Enjoy a Hertfordshire wildlife walk from St Andrew's Church in Much Hadham to the dragonfly pond at the Henry Moore Foundation in Perry Green
Jono Forgham covers nature around Bishop's Stortford in his fortnightly Nature Notes column in the Indie...
The weather forecast meant the only reasonable chance of getting out for a wander last week (w/c September 13) was the Monday. Tuesday looked to be wet and it certainly proved to be just that!
Setting off early, I parked by St Andrew’s Church in Much Hadham and started by checking the cemetery and conservation area behind the church. A few singing birds but nothing unusual so I wandered off down the lane towards the ford at Maltings Lane.
A flock of long-tailed tits flicked through a yew tree and there, perched at the top, was a grey squirrel munching on something. Pretty sure it was not eating the yew berries as these are particularly poisonous to many mammals. Indeed, yews were planted in churchyards in Tudor times to stop locals allowing their livestock to feed in the church grounds.
I took a footpath through some fields before emerging onto a gravel drive. The path continued the other side and deposited me near the bridleway that runs through Side Hill Wood. Here, I changed the camera settings, having got a photo of a female chaffinch in good light. The interior of the wood was a lot darker and I was not too hopeful of getting any worthwhile shots. This became an area where I heard a lot, saw a few species and didn’t manage a photo of anything.
Great spotted and green woodpeckers called while blue tits and great tits busied themselves in hazel trees, where I suspect caterpillars and emerging micromoths were present for them to feed upon. A coal tit called unseen before I heard the triple-syllable high-pitched call of a goldcrest. A fleeting glimpse of Britain’s smallest bird, but far too fast for the camera. I moved on, eventually emerging from Side Hill Wood.
On the left was an open field with footpaths, upon which I would return, whilst to my right was a path that I took as I wished to check the River Ash just 100 metres away. I had already noted plenty of Himalayan balsam plants along the way and was disappointed to note that the Ash was very much clogged up by this wonderful-looking, but fiercely invasive species.
Hardly any water was visible from the footbridge as I chatted to a dog walker who said she looked forward to reading the article. She was the second person to recognise me from my hat as, earlier, a cyclist passed me by the church commenting that I am the chap that writes the nature articles. “A week on Wednesday, about today’s walk,” I replied. Good to meet both of you.
I returned to the path that leads into Mill Wood, another dark wood with hornbeams, hazels and oaks still in full leaf. More woodpeckers and, above the canopy, a common buzzard mewed. All around was the burbling call of nuthatches, but these remained hidden as they wandered the higher branches of the trees.
The path emerges near Bourne Lane, whereupon I took a left turn, up an incline. Another green woodpecker called, along with the “wheat wheat” call of a chiffchaff.
Through a metal gate and into a field that was once a landfill site. I skirted around the edge of the field, checking the trees for any migrants that may have dropped in overnight.
This is some of the highest ground around here, so a good chance there may be something of interest. But no, the overnight calm and clear weather had probably encouraged the migrants to carry on with their overnight flight.
A flock of resident linnets bounced across the field as I came to a gap in the hedge, wandered through and was into another grassy field, where my destination was to be seen in the right-hand corner.
Here, a large Henry Moore sculpture stands guard over a water lily pond where I hoped for a selection of dragonflies. A moorhen called from under the lily pads as more chiffchaffs were evident in the surrounding willows.
Disappointingly, the temperatures had not increased as I would have wished and therefore only a couple of dragonflies on the wing. A migrant hawker patrolled his patch over the lilies whilst a common darter rested on grasses nearby. I fired off some photos, hoping to get one of the hawker in flight, but the light was not really bright enough to get the shutter speed up high enough to capture a sharp image, as seen in the photo below.
I decided to wander through the adjacent sheep field, passing another large sculpture. The path follows the perimeter of this field before descending to the field between Side Hill Wood and Mill Wood. Frequent checks of the sky revealed only that there appear to be an increasing amount of flights into and out of Stansted Airport. I wondered how full the planes were. Been a long time since I travelled abroad for a bird trip and I must admit to having itchy feet to do just that. However, I think I shall wait until things are a lot clearer next year. Maybe a trip to the Camargue next spring. Wonderful place for birds and insects.
I arrived back at the churchyard without having noted too much. A grey squirrel was spooked by my presence and darted along the church wall.
Yet another great spotted woodpecker flew overhead and a colourful magpie, its iridescent feathers shining blue/green, made for a decent photo in a nearby field where it was probing for insects.
I arrived home and made some notes, had lunch and then noted the temperature had increased, so I drove back to the pond, parking on the corner in Bourne Lane, which was closed for road works.
Blackberries were just coming into ripeness along the hedge as a yellowhammer chirped from deep in the vegetation.
Upon entering the field by the sculpture it was clear there were more insects in flight, but all were the same two species as previously recorded.
A deep “cronk cronk” call had me searching the skies for a raven. A pair flew overhead, high and heading north. Whilst the number of this species has increased markedly around Stortford, still a pleasing and impressive bird to see.
Shortly after, the plaintive call of a red kite, followed almost immediately by the similar but shorter call of a common buzzard.
Both circled overhead, rising upon the thermals before also heading off in a northerly direction. Go back just 20 years and seeing any of these three species in Hertfordshire would have meant detailed records being sent to the County Bird Recorder due to their rarity in the county.
Pleased to have improved upon my photos for the article, I headed back to the car. Opposite, a few brassica plants were still present in an otherwise cultivated field. Many small white butterflies here and, in with them, a solitary painted lady that obligingly landed on the soil for a close-up photo. I headed home to process the recent photos and add to the list of species I had observed. A good total for the walk and follow-up camera session.
* Almost 125 tickets have been snapped up for my Mayor’s Charity Presentation on Friday October 8 at South Mill Arts and they continue to sell well. Connect Scaffolding, of Little Hadham, has offered to sponsor the drinks reception beforehand. Myself, Renee Friend (fundraiser for Isabel Hospice) and mayor Cllr Keith Warnell are all extremely grateful for this generous offer. All proceeds from the evening are being split 50/50 between Isabel Hospice and MindGarden, a learning centre in Sri Lanka that I have helped to establish. Your support is most welcome and I am certainly looking forward to the evening. Should be fun.