Home   What's On   Article

Spot starlings, greenfinches, jays, little egrets and blue tits on a walk from Birchanger Wood to Thremhall Park on the Hertfordshire and Essex border



More news, no ads

LEARN MORE


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

Following my sojourn into the wilds of Suffolk for my last piece, I returned to my plan to navigate all around Bishop's Stortford and am now halfway through this exercise. I parked in Birchanger village and set off along the footpath near the Three Willows pub with Thremhall Park being my destination. Plenty was recorded, with a total of 41 bird species alone.

As I wandered towards the footpath, plenty of urban birds were noted on rooftops and hedgerows, with house sparrows, collared doves, jackdaws and starlings being the most prolific.

Irridescent Starling (53992090)
Irridescent Starling (53992090)

Once I was upon the Sustrans path, chaffinches and a fly-over male bullfinch were noted before I crossed the M11 on the footbridge and took a right-hand turn, signposted Hatfield Forest. Through two tunnels is, before another footbridge over the A120 spur road, a strange habitat. Here, the soil is very sandy and so gorse thrives, giving an almost heathland-type habitat. The gorse was just coming into flower, its bright yellow petals bejewelled with raindrops.

A wren fired off its staccato-like Tommy gun alarm call from deep in bramble. Great tits and blue tits seemed to be everywhere, as did blackbirds, but the light was poor for photography.

I arrived at the old airport lagoons, now superseded by the larger ones near Takeley. The old ones still hold water and are always worth checking, and today they had been partially drained leaving much exposed mud, but too late in the year to attract migratory wading birds. An initial scan gave up little apart from a pair of mallards but, as I wandered around the edge, a little egret rose and flew off.

Little egret roosting in a birch (53992097)
Little egret roosting in a birch (53992097)

It often seems to be that when I get a reasonable photo of a particular species for one article, I manage to get another of the same species for the following piece. The little egret landed at the top of a birch, affording me the opportunity for a couple of pleasing snaps. It returned to the water's edge and was soon joined by a second. They then had a quite violent territorial squabble before the intruder flew off towards the new lagoons. A flash of electric blue as a kingfisher darted by, far too fast for the camera but wonderful to watch nevertheless.

I returned to the footpath and carried on. Redwings and goldfinches flew from trees as I crossed the road and picked up the Flitch Way for a short while. A wood pigeon studied me intently as a jay posed for another rewarding shot.

I approached the first entrance into Hatfield Forest, just before a gate crosses the footpath. Here, a track on the left brings you out opposite the Kearsley Airways base and the entrance to Thremhall Park. I have reported from here before. A wonderfully compact site offering a wide variety of habitats: the old moat, a few ponds and open grassland as well as mature woodland holding oaks, cherries, conifers and beech. I headed to the splendid café for a coffee before taking a leisurely wander around the site.

Firstly, to the woodland area where blue tits, great tits and robins are easy to find. With a little more diligence, nuthatch, treecreeper and goldcrest can also be spotted and/or heard.

Blue tit (53992079)
Blue tit (53992079)

Jackdaws clacked overhead as I stopped to get a shot of some glistening waxcap fungi. In this woodland are several log piles which really enhance the habitat. Great for insects such as beetle and spider species that use the rotting wood for cover as well as egg laying. It only takes a wait of a few minutes until a bird will come along to check for food and often a small wren will emerge from hunting inside the woodpile.

I stopped to check a stand of conifers where several goldcrests flicked around. These wonderful little sprites rarely stay still and this particular corner of the wood was too dark for a fast enough photo. Shame, as they really are such photogenic birds.

I headed back past the offices, over the car park where a pied wagtail was hunting and on to an area of grassland and nettles, bordered by large oaks and a ditch. One other tree was prospering here; Himalayan cotoneaster, which was dripping with its red berry fruit. I was surprised to see that none of this had yet been eaten by members of the thrush family, but this year our migratory winter thrushes, redwing and fieldfare, seem to be in very small numbers, particularly the latter.

Himalayan cotoneaster (53992086)
Himalayan cotoneaster (53992086)

A quick check on the ponds where just another moorhen darted for cover before I set off to look through the fence of the privately-owned Priory Wood, but little to hold my attention, so back to the Flitch Way. As I approached the traffic lights I checked a long row of specially placed oak logs. Their primary purpose is to prevent cars parking upon the verge, but they are also another great habitat for fungi such as chicken of the woods as well as lichens. Small holes in the wood showed also that insects were using the rotting wood, whilst under the bark that was beginning to fall off, wood lice and beetles would be present.

I arrived back on the Flitch Way and retraced my steps, stopping to enjoy my picnic on a bench. A greenfinch posed for a photo before a raucous jay flew over with an acorn in its beak, one of their main foods. Another jay sat in a nearby tree, eyeing me suspiciously before flying off, but not before I managed a photo.

Picnic completed, I continued all the way to the end of the old railway track and dropped down into the lane that leads to Gaston Green. Here, a magpie wandered across a house roof whilst a blue tit admired his reflection in a van window.

Magpie (53992044)
Magpie (53992044)

Crossing the main road by the petrol station, I headed away from the motorway roundabout for about 600 yards before I picked up a footpath opposite a row of pastel-coloured houses. This path leads directly back to the Sustrans path near the old airport lagoons. Another check on this site before I continued back over the bridges and through the tunnels to Birchanger.

A goldcrest called from a holly tree in a garden and a common buzzard glided overhead without so much of a flick of its wings. Such easy flight. A song thrush probed the soil in a field before I was back into the village and returned to the car having taken well over 100 photos, many too grey and poorly lit to be of any value.

Thremhall Park is a lovely place to visit with all its micro habitats. Well worth a visit but, if arriving by car, do register your number plate on the iPad inside the café upon arrival. Being only a few hundred yards from the Flitch Way it lends itself perfectly for refreshments before a wander in Hatfield Forest, from where I shall compile my next report.

Blue tit interested in its reflection (53992054)
Blue tit interested in its reflection (53992054)

The walk from Birchanger does offer a wide range of habitats and I discovered there is always something to see, even on a grey December morning. Much more will be found in spring when the first plants break out into flower and the first summer migrants begin to arrive. I plan on returning in high summer to report on what may be present.

Finally, may I wish all readers a very happy new year. Hopefully 2022 will eventually see a large-scale reduction in Covid cases. Sadly, the 14-day bird tour I was supposed to be leading to Sri Lanka has now been, understandably, postponed until January 2023, but my tours of the Camargue and the Algarve are still planned to go ahead in April and May of 2022, fingers crossed.

Gorse coming into flower covered in raindroplets (53992081)
Gorse coming into flower covered in raindroplets (53992081)
Greenfinch (53992083)
Greenfinch (53992083)
House sparrows taking cover in thick hedge (53992088)
House sparrows taking cover in thick hedge (53992088)
Jay (53992094)
Jay (53992094)
Log pile (53992100)
Log pile (53992100)
Song thrush (53992047)
Song thrush (53992047)
Waxcap fungi (53992052)
Waxcap fungi (53992052)


This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More