Springtime surprises at Tablehurst

There are often surprises when you go out for a walk, even if it is somewhere that you know really well. You may wander off your usual route and find a corner of the countryside that you didn’t know existed before, or you may notice a plant, an insect, or a bird that you don’t recognise. And, if you go for a walk with someone else, your companion(s) may show you things that, though common, have previously passed you by.

So it was with yesterday’s walk at Tablehurst Farm. I was expecting it to be a gentle stroll showing people some of the springtime flowers, with a bit of bird-watching as well. And, though we did that, thanks to the diverse range of interests and expertise in the group, we saw many other things too, some of which were new records for the Tablehurst and Emerson kilometre square (TQ4335).

Heading along the track east of the shop, Evan drew our attention to the spiders that were scattering around us. These were the extremely common wolf spiders Pardosa amentata, but were new records for us.

We paused for a while to look at a Sallow (Salix sp.) at the bottom of Oaktree field, which was alive with insects: Buff-tailed Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) and Honeybees (Apis mellifera) were accompanied by a range of other, smaller, solitary bees, as well as a wide range of small flies and beetles, which unfortunately were a bit beyond us.

Picture of Sallow (Salix)

Sallow (Salix)

The dead wood in Lower Parklands attracted our attention for a while too with some beetles and myriapods to look at.

Picture of Agriotes lineatus

The click beetle Agriotes lineatus

Picture of Lithobius variegatus

Lithobius variegatus

The lake at Emerson is looking rather green at the moment, but while some of us were peering at it Tom had his gaze up at the sky and directed us to check out the Red Kite (Milvus milvus). Since being reintroduced in the Chilterns over 25 years ago, these birds have gradually increased their range; Tom reported seeing one in Crawley last year, and they have now returned to Forest Row after the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century persecutions that eradicated them from most of the country.

Gill Wood was home to a nice range of species. A couple of us saw two Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) picking their way through the understorey, and Tom pointed out Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) and Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) and their calls. Evan also pointed out more scurrying spiders; at first sight they looked rather like the ones we’d seen earlier, but were in fact the closely-related Pardosa saltans, which is a woodland species. Very light foraging behaviour was also observed while we nibbled a couple of the plants: Tom showed us Pignut (Conopodium majus), though you’d need a huge amount of plants to feed yourself; and Evan picked some Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) for us to try.

Emerging out into the top corner of Upper Minepits field, the old logs and dead wood were another great source of species. The Garlic Snail (Oxychilus alliarius) was particularly garlicky.

Under the logs was also the place to find more spiders, which Evan identified for us: Coelotes terrestris, the wolf spider Trochosa ruricola and the somewhat rarer Cicurina cicur.

Picture of Cicurina cicur

Cicurina cicur

This spot kept us occupied for ages and also turned up another centipede, almost certainly Lithobius forficatus, though apparently there’s other rather similar species that are hard to tell apart.

Picture of Lithobius

Another, different, Lithobius

This rather decent rove beetle, the Devil’s Coach Horse (Ocypus olens), was in among the grass too, and mercifully didn’t bite any of us, though we did observe its typical arching behaviour.

Picture of Devil's Coach Horse (Ocypus olens)

Devil’s Coach Horse (Ocypus olens)

So, we headed back to the car park, mindful of the huge range of things we’d seen, and of the number of small creatures, the beetles, flies and other invertebrates, that we’d not even tried to identify. Bryony passed me a Dandelion (Taraxacum) and observed the huge number of tiny beetles in the flower head. These turned out to be pollen beetles, most likely the extremely widespread and common Meligethes aeneus, but (as ever with these small things) there are other very similar species for which microscopic examination is needed if you want to be sure.

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