Enjoy a six-mile Hertfordshire wildlife walk starting at Tesco in Bishop's Stortford
Jono Forgham covers your fortnightly look at nature around Bishop's Stortford...
A week last Monday broke sunny and warm, so I thought I would wait for the temperature to rise a little more and then head off to check butterfly species west of the town. My last article featured these jewels of lepidoptera around Woodside Green and, as it was the last few days for Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count, I thought East Wood, Stocking Wood and Harvey's Wood could come up with some interesting insects. I wasn't disappointed.
Parking at Tesco, I took Dukes Ride and then Knights Close to cross over the bypass and on to the footpath that runs adjacent to Great Plantings Wood. I had only crossed the road when I heard the distant call of a raven. One to check on later.
The previous week I had led a butterfly walk for 11 members of the Stortford Nature Facebook group. We accumulated a total of 21 species in the three hours we were out. This, due to overcast conditions, was unlikely to be repeated, but I was sure some rarer species would still be on the wing.
As I wandered by Great Plantings Wood, gatekeeper, small and green-veined white were in good numbers. A larger butterfly, a peacock, patrolled over the wheat field as a distant yellowhammer called. In the ash and oak a large family of blue tits fed, darting from tree to tree. This will be a second brood, if not a third. The juveniles are already adept at hanging upside down to glean insects such as caterpillars from the underside of leaves, where they will have also encountered roosting adult moths.
I came to East Wood and there, on the pylon, was the raven, "cronking" its unmissable call. I suspect it was a juvenile as it called frequently. I fired off some shots, but too distant for this article. The raven is establishing itself in East Herts/West Essex and I would not be surprised to find that a pair bred in East Wood this year as later during my wander, a party of three headed over back towards East Wood. A wonderful bird to see and one that was basically extinct in Herts only 15 years ago.
I stopped in the ride by East Wood to check the yarrow, greater knapweed and other flowering plants for feeding insects. A colourful female Oedemera nobilis (thick-thighed beetle) was busy on a flowerhead. This had lost plenty of its green metallic sheen and showed an unusual red hue. A large hoverfly attracted my attention, Eristalis tenax, also nectaring upon flowers, and everywhere there were Episyrphus balteatus, the marmalade hoverfly.
I moved around to Stocking Wood and headed to an area I know holds good numbers of many species of butterflies on a hot and sunny early-August day. Today was not that day, but I still scored with silver-washed fritillary, comma and a variety of white species. I searched a lone elm tree for white-letter hairstreak, a small brown butterfly, but none were noted upon the leaves. However, one rose from an unseen roost and flew high into the elm. This tree is its only larval foodplant, so find an elm in July and early August and it is highly likely there will be white-letter hairstreak present.
Honeysuckle was apparent in Stocking Wood, a bright yellow variety and a good nectar plant for a deciduous woodland. Other plants noticeable were on the periphery of the wheat fields – poppies, chamomile daisy, more knapweed – and these were all attracting bee species, hoverflies and butterflies. A pristine red admiral fed on knapweed whilst many meadow browns navigated through long grass, often accompanied by the smaller and more orange gatekeeper.
I carried on, coming to a crossroads of footpaths and byways – right for Bury Green, left for Thorley Houses and straight on for Much Hadham. I plumped for the latter and soon found myself crossing a rickety, sideways footbridge before emerging on to a path with good hedgerow upon my right. Here, several southern and migrant hawker dragonflies kept an eye upon their territory whilst also taking time to rest upon the hedge.
I soon came across Harvey's Wood, a recent planting where the call of the nuthatch prevailed and a great spotted woodpecker darted to a dead tree. In the distance, the plaintive call of a juvenile common buzzard requesting fodder. I had noticed on the walk up until this point that birds were more prolific than a few weeks ago. They are completing their post-breeding moult and are now back feeding and calling. A chiffchaff burst into its repetitive communication "wheat wheat" call and a wren alarm called as I sat down to enjoy my picnic.
Following my sustenance, I checked a large bramble patch. Upon one leaf a gatekeeper butterfly rested, but it wasn't until I focused the camera that I noted that right next to it was a common green grasshopper. Photo opportunity for both species.
I then took the path around the southern end of Harvey's Wood, checking another elm before taking the main path through the centre of this pleasing habitat. The central ride has become far more floral over the last three years and, consequently, the insect residents have increased in both number and species. More dragonflies, but also a painted lady and peacock butterfly nectaring on side-by-side heads of field scabious. A female sparrowhawk darted from her station and into another oak tree, and I then spotted a speckled wood butterfly upon leaves. Good photo chance.
I headed up towards Clinton's Farm and took the footpath on the right that deposited me on Lower Lane, Bury Green. Turning right brought me back to the footpath crossroads and back through Stocking Wood. I noted a good stand of burdock, upon one leaf a definite fly leaf mine. I took a photo and identified it later as the larva of a tiny fly, Phytomyza lappae.
I arrived back at Tesco having seen 14 species of butterfly – not a bad list for a six-mile wander on a grey day. This walk offers much in the way of wildlife and, considering the start is a supermarket car park and within 30 minutes there will be the chance to see over 12 species of butterfly, just shows how good our habitat is west of the town. A wander I recommend, even before or after the weekly shop!
May I take this chance to plug an event on Friday October 8. I am giving a nature presentation at South Mill Arts as part of the mayor's charity event. I shall be waxing lyrical about my 50-plus years of nature watching and presenting photos of my year-long study of the wildlife in my small rural garden.
All proceeds from the event, with no charge for the theatre nor technicians and staff, will be split 50/50 between Isabel Hospice and MindGarden, a learning centre I have helped establish in Sri Lanka for teenagers and youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them develop their English speaking skills to enhance their employment prospects.
Tickets are available at southmillarts.co.uk and the price includes a drinks reception before the show. Already 100 tickets have been sold. It promises to be both informative and light-hearted. Families most welcome with complimentary tickets for under-14s. I will be very pleased to see readers come along.