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Go on a circular nature walk taking in Bourne Lane, Perry Green, Green Tye, Danebridge Lane, Sidehill Wood and Mill Wood in East Hertfordshire





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

A week last Sunday gave us torrential rain as well as some spectacular hail storms in Little Hadham. Monday and/or Tuesday were the only days available to me and both looked pretty poor weather-wise. The forecast was for windy conditions as well as more rain so I planned a trip where I would be in sheltered woodland. I opted for a wander from Bourne Lane (between Much Hadham and Widford) whereupon I would take footpaths to Perry Green, Green Tye, Danebridge Lane and back to the car through Sidehill Wood and Mill Wood. A good circular wander.

I set off from Bourne Lane along very wet footpaths and on to the quagmire of a field that was once a landfill site, the concrete pipes still visible to help gases escape. A large flock of linnets rose from the grass as I headed towards the Henry Moore field where there is a large sculpture on the banks of a pond. The sculpture, entitled Body and Void, was completed between 1981 and 1983 and is a most imposing piece, set spectacularly within the field.

Fieldfares and redwings (61820814)
Fieldfares and redwings (61820814)

A check of the pond realised little apart from a moorhen, so I took the footpath that runs alongside the boundary of the Henry Moore Foundation, eventually arriving in Perry Green opposite The Hoops pub.

Along this path I encountered a huge number of fieldfares and redwings, thrush species that migrate here from Scandinavia in late autumn to overwinter here before returning to their breeding grounds in mid-April. This flock just kept on rising from the cereal field whilst many others flew from trees as I approached. At least 700 birds in total, but the light was so poor that photos were virtually impossible.

I hoped for a break in the clouds as I crossed the lane and picked up the footpath behind the pub next to the Henry Moore car park. This path is bordered by occasional veteran oaks and ash that seem to have been pollarded many years previously. Several had good-sized holes in the trunks which I checked for roosting tawny and barn owls, but none were apparent and a check underneath the holes for owl pellets showed that these holes were not used by either species. Smaller holes, constructed by great spotted woodpeckers, were also visible. Other birds along this path were more linnets, red kite, blue and great tits as well as the inevitable robin and wren.

Great spotted woodpecker hole (61820816)
Great spotted woodpecker hole (61820816)

Before I arrived at Ducketts Lane in Green Tye, I found myself wading through ankle-deep mud. Sadly the mud was too wet to check for prints of animals and I was grateful for the tarmac of the lane leading to the green.

By now the clouds had broken up and, for a brief 15-minute spell, there was clear blue sky and what transpired to be the best light of the day. This was handy as, in the trees, there were more fieldfares and redwings which stayed still long enough for a reasonable photo.

I took the lane past The Prince of Wales pub and the tomato farm where a robin was singing merrily near the Mission Hall. Further on I picked up the footpath that leads across fields to Danebridge Lane. Here, one of the first plants of the year was just coming into bud, Arum maculatum, or lords-and-ladies. Also along here, a stand of daffodils already in bud. Both firsts of the year for me.

The path heads gently downhill and, to my right, a pair of common buzzards commanded great views from the very top of two large trees. Very distant but worth a photo in what was now fading light once again. The ditches running into Danebridge Lane, like all others I encountered, were as full as I have seen them and flowing very fast. The sound of running water was the soundtrack to the whole walk, along with the constant squelching of my boots in the sodden earth.

Arum maculatum or lords-and-ladies (61820738)
Arum maculatum or lords-and-ladies (61820738)

I arrived in the lane and headed towards Much Hadham. A barn owl is sometimes seen in this vicinity so I checked likely trees for one roosting, but to no avail. My attention was drawn to the fact the whole lane was covered in rainwater, so I climbed the bank to stop the water entering my boots.

The lane down to Much Hadham ford was completely flooded and running very quickly, but, fortunately, there is a small footbridge over this and I managed to get on to Stanstead Hill without getting wet. Round the corner and there is the entrance to Sidehill Wood. Some shelter from a gentle breeze in this mainly hornbeam woodland. Hazels, oaks and a few beech were also seen as I scanned over the fields for birds feeding up on drowned invertebrates, but just the expected carrion crows and magpies.

