Walk along Ferring Rife to look at Birds, Flowers and Trees 29th April

Twenty four enthusiastic members of Ferring Conservation Group, in 4 socially distanced teams of 6, strolled leisurely along the west bank of the Rife heading north. The early start soon paid dividends as the keen ears of the group’s leaders identified a Reed Warbler which was also briefly seen by a few members. Also Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler, a Cetti’s Warbler, and Dunnocks (sometimes known as Hedge Sparrows) could all be heard in the vicinity. Further along the route Starlings were seen interestingly using the hole in a mature Aspen tree in which to build their nest.

Many wild flowers and plants were noted adjacent to the banks including Wild Garlic, White Dead Nettles, Hogweed, Ladies Smock (sometimes known as Cuckooflower) and Ground Ivy, but the yellow flowers of the Colts Foot had already gone to seed.

The white lacy flowers of the Blackthorn were in abundance but the Hawthorn trees were still in bud. It was encouraging to see that many varieties of trees including Willow, Rowan, Hazel, English Oaks and  Black Poplars that had been planted by volunteers from the Group in years gone by were largely thriving and doing their bit to act as efficient wind breaks along both sides of the Rife. However, it was alarming to see that the prolonged lack of rain had caused the water levels in the Lagoon areas to be unseasonably low, with no evidence of tadpoles. With eyes raised at the sound of a nearby Green Woodpecker it was a delight to see 2 Little Egrets resting in a tree unperturbed by people passing by. Magpies were plentiful and a nest was spotted at the top of Willow tree precariously being blown about by the cold north wind.

One of the highlights of the morning was the sight of a female Mallard duck jauntily swimming along in the water followed by her 13 (yes, 13!) tiny ducklings. As the teams neared the footbridge a solitary Heron was seen wading in the shallow water before taking flight towards the Kingston Gorse area – it amazed the teams at how large these distinctive birds are.

On a fine day, and at water levels unusually low for this time of year, the Rife appears to be calm and unproblematic, but this wasn’t always the case – prior to the 1980’s it was comparatively shallower and narrower. The construction of the West Durrington estate with the consequence of extra surface run off, and the combination of torrential rain in the autumn of 1980 together with a high tide, the Rife overflowed its banks, flooding many houses in both North and South Ferring of up to 2 feet or more. The same problem occurred 3 weeks later and this prompted Southern Water (who were responsible for maintaining the Rife at that time) to take preventative action. In 1982 a scheme was started to widen the watercourse and raise the banks on both sides. The bank on the west side was left slightly lower than the east bank to allow any excess water to flow into two lagoons that had been created for this purpose.

During the walk around 32 species of birds were either heard or observed along the way in addition to the evidence of many flourishing trees, wild flowers and plants. It was reassuring to find that this important area is still thriving and providing an important and valuable sanctuary for local wildlife. Still in their teams of 6, members enjoyed some refreshments at the outside seating area of the impressive newly built café at Ferring Country Centre.

Woodland Walk at Patching 22nd April

On a beautiful sunny, but chilly, morning 18 members of Ferring Conservation Group met in France Lane at Patching for a woodland walk. With social distancing rules paramount 3 teams of six people with their knowledgeable guides Tricia Hall, Peter Dale and Graham Tuppen strode out across a newly ploughed field following the public footpath signs to discover the secrets at the heart of a typical English wood. Woods are special and remain the last refuge for many fauna and flora, and a place of seasonal wonder.

The hope was to find carpets of Bluebells and the three groups set off at a gentle pace keeping their eyes peeled and ears tuned for the sights and sounds of this wonderful sanctuary of nature. Carefully following the long established footpaths it was soon noted that although some of the Bluebells were indeed in bloom, many were still in tight bud due to the unusually cld April weather. This did not dampen the enthusiasm of the three teams and as they ventured deeper into the wood their reward was soon realised with the green leaves of Dog’s Mercury – this poisonous plant is a good indicator of an ancient woodland. Pretty Wood Anemones were inter-spaced with pale Primroses, delicate Violets and the shade loving perennial, Lords-and-Ladies Lilies. Lesser Celandines added a splash of bright yellow complementing the purple petals of Ground-ivy which is a member of the dead-nettle family and is not closely related to Ivy as its name suggests. Along with Wood Spurge, White Dead Nettle, Red Campion and a few Goldilocks Buttercups they unexpectedly came across beautiful Early Purple Orchids which were apparent in several areas. Although they are uncommon each plant consists of 50 rich purple-pink flowers which give off a strong and unpleasant smell once the flowers have been fertilised.

