Jono sees and hears 40 species of birds and a flock of fallow deer on a 7-mile circular walk from Woodside Green to Tednambury Marsh via Little Hallingbury and Gaston Green
What a difference a fortnight can make! Two weeks earlier I had been out around Wall Wood at the western end of Hatfield Forest in really gray and murky conditions and I was struggling to manage many pictures worth including. Last Monday (February 7th) I parked again at Woodside Green and started my walk to Little Hallingbury and Gaston Green in glorious light, without a cloud in the sky. Great for photography, so I was hoping for good finds. I should not be disappointed.
I started along Goose Lane, which had patches of black ice on the tarmac. Skylarks climbed from fields of winter grain and a magpie sat high in a tree in bright light.
At the end of the driveway I walked towards St Mary the Virgin Church and Little Hallingbury C of E Primary School, checking the evergreens for gold ridges, but found only the usual range of species of tits. Blackbirds sang, wood pigeons watched me pass, and carrion crows paraded across a lawn in search of food.
As I walked up the hill towards Gaston Green a large white bird crossed the lane and landed in an adjacent field. It was a little egret which posed well for a few shots. This bird was showing it was moulting into breeding plumage and was quite happy to hang around for more pictures.
I checked out the village pond, where an armada of mallards floated before descending to the old mill and onto Tednambury Marsh, near the Stort Navigation locks. The temperature had then risen considerably. Sunglasses were mandatory.
A reed bunting called invisible before the distinctive cackle of Canada geese. These were later found in a field near the lock gates, a group of six. As I stopped for refreshments, a wonderful gray wagtail popped up for a few snaps, its yellow undercarriage glistening in the sun.
Several mallards came towards me, including a hybrid duck with strange plumage, probably a cross between a mallard and a barnyard duck. These began to paddle near the opposite shore before heading out to explore the reeds. I continued along the towpath towards Spellbrook.
On the walkway near Hallingbury Marina, a cormorant perched on top of a tree.
To my right was Tednambury Marsh, a well-known haunt of the reed bunting – and it wasn’t long before I heard their ‘zip, zip, zip’ call. I checked the little willows here and there were three in a tree while further out in the swamp at least two more males were calling. Sign of a good habitat and used by this species as a nocturnal roost.
I scanned with binoculars for any snipes, but if they were there, as they often are, their incredible camouflage meant I couldn’t find them. A small group of gulls headed north, mostly black-headed gulls but with two common gulls bringing up the rear.
A gray heron croaked and landed on the opposite shore, a common buzzard mewed from afar, and goldfinches squabbled in a tall oak tree. An accentor popped up to check on me as a female finch bustled along the branches. There seemed to be birds everywhere, I suspect they were encouraged to feed by the warm temperatures.
I crossed Spellbrook Lane East and continued north. On the right is Wallbury Marsh, where a Cetti’s Warbler has exploded into its rattling cry. A frequently heard, rarely seen bird and this was the case here.
I stopped to chat with two ladies on a walk in Sawbridgeworth. They have read my local nature columns and it was good to hear that they sometimes follow my described walks. I wandered around, having told them about the gray wagtail, and hoping they would encounter this colorful bird.
I arrived at the red brick bridge that leads to Thorley Wash Preserve, my next hike destination, and paused to cool off further while taking in the scenery. The Stort looked very tranquil and still with a large willow tree casting a good reflection on the stillness of the water.
One problem: the path I had planned to take was flooded and an absolute quagmire. I tried to go around the side but the water was too deep so I continued along the towpath for a few hundred yards before turning right and heading back to the end of the trail. More reed buntings and a “yaffled” green woodpecker from afar.
Once back on the planned route, I followed the edge of a field with Port Lane to Little Hallingbury my destination. A great tit watched me curiously as I slid over the mud before entering a small wood where finches and blue tits were calling.
A large barn at the end of Port Lane looked good for a yellow wagtail sighting, but none were apparent. House sparrows cowered in a hedge as I passed through Harlow Agricultural Merchants and trudged along the lane towards Great Hallingbury. Here, a pied wagtail walked along a thatched roof and three doves flew from a tall ash tree.
As I crossed the road bridge over the M11, my view was drawn to the sky where a red kite circled above the motorway. He was soon joined by two others, their flight a continuous glide without any wing beat, relying solely on warm thermals to keep them aloft.
A beautiful bird to watch, I took several shots of it against the pristine blue sky with the camera speed set to what I could only dream of from the previous walk.
I took the route to Howe Green and eventually Woodside Green. In a field to my left a marvelous herd of deer, all seated at first, but as I got a little closer they got up to look at me.
A mature male surrounded by his does with a few young males also present. A wonderful sight as they are generally shy creatures and can disappear very quickly. This herd seemed to know I was no threat and may be used to walkers and cyclists. They eventually wandered into the trees and were lost to sight.
Farther past the school and a row of cottages, and I was back at the cattle gate. Last time here I checked a few oak trees for a barn owl. I repeated this and again found none present in what looked like ideal tree holes. A large oak tree had fallen here many years ago and provided a perfect place to sit and enjoy my picnic.
To the east, above Hatfield Forest, four common buzzards mewed and twirled, their larger, more rounded wings and square tail distinguishing them from earlier red kites.
As I sat nibbling, a pair of Meadow Pipits popped out of the long grass, gave their wispy cry and flew away, showing their distinctive flight pattern where each flap is followed by them folding their wings against the body, giving them a dipping flight.
Once the picnic was over, I walked the last few hundred meters to the car. A wonderful seven mile walk taken at a pleasant, leisurely pace and in total a list of 40 species of birds seen and heard. Add to that list some great views of the deer and I was indeed very pleased with the day.