How to spot waders in Hertfordshire

The Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust looks at waders and where to spot them

AUTUMN is just the right time of year to catch the migration of waders as they make their way from their breeding grounds in the north of the country, across Hertfordshire and then off down south. They'll stop here for a brief rest and 'feed up' before moving on, so grab the chance to visit a wetland over the next few weeks and you may see slightly more than you expected.Following the recent warm spell, water levels will have dropped exposing mud which is full of invertebrates. This is what the birds, and in particular waders, are after. Pumping from some of the reservoirs in the county, such as at Tring, to supply water to canals also exposes mud and may coincide with the migration - providing a feast for waders.This group of birds feed in water and have long beaks and legs. Each species has a slight adaptation, be it a curved or straight beak or the length of leg. This means they can feed on invertebrates found in different levels in the mud, thereby reducing the competition for food between different species.Depending on water levels, the following places are a good bet for watching for migrating waders in Hertfordshire:

Tring Reservoirs (near Tring)Each of the four reservoirs at Tring - Wilstone, Marsworth, Startops and Tringford - has its own character and you may find water levels different at each - affecting which wading birds you may see. The hide at Wilstone Reservoir NR, managed by HMWT, has a small bank in front of it. Snipe are often seen here. Tring Reservoirs lie along the B489 between Aston Clinton and the village of Marsworth, and about 3km NW of Tring. A free car park is found along the Lower Icknield Way. Steep steps lead up from it to Wilstone Reservoir.

Stocker's Lake NR (near Rickmansworth)Stocker's Lake, managed by HMWT on behalf of Three Valleys Water, is renowned for its wintering wildfowl, but autumn is a great time to see migratory birds including waders as well as the site's resident heron colony.Entrance to the reserve is via Bury Lake Aquadrome, with parking, or from the A412 into Rickmansworth. Turn right at Mill End into Springwell Lane. Park in designated car parks along Springwell Lane.

King's Meads NR (Hertford/Ware)The flooded areas at the base of the chalk bank attract ducks, gulls and good numbers of teal, wigeon, shoveler and gadwall from now and into the winter. About now you should also look for snipe and other waders.There are several entrances to King's Meads, managed by HMWT on behalf of a number of land owners. The main entrance is from the A119 Ware Road opposite Chadwell Springs Golf Club. It is also easily accessed from car parks in Priory Street and Broadmeads, Ware, or Rowleys Road or Mead Lane from Hertford.

Amwell NR (near Hoddesdon)A former gravel pit in the Lee Valley, Amwell NR is an excellent place to see birds. Apart from being one of the county's top spots to see the elusive bittern skulking in the winter reedbeds, the lakes and marginal habitat attract many winter wildfowl species. Little ringed plover, snipe, jack snipe, redshank and green shank are all likely to be seen about now.Follow the B181 into St Margarets and Stanstead Abbotts. Just before the railway crossing, turn left up Amwell Lane. After 1 km look out for a sign on the left to the reserve. Park on the side of Amwell Lane. Walk east down the rough track, over the railway line, crossed via an unguarded level crossing and two kissing gates. To avoid the railway crossing, pedestrian access is available along the towpath from Stanstead Abbotts or Ware.Before you set offIf you can go equipped with binoculars, a pocket bird identification book if you're new to wader watching, and a keen eye to spot the unusual amongst the throngs, you'll be off to a good start. It's really worth scanning a group of waders as there is always the possibility of something more unusual turning up in the crowd, which makes a 'wader safari' at this time of year all the more exciting. We recommend wellies or walking boots, and layers of clothing. It can be surprisingly exposed and windy at some of these sites, so make sure you're comfortable as you seek out those waders crossing our borders.To visit any of the nature reserves mentioned in this article - or to find out about more about our work, contact us on 01727 858901, email or visit