Walton Hall Nature Trail, what's on January - March

January proved to be a very cold, dry month. All the lakes were icebound and even the river froze over. February is turning out to be mild and stormy so perhaps some of the depleted water reserved will be replenished.

Plants Winter aconites (Eranthus hyemalis)(left) are well in bloom now (mid February). They only fully open their flowers when the temperature is above 10 degrees C so its fairly unusual to see them out. Many other bulbs are starting to push through so we can look forward to a succession of crocus, snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells.

Many of the buds on the trees are also swelling, look out for yellow hazel and red/brown alder catkins and the tiny red elm flowers.

Birds During the very cold spell water fowl congregated in the ditch behind Walton Lake or under trees on the river as these held just about the only open water in the area.

Bird feeders round campus are proving very popular with blue tits, great tits and robins. It will be interesting to see what else turns up especially if we get another cold spell. One species which seems to much prefer foraging on the football pitches and lawns is the redwing. I watched one pull out and eat three huge earthworms in as many minutes, it was amazing since the volume of worms appeared to be about the same as that of the birds, suppose when they are pulverized and squidged up inside the bird the worms take up less space!

Insects The common spangle gall wasp (Neuroterus quercusbaccarum) females emerge from fallen galls around this time of year to start their rather complicated life cycle. This ultimately leads to the formation of new spangle galls on oak leaves in the autumn [shown left].

If you can't get out to walk round the trail then look round your house. If you live in the south of England there is a fair chance that there will be one or two spindly or daddy-long-legs spiders (Pholcus phalangioides) lurking somewhere. They look flimsy but I've seen even very small specimens luring several stocky zebra spiders (Salticus scenicus) to their doom in their webs. When alarmed they vibrate their whole body up and down rapidly although this also served to attract the zebra.

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