The Wren Group’s bio-blitz exceeded all expectations. From Monday 22 June a number of group members – including Kathy Hartnett, Nick Croft, Rose Stephens, Paul Ferris, James Heal and myself – were doing recce work for the weekend ahead, and recording species as we went. James neared the end of his survey of the trees of Bush Wood, finding 26 species, Kathy found and Paul confirmed the presence of Yellow Rattle in the SSSI and Rose found a scarce Black-rimmed Hunchback fly, Ogcodes pallipes. These discoveries set things up nicely for the weekend of concentrated events, starting on the evening of 26th with a bat walk in Wanstead Park, led by Keith French and Andy Froud. Four species were detected, although a Myotis species could not be identified to species level. A good proportion of the 70 people who attended the walk came across to the Temple enclosure, where five moth traps were running. Anthony Harbott, Graham Smith, Martin, Jono Lethbridge, Tom Casey, Nick Croft and myself rushed around like mad things checking each trap in turn for interesting visitors. Ironically, some of the best of the bunch weren’t even in the traps but persisted in flying close to the observers around the Temple steps. Three or four Leopard Moths took star billing, but also of note were four Red-necked Footmen, not previously recorded in our area. Single Poplar and Elephant Hawkmoths also delighted the observers, as did Tom’s Stag Beetle.
The focus of attention shifted to Wanstead Flats the following morning. Thibaud erected the City of London’s gazebo by Centre Road car park and this became our nerve centre. Just as the previous evening, the weather stayed fine, with plenty of sun and no rain. Tricia Moxey and Gill James, ably assisted by Kathy Hartnett and Iris Newbery, led walks in the morning and afternoon respectively, searching for interesting plants and invertebrates. No one was disappointed and as a bonus, our two local ground-nesting birds, Skylark and Meadow Pipit, performed territorial song-flights. Arguably the rarest find of the weekend occurred during the afternoon – a high-flying Black Kite picked up by Nick Croft over the Old Sewage Works. The bird climbed still higher while Nick was watching it, and no one else was able to pick it up. This species is notoriously difficult to get past the rarities committee, but Nick thinks he has enough on it to see it accepted. Meanwhile, back on the Flats, Diptera (fly) expert Jeremy Richardson worked hard to find dozens of these surprisingly beautiful insects, concentrating on the area around Angell Pond and the copses. Fellow entomologists Tristan Bantock, Jim Flanagan and Sarah Barnes concentrated on the Coleoptera (beetles) and Hemiptera (true bugs) and found plenty besides. Between them, the trio amassed a total of 179 species, including Psallus anaemicus, a bug associated with Turkey Oak which has only recently been detected in the UK; Antherophagus silaceus, a beetle; and Mecinus janthinus, a toadflax-feeding weevil. Also noteworthy was the discovery of a Toadflax Brocade moth larva; the adult of this species was first recorded earlier in the summer.
On Sunday it was back to the Park. You might be forgiven for thinking that no one would turn up for a 5am dawn chorus walk – but 20 attendees would prove otherwise. Nick Croft led the early birds from the tea hut around the Old Sewage Works and across to the Shoulder of Mutton pond. Not surprisingly there was no repeat of the previous day’s Black Kite, but a good selection was seen – or heard – nonetheless. One of the Shoulder’s Reed Warblers eventually went into chatter mode. Natalie and Jean opened the tea hut at 7:30 so we could have a welcome cuppa and some breakfast. Nice work, guys!
At a more sensible time, Nicola Cunningham had designed some creative activities for children and, ably assisted by Forest keeper Alison Tapply, Bev Poynter and others, the children made a beautiful floral sculpture. Tricia’s morning walk produced Flowering Rush (in flower) on the muddy margins of the Ornamental Water, and Mark Thomas’s repeat search after lunch discovered Great Yellow-cress in the very same area. David Giddings and Kathy Hartnett offered their knowledge and support on these walks. More watery activities were led by Derek McEwan, donning his wellies to lead bouts of pond-dipping in Shoulder of Mutton and the Ornamental Water. Among the highlights were the larvae of six or seven kinds of damselfly and dragonfly and an impressive Horse Leech. In late morning the weather finally let us down and rain probably dampened down the number of people taking part in the afternoon’s activities – even if it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those taking part. At least 210 people participated over the course of the weekend; without the Sunday lunchtime rain I’m sure that figure would have surpassed 250.
As for the species totals, we’d set a target of 400 and that was blown out of the water. As I write there are still some scores to come in, but as things stand, these are the totals, arranged by the main groups:
Plants and mosses: 182 (and set to rise higher)
Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies): 107
Hemiptera (true bugs): 82
Coleoptera (beetles): 65
Diptera (flies): 43
Hymenoptera (bees and wasps): 13
Odonata (damselflies and dragonflies): 9/10 (one larva is still under consideration)
Other invertebrates: 35
TOTAL: 625/626 species and still rising
Tim Harris, 7 July 2015