Walton Hall Nature Trail, what's on July/August

Sitting here about to write a section for the height of summer the weather forecast for the week ahead is strong winds, heavy rain and 'cool'. Still this may dampen down the hay fever and bring on a brief flush of fungi. Some rain may also be welcomed in the hay meadow which is looking parched.

Plants If you get lost out on the trail compass plant or prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola) may help. The plant grows about 1.5m tall and turns its flat leaves on their side with the spiky midrib sticking out, all the leaves are supposed to point north-south. Well you never know a sudden summer fog may come down......well perhaps not. Other plants to look out for especially in Walton Lake are flowering-rush (Butomus umbellatus), its flowers are produced in distinctive pink umbels and gypsywort (Lycopus europaeus) (pictured right).

One rather surprising interaction seems to be taking place under the clump of large black poplars on the riverbank. There are the first signs of the parasitic plant greater dodder (Cuscuta europaea) coming through but instead of attacking its usual food plant, nettles, it is winding its yellow wiry stems round the alien indian balsam (Impatiens glandulifera).

Insects Look out for black caterpillars of peacock butterflies, they are rather late this year and some are still in webs on stinging nettles along the river. Small tortoiseshell caterpillars are similar although not completely black and they are also found on nettles.

Dragonflies are now very common along the river, pond and lake. If you want to get good pictures then its best to go in the early morning, late evening or in cool weather as the hotter it is the faster they move. I was fortunate to be out in some of this inclement weather recently (of course rare in the British summer) and came across a very large (10cm), newly emerged, torpid Aeshna grandis dragonfly. It was being battered by the wind and in danger of being blown into the water. When offered my hand it walked on then walked off again in a more sheltered position a few feet away, this new position also just happened to be more photogenic.

Birds House martins are now very common all round the trail, they swoop low over the pond and grassland scooping up insects. Fortunately it seems that the current redecorating of the Venables building has not disrupted the colony too much with window frames been painted round the nests. The pair of kestrels nesting along the trail bred successfully and the fledgling is now being 'persuaded' to fly, you may see it sitting on one of the fences with the parent birds nearby offering loud encouragement.

Bats On warm summer evenings there are plenty of bats along the trail, good places to look (or listen) are by the church river bridge, large black poplars and in the centre of campus buildings - where moths are attracted to the lights. Children can hear some of the high pitched squeaks of their echo location system but as we get older these high frequencies are lost and a bat detector is a better bet. Recording of bats outside the maths building.

Amphibians Look out for young froglets and toadlets leaving Walton Lake, the surrounding grassy banks are sometimes alive with them.


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