The clouds of snow-white flowers of the Blackthorn edged the wood and these spiny and densely branched trees can grow to the height of around 6-7m and live for up to 100 years. The favourite winter tipple of Sloe Gin is made from its rich, dark inky berries. Numerous bird sound was identified including Chiffchaffs, Great Tits, a Song Thrush and a rather enthusiastic Wren. The pitiful cry of a Buzzard could be heard on the wind although this bird remained unseen. A single Robin was spotted standing boldly at the side of the footpath and as the Groups made their way back a Comma butterfly was enjoying the warmth from the sun on the branch of a Blackthorn tree, also a Bee Fly had the same idea as it rested by the path. A Brimstone, Peacock and Orange Tip were seen at the edge of the wood. Despite the disappointment of the lack of Bluebells the members thanked their guides and considered the morning an interesting and worthwhile exercise and were grateful to once again take part in an organised Group activity.

 

Ferring Beach and Goring Gap Information Boards

Those of you who walk along Patterson’s walk may have noticed that the information board has been updated with a new insert and clear covering of polycarbonate on September 23rd, and the one on Goring Gap on December 10th.
Both are much better for it, and will hopefully stay looking good for some years.
The new artwork was done by Jenny Hawkesly with input from Clive Hope, and the installation was done by Graham Tuppen. If anyone spots any problems with either, please contact him via email at grahamtuppen@hotmail.com  or tel 01903 240244. The Gap board was done as a joint project with the Goring and Ilex Preservation Group, whom we thank.

Nestbox Survey

Recently, committee member Graham Tuppen and Chairman, David Bettiss carried out our annual survey and cleaning of the various bird nest boxes around the public places in the village. These are situated at Little Twitten, the Village Green and Glebelands, as well as the Ferring Country Centre. It was really pleasing to report that all bar one of the boxes had been used by birds during the past Summer, with nests present in them.

The nests were made up of different materials, with the most common being mosses and feathers, while on the Village Green, one had a large amount of hair, with the Country Centre ones unsurprisingly having a lot of straw and hay present. In one box, there were a number of abandoned eggs (probably Blue Tits), in one a dead Great Tit, in another a couple of very young dead Blue Tits, and finally one had a large circular hole drilled into the front of the box right next to the official hole which had been protected by a metal plate. This was presumably done by a Woodpecker, and could even have been used by them as their own nest.

We hope that all the remaining boxes had raised at least one or maybe more successful broods, and even those above would have raised some chicks. Anyway all of them are now clean and ready to welcome new occupants in the Spring of 2021.

FCG Walk on the Gallops above Findon 22nd October

This outing was led by Ferring Conservation Group’s bird expert, Clive Hope. Ten members met at Nepcote Green and divided into two groups and proceeded at a leisurely pace up the Gallops and onto the path which runs between Cissbury and Chanctonbury. They later returned along a short section of the Monarch’s Way.

It was a bit late for migrants, but groups of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Common and Herring Gulls were evident and the only raptors were two Kestrels. In a muddy pool at the top, Yellowhammers and a single Chaffinch were bathing and drinking. There were groups of Linnets and Goldfinches, brief views of a Song Thrush and a Chiffchaff and excellent views of a Stonechat. A total of 25 birds were seen and heard.

On the Gallops a surprising number of late-flowering plants were noted including: Common Toadflax, Harebell, Knapweed and Meadow Sweet. There were a few edible mushrooms and some rather beautiful Parasols, Macrolepiota procera.

