Wednesday, 3 March 2021

What to Look out for in March

 For bird watchers and all round naturalists March is an exciting month as summer migrants begin to arrive, insects emerge from pupation or hibernation, plants begin to flower and the leaves on the trees begin to open, along with the blossom on prunus and apple species and on willow species. 

Here are a few things to look out for over the next 4 weeks.

On willow trees (sallows) the feathery flowers will be in bud at present and a few warmer days will get them opening. A vital nectar supply for bees during the day and Orthosia moth species by night. If you have a flowering willow nearby, pop out with a torch on a warm night to check for moths such as Common quaker, Small quaker, Hebrew character and the inappropriately named Clouded drab. Other species also possible.

Common quaker

Hebrew character

Small quaker

On warmer days, usually in the afternoon when temperatures reach their highest a few butterfly species should be on the wing. So far I have recorded both Peacock and Brimstone but these will be joined by Small tortoiseshell and Red admirals. These are butterflies that have hibernated over winter in trees, sheds, outhouses and homes and often a day time temperature in excess of 13C-14C will have them winging around gardens. Very little for them to feed on, so plenty of flying but not so easy to get a photo.

Brimstone, male yellow, female green. 

Red admiral

Small tortoiseshell (top) and Peacock.

There will be both a departure and arrival of birds. Winter visitors such as Siskin, Lesser redpoll, Fieldfare and Redwing can be found in large feeding flocks. The first two finch species are frequently seen on alders, such as along the Stort and at Rushy Mead whilst the thrushes are now feeding on the ground as they will have finished most of the berries that sustained them through the winter. Any open grassland habitat will offer a chance to see these in good number. Over 350 Fieldfare usually congregate on the 9 hole par 3 course at Ash Valley GC. When not hopping along the ground they can be seen on tree tops, the familiar "chack chack" call of the Fieldfare is far ranging. These bird numbers will be augmented by birds such as Blackbirds and Jays that also came across the North Sea, so for a while it may appear on local bird walks that many of the birds have disappeared. 
Birds such as Nuthatch and Coal tit that may have been over wintering in gardens where there were feeders will now be re-locating to woodland areas for breeding.
Gull species will be heading off to their breeding grounds, too, so fewer numbers of these instantly recognisable birds in fields and moving overhead in towns. 

Great Spotted and Lesser spotted woodpeckers will be drumming. This is a territorial method of announcing their ownership of a part of a woodland, not hollowing out a nest hole. Basically, the GSW drums for half the time a LSW does. An old bird watcher I knew back in the 60's and 70's told me if it is still drumming after you have said "Greater spotted woodpecker" then it is an LSW! If you do come across what you think maybe a LSW drumming I would be very interested to hear about it as they are very few and far between around East Herts. Don't worry if you're not sure. Happy to check even if it turns out to be a GSW.
Tawny owls and Little owls will become increasingly noisy after dusk and can offer the best chance of finding them. Barn owls will be feeding before dusk and after daybreak so a drive around country lanes is always a worthwhile activity in March.
The first arrivals are invariably Chiffchaffs and Sand martins. The former will arrive and almost immediately set up a territory by calling their recognizable "zip zap" or "chiffchaff" call. Usually in woodland areas and a warm spring day it will be possible to encounter a fair few calling.
Sand martins are birds of water habitats, similar to house martins but with brown wings and a brown band across the breast. No white rump either, as in house martin. They are usually first seen at Amwell before they disperse to their breeding sites, sandy banks into which they scratch a tunnel. Always a chance of a small party of them moving north up river courses, especially the Stort from Sawbridgeworth to Stortford.

Little owl

Barn owl



Redwing (note white eye stripe)

Bee, beetle and bug species will start to emerge and a quick search of any flowers will offer a good chance of finding some species.
The Dark edged Bee Fly is often the first to catch the eye with its long needle like proboscis. A harmless creature and one that will be everyone's garden before the end of the month, if we have some decent temperatures.
Dark edged bee fly

