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Bishop's Stortford Independent Nature Notes columnist Jono Forgham goes on a wildlife wander taking in Farnham and Hazel End



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

Once again, Monday of last week looked the best day for a walk so I headed off to Wickham Hall for a wander in a north-easterly direction towards Farnham and Hazel End. I waited until the afternoon so that the temperature was a tad higher and this may have encouraged insects to be more numerous.

First surprise of the walk was coming across a solitary female tufted duck on the pond by the car park. Obviously well fed as it dozed with head tucked under the wings, oblivious to the squabbling moorhens and mallards that reside here.

Bombus pascuorum (common carder bee) (51745702)
Bombus pascuorum (common carder bee) (51745702)

I set off, checking the silos by the track, and a pied wagtail called but nothing else noted so I headed along the path, passing the vineyard, and picked up the lane that heads east to Farnham Lane. The last remaining wild flowers were still offering a dash of colour to the verges: greater knapweed, yarrow, bristly oxtongue and a few stands of mallow along with a flash of red in the form of the last of the poppies. All good to see.

I checked the flower heads of umbellifers for insects, but the hoped-for rise in temperature had failed to materialise and only a small white butterfly and a single Bombus pascuorum (common carder bee) were evident. Could the small white butterfly be the last I report upon until spring next year? More colour was added by an array of berries in the hedgerow with rosehips being particularly prolific along with hawthorn and bittersweet.

Along this track is plenty of land set aside and, consequently, full of seed-producing flowers. It was no surprise to record yellowhammer, goldfinch and linnet in the vicinity, many of them sitting upon the telegraph wires that run across the fields here. A small bird rose from the long grass and hovered for a second before alighting at the top of a dried flower head. A quick check through the binoculars confirmed this to be a female stonechat. These birds invariably are found in pairs, but no sign of the brighter red and black male. I returned the following day for another search but still no sighting. This stonechat is a new bird for my Indie walks bird list, number 96. A pretty good running total. Ninety-six species within a five-mile radius of the town centre. Still a fair few possible so I am beginning to eye the century.

Bristly oxtongue (51745712)
Bristly oxtongue (51745712)

As on my last walk, I got to see a raven. They have nested fairly locally and this one looked to be a first-year bird, possibly from the successful fledging not far away. Certainly vociferous with constant "cronk cronk" calls.

I arrived at Farnham Lane. The inevitable red kite soared overhead as I took a path up the side of the Animal Rescue Charity site. Poking through the shorter grass was a flash of yellow hues: common toadflax. About 10 plants in all, which was good to see.

This path ends at a field so I retraced my steps and headed up the lane and took the road on the right, heading towards Hazel End. Views over to the village church as a great spotted woodpecker called from a dead tree. I crept around for a better photo opportunity as it was showing well, only to see it disappear in a blur of red, white and black as it caught sight of me. This lane gave the impression of not having altered for hundreds of years, save for the tarmac. The hedgerows appeared to be over 600 years old and many of the oaks and a few ash were mature examples.

I eventually came to a footpath that runs through the farmyard on the right and out into fields, the path skirting Hazelend Wood. A farrier was busy shoeing a horse in the yard. I noted a large hole in a large oak and immediately thought barn owl territory. This view was soon to be confirmed as I noted a barn owl nesting box. I checked under this for any pellets but none appeared to be present.

Common toadflax (51745663)
Common toadflax (51745663)

This path ends on the narrow Hazelend Lane, not a great place to walk, so I headed back to the farmyard and back towards Farnham. Plenty of young pheasants were around, recently released for the upcoming winter shoots. I had a good look around, noting a dead tree, standing starkly in a ploughed and harrowed field. A habitat all on its own as many beetle species will use the dead wood for egg laying. This will, in turn, attract woodpeckers and treecreepers.

I headed up Walnut Tree Lane, passing a damson tree that still held fruit. Many had gone over, but enough remained for me to eat a fair few. A little further along was another plant still in flower, field scabious, but, again, no insects were attracted to it so I continued. As I approached the vineyard once again, I clocked an ivy-clad tree, always an insect magnet at this time of the year and I was not disappointed. Colletes hederae (the ivy bee) were present in good numbers. A bee that was new to science in 1993, previously thought to be another Colletes species, but split from this one on DNA evidence. Also present were common wasps, Tachinid fly species, blue and greenbottle species and a colourful Epistrophe grossularaie hoverfly with its distinctive yellow face and black antennae.

A stinkhorn fungus rose from the shade of the hedgerow before I once again checked around the silos. Feral pigeons and a few linnets were seen and heard, as was the previously noted pied wagtail.

Stinkhorn fungus (51745698)
Stinkhorn fungus (51745698)

A wonderful autumnal wander with the female stonechat being the highlight. Not too many of this species around the town, but they can turn up anywhere in rough ground. Often a pair overwinter on Thorley Wash Nature Reserve.

My garden moth trap has seen a marked drop in numbers as night-time temperatures decline. Mid-September I was trapping more than 100 moths a night, but that has now fallen to the low 20s. However, I'm still discovering new species for the year, with a green brindled crescent being particularly striking. It shows a brown background colour with metallic green colouration overlaying the base colour. It roosts upon tree trunks during the day, with the green shades resembling lichen. A clever camouflage.

My running total for garden moth species this year is now up to nearly 400, which is not too bad considering the dreadfully cold April and very wet May we encountered when moth numbers were well down on the average.

Female stonechat (51745672)
Female stonechat (51745672)

As has been well publicised in previous Nature Notes, Friday (Oct 8) is the Mayor's Charity Evening at South Mill Arts where I shall be talking about all the creatures I have found in our small rural garden, interspersed with amusing tales of nature watching. All proceeds will go to Isabel Hospice and MindGarden, a learning centre I helped establish in Sri Lanka. A drinks reception starts at 6.30pm.

If readers are concerned about sitting with others then it will be possible to turn up on the evening and purchase tickets that offer socially-distanced seating. It promises to be a light-hearted and fun evening so please come along and say hello. Entry is free for under-14s.

Saturday October 30 will find me back at Great Hallingbury church where I'll be running a moth trap whilst giving a talk on moths and mothing. There will also be a bat expert giving an overview on the local bat population before we head out to see what is flying on the night before Hallowe'en.

Farnham church (51745670)
Farnham church (51745670)

And I am presenting an illustrated talk on the wildlife of north Norfolk at the Bishop's Park Community Centre, by Tesco, on Tuesday November 9 for the local RSPB group. Entrance is £5 for visitors with a start time of 7.30pm. Like all local groups, they have struggled over the last 18 months with fundraising so your support will be most welcome.

Green brindled crescent (51745676)
Green brindled crescent (51745676)
Linnet (51745678)
Linnet (51745678)
Rosehips (51745680)
Rosehips (51745680)
Scabious (51745682)
Scabious (51745682)
Stark tree (51745686)
Stark tree (51745686)
Yarrow (51745656)
Yarrow (51745656)


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