Henry Moore Foundation in Perry Green is a great location for a nature walk with an artistic twist
Jono Forgham covers your fortnightly look at nature around Bishop's Stortford...
During the almost three years since the Indie launched in October 2017 I have covered just about every footpath within a five-mile radius of the town centre, so I thought it was time for a change. Instead of covering several habitats in one walk, why not select a site with good potential and spend time studying it more closely? With this in mind, I contacted the Henry Moore Foundation in Perry Green and soon afterwards received an invite to visit last Wednesday morning.
I duly arrived at 7.15am and was greeted by security who were aware of my impending arrival and was presented with my visitor pass on a lanyard. The grass was still damp with September dew, but the forecast was for a clear sky as I stopped to check the wet leaves of trees to see what was drinking from them. A harlequin ladybird was found along with plenty of thirsty wasps.
I moved on and soon had a great view of the sculpture Large Reclining Figure (1984) set on a mound in a sheep field. Through the morning mist it appeared to be golden and looked amazing.
Crows, rooks and jackdaws wandered aimlessly around the field, disturbing insects as they went. I headed to the wonderful cottage garden, attended to by volunteers. A pair of blackbirds pecked at windfall apples whilst both a robin and a wren called from the fence. A pair of herring gulls flew over and, in the distance, a great spotted woodpecker announced its presence.
I followed the signs to Sheep Field which took me along a track which was heavily wooded. Birds were calling everywhere but remained unseen in the foliage. The light was still not good for bird photography in trees. A bullfinch called its lonely contact call while long-tailed, blue and great tits were all present and vocal, as were a pair of goldcrests that refused to show from their conifer tree. A pair of chiffchaffs called their "wheat wheat" call.
I turned around as I thought this would be a place for later in the day where I could continue to the fabulous dragonfly pond when the temperatures would be more conducive to encouraging the dragonflies to be out and about, patrolling their territories. I headed back to the fine lawns with a wide variety of tree species. The first of many nuthatches burbled from an oak and a treecreeper disappeared from view before the camera was anywhere near being on to it. More robins were singing and another goldcrest flitting about in a hawthorn bush. I fired off some photos just as it departed, catching it staring at the camera, surrounded by a blur of its tiny wings.
Here were apple trees laden with fruit. I was about to pick a few to squash on the floor to attract insects but noticed I didn't need to as there were plenty already rotting in the grass. Some of these were covered in common wasps. A few photos taken before I heard a loud, rhythmic buzzing, deep in tone. A hornet. It motored by me and alighted upon an apple that had already been nibbled. I moved closer with the macro lens and it stopped eating and slowly turned its head to check me out, a common habit of hornets, before returning to the apple. A few shots later and I left it in peace. A little further on, near the café which was yet to open, I encountered a flowerbed of lavender. Great for bees, I thought, and made a mental note to return before I left.
The lawns here are immaculate, the layout open and easy on the eye with plenty of sculptures sympathetically situated with seats for resting and observing the art work. For those with walking difficulties this would be an ideal site for a visit. The paths are flat and even and there are no steps that I encountered that may be a hindrance to motorised scooters. Disabled parking is at the front of the car park for those who require it and the patio area outside the café that, like the gardens, opens at 11am is a wonderful place to enjoy the vista across the lawns.
By now the temperature had risen sufficiently to have me heading off to the sheep field and the large pond. Here, water lilies and bulrushes offered cover for moorhens and their offspring, just a few days old and probably a third brood. I sat, waited and watched. It didn't take long for the dragons and damsels to show. A large migrant hawker cruised by as I fired off numerous shots trying to catch it motionless in flight. A degree of success with this.
Dragonflies are invariably creatures of habit and often return to a preferred roost such as a bare reed stem or a stone that has been warmed by the sun. Easy to lay in wait for their return and this I did, capturing both common darter and ruddy darter. Rather similar insects, the latter having all black legs, the former showing yellow stripes on the tibia.
A dainty damselfly wisped by before landing on a reed. The metallic green informed me it was a willow emerald damselfly. This is a species that was first identified in the UK in 2003 but likely to have been present at a few sites up to 10 years prior to being recorded officially. A good find indeed. Western honeybees, (Apis melifera) seemed to be attracted to the partially open water lilies. Landing and then crawling down into the large flowerhead to nectar.
Having got my photos I returned to the gardens and headed for the lavender beds. En route my progress was halted by a great spotted woodpecker calling high in a tree. It briefly showed for the camera. A green woodpecker also emerged from the same ash and headed off, calling constantly. Another nuthatch burst into song from somewhere in the canopy as I moved off. Grey squirrels scurried through trees and the occasional rabbit darted for cover. My day list was increasing by the minute!
I changed lenses ready for the lavender and was not disappointed. Plenty of Bombus pascuorum (common carder bee) and several Bombus terrestris (buff-tailed bumblebee) were busying themselves amongst the last of the purple blooms. From here I checked the long grass growing under the apple trees hoping for a wasp spider, but none were apparent.
I headed for the now open café for a coffee as the first day visitors began filing in. Very clear and sensible Covid-19 precautions at the café with everything clearly marked. I fished out my facemask before entering and enjoyed my refreshment on the patio. Another nuthatch burst into song and wasps inspected my sausage roll! My break was disturbed by a fine red admiral landing on a squashed apple and then a small white roosting on the leaves of an oak. Overhead, a common buzzard mewed.
Apart from taking a shot of the large sheep field sculpture I realised I hadn't paid too much attention to what for most visitors will be the main attraction: the artwork. So, coffee break over, I set off again to capture a few of these monumental and stunning bronzes. Double Oval (1966) caught my attention as through the gaps a hawthorn tree laden with berries could be seen. A worthy image to reflect the fusion of nature and the sculptures, I thought.
One final check around the car park where several magpies had a disagreement and back to reception to hand in my pass and offer my thanks. Here I met with Veronica who was pleased to hear I had enjoyed a most successful visit with plenty observed and even more heard. However, all was not over as one of the last birds I heard was an unseen rose-ringed parakeet, calling loudly from the direction of the Hoops pub opposite the estate.
The Henry Moore Foundation is a superb place for an afternoon wander. Plenty of wildlife, 70 acres of open spaces and marvellous sculptures. Entrance tickets presently must be booked online in advance and the gardens are open between 11am and 5pm Wednesdays to Sundays. It closes for the season on November 1, so plenty of time to pay a visit. I suspect the trees will look superb in there soon-to-arrive autumnal hues. Plenty of leaf clearing for the dedicated staff and volunteers! See www.henry-moore.org for further details and bookings.
Finally, a big thank you to Alison and Veronica for organising my visit, a most enjoyable time in a superb setting.