Bishop's Stortford Independent Nature Notes columnist Jono Forgham makes first house martin and swallow sightings of the year on a wander to Hadham Hall
Nature Notes columnist Jono Forgham gets out of the house to stretch his legs for some daily exercise, walking to Hadham Hall and back, and makes his first house martin and swallow sightings of the year...
After five weeks of going no further than our small garden I thought a third consecutive report from home would be a trifle repetitive, so last Monday I set off from home, armed with cameras and binoculars, for a peaceful walk towards Hadham Hall along excellent footpaths, all full of typical late April nature. It was wonderful to be out and about and gave me the time to appreciate the beauty of nature that surrounds our town.
I crossed the River Ash opposite the Nag's Head pub and spent a minute on the bridge looking into the water. A movement caught my eye in the long grass around a gate post, a weasel skulking around. Gone long before I could reach for the camera but a super start to the walk. Upon entering the hay field I took the path diagonally across the meadow that skirts around Bluebell Wood before picking up some high ground towards the village primary school. Plenty to record here. Greater stitchwort, red campion and ground ivy were all in full bloom as was the burgeoning hedge parsley. This had just come into flower but not yet enough to give off its pungent scent to attract nectaring insects and their predators. Couple more weeks before this happens.
The air was full of St. Mark's flies. These are the jet black insects that hover around at head height with dangling long legs. April 25 is St. Mark's Day, hence the name as it is always at this time of the year that they are on the wing. Literally thousands of them, some roosting on the newly-emerged hawthorn blossom, or Mayflower. Skylarks called from above and a mixed group of jackdaws and carrion crows probed the soil of a bean field. The recognisable calls of chaffinches, yellowhammers and great tits from the hedge as I approached a corner of the path directly behind the school.
My phone pinged with an email from the office forwarded to me from Jane, inquiring about a mystery insect that she had found on her salvia plants. A quick glance told me it was one of the Coleophora micro moth species, but with many of them in this family, I passed on a message that I would come back with a determination upon my return.
A friendly dog called Simba greeted me here, barking his instructions to keep two metres away. A chat followed about wildlife and cameras - with Simba's owner, not Simba personally - before I headed towards the A120. Earlier in the morning I had received a phone call about a dead fox on the road and I had said I would check to see if it was a lactating female. However, when I found it there was no chance of doing this as it was still in the road. If I had been able to ascertain if it were, I could have gone and checked for cubs.
Having crossed the main road, which was far busier than I had anticipated, there were goldfinches and wood pigeons on the telegraph wires. An orange tip butterfly flew past and soon after a small tortoiseshell did the same. This stopped for a fleeting moment and afforded photo opportunities.
I continued through the small industrial site, heading towards Hadham Hall. Plenty of scrub land here and so it wasn't long before the warbling songs of both blackcap and whitethroat could be heard from the brambles. A small hoverfly attracted my attention, Eristalis tenax, before the ponds at the hall were checked. Here, successful mallard breeding with seven ducklings powering themselves over the water, all under the watchful eye of mum. Coots and Moorhens here too as more goldfinches called from the black poplar trees. High overhead the mewing of a red kite had me skywatching. Glad I did as way up I clocked two swallows and then, shortly after, five house martins. My first sightings this year of both species.
A check over the arable fields behind the hall before I wandered along the drive back towards the main road and on to Millfield Lane. Huge stand of cowslip in one field was most pleasing, a buzzard rose from its regular perch atop a dead tree stump followed by another kite soaring upon the thermals. A pair of bullfinches flew in front of me before hiding in the hedge, a most secretive bird at the best of times, but particularly in the breeding season. Along the verge, more flowering wild plants, especially germander speedwell with its bright blue, delicate petals before a dancing insect appeared to cross the lane. Its flight pattern of up and down as if not fully in control of its eventual landing place made it easy to follow until it roosted upon hazel leaves. An Adela reaumurella micro moth with unfeasibly long antennae. I had seen one in the garden only the previous day but this one was far more well marked, with flecks of gold upon the wings.
I took up the footpath over the polo fields and back down the hill to the River Ash alongside Muggin's Wood. Great spotted woodpeckers called along with an irate jay. On a post along here a Nuctenea umbratica spider, the walnut orb web species. Usually nocturnal but this one posed well for a few photos before I completed the walk back on the footbridge in the village.
A wonderful ramble with plenty to see and I look forward to another one soon. Until the restrictions on driving to a destination for a walk are relaxed, I shall continue to give updates from the Hadhams. Plenty of footpaths here for me to cover, so I certainly will not run out of places to visit.
The garden still continues to be my source of natural history fun and exploration. The species count of wild plants, insects, mammals and birds now stands at over 180, with one exceptional record. I was heading back to the house, all of 20 yards, when a bright coloured insect near the house caught my eye. Hard to miss really, with head and thorax being bright metallic green and the abdomen a bright red. I had the wrong lens on the camera so only managed a 'record shot'. This is a posh way of saying dreadful, out of focus shot but enough to identify it as a chrysis species of wasp, probably C. ignita, the marvellous ruby-tailed wasp. It will have been searching for holes in the brickwork where a mason bee may have laid eggs. Once these are found the wasp lays eggs in the nest and the wasp larvae feed on the eggs and young of the bee. Hence its other name, cuckoo wasp. This was the first time I had ever encountered this stunningly colourful insect.
Down at the moth trap a few new-for-year species occur but night time temperatures are too low to encourage good numbers of moths to travel to the light. However, a scorched carpet macro moth was a good find on April 8, this being three weeks earlier than any previous records of mine. The warm days in April will have helped this moth to emerge early from pupation.
Finally, I sat down with books to check out Jane's moth from her salvia. She had kindly supplied me with more photos and from these I could identify it as Coleophora albitarsella. The adult moth emerges in late May and measures 5mm in length.
This is a good moth record for Hertfordshire and for Bishop's Stortford in particular, the first record since 2010 for the town. A check on county records show that it has been recorded less than 30 times since the mid 1800's! It merited a mention in the April newsletter for Hertfordshire lepidopterists, so thank you to Jane. This record stands as the most unusual and rarest creature recorded via readers sending in photos for identification, so do keep them coming.