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Nature Notes: Fallow deer, red kites and buzzards aplenty and a magnificent magnolia on ramble along the River Rib valley from Standon





Monday (March 11) was just so grey and dismal, whilst on the Tuesday I had to go to Reading to give another presentation for the RSPB. Consequently, it was Wednesday before I could venture out for my Nature Notes walk.

I headed to Standon, parked by the bakers and bought my picnic before setting off down Paper Mill Lane. As I was wandering along a river valley, I thought wellies would be more useful than walking boots, but as it transpired, the ground was surprisingly dry.

A grey wagtail flew up from the lane and alighted upon the roof of Paper Mill House. It was still disappointingly grey for photos, but I managed several before a nearby goldfinch burst into song and I also managed a few snaps.

Looking north back to Standon along the River Rib valley
Looking north back to Standon along the River Rib valley

I sauntered over the footbridge where a wood pigeon watched me go by. I turned left through a gate onto a footpath signposted Latchford. This path takes the rambler along the River Rib, which was flowing rapidly.

Sheep bleated from the adjacent field and overhead four red kites and several common buzzards circled on the gentle breeze. There was hardly any time on this 4.5-mile walk where one of these birds was not overhead.

Regular hedgerow and bramble residents called as I passed by: robins, dunnocks and wrens along with several tit species before I headed up a slight incline by The Lordship. Jackdaws rested upon the chimneys here.

Common dog-violet
Common dog-violet

I went through a pair of gates and to the pond that I suspect used to be for cattle and horses that would have fed in these fields some time ago. Nothing noteworthy here apart from five or six black-headed gulls loafing around in the distance.

Millie the dog came over for a chat as I approached the brick bridge over the river. Carrion crows took off from a nearby field and, on the verge of the bridge, a good stand of common dog-violet in shades of mauve and white.

On the far side of the bridge the footpath veers to the left, but directly in front is a headland that is part of Dowsett’s Farm and has, for several years now, been part of a wildlife stewardship scheme. Maps and signs here. I tucked myself up against a tree to see what may be present.

A meadow pipit called, several redwings landed to my right whilst overhead a few skylarks were in fine voice. Here the ground is kept bare, making it a perfect site for skylarks to nest.

Red kites
Red kites

On the horizon, at least five more red kites were circling high, often diving and entering into intricate courtship displays where one bird will turn upside down and fly under the other. In time, this display will involve food passes from the male to the female, but today was just rehearsal time.

By now, a large group of ramblers who had met by St Mary’s Church in Standon had caught me up, so I waited a while until they were far enough ahead so as not to disturb any birds that might be found along the uphill path.

This path emerges from a small spinney onto open wheat fields. In the distance are strips of conifers, maybe planted to function both as windbreaks and for pheasant cover for the winter shoots. I headed uphill towards these strips, hoping to encounter conifer specialists such as coal tit, but none was present.

Canada geese and coot
Canada geese and coot

In the distance I could hear plenty of Canada geese and, upon arriving at Standon Lodge, I came across a flock of at least 30 upon the lake here. They were joined by several mallards and coots as well as a solitary moorhen.

A pair of cock pheasants were scratching around near the lane, appearing to be oblivious to my presence. Blackthorns were in full blossom before I arrived at the driveway to Little Balsams, which is a public footpath.

Wonderful magnolia tree in flower
Wonderful magnolia tree in flower

Here, a good selection of plants in the verges: primulas, daffodils, cyclamen and bluebells, the latter just in leaf at present. In the expansive garden, a magnificent magnolia was just coming into full flower, so hopefully no frosts in the next fortnight as this will cause the petals to drop rather quickly.

A well-placed bench is set on the side of the path, giving splendid views over the Rib valley to the east. More kites and buzzards as I headed downhill, passing some impressive oaks.

Fallow deer spot Jono
Fallow deer spot Jono

In the field the other side of the hedge, a herd of about 30 fallow deer were feeding just on the perimeter of a wooded area. They clocked me immediately, stared for a while before slowly wandering off into the woodland, soon to emerge again.

Fallow deer on the move
Fallow deer on the move

I was then fortunate enough to watch as they galloped across the field in front of me, permitting me to get a plethora of shots as they did so. Pleasing to see. Fallow deer numbers in East Herts have increased tremendously over the last 15 years and can be a pest species for woodsmen and farmers alike.

I stopped to get a few more photos, this time of ground ivy, the first I have seen this year. Along this path there used to be another bench where I had planned to enjoy my picnic, but this was no longer present so I continued into a small woodland where a handily-placed fallen oak offered me a seat. I had treated myself to a ham and mustard baguette. Wonderful! I do enjoy a little ham with my English mustard as this had been spooned on in copious quantities. Perfect.

Mallards in woodland
Mallards in woodland

I sat quietly and noticed a pair of mallards resting to my left. A great spotted woodpecker drummed from afar, great tits and wrens called whilst a treecreeper wandered up an oak trunk. As usual, the best way to spot birds in a forest is to remain still and they will make themselves known.

Once my picnic was finished, I managed a few shots of the mallards and headed by the sewage works and up the concrete track that leads back into Standon, just up the lane from the village hall.

Periwinkle
Periwinkle

On the opposite side of the lane, a grassy bank held plenty of periwinkle in full flower, but even more pleasingly, the first chiffchaff of the year called its easy-to-identify “zip zap zip zap” (“chiff chaff chiff chaff”) call from the wood where I had eaten.

I suspect this bird had overwintered in the wood, as chiffchaffs that stay throughout the year are frequently found near water, where there will be more insects for them. A stream runs through the spinney, so an ideal habitat. I suspect a week or two too early for a migratory one to have arrived from sub-Saharan Africa.

I checked more verges but only came across several umbellifer species, such as hedge parsley, pushing though. Not long before these will be standing tall and in full flower.

Primulas
Primulas

A bombus terrestris flew by: a queen looking for nectar and a hole in the ground to nest. This buff-tailed bumblebee is usually the first to emerge, a large bee species and will soon be grateful for the forthcoming apple and cherry blossom that is not long from flowering.

Back at the car, I changed into my shoes for the drive home, wishing I had opted for my walking boots. Wellies give no support to ankles when walking and I could certainly feel that my ankles were putting in an official complaint. Hopefully, my next wander will not have the potential for being a quagmire.

In all, a very easy, non-strenuous wander with plenty seen and heard and, if timed correctly, a chance to conclude the walk with a pint in The Star. I reluctantly declined this opportunity as I headed home to process over 250 photos. Sadly, the ones of the grey wagtail at the beginning of the walk were just too distant and grey to be included, but many of the deer shots were satisfactory.

Blackthorn blossom
Blackthorn blossom
Pheasant
Pheasant
Cyclamen
Cyclamen
Goldfinch
Goldfinch
Canada goose on the water
Canada goose on the water
Carrion crows
Carrion crows
The humble wood pigeon
The humble wood pigeon

*Words and pictures by Jono Forgham



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