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Harpalus rufipes
find out more... Harpalus rufipes Copyright: Robert Smith

Essex Field Club
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EFC Centre at Wat Tyler Country ParkWe are closed due to the Covid-19 situation, but we are otherwise normally open to the public at our centre at Wat Tyler Country Park every Saturday, Sunday and bank holiday 11am-4pm, check. We are also normally open on Wednesdays 10am-4pm.

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The weblog below is for naturalists to use to report interesting sightings, ask questions, report on field meetings and generally post pictures and any information or questions generally relevant in some way to the wildlife and geology of Essex. You will need to register and be logged-on to post to the forum, and you need to upload pictures first, for use in posts. Find out more

Tue 24th January 2012 10:40 by Graham Smith
January 15th -21st
A cold, crisp start to the week and a milder, grey, often wet end to it. Alder catkins have now joined those of Hazel in adding their pollen to the breeze while a precocious cock Blackbird was making its contribution to the dawn chorus of Song Thrushes, Dunnocks, Robins, Great Tits and occasional Mavis on 18th. Also getting ahead of themselves were a couple of buck Hares, whose ears were being soundly boxed by an indignant doe at Blue House Farm on 17th. The fungi season is just about hanging on , finds this week including the Branching Oyster Pleurotus cornucopiae on fallen elms at Holbrook Bay, on the Suffolk side of the Stour, and Oyster Mushroom P. ostreatus, growing on the wooden roof of a bus shelter in London Road, Chelmsford, where it was first reported by the County Recorder, Tony Boniface, in an article in the Field Club newsletter a couple of years ago. There was not much insect activity this week apart from this Black-spotted Longhorn Beetle, which was disturbed during a work party at Spring Wood EWT Reserve, Danbury on 21st. Initially identified from an article on Longhorns by Andrew Duff in the August 2007 issue of British Wildlife magazine it has since been confirmed by Peter Harvey. The larvae live in rotting oak stumps, of which there are plenty at Spring Wood, and we found what was probably one of these - a plump white maggot with a rusty brown head and jaws - when one of the stumps was inadvertantly 'brush cut'. It was carefully replaced beneath the loose bark from where it had fallen.

Rhagium mordax Copyright: Graham Smith

There has recently been a huge influx of sprats into the estuaries and they have brought with them many of the birds that follow the shoals offshore throughout the winter. Over 1500 Kittiwakes - a normally oceanic gull - passed Southend Pier on 19th, heading upstream, while there have also been reports of large numbers of Red-throated Divers in the Blackwater estuary along with a scattering of auks - Guillemots and Razorbills. A dark phase Arctic Skua was also seen at Southend, where it was watched harrying a juvenile Kittiwake until the latter was forced to regurgitate its last meal, the skua deftly catching the fish before it hit the water. Another highlight was a Grey Seal - a scarce species in Essex - and the first I have seen in the County.

Finally, and sadly, a number of oaks at The Backwarden EWt Reserve, Danbury, have recently been diagnosed as suffering from Acute Oak Decline, a disease that is on the increase in this part of the world. The most obvious symptoms are vertical lesions on the bark, from which a black, tar-like substance oozes. No one seems to be quite sure what causes it but it may be a bacterial infection. A few species of beetle take advantage of the tree's decline by laying their eggs under the bark; these infestations may hasten its demise but the beetles are not thought to spread the disease. Infected trees invariably succumb but often display little foliage loss until the last stages of the disease. It infects old and adolescent trees alike and can kill up to half the oaks on a site. If it does continue to spread and reaches the farmland landscape then some of our grandest oaks could go the same way as the elms before them - a depressing thought.



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