Lots of wildlife to be enjoyed on a six-mile circular walk in Hertfordshire from St James the Great church in Thorley to Allen's Green and back
Jono Forgham covers your fortnightly look at nature around Bishop's Stortford...
My last three reports have all basically come from one specific habitat, so I thought it was time for a change and to find a selection of different habitats on a longish walk. Consequently, I parked the car at St James the Great church in Thorley and set off along the footpath leading to Matthams Wood and Allen's Green. The sky was leaden and threatening, but no rain was forecast.
Upon accessing the footpath by the church, a quick scan over the fields showed two mute swans feeding in a cereal field in the direction of Trimm's Green whilst, overhead, the expected crow species. The whole of this area is basically one of vast open fields in a virtually hedgeless arable habitat, so it was no surprise when a skylark ascended, delivering its wonderful and melodic song.
This pleasant, liquid mixture of notes and clicks was to become the soundtrack to the whole walk. Certainly a bird that does well in these open fields where it nests upon the ground. When the female is on eggs the male continues to sing its territorial song before dropping rapidly back to the ground. However, it never lands right next to the nest. Instead it descends to a point some five to 10 metres away from the nest so as not to give its position away to watchful predators.
A large queen bumblebee trundled by – Bombus terrestris, the buff-tailed bumblebee. She was busying herself with finding a suitable nest site and was checking under vegetation for holes in the soil. A pair of greylag geese flew by, heading for the private fishing lakes that I would check later.
In the ditches near the imposing black barns of Moor Hall were clumps of lesser celandine and primulas all in flower whilst other plants, such as the parsley species, were leafing up nicely, ready to flower in late April. A blackbird pulled a worm from the soil and a well-plumaged feral pigeon watched me from the top of the barns as I continued towards Matthams Wood.
Over a footbridge and into the wood where the floor was a mixture of green plants, mainly dog mercury and last autumn's leaf fall. A fallen tree trunk attracted my attention as a good place for beetle species under the rotting bark. A few woodlice, Oniscus asellus, darted for cover but no hoped-for large beetle species. Possibly a little early in the year for these.
After stopping to chat with a friend who was walking his two black labradors, I took the concrete path around the back of the wood to view the lake. Plenty of Canada geese and more greylags along with mallards and two pairs of tufted ducks. A meadow pipit wisped in the long grass as more skylarks sang vociferously.
I retraced my steps, noting a pair of great spotted woodpeckers, a flurry of 30-plus redwings and a calling coal tit. Two common buzzards mewed overhead as the temperature dropped rapidly and it began to rain. I took partial shelter against the trunk of a large ash tree as the rain turned to hail. Over a recently-cultivated field, two red kites circled whilst, on the soil, numerous woodpigeons, more crow species and a lone jay.
The hail was soon replaced by drizzle so I continued, emerging on the road by a Second World War pillbox. Directly opposite was the footpath I was after, leading to Sacombes Ash Lane and Allen's Green. The drizzle was blowing in from my right-hand side, so I swapped my camera to my left shoulder as my trousers absorbed the dampness. Not the greatest walking weather, but the sky to the west looked clearer and by the time I reached Allen's Green it was warmer and drier.
A wren popped up onto a post, making for a lovely photo. Fortunately, I checked to see if it was any good and noticed the image was very hazy. Moisture had clouded the inside of my lens, so a stop to replace this with my 18-400mm one. It was now absolutely definite that a good bird would pop up for a distant shot that would be out of reach for this smaller lens and, sure enough, a male kestrel posed atop a telegraph pole.
I took the lane down towards Tharbies Farm and the Herts and Essex Cricket Centre. A pheasant wandered in another cereal field, just its green head and red wattle visible. A dunnock moved through a hedge whilst another common buzzard effortlessly circled above.
At the bottom of the lane I turned left, heading towards Trimm's Green. Along this lane were good, ancient hedgerows so it was no surprise to hear a yellowhammer calling, a typical bird of rural fields and hedges. A large party of fieldfares called from a distant tree whilst a large flock of starlings flew overhead in formation. By the entrance to the farm buildings, now used as a small industrial estate, is a memorial to RAF Sawbridgeworth and to those who lost their lives flying from this now disappeared aerodrome.
Where the lane joins the road from Sawbridgeworth to Green Tye were plenty of trees displaying their delicate white blossom, resplendent with yellow-headed stamens. One of the Prunus species, possibly bullace, as there were no thorns to indicate blackthorn. I waited a while here to see if the emerging sun would encourage some bee species to come along, but none did so I carried on passing the cottages of Trimm's Green.
Goldfinches scolded each other from a large garden tree before I turned left again into Spellbrook Lane West. A quick check on the small pond here realised nothing, but nearby was a good stand of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) in full flower. Another yellow springtime flower showing a perfectly-formed rosette flowerhead and an almost leafless stem.
I wondered what the reason for them all being yellow was as things like this in nature are seldom random. A quick check upon arriving home unearthed this fact. In 1907, John D Herz set up the yellow cab company in Chicago. He had previously read a scientific paper from the University of Chicago that argued that yellow is a colour that can be seen from a distance, and so it may well be that these flowers show yellow petals so they can be seen by pollinators such as newly-emerging bumblebees. With so few pollinators about in early spring, the flowers will need to do all they can to attract them.
More lesser celandine accompanied by the bright yellow of dandelions added more colour before I took the footpath behind a row of weatherboard cottages. Here, a few stiles are crossed before a wander through a muddy horse field. On my left was the field that earlier contained the two mute swans. They were still present and had now been joined by 36 geese, mainly Canada geese but also containing greylags.
A black-headed gull winged its way over another fishing lake before I crossed a stream and took the path back to Thorley church. To finish the walk, several more skylarks ascended in full song and these were joined by a singing robin and chaffinch, both within the churchyard.
A super six-mile wander that realised an impressive 39 species of birds as well as a good selection of early-flowering plants. I ended the walk by enjoying my picnic in the tranquil churchyard and checking through my photos. As usual, the delete button was well employed!
Just a reminder that if readers encounter any nature of interest, either in the garden or out on a wander, and would like to know a little more about it please do forward a photo to the Indie office and I will, hopefully, be able to give a few details. Last summer I offered an identification service and during the really hot spell I was receiving up to 50 photos a day, not all local. I got ones from Cornwall, a selection of beetles from Syria and several moths from Australia. Kept me busy during the lockdown.
Finally, I am now approaching the end of my year-long lockdown garden safaris that I began on March 23, 2020. I have endeavoured to spend some time each day finding insects, spiders and other miscellaneous creatures in the garden. The total at present is an amazing 853 species – over 60 bird species and 420 moth species along with 70-plus fly species.
To see the whole list, with loads of photos, go to https://littlehadhambirding.blogspot.co.uk and click on the featured post on the right of the screen.