stung by a particularly aggressive bee. Luckily Sue provided some ointment for her. The tour ended back at the Visitor Centre after about 2 hours and 15 minutes where honey was available to purchase and there was a display about the history of the reserve and its founder, Anna Carpmael. Roger and Sue were thanked for a most interesting and enjoyable afternoon.

The following additional species were seen or heard: black cap, willow warbler, spotted woodpecker, brown-lipped snail, slow worm, peacock butterfly, great tit, and a swan on its nest with 5 eggs.

Participants were:
Sally Gillard (acting leader in Graham Bateman's absence), Chris and Bridget Biggs, Mike Wilkins, Michael and Eliso Bloom, Tony Rayner, Nigel Gregory, Hugh and Vivienne Summers, Eleanor Dangerfield and Ian Smith.