Bees will begin to be noted on blossom of prunus species as well as any early apple blossom but always worth checking any flowering plant for these. Some will be the small Andrena species, of which there are over 50 and pretty tricky to id. Photos really helpful for this. 
Larger bumblebees will be easier to spot and identify. Presently, mainly Queens out of hibernation that will find a regular food source before prospecting for nesting sites. The most common will be Bombus terristris, the Buff tailed bumble bee. In early spring they can be quite passive and easy to get a good photo of for id.
If you have holes in a brick wall or in trees check these for the Hairy footed Flower be trying to squash into them to lay her eggs.
7 spot ladybirds and the black with 2 red spots Pine ladybird are invariably out in March. The former is in huge numbers in my garden, with over 50 counted last weekend in the warmer weather. A few hoverfly species, too should be found on flowering plants and blossom. These tricky to id family of Diptera can be narrowed down to one of just a few species due to how early it is in the year and will probably be Eristalis pertinax, a dark hoverfly with a couple of yellow/orange bands near the thorax. Another possibility is the smaller Episyrphus balteatus The Marmalade Fly. This is banded all the way along the abdomen with tell tale white hoops between the black and the orange.
Bombus terristris, Buff tailed bumble bee

Andrena bicolor, Gwynne's Mining bee

Anthophora plumipes (Hairy footed Flower bee)

Episyrphus balteatus, here caught by a Misumena vatia spider.
 A reasonably easy hoverfly to identify.
Eristalis pertinax hoverfly

Mammals will become more apparent with Muntjac barking heard every night whilst badgers and foxes will be soon with cubs and always a chance of seeing then out in daylight, particularly foxes. 
Hares will be seen in good numbers in the correct habitat with their Boxing antics always amusing to observe. Open grassland is best but they can be found in larger groups on emerging cereal fields, too. 

Finally, the dawn and dusk choruses will increase in tempo as we move through March. A bright early morning start around 6.00 - 6.30am will give a good opportunity to hear: Robin, Blackbird, Song thrush, Mistle thrush, Dunnock, Chaffinch and Goldfinch in good voice. Wrens will join in, too. With a little study the bird and its song can be matched relatively easily.

As always, happy to help with id's of anything folk encounter and if I am not sure, I know several experts who certainly will do. The Stortford Nature FB account was great for this last spring and summer and if we share our findings it will help others identify things as well. Doesn't matter how common you think it maybe, it will be something new for someone here so will be really helpful.

Friday, 8 January 2021

Bird List: 2021 Updated 05.03.21

 Worth keeping a list of this year's bird species. Last year I was at least 60 species off my average for the year, which was understandable. Just a few visits to Norfolk and 1 to Dungeness, all the rest were Little Hadham and Stortford based birds. Total reached 154sp. See if I can improve on this in 2021 when hopefully, a Spring trip to Norfolk may be feasible in late April/early May.

Updated 05.03.21. Total: 72 species

  1. Little grebe (River Stort)
  2. Grey Heron (Little Hadham)
  3. Mandarin (Westland Green)
  4. Mallard (over garden)
  5. Red kite (over garden)
  6. Common buzzard (Little Hadham)
  7.  Kestrel (over garden)
  8.  Grey partridge (Westland Green)
  9. Red legged partridge (Wellpond Green)
  10. Pheasant (Westland Green)
  11.  Moorhen (Little Hadham)
  12.  Black headed gull (over garden)
  13.  Herring gull (over garden)
  14.  Common gull (Westland Green)
  15.  Wood pigeon (garden)
  16.  Collared dove (garden)
  17.  Little owl (Little Hadham)
  18.  Green woodpecker (Over garden)
  19.  Great spotted woodpecker (Takeley)
  20.  Skylark (Takeley)
  21. Pied wagtail (garden)
Grey wagtail

22. Grey wagtail (Little Hadham)
23. Robin (garden)
24. Blackbird (garden)
25. Fieldfare (Little Hadham)
26. Redwing (Garden)
27. Mistle thrush (Little Hadham)
28. Long tailed tit (Little Hadham)
29. Coal tit (garden)
30. Blue tit (garden)
31. Great tit (garden)
32. Nuthatch (Little Hadham)
33. Yellowhammer (Little Hadham)
34. Chaffinch (garden)
35. Goldfinch (garden)
36. Bullfinch (Little Hadham)
37. Linnet (Little Hadham)
38. House sparrow (Little Hadham)
39. Starling (garden)
40. Jay (Little Hadham)
41. Magpie (garden)
42. Reed bunting (Little Hadham)

Common buzzard
43. Raven (Millennium Wood)
44. Rook (over garden)
45. Carrion crow (over garden)
46  Jackdaw (garden)
47. Dunnock (garden)
48. Wren (garden)
49. Coot (Exnalls)
50. Greenfinch (Clinton's)
51. Song thrush (Bush Wood)
52. Sparrowhawk (Grange Paddocks)
53. Goldcrest (Thremhall Park)
54. Tree creeper (Thremhall Park)

