August Bank Holiday Weekend in North Essex, 27 - 29 August 2022

Despite it being the busiest weekend of the year (we usually avoid going away on bank holidays) we decided to take the motorhome down to North Essex for a couple of nights over the weekend.

Our first night was a 'Park 4 Night' spot at Dedham in the Stour Valley where we stayed all day and then the night. We spent the day walking in the valley to Flatford and beyond and then around Dedham itself. Clocking up 15.5km there were a few bits of interest on our wanderings with Orange Balsam, Arrowhead, Flowering Rush, Pale Gallingale, Corn Mint and Perrenial Sow-thistle seen amongst the more common riverside plants. Two new plants for me were Red Osier Dogwood and Stagshorn Sumac at Flatford RSPB and Dedham respectively. A very fresh Chicken-of-the-Woods was also on a stump near Flatford.

Orange Balsam

                                                                                                                                     Corn Mint
Pale Gallingale


                                                                                                                              Perrenial Sow-thistle

                                                                                                                            Red Osier Dogwood

                                                                                                                             Stagshorn Sumac


After our massively expensive overnight on the carpark (50p!) we left early and drove to the coast at Walton-on-the-Naze where we were to spend the whole day and night on a small but very nicely situated carpark at the north end of the seafront. For a fee of GBP10 for 24 hours we had a fantastic spot with our hatchback opening up with views of the beach and sea. Another long walk was the order of the day so we did a whole circuit of The Naze. The nature highlight was undoubtedly a couple of scarce Sea Aster Bees by the seawall but there were also some nice coastal plants too - Golden Samphire, Annual Sea-blight, Prickly Saltwort, Frosted Orache, Sea Rocket, Salsify and Prickly Lettuce. A further walk along the beach on the eastern side of the Naze (known for it's fossils) gave me 2 new and weird naturalised plants - Red Hot Poker and Russian Vine! Sandwiched in between those 2 walks was another walk south along the promenade into the hellish hustle and bustle of the seaside resort and it's horrendous pier amusement arcade. A single Mediterrenean Gull north along the beach was small consolation! 17.1km was our day walking total.

The following morning, before the drive home, we spent walking at Mistley and Manningtree. The estuary there had a massive flock of 700+ Black-tailed Godwits.

                                                                                                                              Sea Aster Bee
                                                                                                                                    Sea Rocket
                                                                                                                                Frosted Orache
                                                                                                                                 Golden Samphire
                                                                                                                              Annual Sea-blight
                                                                                                                                    Prickly Saltwort
                                                                                                                                 Prickly Lettuce
                                                                                                                                    Russian Vine
                                                                                                                                   Red-hot Poker


For the love of Foraging

I do wonder, even in these cash-strapped, ultra-inflationary times, how many people take advantage of the free food that nature provides us with. In my experience, not many.

Belinda and I have been 'foragers' for years collecting and using blackberries, plums, apples, mushrooms, wild garlic, nettles and a variety of herbs amongst others. 

We are now at the start of the season of 'autumn mists and mellow fruitfulness' and it looks to be an excellent year for blackberries. Our local bushes are laden with fruit with many ripe already but loads more to come. We picked a couple of tubs in about 30 minutes yesterday with very little effort. We use them in pies and crumbles while frozen berries are lovely added to a G&T. This year I have a recipe for blackberry vodka to try which should warm up the odd winter night!    

Plums are now at their best and recently I found a tree right beside the A140 laden with fruits that have proved to be very tasty (but obviously needed a good wash). Belinda knocked up a gorgeous plum and ginger upside-down cake yesterday which is going down a treat.

There are many online resources for the forager/cook and books a plenty on the subject for anyone interested. The Forager's Calendar by John Wright is a great place to start. 

So, I would urge anyone to get out there and make the most of what nature provides. And by doing so you'll save yourself a bit of money too. Who couldn't do with that in these troubled times?!

                                                          Several Dock Bugs were also enjoying the blackberries yesterday

The Yare at Cringleford and UEA Broad, 19 August 2022

Starting in Cringleford Belinda and I walked the Yare path to the UEA where we did a lap of the broad before re-tracing our steps. With a cheeky lunch in the Sainsbury Centre cafe en-route!

On a day that has seen big numbers on the coast a Pied Flycatcher beside UEA Broad on the campus side was a good inland find and a Norwich tick for me. Insects were also good with several Willow Emeralds, Brown Hawker, Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter and Common Darter the odonata recorded. Other insects included Meadow Waspfly, Chrysotoxum festivum and a pair of Brassy Willow Beetles whilst a Striped Grasshopper was photographed on our front lawn in Pulham before we left. Most wildflowers are withered and brown but it was good to see the trio of Water-lillies (Fringed, White and Hybrid) still looking good on the Broad with Arrowhead on the river. A nice fresh Chicken of the Woods fungus was also spotted along the edge of the Broad.

                                                                                                                               Meadow Waspfly
                                                                                                                             Striped Grasshopper
                                                                                                                            Brassy Willow Beetle
                                                                                                                                  Willow Emerald

                                                                                                                            Chicken of the Woods

The Ears Have It! Brown Hare in the garden, 12 August 2022

On Friday evening, as the temperature had begun to cool a little Belinda spotted a Brown Hare leveret nibbling the grass on the edge of our front lawn. 

Needless to say I dashed upstairs for my camera. Attempting to open one of the lounge windows only spooked it but I did manage this pic through the glass. A good job I'd cleaned the windows recently!


Vancouver bound - but not until 2023!

Having not been abroad (except Ireland in our motorhome) for 3 years, 2023 is going to be the year we hopefully get back to a bit of travelling.

I have a birding trip organised in March to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in NE India and Belinda and I have decided on British Columbia, Canada in May/June. It has the attraction of some coastal stuff, including whales and bears on Vancouver Island, some good birding (although not so much that it will piss Belinda off!) and the scenic loveliness of the Rockies around Banff and Jasper. We are still putting plans together and getting things booked up but the rough route we plan to take over the 3 weeks is shown on this map. 

Time to start living again! 


Billingford Common insects and other local bits

A brief visit to Billingford Common on Sunday to look for the Large-flowered Hemp Nettle proved fruitless. Maybe the dry conditions have prevented it coming up this year as it should be obvious by now. Just 2 plants of Common Hemp Nettle were located before I turned my attention to a large patch of flowering Water Mint which was alive with insects. I found Roesel's Bush Cricket, Dark Bush Cricket, Mint Moth, Common Tachinid, Blue-winged Tachinid, Green Leafhopper and the hoverfly Eristalis horticola.

                                                                                                                                    Dark Bush Cricket
                                                                                                                               Roesel's Bush Cricket
                                                                                                                                     Eristalis horticola
                                                                                                                               Mint Moth
                                                                                                                              Common Tachinid
                                                                                                                             Blue-winged Tachinid
                                                                                                                                    Green Leafhopper

Since then, while working in Pulham St Mary I was pleased to find a Pine Ladybird (miles away from any pines!) and a naturalised clump of Pickerelweed

                                                                                                                                    Pine Ladybird