Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Cookley Green to Russell's Water

A month on and the cool and showery conditions have slowed the progress of Spring. A month ago I was claiming that flowers were two weeks ahead of normal, well, now I would say it's almost back to normal. The excuse for this trip was to try to find some ‘Herb Paris’ (Paris quadrifolia) which some web sites list as ‘common’ and yet I have never seen. I chose a location where there were two clumps a few years ago. Here is a map of the 8 mile walk.

I started from Cookley Green, my starting point for a more ambitious walk I did a couple of years ago. I hardly had left the car before seeing a clear sign that summer is indeed not far off: a swallow was sitting on a power line. Perhaps this one swallow will for once make a summer!


And as I entered some woods it was the tail end of the bluebell season so it seemed a transitional time.


The old track leads you down towards the modern Ridgeway (it originally ran at the top of the downs through Cookley Green) and here there is a good view of the downs around Watlington Hill.


Cutting back up through fields there were a good selection of arable weeds. Wild pansies were in good numbers, and I do like the simplicity of the smaller flower compared to the modern garden varieties.

field pansy

Close by was, I think, a small flowered member of the large speedwell family, Thyme leaved Speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia).

thyme leaved speedwell

At the top of the downs I entered Howe Wood which is where the Herb Paris was reported. I am tempted to write how would Howe Wood live up to expectations, but I had better not. Here were Arums still in flower


The back-lighting of these ferns made an attractive sight beneath the beech trees.


Now for the unexpected bonus that you come across while looking for something else. I was nearing the 'Herb Paris' area and spotted some yellow blobs on a fallen tree trunk. Only when I looked at the photographs back home did I realise that it was not an ordinary fungus, it is distinctly odd. I think it is a slime mould, possibly Stemonitis flavogenita at the plasmodium stage (in the process of forming the fruiting body). Slime moulds are very curious things, they spend much of their life as single celled organisms but then when the spirit takes them they move together (1/25th of an inch per hour) to form a fruiting body and transform themselves so that the spores can be scattered. How they sense the communal need to get together and work out the optimal route to food is the cause of scientific study, amazing for such a tiny and easily over looked organism.

slime mould,Stemonitis flavogenita

More usual to spot in a woodland are squirrels, and this one stayed still for long enough to get a picture.


Now for the Herb Paris, but unfortunately no Herb Paris. I had an eight figure grid reference - accurate to a 10m area and could not find it there. All I found was Dogs mercury, and I am concerned that these rather invasive plants have taken over, but I could easily have missed them (Herb Paris has green flowers). This was the scene at the target co-ordinates.

dogs mercury

I explored more of Howe Wood that has quite a few good meadow areas and retraced my steps back towards Greenfield Copse. The National Trust woodland is a nice bluebell wood and as in many other beech woodlands, there were loads of beech seedlings that have germinated. One creature that will probably ensure they never reach tree height are deer and I did catch a distant glimpse of half a dozen of them.

Crossing over to Greenfield Wood I saw that on the other side of the fence was an area totally bereft of any plants it looked as though the whole area had been recently churned up. I soon found the explanation: pigs.


Another sure sign of Spring is the emergence of bracken with the fronds gradually unfurling.


In the woods Yellow Pimpernel (Lysimachia nemorum) was now out in flower.

Yellow Pimpernel,Lysimachia nemorum

The path took me down to Pishill Bottom and then back up to the hamlet of Russell's Water. Here I caught one of the few butterflies that I saw - a Green-veined white, I did also see Brimstone, Orange Tip, Small White and Speckled Woods. It is not a bad camouflage.

Green veined white butterfly

The hamlet of Russell's Water has no really old houses, this converted chapel has a certain quaintness and happens to be up for sale.

Russells Water Chapel

However, Russell's Water has a great claim to fame. It was the shooting location used in the epic film Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang for the 'pond' scene. Now this is a film that makes me cringe, so I have never seen it in full, not even as a young child, but anyway I think it important to include a shot of the famous pond:

Russells Water pond,Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Beside the pond were a couple of male mallards looking suitably bored with it all.

Russells Water ducks,mallard

An old track leads back from Russell's Water to Cookley Green with a few more plants to photograph including Yellow Archangel, one of my Spring favourites.

yellow archangel

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