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Little owl and fallow deer are highlights of a nature walk taking in Wall Wood and Hallingbury on Hertfordshire/Essex border





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

Having missed out on part of my last wander due to conditions underfoot, I thought I would revisit Hallingbury again, only this time I would start with a check around Wall Wood at Woodside Green.

Once parked by the green, I entered Wall Wood, only to find it an absolute quagmire. Wellies vital. This was at 9.30am and the birds were in full voice. I sat on a log and listened to mistle thrush, dunnock, robin, great tit, blue tit, nuthatch and song thrush whilst a great spotted woodpecker drummed on a far-off tree.

Geotropism in action with Dog Mercury
Geotropism in action with Dog Mercury

I was looking for early signs of spring, but just dog mercury in flower along with a single example of primula. In fact, it felt more like winter with seed heads of umbellifers still standing and plenty of bramble which was nowhere near coming into flower.

A lot of movement in an oak caught my attention. Goldcrests flicking around the branches, but they were between me and the watery sun, so no photos. Always a good bird to watch, constantly busy.

A few trees had come down in recent gales, including a large oak on the green near the deer fence. This must have made quite a noise as the wide trunk had snapped and the tree, in excess of 100 years old, had come tumbling down.

Blue tit
Blue tit

The best way to bird watch in deciduous woodland is to stand still and let the birds move closer to you. This I did on several occasions and added long-tailed tit, blackbird and redwing to the day list. A blue tit posed well for a photo as I checked out several fungi, birch polypore and turkey tail, both bracket fungi species.

A silver/white creature crossed the path in front of me so I went off to investigate. A superbly marked cock pheasant, possibly a Reeves’ pheasant, but I was not going to discover for sure. In trying to pursue it, I kept my eye on the brambles where the bird had gone to ground and failed to note a large branch upon the very muddy path. With consummate skill, my left foot trod on the branch, causing it to rise up and trap my right leg so that when I went to take the next step, I inadvertently tripped myself up, falling heavily into the mud! If tripping yourself up and falling into mud was an Olympic sport, I would have been awarded 10s across the board. I emerged, a little like Neptune, dripping and very muddy, but no damage done. The pheasant was long gone.

I continued, noting another felled tree, this one just uprooted, and, in the soil around the base, dog mercury was growing directly up at 90 degrees to the soil. A perfect example of geotropism at work, where plants will always grow upwards, guided by gravity.

A robin popped down to check the mud in front of me before I arrived back at the gate and headed to the car for refreshment. As I left, I noted several of the larger trees had an orange algae on their northern side. Trentepohlia algae, which has plenty of carotenoid pigments in, the same pigments that make carrots orange.

Robin in Wall Wood
Robin in Wall Wood

Once I had finished my drink, I set off to wander around Woodside Green and took Goose Lane towards Hallingbury. I peered over a hedge to discover a large herd of fallow deer in the field, so I skirted around to get closer, whereupon I fired off a good number of photos. I noted all the gardens in the hamlet appear to have chicken wire to protect the plants from marauding fallows and muntjacs.

As I took the lane past some impressive oaks, I heard a wren exploding into alarm mode. At first I thought it was my presence that had caused this, but, as I watched it flying around a fence post, I noted it was mobbing a little owl. I raised the camera as the owl flew into a nearby tree, permitting me to get a few shots before it disappeared into an adjacent barn. Really pleased to get some photos of this.

I crossed a cattle grid and headed down the lane. I checked ivy-clad tree trunks for roosting tawny owls without success, but soon came to the bridge over the M11. A prunus species of tree was in full blossom, hanging over the hard shoulder and, soon after, in the grass verge, a cyclamen was in flower. I suspect a garden escape for the latter species.

Prunus blossom along the M11
Prunus blossom along the M11

My original plan was to head to the end of the lane by the church and primary school and then pick up the lane by the village pub, but I noted a public footpath opposite a house, aptly named Fieldway. I decided to take this as it would deposit me by a footbridge that would take me back over the motorway.

End of the hazel catkins
End of the hazel catkins

The path was pleasingly mud-free. A common buzzard roosted in a tree, distant, but worthy of a few photos. Little else was noted in the winter cereal fields, but, once over the M11, I immediately saw a good stand of germander speedwell coming into flower in the shade of the concrete footbridge. First of the year for me.

Little owl
Little owl

I struggled to find the footpath across the field, so wandered around the perimeter to avoid crushing the crop and eventually arrived on New Barn Lane. Here, the last of the hazel catkins were still hanging and several lesser celandine were in bud.

Turkey Tail
Turkey Tail

I came across some rotting logs and spent a while removing bark to see what was underneath. A selection of centipedes (Lithobius forficatus) and a black millipede (Tachypodoiulus niger) scurried for cover.

Distant Common buzzard
Distant Common buzzard

Soon I was back at Woodside Green where I found a gap in the hedge and could manage more photos of the fallow herd that were still present. I coughed loudly to attract their attention, whereupon they stared at me, making for better pictures.

Fallow deer
Fallow deer

Several of the large trees upon the green had cracks and holes in them so I checked these for owls whilst also looking on the ground for any pellets, but none were apparent. On the green itself, an impressive and very old trunk of a tree long gone. I mused as to how many years this had been present and all the history it must have witnessed.

Ancient tree stump
Ancient tree stump

Back at the car I collected my picnic and sat upon a log watching the world go by. The Woodside Green jackdaw brigade were in fine voice and were joined by several raucous magpies and a host of wood pigeons.

Seedhead of Hogweed
Seedhead of Hogweed

To conclude, I drove down Goose Lane to see if the little owl had returned to the fence post, but no sign in the five minutes I waited. I suspect a regular sight along here as these owls can remain faithful to a roosting site for many years.

Cyclamen in the grass verge
Cyclamen in the grass verge

By the time I came to leave, the sky was darkening and photos were becoming a tad difficult so I completed my check of more ivy-clad trunks and headed home to go through nearly 200 snaps.

Bad light at 2.30pm
Bad light at 2.30pm

A really pleasing walk, with the owl being a definite highlight, along with the fallow deer. One note on Wall Wood. Coppicing is carried out on a regular basis and, to permit full growth from the stumps of the hazel, the wood is kept deer-free with a high fence. The gates that permit access must be closed after entry, otherwise the deer will find a way in and damage the rejuvenated trees. Please remember to close the gates securely.

Birch polypore
Birch polypore

In my last piece I mentioned I would be happy to pop round to write an article from someone’s garden or cover a favourite walk of theirs. One reader has invited me to check both his garden and allotment, which I will most certainly do in late June/early July. Thanks for the invite, Andy.



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