 

 

 

FCG Woodland Walk to Pulborough RSPB Reserve 15th October

On a beautiful sunny day, 11 members met in the car park and divided into two socially distancing bubbles. Our aim was to look at various trees and fungi as we went on our circular walk through the woods. Our first stop was to admire the outstanding views across the heath to the South Downs. The dominant tree is the Scots Pine and we examined the leaves which are adapted as paired, waxy, needles to conserve water and allow snow to fall off. Second stop wasan area of Sweet Chestnut coppice. These trees came to Britain with the Romans, providing valuable food and timber and later the trees were coppiced to provide long poles

Small Stagshorn – Calocera viscosa

needed to support hops for the brewing industry.

Hops are now strung on wires but coppiced chestnut poles are still used for fencing.

We also examined a large Larch, a deciduous conifer whose needles sprout in little groups and drop in winter. On its branches were small cones and lots of foliose lichens, a good indicator of a non-polluted environment. The lichens are a symbiotic association between a fungus and an alga. Other trees were mature Oaks, Beech, Holly and masses of young Silver Birches.

Earthball

Birds were few. We heard Green Woodpecker and Raven and saw and heard Buzzard. We noted two different heathers: Calluna vulgaris or Ling which flowers in the summer and Erica tetralix or Cross-leaved Heath in the damper areas, some of which was still in flower.

Although the proposed fungal trail had not yet been laid out we enjoyed searching for our own fungi which included bracket fungi like Turkey Tail and Birch Polypore, a yellow Stagshorn, a puffball, one of the Boletes (with pores, not gills) the aptly-named King Alfred’s Cakes and a number of unidentified ‘toadstools’.

The fungal trail has now been opened and should be worth a visit. The RSPB shop is open Wednesday to Sunday and you can buy coffee.

Tricia Hall

FCG Outing to Patching Hill on Thursday, 27th August led by Clive Hope.

Seventeen members in three bubbles assembled at the small parking area at the north end of Patching at 10am and made their way up the footpath onto the Hill. The weather remained dry but grey and cool. We took our time checking the bushes and grassland for any interesting birds, insects and plants and slowly made our way up to the woodland briefly entering the Angmering Park Estate before retracing our steps via the small reservoir on the lower path and so back to the cars.

Few birds were seen on the outward leg, the highlights being Greenfinches, Kestrel, Buzzard, distant Red Kite and, rather strangely, a Little Egret flying over. The hoped for migrants had largely moved on with just a Willow Warbler and Whitethroat glimpsed. Overhead 2 House Martins and 3 or 4 Swallows appeared, a Raven croaked and there were Jackdaws calling.

On the return, we saw a party of 12 to 15 Yellowhammers along the hedgerow bordering the path, together with a single Linnet and an obliging Whitethroat. Other common birds were Goldfinches, Robins, Blue Tits, Wood Pigeons, Herring Gulls, Blackbird, Magpies and Crows.

In spite of the lack of sunshine we found a number of butterflies, many roosting but this gave us a chance to examine their undersides which often show good camouflage: Small Heath, Meadow Brown, Small Copper, Common Blue, Speckled Wood and Small White.

Plants included Small Scabious, Eyebright, Red Bartsia, many beautiful Harebells and a single Round-headed Rampion after which the offshore wind farm is named.

We also admired the enormous mature trees at the entrance to the Angmering Estate, especially the Beeches, Oaks and Ashes and we found a few fungi including Southern Bracket on Beech and Oyster mushrooms on a fallen log.

Afterwards, seven of us went to the Highdown cafe for a snack. It was a very enjoyable outing with a lively and interested group. It is lovely for the Conservation Group to be out and about again.

A Walk along the Ferring Rife to look at Wildlife – 20th August 2020

Despite a gloomy start to the morning, members of Ferring Conservation Group met at the Bluebird Café car park to take a leisurely stroll along the banks of the Rife. Tricia Hall, their guide for the morning, set a challenge to find ten listed butterflies along the way, as well as looking for wild flowers, trees and birds. Fortunately the sun showed its face as members split into two socially distanced groups and followed Tricia along the west bank heading north towards Ferring Country Centre. They were soon surprised by the abundance of wild flowers that adorned the bank, including Meadowsweet, Great Willow Herb, Yarrow and Yellow Loosestrife and the familiar Michaelmas Daisies were also evident.

