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A wildlife walk taking in Little Hadham, Ash Valley Golf Club and Westland Green in Hertfordshire





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

Time was at a premium last week and it was Wednesday when I managed to get out for a wander. I spend plenty of time walking the lanes and footpaths of Little Hadham, where I live, and often I overlook this area for a Nature Notes article, so I decided it was time for a local wander and set off from Chapel Lane - right after the Nag's Head pub if coming from the village traffic lights - and headed uphill.

Two red kites circled overhead as blue tits and great tits darted for cover in a recently-flailed hedge. I checked local oaks for the resident little owls, but, even though it was bright and sunny, the pair were not outside their roosting hole taking in the sunshine.

Lesser celandine (62765965)
Lesser celandine (62765965)

In the hedgerow along the lane, plenty of recently-emerged lesser celandine were in flower. Always a sign that nature is awakening from the winter.

I turned left onto New Road and wandered along here to the footpath that gives ramblers access to a footpath on the course at Ash Valley Golf Club. This path crosses the 14th hole so, if following in my footsteps, check to your right that no one is driving on this short par-three hole.

The path follows a ditch where stonechats overwinter, but by now they will have headed off to their breeding grounds further north. A pair of kestrels flew overhead whilst plenty of jackdaws and rooks probed the fairways for invertebrates.

Ash Valley Golf Club with the Church Langley water tower on the horizon (62765955)
Ash Valley Golf Club with the Church Langley water tower on the horizon (62765955)

After a few hundred yards the footpath crosses the sixth fairway and onto a path that runs past willow and blackthorn trees. Here, the goat or grey willow was coming into flower. The male flowers, fluffy and white, appear first, followed by the female flowers upon which several Orthosia moth species feed later on in the month. Common quaker, clouded drab, dotted border, spring usher and the well-marked oak beauty are all moths that fly in late February through until the end of March and can be easily found with a head torch upon willow species from dusk. I have started up my garden moth trap again recently and already trapped 21 species for the year, with the aforementioned species all being regular visitors at this time of year.

I wandered past the fifth tee and joined the lane that heads uphill towards Westland Green. Here, a party of jays argued constantly and a green woodpecker called from afar. The lane passes Westland Farm before a footpath crosses a private garden and back onto the golf course. In the garden, a Prunus species of tree was just bursting into blossom, but, upon checking these white flowers, I failed to find a hoped-for nectaring bumblebee.

This path runs adjacent to Caley Wood, a private wood with no footpath running through it. I passed the second green, where there is a great view all the way to the Church Langley water tower, and picked up a path along the perimeter of the wood. Common buzzards circled overhead upon the thermals as the temperature climbed to a heady 8C. Note that, having returned from Sri Lanka a fortnight ago, I have acclimatised to these temperatures!

A party of long-tailed tits called from the wood and several popped up along the boundary, setting themselves for a photo. A little further along, the familiar call of a male yellowhammer had me scanning the branches. A female sat nearby, again permitting a few snaps.

Yellowhammer (62765995)
Yellowhammer (62765995)

A female muntjac eyed me suspiciously as I picked up another path, a permissive one, on the right that runs between a vineyard and Caley Wood. Here, two mandarin ducks flew overhead. There is a free-flying flock of these around Westland Green, often seen in the early morning roosting in trees.

I arrived at a junction and took a left, passing a large new-build house. There used to be a barn owl roosting in a tree hole here, but a check for its regurgitated pellets at the base of the trunk showed that it was no longer present. More long-tailed tits here along with a calling coal tit which remained unseen. A nuthatch burbled, also unseen, before, once again, I turned right onto a footpath just before the lane takes you to Westland Green.

This path leads to what is locally known as Valley Fields and a hotspot for bird species. In the next 800 metres I saw fieldfare, great, blue and long-tailed tits, a male bullfinch, redwing, chaffinch and goldfinch. Another nuthatch had me retracing my steps for a photo, but it darted into a tall ash tree and was lost to view.

Long-tailed tit (62765967)
Long-tailed tit (62765967)

I passed some stables and found myself back upon Chapel Lane. I headed downhill, passing Lodge Farm where a goldcrest called from deep in conifers. I checked the oaks once again for the resident owls, but today they were not out to play.

I arrived back home, sorted out my photos and it was clear I did not have enough for this article, so back out for another wander.

Map of Jono's route around Little Hadham (62765997)
Map of Jono's route around Little Hadham (62765997)

I headed towards Bury Green and Stocking Wood. Plenty of yellowhammers, but the light was slowly fading as I hoped for a flyby from the local barn owl. This bird ranges quite far so can be tricky to catch up with.

Chaffinches were beginning to roost for the night and a group of redwings came into trees for the night. I fired off a photo, but by now the light was too poor and all I got was silhouettes of these birds.

Second red kite of the day (62765953)
Second red kite of the day (62765953)

A second red kite flew from a tree, permitting some backlit shots as it was high in the sky, and yet another common buzzard complained as I disturbed him from his evening roost. I checked to the west where there was the beginning of a superb sunset. A perfect finish to a day having recorded plenty, but managed to photo only a few species.

As I headed home, I clocked a group of winter aconites and crocuses coming into flower, so hopefully these will add a little colour to the photos. I had already encountered many snowdrop clumps. This is a plant that seems to be having a really good year as they are prolific.

Winter aconites (62765993)
Winter aconites (62765993)

I arrived home and completed processing the photos. In the fridge I had some left-over pork fat from last week's Sunday roast. I boiled this with a few potatoes and bacon rind and put it into the fridge to set. I shall put this down in a local wood and set up my trail camera to see what mammals come to feed on it after dark. I recently put down some stale bread in Millennium Wood and managed to get video footage of a very greedy golden retriever scoffing almost all of it before being taken away by his owner. Hopefully something more wild will enjoy the pork fat jelly.

I recently advertised that I plan to run a course for locals who may wish to find out more about bird watching, improve their observation skills and discover ways that help identify birds to species. This seems to have been very popular and it's looking like I may need to run two courses. If any readers would like to hear more, do contact me via the Indie office and I shall forward more details. Be great to hear from you.

Common quaker (62765957)
Common quaker (62765957)
Dotted border (62765961)
Dotted border (62765961)
Grey or goat willow coming into flower (62765963)
Grey or goat willow coming into flower (62765963)
Muntjac (62765969)
Muntjac (62765969)
Oak beauty (62765972)
Oak beauty (62765972)
Prunus blossom (62765980)
Prunus blossom (62765980)
Snowdrops (62765982)
Snowdrops (62765982)
Spring usher (62765984)
Spring usher (62765984)
Sunset over Little Hadham (62765991)
Sunset over Little Hadham (62765991)

Got a story for the Stortford Indie? Email us at newsdesk@bishopsstortfordindependent.co.uk.



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