14 of us met Jeff at the Old Lodge Nature Reserve Car Park for a walk in this Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve on the High Weald. It was a lovely sunny day and spirits were high. The reserve is leased from the Stuart family and contains lowland heath which is grazed to try to maintain an open landscape. From the car park we could hear chiffchaff, swift were feeding overhead and as we moved into the reserve proper goldfinch were heard.
The first, and most numerous bird of the day was stonechat. We saw several striking males, but these were generally accompanied by females and young – so let’s hope it indicates a good breeding year for them. Linnet were spotted in the top of some heather. A woodlark was found preening – as we watched it started to move away from us so we decided to follow at a gentle pace. As we walked forwards Ian found a redstart which was flying from a tree to the ground to feed and then back, for a while it sat on a post showing the typical “tail-shiver” before flying off giving a great view of the red tail. We stood back and watched to enable everyone to get good views of both species. Sally spotted a thrush preening in a tree, and a kestrel was also spotted in a distant tree by Louise.
Several nuthatch were seen feeding in a pine tree, there were also blue tit, coal tit and great tit. Great spotted woodpecker called, and although we heard several skylark we did not manage to see one. Whitethroat, wren and willow warbler were joined by more stonechat and linnet. Around the ponds, stream and boggy areas our focus moved to dragonflies and damselflies. Emperor, small red damselfly, broad-bodied chaser, large red damselfly were all in evidence, but the specialist of the reserve, the golden-ringed dragonfly eluded us. Swallow fed over these areas and it was great to see the emperor dragonfly “hawking” low over the water then flying vertically to catch it’s prey.
A bog bush-cricket was safely captured in a tube and inspected carefully. Both bell heather and ling are abundant on the heath, along with gorse, tormentil and bedstraw. A couple of individual spotted heath orchids were seen at one spot, but we could not see any others. A large skipper was one of the first butterflies seen, followed by red admiral, large white, small heath and brimstone.
Finding a place for lunch proved more of a challenge than we first anticipated, as the piles of logs in the shade although tempting were covered in wood ants! We rather speedily decided not to risk it. We found a safer haven along one of the main tracks where a group of volunteers were hand-pulling pine saplings. Several of us joined in to offer some “vols solidarity”.
After we returned to the car park some took their leave and others decided to try another site in the forest near the information centre. Having checked the map off we sped – a quick detour through a car park and Malcolm was sure that an ice cream would shortly be in his hands sadly it was not to be on this occasion. After we had got back on the correct route we were soon parked up and looking out over the High Weald. Fallow deer and fox were among our inital sightings at this second site. Once again stonechat, redstart and linnet were easily spotted, Jeff noticed a grey heron flying low through the valley. The luxury of an information centre with toilet facilities had a strange effect on our conversation and as aeroplanes were flying above us to and from Gatwick, our conversation took a decidedly odd twist with thoughts of high altitude chemical toilets and frozen discharge from said ‘planes!
Back to the job in hand, we descended to the stream checking grasshoppers and crickets on the way. By this time Tony was leading the way and with such encouragement as “when there’s a descent there’s always an ascent . .” to spur us on, it was soon time to start the rather slower return to the top of the hill. The boggy ground had sundew and bog asphodel growing and small grasshoppers and crickets jumped away from us as we brushed through the heather.
Back at the car park it was only left to say a big thank you to Jeff for leading, Tony for keeping us on the straight and narrow and Malcolm for adding his unbelieveable wide-ranging knowledge to our walk.
More photos to be posted on the gallery in the very near future!