55.  Cormorant (Little Hadham)
56. Tawny owl (heard, Little Hadham)
57. Kingfisher (Bishop's Stortford)
58. Siskins (Bishop's Stortford)
59. Barn owl (Little Hadham)
60. Snipe (Little Hadham)
61. Canada goose (Little Hadham)
62. Lapwings (Little Hadham)
Kingfisher along the River Stort


63. Little egret (Bishop's Stortford) 
64. Lesser Black backed gull (Harlow)
65. Stonechat (Ash Valley Golf Course)
66. Cetti's warbler (Thorley Wash)
67. Blackcap (garden)
68. Great crested grebe (Amwell)
69. Tufted duck (Amwell)
70. Teal (Amwell)

Little egret at Grange Paddocks, Bishop's Stortford
71. Shoveler (Amwell)
72 Great white egret (Amwell)
73. Chiffchaff (Amwell)
74. Water rail (heard at Amwell)
Stonechat, male on Ash Valley GC

Cormorant over Thorley Wash

Sparrowhawk, at Thorley

Great white egret at Amwell

Saturday, 26 December 2020

Answers to the quiz



Here we have the definitive answers to the Festive Bird Quiz.

  1. Yellowhammer
  2.  Wryneck
  3.  Wood pigeon
  4.  Whooper swan
  5. Waxwing
  6.  Turnstone
  7.  Tufted duck
  8. Tree creeper
  9.  Stonechat
  10.  Sparrowhawk
  11.  Snow bunting
  12.  Smew
  13.  Short eared owl
  14.  Shelduck
  15.  Ruff
  16.  Rose ringed parakeet
  17.  Robin
  18.  Red legged partridge
  19.  Reed Bunting
  20.  Redshank
  21.  Red kite
  22.  Mute swan
  23.  Moorhen
  24.  Meadow pipit
  25.  Magpie
  26.  Long tailed tit
  27.  Little egret
  28.  Linnet
  29.  Lapwing
  30.  Kestrel
  31. Jay
  32.  Great spotted woodpecker (juvenile)
  33.  Grey wagtail
  34.  Goldfinch
  35.  Goldcrest
  36.  Greylag goose
  37.  Great crested grebe
  38.   Firecrest
  39.  Curlew
  40.  Coot
  41.  Common tern and Black headed gull
  42.  Chiffchaff
  43.   Chaffinch
  44.  Canada Goose
  45.  Bullfinch
  46.  Bluethroat
  47.  Black tailed godwit
  48.  Barn Owl
  49.  Avocet
  50.  Shoveler
  51. White stork
  52.  Blackbird
  53.  Dunnock
  54.  Blackcap
  55.  House sparrow
  56. Bee eater
  57.  Hoopoe
  58. Nightingale
  59.  Black redstart
  60.  Chough.

Thursday, 24 December 2020

Festive Bird Quiz.

 How about a Bird Quiz for that time between meals and drinks over the next few days? You know, that time at 10.00am on Boxing Day when it seems perfectly natural to pour a glass of wine, eat chocolates whilst gorging upon nuts left around the lounge in bowls. 

Good luck, have a go. This can be cut and pasted in to Word for a print off. Feel free to share with friends to add a competitive edge. All birds I have seen locally, Norfolk or Kent

Answers, if required via text 07805571551 but I shall add them on the next blog post tomorrow if anyone wants them.
Merry Christmas.







































41. 2 birds



















This is me

This is me
At the end of another Norfolk Coastal footpath walk. 47 miles, 3 days 99 species of bird. September 2009

Caley Wood view

Caley Wood view
sunshine through the canopy 29.05.08

A walk along the Warta Valley, Poznan, Poland. Feb 2007

A walk along the Warta Valley, Poznan, Poland. Feb 2007
Best birds on this walk: black and middle spotted woodpecker and short toed treecreeper

About Me

My photo
A primary school teacher for 30 years, I retired from teaching in July 2009 to set up my own science enhancement and communication company. The Primary Works offers science clubs, workshops and staged science shows nationwide. I have always been interested in bird watching since my early years. Apparently my first tick was after inquiring about a chaffinch and then receiving the Observer book of birds. By the age of 9 I had moved on to Tory Peterson's collins guide and was now involved on YOC birding holidays to Northumbria, Essex coast, Slimbridge and Yorkshire. My twitching rule is that I will willingly travel 1km for each gram the bird weighs. However, I have had many rarities just by being in the right place. I have travelled widely throughout Europe and also visited Australia and Sri Lanka. In 2016 I spent time at Portland Bird Obs and two trips to Aviero, Portugal. 2017 found me back in Sri Lanka in Feb/March, then July and back for New Year's Eve celebrations in December. Also returned to The Camargue in May for a 4 day trip. Few plans for 2018, but nothing yet booked apart from a trip to the IOW.

