Stream dipping, pond dipping and bug hunting
at RSPB Coombes and Churnet.

Sunday 11th May 2008

One of around 200 reserves run by the RSPB, Coombes Valley is situated just outside Leek on the Ashbourne Road. Essentially a woodland reserve, there are also beautiful areas of unimproved grassland (natural wildflower meadows managed without fertilizer or pesticide application), a purpose-built dipping pond and the clear waters of Combes Brook running through the valley to explore.

Our Wildlife Explorer meeting coincided with a scorching hot day – ideal for a bit of bug hunting and stream dipping! Armed with bug pots, sweep nets, dipping nets and plenty of identification charts we headed off on to the reserve.
In the first meadow we looked for Dock Leaf Beetles. They are bright emerald green and we saw gravid females that were so full of eggs that their wing cases could not close. Some of the females had already laid small clusters of tiny bright yellow eggs on the underside of the leaves. At the next meadow we went bug hunting using bug pots and sweep nets.
Our bug list for the day included: Peacock butterfly, Plant bug, Dock Leaf Beetle, Crane Fly and ....Frog!
There were lots of butterflies flying in the sunshine including Large White, Orange Tip and Speckled Wood.
At the bottom of the valley we went stream dipping in Combes Brook. We were careful on the slippy stones and found lots of exciting creatures. We identified stonefly larvae, mayfly larvae, flattened mayfly larvae, caddis fly larvae, blood worms, and signal crayfish (see pic below right).
Whilst we were eating our picnics Richard, a residential volunteer at the reserve, brought some moths for us to look at. They had been caught on the previous evening in the reserve’s moth trap. We saw a Hebrew Character, a Lime Hawk Moth (see pic above left) and a caddis fly – which was great as we had seen caddis fly larvae (some with their distinctive cases) when we were stream dipping.

These four pictures were taken by Hayden Clark.

After lunch some Wildlife Explorers stayed on to do some pond dipping. We saw quite different creatures in the pond – pond snails, damselfly larvae, water louses, waterboatmen, pond skaters, water fleas, phantom midge larvae and gnat larvae . We even saw a newt but it was far too wary to be caught!
The bird list for the day included pied flycatcher, buzzard, sparrowhawk, kestrel, swallow (spotted nipping into the education shelter in search of insects!), chaffinch, redstart, robin and great spotted woodpecker.
Coombes Valley RSPB reserve is open every day and entry is Free of Charge. There is a circular woodland trail and a small visitor centre. The reserve runs education visits, family events and even Birthday parties – please call Rosalind Sleigh on 07921 740679 for details. RSPB Coombes and Churnet.