A nuthatch burbled its splendid call from high - even though too far away, I still tried for a photo - before I went through a metal gate and into some open space before coming into Mill Wood.

Nuthatch (61820890)
Nuthatch (61820890)

Absolute quagmire here once again as I took a short detour along a path to a footbridge over the River Ash. Several mallards headed downstream, maybe unwittingly such was the speed of flow and certainly no paddling required. A bough of a crack willow had fallen across the river but didn't appear to be impeding the water. Another moorhen called and, from the bridge, I spotted a male kestrel, too far away for a snap.

I decided to enjoy my picnic on the bridge as there was nowhere dry to sit. A splendid dog came bounding up to me, begging unsuccessfully for my cheese and pickle sandwich, before haring off along the muddiest part of the path. He certainly will have required a hosing down upon his return home.

Crack willow tree that has indeed cracked (61820761)
Crack willow tree that has indeed cracked (61820761)

I completed my lunch uninterrupted and headed back towards Mill Wood. More old hornbeams and oaks. Here, another plant that emerges early in the new year, Mercurialis perennis, or dog's mercury. An unusual plant on the British list as it is one of the few that has green flowers. The name dog, when associated with plants, normally indicates that the plant has no herbal or medicinal value.

As I wandered along the wide and flat track here, I became aware of a change in the geology. There were many small humps before I came across a mainly overgrown concrete structure. At first I thought it was some defence from the Second World War, but not too sure. If any readers would like to enlighten me about the works here, please do send an email to the Indie. Many thanks as I would be interested to find out.

Dog's mercury (61820811)
Dog's mercury (61820811)

I was now nearly back to the car and had very few photos to show for the six-mile wander. The light was now dreadful, making bird photos impossible, so it didn't surprise me when, 100 yards from the car, I came across a flock of long-tailed tits. In winter, as I mentioned in my last piece, it's always worth checking these flocks for any other species that are mixed in with the tits. Today, a treecreeper and a solitary goldcrest. Both were too fast in movement to even merit a photo.

I arrived home, processed over 130 photos and discovered I had, at most, seven that were acceptable for inclusion here. Consequently I woke early on the Tuesday to get out again, but it was raining and it wasn't until early afternoon that I returned in light not dissimilar to the previous day. I decided to search more closely for things that were stationary and soon came across a splendid hart's tongue fern, a member of the spleenwort family. Hazel catkins dripped from every branch whilst, away in the flooded fields, a party of six Canada geese cackled.

Canada geese (61820759)
Canada geese (61820759)

I noted a sycamore tree with bark that was peeling off in squares and rectangles. This could be due to sooty bark disease. If so, the tree will require felling in the near future. On many dead moss-covered logs there were polypore bracket fungi. These can be quite tricky to identify as there are so many species. Further along, a stand of marginate pixy cap fungi was discovered growing from a rotting tree stump.

As I headed back to the car once more, a pair of ravens called from out of sight, their instantly recognisable "cronk cronk" call echoing through the wood.

Sycamore trunk showing possible signs of sooty bark disease (61820735)
Sycamore trunk showing possible signs of sooty bark disease (61820735)

I now had enough photos for inclusion and, as you would expect, Wednesday started bright and clear, but I had other pressing engagements and so was unable to return once again.

This was a really enjoyable wander offering a variety of habitats and one that I must repeat later in the year to search for butterfly and dragonfly species.

Daffodils in bud (61820805)
Daffodils in bud (61820805)
Distant common buzzard (61820807)
Distant common buzzard (61820807)
Hart's tongue fern (61820853)
Hart's tongue fern (61820853)
Looking towards Much Hadham ford from Danebridge Lane (61820873)
Looking towards Much Hadham ford from Danebridge Lane (61820873)
Marginate pixy cap (61820883)
Marginate pixy cap (61820883)
Polypore bracket fungi (61820725)
Polypore bracket fungi (61820725)
Robin (61820730)
Robin (61820730)

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