As the Group approached the Lagoons members were dismayed to witness they had all dried out. Some members commented that these are a valuable water source for many wildlife species and would therefore need to be dug out to a greater depth to prevent total evaporation. Although the lagoons failed to present any interesting sightings a male Common Darter Dragon Fly was spotted resting on a stone nearby.

Set against a backdrop of Elders, Sliver Birch, Field Maple, Willow, Mountain Ash and a few Black Poplars, several Gelder Rose bushes were already laden with bright red berries. In the hedgerows wild blackberries were ripening off and it was noticed that Sloes were also plentiful this year. Tricia pointed out four Little Egrets and two Herons perched together on the same large tree; a regular resting place for these related birds.

Along the way members reported the following butterfly sightings; a Green Veined White, a Small White, four Speckled Wood, a Gatekeeper and many Red Admiral.

Welcome refreshments were taken at Ferring Country Centre where members thanked Tricia for a very enjoyable morning and agreed it was good to experience a Group activity once again.

Ferring Conservation Group has had to postpone all forthcoming Group meetings until further notice. Please visit:  ferringconservationgroup.co.uk  –  for the latest news.

 

 

Nature Notes – 16th June

A few Small Tortoiseshell butterflies have been seen on the Rife. Once exceedingly common, they are now only seen in very small numbers. Their eggs are laid on nettles and there are plenty of these on the Rife so it is unclear why they are in steep decline. If you see any in your garden please report them to me to my email address: pat@pathallpics.co.uk. If you walk up onto Highdown, the Marbled Whites have just emerged. Look out also for the Large and Small Skippers.

If you have an opportunity to travel up to the Knepp Estate on the A24 (only 20 minutes by car from Ferring) you will just catch the young storks before they leave their nest. This is the first time ever for 400 years that storks have bred in this country and right on our doorstep. A unique and wonderful experience which you may have seen on Springwatch.

If you are confined to your garden, look out for all the small ‘bugs’ that are visiting our plants. If you have a herb bed, you may see the delightful little Mint Moth. You could make a list of all the insects that you see in your garden: Ladybirds, Greenflies, Dragonflies, Damselflies, Bees, Wasps, Flies, Hover flies and Beetles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nature Notes – 5th June

Yesterday, a Spoonbill was spotted by Ron and Jan Tutheridge flying over Goring Gap.

A Cuckoo was also seen and many people have reported hearing a Cuckoo in the second half of May, especially over the Rife and further west. Yesterday, also, Clive Hope saw 4 Bottlenose Dolphins following a trawler off Ferring beach and David Campbell saw 6. So keep looking! Peter Dale has reported a few Bee Orchids in the North Lagoon together with Early Marsh Orchids. In the ‘Yurt’ field up McIntyre’s Lane Graham Tuppen has found 18 Bee Orchids.

On the reservoir there are small numbers of Pyramidal Orchids amongst the dry grasses, back after being mown to death for several years. It is very dry on the reservoir but I don’t think it has been mown. Highdown Hill is looking very dry but there are lots of Skylarks and a few Yellowhammers. Although the vegetation is parched, there are extraordinary numbers of Yellow Rattle flowers and the purple Lesser Knapweeds (Hardheads) are coming into flower.

The meadow below Highdown Gardens is covered in an astonishing number of Ox-eye Daisies. There are also many Common Broomrapes, a curious parasitic plant that produces no chlorophyll. It has pale yellow/fawn flowers and stems and no leaves.

The only butterflies of note are many Small Heaths on Highdown and some bright-blue newly-emerged Common Blues. In woodland, Speckled Woods are flitting about. At Patching there are Grizzled Skippers and Dingy Skippers and a few bright red and black Cinnabar Moths.

Finally, on June 1st on Cissbury, I saw a male Northern Wheatear, a very striking black and white bird. This is a very late record for a bird that may be making its way back to Greenland to breed.

Bee Orchid in a field near Highdown

Pyramidal Orchids on Highdown

Lesser Knapweed

Ox-eye Daisies in meadow below Highdown

Common Blue on Highdown

Speckled Wood at Patching

Wheatear on Cissbury