Walton Hall Nature Trail, what's on April - May

Well February did not provide much rain after all and we keep being told that its now the driest two year spell for 200 years [despite the thunderstorms at the end of May]. The woodland plants in centre of campus are now looking rather unhappy and the usual fluffy white display of cow parsley is rather reduced this year. Butterflies have again provided some surprises with local lepidopterists reporting 11 species on the wing as early as March!

Plants Cuckoo flower or Lady's-smock (Cardamine pratensis) is providing a reasonable show in the hay meadow. The pinky white flowers and divided leaves are host to orange-tip butterfly caterpillars. Although if you try eating the leaves yourself they taste very hot rather like watercress.

Birds Most of the migrants have now arrived in mid April and there have been swallows skimming across Walton Lake. The trail is rather noisy with all the bird song as they mark out territories and try to attract mates.

The house martins that nest on the Venables building started arriving back on 24 April but their nest building has been very sporadic. The first few birds started construction work on their mud nests but only in a very half hearted way, it is only now (mid May) that more birds have arrived that work is moving along more quickly.

The swans nested in Walton lake this year and they had 4 cygnets. Last year the swans nested on the river and successfully raised a large number of offspring. This year I suspect they'll be lucky to raise any young, however this may help the water crowfoot which was very heavily grazed by the swans and hardly flowered at all in 1996. Have you noticed how may pubs there are in this area with 'swan' in their name, perhaps something to do with being close to the 'swans way' a long distance route for driving swans to market?

Fungi The very heavy showers in May have again brought out a flush of fungi with the 'fairy rings' in front of the BBC building being particularly prominent.

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