Trip reports

Ver Valley Trip 10th February 2018

Ver Valley Trip 10th February 2018
RSPB images

Saturday, 10 February 2018

The walk (delayed from January due to a shooting event on the Gorhambury Estate) started from the St Albans Verulamium Museum car park. It followed the Ver chalk stream to Redbournbury Mill, approx. 3 miles away, through the Gorhambury and Redbournbury Estates. However, this first required some simple logistics to ensure that we had transport at the end of the walk to get back to the start point.
So, having met at the Museum car park at 08.30, we moved the cars to Redbournbury Mill (approx. 3 miles away), and then used 2 of the cars to ferry the drivers back to the Museum car park to start the walk.
The walk first took us through St Michael's church where hawfinches had recently been reported, but we saw none. Then, across the main road to start the walk proper along Gorhambury Drive, a permissive 'footpath' within the Gorhambury Estate.

A few herons and groups of pheasants were to be seen, but not much more until we spotted several large groups of red legged partridge, numbering c.50 in total, feeding along the far edge of field bordering a wood. Turning off the main driveway we came across a mixed flock of lapwings and fieldfares numbering c.20 each. In the distance, a buzzard perched in a 'dead' tree whilst further away another flock of fieldfares dropped into the top of a large tree. In addition, at least 6 red kites were seen in the air together, as they circled nearby. Apparently this area has one of the highest populations of red kites in the Chilterns (does this have anything to do with the 'by-products' of the estate's shooting activities?).
We crossed a bridge over the Ver, and followed it through the woods until we reached and crossed the Redbourn Road. We passed several houses and a converted mill with large mature bushes, where several smaller birds such as blue & great tits were much more evident.
Following a farm track adjacent to the stream, we spotted a solitary grey wagtail preening in an overhanging tree, apparently unconcerned by or presence. It wasn't long before it resumed its search for food amongst the weed at the stream edge, close to us.

We were fortunate as we walked that one of our group, John Fisher (a member of both the River Ver Society and the Barn Owl Project), was able to point out several locations where barn owl boxes were sited along the Ver and give us the benefit of his local knowledge. It was also gratifying to see that the water level in the Ver was evidently significantly higher than it had been of late, but still very much below historical levels due to excessive water extraction.

Much of the first part of the walk was on firm (frozen) ground but as the morning progressed it became increasingly muddy underfoot. However, near the end of the walk we came to the first of two fords where we were able to wash our boots! This gave us sight of yet another barn owl box, but also a little egret and c.6 teal in the mill stream.
Back at Redbournbury Mill, it started to rain (as forecast) and we abandoned any thoughts of going on to the Tyttenhanger gravel pits. However, we had sufficient time to purchase some fresh Redbournbury milled and baked bread - to take home for lunch, once we had given a lift to the drivers of the two cars still parked back at the Museum car park.

A quick visit to the mill revealed a very interesting building, albeit much of the mill was destroyed in a fire in 1987 but has since been carefully fully restored. It operates every Sunday afternoon, when it can be seen milling flour for its bread making.

Overall, a very pleasant walk characterised by relatively few species sightings, but those we did see were generally in relatively large numbers. Thus, it was a day of 'flocks', notably: red legged partridge, lapwing, fieldfare, red kite, teal, and pheasant, but also a solitary grey wagtail.

As always, many thanks to the drivers, and also on this occasion to John Fisher for giving us the benefit of his local knowledge and insight into the Ver and the Barn Owl Project.

Attendees: Mike Bassett ; Alan Corner ; John Fisher ; John Frone ; Ian Parker ; Carolyne Slatter ; Diane & Steve Wilson

Summary report by Ian Parker