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Enjoy a nature walk taking in Bat Willow Hurst Country Park and Birchanger Wood on the Hertfordshire and Essex border





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

A rather virulent cold and cough put paid to my wander last Monday. I tried, but just spluttered my way around Bat Willow Hurst Country Park so aborted the mission and planned to retry last Wednesday.

All fine by then, so set off and used the new Stortford car park, formerly known as Stansted Road. Eventually I negotiated the four-way traffic signals on the Rye Street roundabout and parked along the Manuden Road in the car park at Bat Willow. All fine, good light and the temperature was climbing.

Great tit. Picture: Jono Forgham
Great tit. Picture: Jono Forgham

I now have my large bird photography lens back from a rather expensive service so was keen to try it out. A great tit popped up near the balancing pools and all seemed sharp with fast focus, so I was pleased.

The autumnal colours were coming to the fore, especially with the maples and guelder roses. Berries in abundance with rosehips everywhere, which will be great for winter moth species. They will feed upon these when the first frosts begin to set and the hips will soften and rot. The colourful guelder roses also carry bright red berries, again attractive to nocturnal insects such as the satellite moth, a common species for this habitat.

Wood pigeons commuted west to east overhead, jackdaws called and a small charm of goldfinches settled upon teasel heads to extract the seeds before taking flight as I approached, settling in a nearby dead sapling.

Goldfinches. Picture: Jono Forgham
Goldfinches. Picture: Jono Forgham

I wandered on to check the balancing pools. The recent heavy rainfall meant the main two were very full of heavily-muddied water. A moorhen ferried across the larger pool whilst the vegetation in the smaller pool, the one I refer to as the dragonfly pool, was showing great shades of oranges and browns. To improve this pool, a little cutting back of the encroaching willows would be good this winter, giving more space to the sedges upon which the odonata species (dragons and damselflies) rely to leave the water as nymphs and emerge as fully-formed flying adult insects.

I checked the eastern boundary where there are plenty of reeds and the River Stort flows. A Cetti’s warbler exploded into his raucous and distinctive call, a great spotted woodpecker chipped cheerfully from a willow and several jays flew overhead, with their rhythmic, undulating flight helping identify the bird along with the white rump.

At the north-east corner there is a footpath that leads to Gypsy Lane. I wandered along here for a while to check the horse field for any newly-arrived fieldfares or redwings, but none were present. These winter thrushes from Scandinavia will be arriving any day soon and will certainly be attracted to the multitude of hawthorn berries that have done really well this autumn.

Soon I found myself back at the pools and the exit onto Michaels Road. Some months ago I contacted Cllr Graham McAndrew about the exit here. A sycamore blocks sight lines so anyone leaving the park needs to actually step into the road to check for oncoming traffic from the right. He kindly and promptly passed my comment on to the correct department, but, disappointingly, nothing has been done to make this a safer exit. Maybe it is on the to-do list?

Fungi species. Picture: Jono Forgham
Fungi species. Picture: Jono Forgham

I trundled over the railway line and popped into the H@me & Eat shop for a coffee. As I stepped through the door, a lady stopped me and asked if I was the birdwatcher. Claire and her husband were most complimentary about my nature articles and she enquired as to where she could see ravens locally. I gave her a few pointers, she passed on her email and I duly sent her several photos of these superb birds to her, all taken locally. Super to see them both.

I enjoyed a coffee and a chat about photography with the chap serving me before I headed off over Stansted Road, through the Wickes car park and picked up the footpath into Birchanger Wood. This path can be found right at the far end of the car park. I entered the wood, noting immediately that the hornbeam trees, whilst still showing green leaves, were burdened with huge amounts of their bladed seeds.

My main focus here was on the numerous fungi species that appear. Live and rotting wood support plenty of species with more appearing through the leaf litter. There are 10,000 fungi species in the UK and identification cannot often be made just by checking the cap. Often, the stem, the underground section and a cross profile cut through the fruit are required and even then ID is not guaranteed. I most certainly am not a specialist in this field of natural history and regularly a set of photos still will not get an expert to state categorically which species it may be. The photos included here are ones that I am fairly sure of or else I do not name them at all.

Birchanger Wood. Picture: Stephanie Barnes
Birchanger Wood. Picture: Stephanie Barnes

On the wonderful Stortford Nature Facebook page, several members have posted marvellous photos from Birchanger Wood. Consequently, I put up a post inviting locals to forward them to me for inclusion within this article. I was really pleased to receive such quality photos. Thanks to all for their offerings.

I continued around the paths, passing the compound with its wonderfully-organised woodpiles. Seasoned wood, all from the 69-acre woodland, is available for purchase between 1pm and 3pm on Saturdays. This revenue stream is a large part of the much-needed income for Birchanger Wood Community Trust, of which I am a trustee.

Dryomyza anilis. Picture: Rick Stead
Dryomyza anilis. Picture: Rick Stead

Nuthatches burbled, a treecreeper wisped and a green woodpecker yaffled as I arrived at the furthest point beyond Birchwood High School. I wandered along the path that runs parallel to the A120 where many ash trees have been felled. These had to be brought down by a professional company as they were suffering from ash dieback and, whilst volunteers for the trust are proficient with chainsaws within the wood, insurance issues prohibited the volunteers from felling those that may fall onto the main road. This cost a huge amount and it is likely further expenditure will be required to fell more over the next few years.

Phaonia subventa. Picture: Jono Forgham
Phaonia subventa. Picture: Jono Forgham

An elm sapling caught my eye. Upon the leaves, two species of fly - a Phaonia subventa and also a Muscina prolapsa. Both species at the end of their flight season.

Muscina prolapsa. Picture: Jono Forgham
Muscina prolapsa. Picture: Jono Forgham

I noted a large oak, upon which a large green box had been attached. A honeybee swarm box, funded by Uttlesford District Council, and placed by Philip Smart, a member of Bishop’s Stortford Beekeepers. It was clearly proving popular as many Apis melifera, the western honeybee, were in attendance and, whilst I watched, several Vespa crabro, European hornets, checked the box out too. These boxes offer a sanctuary for honeybees when they swarm and it is planned that Philip will check the boxes regularly to monitor the bee colony for disease etc. This will undoubtedly be useful for pollination of trees and other local flora during the warmer months.

Wood louse species. Picture: Rick Stead
Wood louse species. Picture: Rick Stead

I completed the circuit of the wood and headed along Stansted Road, checking the wonderful bee hotel that has been placed opposite Wickes. Looks to be a few canes that have been utilised by mud wasp species. I then took the narrow footpath that runs to John’s Road behind the petrol station, over the railway line and back to Bat Willow.

Helicodonta obvoluta, a land snail. Picture: Rick Stead
Helicodonta obvoluta, a land snail. Picture: Rick Stead

Good to be able to get out after a few days stuck indoors. For those who enjoy walks in Birchanger Wood, the trust relies on donations to enable the work of maintaining and enhancing the habitat so please consider making a donation at birchangerwoodtrust.org/support. There is also a QR code to scan on the noticeboard by the entrance to the compound. All donations most gratefully received. Thank you.

Satellite, a macro moth. Picture: Jono Forgham
Satellite, a macro moth. Picture: Jono Forgham
Russula species. Picture: Jono Forgham
Russula species. Picture: Jono Forgham
Guelder rose offering autumnal colour. Picture: Jono Forgham
Guelder rose offering autumnal colour. Picture: Jono Forgham
Bracket fungi on silver birch. Picture: Jono Forgham
Bracket fungi on silver birch. Picture: Jono Forgham

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