East Hyde is one of the few easily accessible areas of water meadow along this stretch of the Upper Lea Valley. Situated on the Hertfordshire/Bedfordshire border the area can be reached along the B653, Lower Luton Road and is approximately 1.5 miles north-west of Batford and 4 miles south-east of Luton (TL 129172). A map can be found here.
From the B653 (Lower Luton Road) at East Hyde, turn into Cooters End Lane and view from the bridge across the river that gives excellent views down-river across most of the site. This is the best vantage-point to observe the geese herd usually feeding around the nearby meadow, and indeed for any waders feeding along the fringes of the small spring-fed stream running adjacent to the main river. The only problem here can be during early sunny mornings when visibility is a problem, leaving most birds silhouetted in the glare.
Should this be the case then walk downriver along the disused railway line that runs parallel to the river, (part of the Upper Lea Valley Walk), and view back up river from the many vantage points given through the hedgerows and trees lining the path. These allow good panoramic views across the entire area and have added benefits of being well wooded holding good numbers of our commoner passerines including five species of tit and two of the three resident woodpeckers.
A third vantage-point exists from a small pull-in just off the B653 opposite the entrance to the Hyde Mill farm. Park sensibly here and walk either along the short path in the direction of Luton and view up-river from the south, or walk 30 yards towards Batford and scan across the fields and river. From here look for the solitary Oak tree close to the farm that has been the traditional nesting site of Little Owl for many years, and a scan of this area should generally show at least one bird dozing during daylight hours.
Birds of this area generally speaking involve riparian species with the main interest concerning wildfowl during winter months. The ever increasing Canada Goose herd now averages around 250 birds with counts in the high 300's not uncommon, and with regular monitoring has revealed their Pink-footed, White-fronted and Greylag cousins. Wing drying Cormorant is also a daily event with seven birds together being a recent sight record.
Mallard is by far the commonest duck closely followed by Gadwall but over recent years Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Teal, Pochard, Wigeon and Mandarin have put in appearances, albeit irregularly.
As the Canada Geese flocks slowly disperse around mid-March up to ten pair usually stay and an average of three pair breed. Around two pairs of Gadwall summer each year and like the Tufted Duck can be labelled a sporadic breeder. Mandarin once bred here successfully in 1986 but still remains a scarce and much sought after species.
Kingfisher is a resident breeder as too are Little Grebe, Grey Wagtail and Reed Bunting. Grey Heron can always be seen bankside. Depending on surrounding field crop rotations, should a Field Bean exist then anything up to 5 pair of Lapwing breed. Should an Oil Seed Rape crop be favoured then Yellow Wagtail will breed and over previous years Corn Bunting have bred in Wheat and Barley, but like elsewhere in the county this has fast become a rare occurrence.
Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Tawny and Little Owl are also resident breeders and the much larger Common Buzzard is fast approaching that status too, thanks mainly to the small nucleus of birds that have colonise the nearby Luton Hoo Estate in Bedfordshire and the surrounding countryside to the east.
During winter months Golden Plover can be seen in ploughed fields to the east and west and as far as 'proper' waders are concerned this stretch of river regularly produce records of Green and Common Sandpiper on passage migration with several of the rarer Redshanks and Greenshanks. Given the right conditions of flooded surrounds and colder temperatures, counts in excess of 30 Common Snipe with smaller numbers of Jack Snipe have been recorded, and Water Rail can been seen with some patience, but is very much an unrecorded species. Flocks of wintering Golden Plover can often be seen in the fields.
During March and early April of 2002 the construction of a wader scrape in the confines of the sewage farm will hopefully encourage further waders to stop off and feed whilst on migration, and possibly entice other certain species to remain and breed.
Migrant passerine that use this region to breed include Sedge and Reed Warbler, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Swallow, and at the nearby Hyde Mill the House Martin colony now averages around 25 nests, one of the largest in the district. Utilising this potential food source is the Hobby that every year can be seen hunting daily between the months of June and August.
Passage migrants generally include Turtle Dove, Spotted Flycatcher, and Stonechat with Whinchat and Wheatear recorded on more than one occasion. During the winter months good numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare feed on the plethora of Hawthorn berries lining the roads and nearby disused railway and Siskin can virtually be assured around the area.
For such a relatively small area the list of county rarities is impressive and continues to grow. Recent goodies have included many Little Egrets since 1995, Pintail, Smew, Goosander, Red Kite, Peregrine, Merlin, Black Redstart, Kittiwake, Barn Owl, Long-Eared Owl, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grasshopper Warbler.
Text provided by the site recorder: Mike Russell, 205 Buckingham Drive, Luton, LU2 9RE.