Leader Phillip Delve
Black Dog is an extensive woodland, between Westbury and Frome, owned by the Longleat Estate and bisected by the A36 dual carriageway. From Black Dog Farm, where we left half our cars, 15 of us, sharing lifts in the other cars, transferred 400m north west along the dual carriageway to the lay-by from which we could access the west side of the wood.
The trees here are predominantly Ash, with Poplar and Birch in the mix. Oak trees line the main rides, with just a few conifers. In sunlight, flowering bramble beside these rides usually attracts butterflies; however in poor light, we saw few butterflies at the start of our walk along the main ride, where much of the bramble had been cleared back in the winter.
Fortunately as we reached the centre of the wood, where rides cross, the first of several sunny intervals brought out the butterflies. Silver-washed Fritillary and White Admiral appeared with a supporting cast of Large, Small and Essex Skippers, Red Admiral, Meadow Brown and Ringlet. Cameras clicked! Also photographed here were a pair of mating Thick-headed (canopid) flies, later identified as sp. Sicus ferruginous, an endoparasite of bumble bees.
From here we took the track north where thin soil and more open conditions produced a different flora. Self Heal, St Johns and Nipple Wort, Vervain, Mullein and Woundwort. As well as butterflies, each side of the track buzzed with Dark Bush Crickets and a female Emperor Dragonfly settled for photographs.
We retraced our steps back to the main ride, where some of us saw a distant Roe Deer. From here, we then took an eastward path through a stand of tall, open canopy Ash trees. Here we saw our only Speckled Wood butterfly and tiny baby Toads under foot! Crossing the track at the south eastern edge of the wood, we mounted steps up to the Godswell Grove pond.
Four-spotted Chasers, a Brown Hawker and Large red-eyed damselflies were flying in sunlight.
A couple of Moorhens emerged across the pond and a Buzzard flew overhead. Alice Nissen recognised, from a couple of yellow flowers growing in the pond, that the dominant small lily pads were in fact Fringed Water Lily Nynphoides pelota, a member of the Bogbean family.
Upon leaving the pond, several of our party found a woodwasp ovipositing into wood, by the track close by. This has since been identified as Giant Horntail Grocers gigas.
Following this track northward, we headed back to Black Dog Farm and our transport to the lay-by along the dual carriageway, where the other cars were parked ready for the journey back to Bath.