Grey heron

Grey heron
Over the allotment 28.09.08

Southern Hawker

Southern Hawker
Ridge footpath 27.08.08

Juvenile green woodpecker (17.08.08)

Juvenile green woodpecker (17.08.08)
Note the stripes, denoting a bird fledged this year.

common blue

common blue
Ash Valley G.C. 15.08.08

Indian balsam (impatiens glandulifera)

Indian balsam (impatiens glandulifera)
River Ash

azure damselfly

azure damselfly
River Ash 28.07.08

marbled white

marbled white
Discovered at Westland Green 22.07.08

ruddy darter

ruddy darter
Bush Wood 21.07.08

honeysuckle 19.07.08

honeysuckle 19.07.08
growing in hedgerow in Chapel Lane

cinnabar moth caterpillar

cinnabar moth caterpillar
Photographed on ragwort 19.07.08


Study of petals 11.06.08

male yellowhammer

male yellowhammer

common blue butterfly

common blue butterfly

River Ash

River Ash
looking south from the bridge at Hadham Ford

Common poppy (papaver rhoeas)

Common poppy (papaver rhoeas)
in rape field 29.05.08

Caley Wood sunshine

Caley Wood sunshine

Millenium Wood fox

Millenium Wood fox

common comfrey (symphytum officinale)

common comfrey (symphytum officinale)
06.05.08 banks of the River Ash

Garlic Mustard or Jack by the Hedge,(Alliara petiolata)

Garlic Mustard or Jack by the Hedge,(Alliara petiolata)
flowers, leaves and fruit edible . Good in salad and pesto

April showers

April showers
Double rainbow 30.04.08

Caley Wood bluebells

Caley Wood bluebells

Yellow Archangel

Yellow Archangel
Chapel Lane (20.04.08)

sunlight 16.04.08

sunlight 16.04.08
looking south west from Bush Wood

snowy buds

snowy buds
06.04.08 in Bush Wood

Looking north west

Looking north west
05.04.08 evening shower approaching

Back Garden

Back Garden
Easter Sunday (23.03.08)

Brick Kiln Hill

Brick Kiln Hill
Looking east (23.03.08)

No play today

No play today
The 2nd hole at Ash Valley golf course

Teasel head

Teasel head
Bush Wood (21.03.08)


daffodils at Bush Wood pond (21.03.08)

Swollen River Ash

Swollen River Ash
The river at the bottom of Winding Hill 16.03.08

Daybreak over the chapel

Daybreak over the chapel
Thursday 13th March

Wild daffodils (narcissus pseudonarcissus)

Wild daffodils (narcissus pseudonarcissus)
growing in Bush Wood

January snowdrops

January snowdrops
Banks of River Ash, north of Much Hadham

Good Moon

Good Moon
From garden 24.01.08

Village Green

Village Green
Looking east towards Acremore Street

Looking south before Hadham Ford

Looking south before Hadham Ford
rare January blue sky

Useful sites

The following are some useful websites that may interest readers of this blog.
Firstly, Bishop's Stortford Natural History Society

Fellow birder, Gary Whelan's blog. Gives reports from our trips out together plus reports from his trips abroad. The official herts bird club website. Frequently updated, listing bird sightings around the county. Offers links to many other websites. Both of these sites also offer links to yahoo discussion groups. An international site. You can enter as a guest but become a member( free) to post comments, bird sightings and just about anything to do with wild birds. Good news updates, classified section for binoculars, cameras etc. A new site set up where you can contact people worldwide who will help you find good birds in their country. UK section being set up presently.
Fellow birders blog. Strtford resident, Graeme Smith regulary birds the area south of Stortford as well as around Spellbrook and the River Stort from Spellbrook to Twyford Locks. Some superb bird photography: Graeme uses a digital camera attached to his powerful telescope to get detailled images of the birds he sees. Well worth a browse.
Two local sites that may be of interest can be found at

South Easterly walk

South Easterly walk
black, normal, red extended walk

South Westerly route.

South Westerly route.
Black usual, red extended

North Easterly walk

North Easterly walk
black short, walk. Red, extended

North West Patch

North West Patch
black route regular. Red route the extended wander