Walton Hall Nature Trail, what's on Jan/Feb
January and February are the coldest months of the year. Plants and animals round the trail have many different adaptations to survive these conditions. Plants may over winter as dormant seeds or underground storage organs and most of the woody plants on the trail are deciduous so loosing their delicate leaves. Resident animals and birds struggle to exist especially those with a small body size. Extended periods of freezing weather when food is unavailable can lead to substantial population crashes, a good example of this occurred in the harsh winter of 1978-79 when the density of goldcrest, long-tailed tit and wren in English woodland fell by over 40% whereas the larger birds such as jay, magpie and crow actually increased in numbers slightly.
Ice crystals on alder (Alnus glutinosa), last years female cones are in the centre of the picture and this springs male red catkins are dangling at either side.
- Plants and frost Freezing temperatures cause damage to plant cells in several different ways. Generally it is not the low temperatures and ice crystals that directly cause injury, however as the ice is forming water is extracted from the plant cells and it is the severe dehydration that causes damage. Cold sensitivity of plant parts varies, often blossoms are damaged by just a slight frost whereas resting tree buds can withstand temperatures of -20 degrees C or lower. When hawthorn trees on the nature trail flowered in autumn 1995 the blossoms were killed by the first frost but the new leaves have survived into January 1996.
- Birds Many of the wildfowl and species such as grey wagtail tend to move onto the warmer river and stream if the lakes freeze over. In slightly warmer conditions snipe with its long thin bill can be found feeding in nearby fields.
- Fungi As predicted in last months 'whats on' velvet shank (Flammulina velutipes) fungus has appeared on some trees round the trail, it even survived the very cold weather over Christmas-new year period. Jews ear (Hirneola auricula-judae) fungus is also now present on elder trees, it looks very like a fleshy ear and is edible (although I'm not sure if you would want to eat something looking like that) .
- Winter moth Operophtera brumata may be attracted to lights in any slightly less cold spell at this time of year. However it is only the males that can fly, females are virtually wingless and remain on tree bark waiting to be found. Later in the year the larvae be a serious pest of apple trees.
- Hedgehogs Oblivious to all, they started hibernating some time between October and December and will remain in their nest until April.
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