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Badger cubs spotted in broad daylight at National Trust-run Hatfield Forest near Bishop's Stortford





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

As we are now well into the school holidays, I thought it appropriate to feature local sites that can be visited by families and, I suspect, a frequent destination for many is the fantastic Hatfield Forest. There are more than 1,000 acres of woodland and open rides and plenty of places where families can wander and spot the wildlife.

Created in 1100 AD by King Henry I, it has evolved into a superb habitat containing more than 3,500 species of flora and fauna, including an amazing 700 species of beetle alone.

Agriphila tristella (58437473)
Agriphila tristella (58437473)

As I am searching for all things wild, I like to visit areas of the forest that are less populated than the area around the impressive lake. Consequently, I parked at Thremhall Park, registered my car registration on the iPad in the café and enjoyed an early-morning sausage sandwich. No charge for parking here, but registration is a must. To park here, take the left-hand turn at the traffic lights on the road to Takeley by the Kearsley Airways building.

I then set off, taking a path directly opposite the entrance road to the hall and gained access to the wood immediately. A good thing about parking here is that you can wander the paths and rides without having to memorise your route as when it comes to returning to the car, just walk towards where the planes are seen to be taking off or landing.

A goldfinch sat upon a tall thistle, pulling the seeds out, whilst a winter-plumaged pied wagtail checked the shorter grass for insects. My main target group was butterflies, but, whilst it was warm, it was not particularly sunny, so few were observed until later in the day when the cloud cover broke and the temperature topped 25C.

Air brakes applied by moulting black-headed gull (58437475)
Air brakes applied by moulting black-headed gull (58437475)

I continued, just following my nose and taking new paths. At each junction onto a ride I approached cautiously as it is always possible that fallow deer may be seen in the open, but they will dart for cover as soon as they see or hear you. Today, none were observed and the ground was bone dry, so not possible to track them by following freshly-made slots (hoof prints).

I arrived at a patch of flowering bramble and waited a while to see if anything came along to nectar. Several Bombus lucorum (white-tailed bumblebee) and a splendid hoverfly, Volucella zonaria, were present, but little else so on I went. A little further on, in a wide open space, I encountered a patch of sedge, water mint and common fleabane. This must have once been an area of damper ground judging by the emergent vegetation, so I changed lenses ready for some insects to arrive. I didn't have to wait long before several gatekeeper butterflies showed up to nectar on the mint, a popular plant for many insects. A large skipper was also present along with Bombus lapidarius (large red-tailed bumblebee) and Bombus hypnorum (tree bumblebee).

I checked the yellow heads of the common fleabane and came across a pair of Lygocoris pabulinus, the common green capsid bug, whilst also posing well for a macro shot was another hoverfly species, Ferdinandea cuprea, easily identifiable as it is one of the few black and yellow hoverflies that has clear markings upon the transparent wings.

Another impressive insect enjoying this habitat was the flesh fly, Sarcophaga carnaria, again permitting a few photos before my macro lens got too close and it was off. I collected my camera bag and moved off towards the road and the café.

Bombus lucorum (58437477)
Bombus lucorum (58437477)

As is to be expected, this area is the busiest spot with the mallards waddling around on the scrounge for sandwiches and the jackdaws being observant to see if any morsels are dropped from picnics. I scanned the lake: two common terns, Canada geese, black-headed gulls, mute swans and, right at the far end, three little egrets were in dispute about who had the right to stand on a particular tree stump. I had hoped to spot a few dragonflies here, but none were apparent so I headed off to check the buddleia by the shell house. I was in luck: painted lady, red admiral, large skipper, green-veined white, large white and comma were all upon the purple flowers.

I enjoyed a snack in the shade of a large horse chestnut before heading off to the Decoy Lake for another dragonfly search. I was pleased to see the common darter, with its red abdomen, and the larger emperor, boasting bright yellow and blue colours, as well as a fast-flying brown hawker. Resting on water lily pads were common blue damselfly and blue-tailed damselfly. This small lake always comes up trumps in August for such insects and is well worth a check.

I then took myself over the dam, where a black-headed gull sat on a part-submerged tree stump, and around the lake before heading back in the direction from whence I had come. Another patch of common fleabane attracted my attention and, here, several grass micro moths, Agriphila tristella, before I passed through gate 18 and once again took a wandering route back to the exit and the Flitch Way.

Bramble flower (58437492)
Bramble flower (58437492)

Always expect the unexpected is a motto of mine when I am out on a nature recording session and today proved the old adage to be correct. In a ditch on the side of the ride was a snuffling and plenty of movement. I stopped, crouched down and waited for something to emerge. I thought a young muntjac but, no, up popped a stripy black and white head, a badger cub, about half full size. I reached for the camera, but it disappeared back into the brambles and was lost from view. I waited a while before I saw it whisk itself away into the darkness of the forest, too fast for a photo. I stood up just in time to see a second cub shoot off into the forest.

Wonderful, two badgers in broad daylight, so I found a large tree to sit behind and waited to see if they would return to feed upon the ripening blackberries, but no sign of them after 20 minutes and all I got for my patience was a wasp sting as a Vespula vulgaris (common wasp) got caught up in my T-shirt sleeve. Wasps are a little dehydrated at present and, consequently, attracted to sweat for salt minerals. After a quick jab, he was off. Fortunately I don't react badly to such stings, no more than a slight swelling and an itchy arm.

Comma (58437440)
Comma (58437440)

As I approached gate 17, where access to the Flitch Way can be made, a large orange butterfly glided by, a silver-washed fritillary. It alighted briefly as I fired off several shots. A rather worn individual, now coming towards the end of its flight season. Hatfield Forest is indeed a stronghold for this species and they can be seen throughout July and early August. Identifiable by both its size and frequent gliding flight. Spectacular insect.

Once back on the old railway line I turned left and was soon back at the gate that I had come through some five hours earlier. I checked the grassland area here for more butterflies, but just more gatekeepers and green-veined whites.

Common fleabane (58437442)
Common fleabane (58437442)

In all, I had seen 10 species of butterfly without really searching for them as well as five Odonata species at the Decoy Lake. As is always the case, birds are hard to observe in early August as they are in post-breeding moult and usually remain well hidden in the canopy and hedgerows. However, burbling nuthatches, squawking jays and chipping greater spotted woodpeckers were frequently heard and occasionally seen.

It's certainly a superb place for families to have a wander and see what they can find. As always, if readers manage to get a photo of insects etc then I am happy to try to identify them. Just send your photo to the Indie and it will be forwarded on to me.

Ferdinandea cuprea (58437444)
Ferdinandea cuprea (58437444)

Also, if anyone has a favourite place they like to visit for a nature walk within five miles of the town centre and it's a habitat I haven't covered, either before or for a while, do please let me know and I shall pay a visit for a future article.

Gatekeeper (58437448)
Gatekeeper (58437448)
Green-veined white (58437450)
Green-veined white (58437450)
Large skipper (58437452)
Large skipper (58437452)
Lygocoris pabulinus (58437454)
Lygocoris pabulinus (58437454)
Mute swan (58437462)
Mute swan (58437462)
Painted lady (58437464)
Painted lady (58437464)
Sarcophaga carnaria (58437466)
Sarcophaga carnaria (58437466)
Silver-washed fritillary (58437468)
Silver-washed fritillary (58437468)

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



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