Walton Hall Nature Trail, what's on May

Spring really got under way in the third week of April, trees and shrubs burst their buds and most of the migrant birds returned.

Plants Cuckooflower or lady's smock(Cardamine pratensis) is now showing its pale pink flowers in the ancient meadow, it is related to watercress and has a similar hot taste. Grasses are starting to flower, one of the first is meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis) but its not until the end of May that the main hay fever season begins.
Hawthorn or May trees (Crataegus monogyna) have developed fresh new leaves, which taste like bread and cheese, and will be coming into bloom at some stage during the month. In the hedgrows cuckoopint or lords-and-ladies (Arum maculatum) [shown right] are well into flowering with their distinctive purple spadix and arrow shaped leaves. Also in the hedgrows and central oak grove cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) will soon shoot up and explode into flower.

Birds One of the most obvious birds at present is the cuckoo. They look rather like a bird of prey, such as a kestral or sparrowhawk, flying in among the trees and reeds round Walton Lake. Cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of small insectivorus birds such as reed warbler, the cuckoo chick ejects other eggs or nestlings so that the tiny warbler can support the huge developing chick.
House Martins are back and busy building their nests, look out for them collecting mud from any puddles especially around the Venables building site.
Walking by Walton Lake can be rather noisy with reed warblers, sedge warblers, willow warbler and chiffchaff all singing for all they are worth.

Insects Any spells of warm weather should bring out plenty of butterflies. The early flying dragonflies and damselflies such as the broad-tailed chaser and blue tailed damselfly should also be about towards the end of the month. Greenfly can also start building up if their many predators such as ladybirds don't keep them in check.

Algae Walton Lake suffered a large algal bloom at the end of April and it looks as though it will continue through May. Scientists at the Open University have been working on the control of algae using barley straw, however the straw needs to be applied well before the bloom as it is chemicals released during rotting that inhibit algal growth. One reason straw was not applied to this lake is that algae have not been a problem in the past so it is possible that something different has happened this year such as a large nutrient influx.

Amphibians All three species of newts are now well into their breeding season and its a very good time to go out to your pond at night with a torch to look for them. Later this month the males are likely to go out of condition and loose their distinctive crests.

Squirrels They may be moulting. Look out for dark melanic forms of grey squirrel, I've not seen any round here yet but they have been reported in Bucks, Beds and Herts probably from black squirrels introduced at Woburn.

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