Bishop's Stortford Independent Nature Notes columnist Jono Forgham takes in all of the wildlife on a seven-mile stroll around Hatfield Forest
Jono Forgham covers your fortnightly look at nature around Bishop's Stortford...
To complete my quartet of visits to specific sites over the last two months, I visited Hatfield Forest a week last Monday. I arrived at sunrise, parking in Takeley Street and gaining access to the forest via the Flitch Way adjacent to Stane Street Halt on the now dismantled railway line. Signs at this halt give a little history before the rambler finds an informative sign at the entrance to the expanse of fields that lead into the trees.
The sun rose over the forest offices and the breath of the red poll cattle could be seen in the cold air. Overhead, an almost constant movement west of redwings, normally in flocks of between 50 and 70. Mainly silent but occasionally emitting a quiet, thin, wispy call, unlike the larger fieldfares which are far more vociferous with their noisy "chack chack" call. These redwings were the first of the autumn for me, having arrived on our shores from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia. Great to see their return.
I passed through a gate into the forest and along a muddy track. A fallow deer darted for cover before I could manage a photo in the half light. The hawthorns held many great tits and blue tits as a party of eight skylarks also moved west. The first jay of the morning was noted, a bird I was to see many times all along the walk. These are residents in the forest but their numbers will have recently been augmented by Scandinavian migrants.
The great thing about walking in the forest is you can just take a turning whenever you feel like it. Wonderful to just go where your instincts lie and so I followed rides and paths without being 100% sure of my whereabouts. I came to the wonderfully-named Six Wantz Ways and picked up another ride. Here, some recent chainsaw work but next to this, remnants of older woodland management where fungi species were now growing from old and dead silver birch.
Common white fibre caps and glistening inkcaps were abundant here along with other fungi. The fruit bodies of these fungi were pushing through the lush green moss that covered the dead wood. Glistening inkcaps are edible, but not a great taste and must be picked when the gills are white whilst the common white fibre caps contain muscarine and will bring on sweating, weeping, vomiting and other unpleasant side effects within 15 minutes of consumption! Nearby, cobwebs held beads of morning dew and a branch of blackthorn had a coral-like lichen growing on the tip. This is Ramalina fastigiata.
I emerged on to a large open expanse near the reedbed end of the lake, picked up the road that led to the café and shell house and was most pleased to discover that the café was open, so time for a coffee and sausage roll by the lake. Wonderful place for a breakfast with plenty of Covid-secure signs all around the café and seating area. By now the forest had opened its gates and many walkers were appearing. Around the café, jackdaws patrolled for scraps, moorhens wandered and, in the large oak, long-tailed tits flitted. I scanned the lake, noting mallards, more moorhens and plenty of black-headed gulls. A very peaceful scene apart from the raucous gulls.
Having finished my snack I set off to check the smaller lake at the end of the causeway. Here, mallards and coots pushed through the lily pads, but still not warm enough for any late dragonflies to be on the wing. Autumnally-coloured reflections rippled as the ducks paddled over the surface. The leaf colours on some trees now well advanced into stunning golds, yellows and oranges.
A superb kingfisher darted by and immediately out of site. I retraced my steps hoping for a photo but it was not to be seen again so I headed back to the causeway and arrived at the wooden jetty to scan the far end of the large lake. A fisherman had been angling all night and had been successful, hooking and releasing several species of fish. He told me he had been kept awake half the night by rutting fallow deer roaring in the dark not far from his tent. I set off to see if I could track any down.
Along the boardwalk where I checked the trees for birds: magpies, more jays and great tits, another flock of long-tailed tits and, somewhere in the distance, both nuthatch and goldcrest could be heard but remained unseen. I came across what looked like new fallow deer slots (hoof prints) and decided to follow these but they just led me into some thick vegetation. However, I did get another fleeting glimpse of another fallow that had clearly seen and heard my approach. It remained still to watch me before noting I was raising my camera so it departed rapidly.
I headed back to the boardwalk that took me to the entrance road near the car park which I crossed. A common buzzard mewed and a kestrel called whilst crows and jackdaws probed the soft ground for invertebrates, particularly, leather jackets, the larvae of crane fly species.
I continued along the edge of the trees. Vespula vulgaris, common wasps, were to be found but very little else from the insect world. I checked trees for leaf mines of moth caterpillars, coming across signs of the micro moth Stigmella aurella on bramble, Stigmella microtheriella on hazel and Stigmella aceris on field maple, all regular finds at this time of the year. A patch of longer grass showed a large fungi growth, slender parasol mushrooms.
I arrived back at the Flitch Way after seven miles of wandering and took a short walk along the track. A mistle thrush called from the top of a tree and a flock of starlings darted into a garden. Throughout the walk I had noted very few flowering plants; a solitary buttercup in flower, some late flowering tansy and here, on the side of the stone track, plenty of hedge cranesbill (Geranium pyrenaicum). I also noted early catkins on hazel, the nuts claimed long ago by the ubiquitous grey squirrels. I grubbed around under one hazel to find gnawed shells showing that field mice had also enjoyed the harvest. Nearby, a spindle tree was laden with its colourful seeds. The case for these are a great shade of pink but when this opens it reveals a magnificent orange-coloured seed.
I turned around and took the path back to Hatfield Broad Oak Road and back on to the main road by the Green Man pub. A wonderful wander around one of the best forests in England. The veteran oaks are magnificent here and I was pleased to see that an old, long dead tree stump near the entrance had now managed to rear a new tree from the dead crown. An oak growing from an oak. As always, thanks to all the staff and volunteers that work hard to keep this wonderful habitat in tip top shape as well as adding informative signs on specific trees etc. A great place to blow away the cobwebs on a bright, fresh autumnal morning. Certainly a site I return to frequently as there will always be something new to see at any time of the year.
As I drove home towards Woodside Green I couldn't resist parking at the south gate and having another short wander. Yet another fallow deer saw me first and was gone and a great spotted woodpecker flew from an oak. The sun was putting in a brief appearance, but not long enough to entice dragonflies on to the wing. A tree creeper made the day list and several more tricky-to-ID fungi spotted, both on dead wood and pushing through the grass of one of the rides.
Many fungi species are now evident and several common ones are highly poisonous. It is most unwise to touch these as small amounts of toxins on hands which may remain unwashed during the walk may cause serious side effects. If a photo for identification purposes is required it helps to knock one over with a twig to photograph both the stalk and the gills. Many cannot be identified just by the cap. They do make great photos, especially when found in dark corners of a dead wood pile.