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Enjoy a wildlife walk around Thremhall Park, the Flitch Way and Stansted Airport lagoons on the Hertfordshire and Essex border





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

We are now well into autumn and the season of bright colours on trees as well as bird migration. A good local spot to catch up with migrants moving south are the lagoons at Takeley Street where run-off water from Stansted Airport is stored and oxygenated before being fed into Pincey Brook.

Consequently, I set off to start a Nature Notes wander from Thremhall Park where there is a wonderful coffee shop and a small but interesting mixture of habitats: woods, grasslands, ponds and flowerbeds.

Shaggy inkcap (60067026)
Shaggy inkcap (60067026)

Once parked – it's free, but you must register your number plate on the iPad in the café – I headed indoors for a coffee. As I wandered over the lawn, I noticed a good stand of shaggy inkcap mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) pushing through the grass. One of the easiest mushrooms to identify and, when young, make for very good eating. These distinctive mushrooms have the nickname lawyer's wig as the white cap is covered with tiers of white scales. I took a few photos and got a coffee and met with Charis from Mantle, the company which runs the whole site.

I then moved on to check the moat and woodland area. The moat was virtually devoid of water with plenty of exposed mud. As I approached, a small bird flew off with its recognisable piping call, showing white wingbars and a dark tail: a common sandpiper. Great start! This bird will be making its way to Africa from its breeding grounds in the Russian Taiga. A regularly seen migrant from early September. I had anticipated seeing one at the lagoons, but not here.

Nothing else was apparent on the mud, but a check of the trees gave views of nuthatch, great tits and blue tits. A great spotted woodpecker called from nearby Priory Wood and, in the distance, a common buzzard mewed.

Airport lagoon colours (60066197)
Airport lagoon colours (60066197)

I then headed back past the café to the far side of the car park where two small ponds are. Here, rosebay willowherb and reeds as well as a large stand of bramble. The air was full of swarms of tiny cabbage whiteflies (Aleyrodes proletella). These insects have had a really good autumn, with huge numbers everywhere I go. The warm and damp conditions over the last fortnight have meant they have emerged en masse.

A party of goldfinches bounced overhead as a moorhen searched for food in the reeds. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of some dragonflies, but none were to be seen. Maybe the frost we had earlier in the week had finished them off for the year?

I checked the trees along the road where several wrens rattled off their familiar alarm call, before heading past the Kearsley Airways building and crossing the Takeley Road at the traffic lights. Opposite, a path leads to the Flitch Way and the entrance to Hatfield Forest. I turned left on to the old railway line. Hedgerow cranesbill still remained in flower, as did bristly oxtongue. Nettle patches attracted my attention, but maybe too early and nippy for insects to be roosting upon the leaves.

I scanned the forest to my right where plenty of grey squirrels scampered on the forest floor before taking rapidly to the trees as I approached. Under every oak tree were a veritable plethora of very large acorns and many of the squirrels were carrying these in their mouth, ready to bury as their winter larder. Another acorn feeder was also to be seen in good numbers, the colourful and raucous jay. These screeched from oaks as I walked underneath.

Common wasp (60066245)
Common wasp (60066245)

I stopped to check a field that contained horses and, as expected, several pied wagtails were feeding upon insects in the grass. One was a particularly striking male, very white around the face with matching jet black on the wings and back.

I arrived at the site of Stane Street Halt where a path takes the wanderer down on to the forest road and a left turn takes you to Takeley Street near the Green Man. At the junction I took a right before picking up a public footpath adjacent to the last building on the left, recently Primo Tiles but, at present, vacant. This path runs alongside Pincey Brook into a cereal field and, shortly after, a footbridge into a small wood. I took the left-hand fork along this path and was soon at the lagoons.

Here there are three lagoons, the largest being on the left and this I scanned with binoculars. Five mute swans at the far end, several coots and moorhens as well as a calling little grebe, tufted duck and plenty of mallards. On the edge of the water, two little egrets fed before they clocked my approach and headed off over the trees.

Autumnal colours at Thremhall Park (60066229)
Autumnal colours at Thremhall Park (60066229)

A gaggle of gadwalls rose from the smallest lagoon on my right before I checked the last lagoon. Here, more mallards and a party of teals took to the air as I approached. Britain's smallest duck, the males resplendent in full plumage showing their brown head with a green stripe.

All along the water's edge were good stands of Michaelmas daisies, their small purple flowers adding a splash of colour. As I tried for some photos I became aware of a commotion behind me. The swans were taking to the air and I got a wonderful flypast from all five as they landed on the lagoon in front of me. I suspect these birds alternate between here and Hatfield Forest Lake as they paddled towards me, expectant for food.

Flitch Way (60066251)
Flitch Way (60066251)

The colours of the dogwood and acers were superb in the sunshine. A chiffchaff called from inside a willow as a pair of buzzards circled overhead. I moved on, flushing four snipe from the muddy edge. As always, once these long-billed waders take to the air they are off at high speed. Their erratic, jerky flight makes them easy to identify, but they do not return to the same spot. It takes a skilled shot to hit these birds, hence the word sniper.

A quick check around the pumping station at the far end of the site where just a pair of skylarks were observed. In the field by an old barn, the two little egrets that had taken flight earlier were to be seen, occasionally probing the soil. I retraced my steps and, as I walked along the path by Pincey Brook, a kingfisher flew up and off in a shot. Wonderful to see.

Grey squirrel (60066261)
Grey squirrel (60066261)

I returned to the Flitch Way having noted a solitary greylag goose. A pair of jackdaws popped out from a chimney. In Tudor times these had the name firebird. As with all corvid species, they like to place shiny objects in their nest and jackdaws were known to carry glowing twigs from bonfires back to the nest. Not too great if they happen to be nesting in a thatched roof!

I entered the forest and wandered through the woods. More squirrels but no hoped-for fallow deer. Many of the oaks here are now at veteran stage, their huge girth supporting many tons of wood. A guelder rose tree was laden with its bright red berries and, as I was trying for a photo, a mixed party of birds skimmed through the canopy: Great tits, blue tits, long-tailed tits and a pair of tiny goldcrests. All too fast for the camera.

Greylag goose (60066263)
Greylag goose (60066263)

A grisette mushroom had emerged from a rotting log, with a few more caps yet to fully open. I went through Gate 17 and back on to the Flitch Way. I stopped to check some ivy that was still in flower. Several bee species here along with plenty of Vespa vulgaris, the common wasp.

Once back at Thremhall Park I returned to the muddy moat hoping that the sandpiper was back feeding, but no sign. A male blackbird dived for cover as I checked tree trunks for a treecreeper. I had heard its wispy call, but was unable to locate it as it undoubtedly sauntered up the trunks of the large trees.

Guelder rose berries (60066884)
Guelder rose berries (60066884)

I stopped for a second coffee, this time sitting outside at a picnic table set upon the lawn as the temperature had climbed to an unseasonably high 17C.

A wonderful five-mile wander with so much noted. And, to top it off, a red admiral butterfly breezed by, unfortunately not pausing its journey for a photo.

Jackdaw (60066891)
Jackdaw (60066891)
Little egrets (60066893)
Little egrets (60066893)
Mallards (60066903)
Mallards (60066903)
Michaelmas daisy (60066924)
Michaelmas daisy (60066924)
Mute swans (60066935)
Mute swans (60066935)
Mute swans (60067012)
Mute swans (60067012)
Pied wagtail (60067017)
Pied wagtail (60067017)
The grisette (60067046)
The grisette (60067046)
Tufted duck (60067048)
Tufted duck (60067048)
Veteran oak (60067077)
Veteran oak (60067077)

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