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Enjoy a six-mile nature walk from Little Hadham to Patmore Heath and back in Hertfordshire





Nature Notes columnist Jono Forgham covers your fortnightly look at nature around Bishop's Stortford...

It was a week last Thursday that I set off for my Nature Notes wander as I was heading to Portugal the following week, so needed to get the walk in a little earlier than usual. My plan was to wander from Little Hadham to Patmore Heath, via Hadham Hall, and then return along the Ash Valley and take footpaths to Upwick Green and back along the farm track to Hadham Hall. Everything went well and I recorded plenty.

I was hoping to catch sight of some migrating birds on passage to sub-Saharan Africa and I didn't have to wait too long before one made the day list: a wheatear. This is a bird that migrates to moorland and higher ground in the north of England in spring where it breeds before making the return journey from late August. They are annual passage migrants in and around Little Hadham and the track north from Hadham Hall is a usual place to find them. This one was perched on a new fence along the Little Hadham bypass adjacent to the new bridge. A great start. A new bird for my Indie list, now totalling 102 species since October 2017.

Chicory (59062570)
Chicory (59062570)

I pressed on, noting a good stand of wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare). I shall return for a spot of foraging along this track as there were also elderberries in profusion and many ripe blackberries. The fields along the track to Upwick Hall are planted with lucerne, a clover-type plant, and these attract bee and butterfly species. Both small and large whites were fluttering over the blue/purple flowers as well as several bee species. One macro moth that has lucerne as its larval food plant is the finely-marked latticed heath. Just a brush on the crop with my hand and several of these moths took to the wing. Several common blue butterflies were also present.

Flocks of long-tailed tits called from the hedgerow. A quick check on the number of species of trees and shrubs here informed me that this was an ancient hedgerow, perhaps more than 800 years old. A good species here was elm. I checked the leaves for signs of the micro moths Epinotia abbreviana, Stigmella lemniscella and Stigmella ulmivora. All three were present as the larvae of all three feed on English elm and wych elm.

The caterpillar of Epinotia abrreviana leaves a very obvious pattern of bite marks upon the leaf and this is easy to spot. It does not have the strength in its jaws to chew through the veins of the leaf, so just ignores these and munches another hole on the next softer part of the leaf.

Colletes hederae (59062612)
Colletes hederae (59062612)

A juvenile common buzzard mewed from afar, a female kestrel hovered nearby and a great spotted woodpecker called from within a field maple as I picked up the footpath at Brooms Farm and continued northwards. Here, all cereal fields, now just stubble and awaiting the cultivator. Little was observed along this stretch, but it was still early and there was a bit of a breeze so I made a mental note of ivy in hedges, fruit fully ripe, with a view to check these upon my return when the temperatures will have increased.

I approached the footpath heading up to Patmore Heath and realised I had very few photos. When I find myself taking pictures of sheep I know I am a little short on content! However, the sheep obliged to having their portrait taken and I moved on. Another female kestrel stood on a dead tree, but too far away for a photo.

I arrived at the Essex Wildlife Trust reserve that is Patmore Heath and began to check the large stands of rosebay willowherb that are present here. Most had gone to seed, but still some offered nectar for bee species, including Bombus hypnorum, the tree bumblebee. The honeysuckle that flourishes here was now showing the red berries, but popping up from the ground were a few nodding heads of the very delicate harebell. This campanula species is one that likes dry ground and the heath was certainly dry – bone dry – apart from the small pond in the south-west corner, which is where I headed next.

Blue tits, great tits, house sparrows and a blackcap were all in the willows that encircle the pond, showing plenty of bulrushes. As expected, the water level here was very low.

Field grasshopper (59062572)
Field grasshopper (59062572)

Grasshopper species jumped in front of my footfall and several small heath butterflies flew a short distance before landing again. They rest on the ground, almost on their side, a characteristic that makes them easy to identify. Nearby, a small clump of white campion was in flower before I made my way down the lane for refreshment at The Catherine Wheel. My wife Wendy popped up to enjoy a glass of rose whilst I parted with an extortionate amount of money for a pint!

I wandered over to put some litter in the bin outside the pub and noticed a small moth sitting upon a leaf. I instantly recognised it as Loxostege stricticalis, a seriously rare moth for Hertfordshire. By the time I had got my camera it was long gone. I only knew what it was as I had trapped one in the garden a few weeks previously and had difficulty identifying it as it was not depicted in my field guides. A quick search of Herts records for this species shows that today's record was only the sixth for the county following ones in 1900, 1995, 2001, 2013 and then my garden specimen. It is a migratory moth from western Europe and had probably come over here on the hot southerlies we have had recently. A good find.

I resisted the chance to remortgage the house for another pint and headed off along the lane towards High Hall and joined a footpath that runs along the very dry River Ash. I emerged by Albury Village Hall, crossed the road and headed up through woodland and on to a wide path, back near Brooms Farm. Here, on the path, I noticed small patches of sand containing tiny holes. A bee species, perhaps a mining bee, but no, better than that. Colletes hederae, the ivy bee, which were all just emerging from the larval stage. Males flew close to the ground and pounced upon an emerging female. Some males were inspecting the tunnels and when a female did emerge males dived upon her and there was a large mass of bees rolling around. This is known as a mating ball. I changed lenses to try to get some close-ups.

Colletes hederae (59062614)
Colletes hederae (59062614)

This bee, new to science in 1993, is one of our last bees to emerge and can be found feeding upon ivy flowers during the day. It has very distinctive yellow hoops on the abdomen.

Nearby, a parasol mushroom had recently emerged, informing that autumn had arrived. A super mushroom for eating, but needs to be collected when first appearing as, after a day or two, it can become full of insect larvae.

Great tit feeding on elderberries (59062574)
Great tit feeding on elderberries (59062574)

I left the bees to their mass brawls and checked some nearby ivy. No bees, but a holly blue butterfly rested upon nearby hawthorn. I then returned, via Upwick Hall footpath, to where there was an Elder tree dripping with berries. A blackcap and a great tit were busily feeding here.

A successful check for the wheatear, still on the fence as I crossed the bridge, and I was soon back home after a six-mile wander where I had seen much. The wheatear, bees and the micro moth were, indeed, highlights. So many signs that it is now autumn and the days of a walk wearing a T-shirt and shorts are, I suspect, numbered, so it was good to make the most of this fine weather, even if the ground is crying out for a good few days' drizzle that will soak in, not a hard, heavy downpour that just runs off the rock solid soil.

Harebell (59062576)
Harebell (59062576)

Upon my return from a few days in Faro, I shall retrace my steps with some bags to pick the fruit and the leaves of the marjoram to dry at home for the herb rack. This is an unusual plant for this area, preferring calcareous soils, and consequently is much more profuse in north Herts and the Chilterns. Its presence here shows there must be a small outcrop of chalk.

A highly enjoyable wander along well-marked footpaths and Patmore Heath is always worthy of a visit, so highly recommended.

Holly blue (59062581)
Holly blue (59062581)
Latticed heath (59062583)
Latticed heath (59062583)
Parasol mushroom (59062585)
Parasol mushroom (59062585)
Small heath (59062587)
Small heath (59062587)
Some sheep (59062589)
Some sheep (59062589)
Starlings (59062604)
Starlings (59062604)
The easy-to-spot pattern left by the feeding caterpillar Epinotia abbreviana upon elm leaves (59062606)
The easy-to-spot pattern left by the feeding caterpillar Epinotia abbreviana upon elm leaves (59062606)
White campion (59062608)
White campion (59062608)
Wild marjoram (59062610)
Wild marjoram (59062610)

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