Walton Hall Nature Trail, what's on November/December

The Indian summer enables bright red common darter and large blue migrant hawker dragonflies to continue flying throughout October but they will be vanishing soon as winter moves in. The end of October and early November has been marked by an extended period of gales and heavy rain which removed most of the leaves and any chance of good autumn colours!

Plants There is a flush of autumn germinating seedlings along the river bank in patches of bare earth. Many of these will be killed by severe weather but those that survive will have a head start in spring and some species may even set seed during mild winter weather. Another thing to look out for is the effect of viruses on plants. Viruses themselves are rather small (about a millionth of a centimetre), however at this time of year some of the 'yellows' viruses become obvious as yellow leaf mottling for example on dandelion.

Birds There's a shortage of beech mast this year which means that species such as chaffinch will have to forage further afield. The green finch roost at the creche carpark should be building up (up to 200+ birds in Jan.), other finches such as goldfinch are also common round the trail at this time of year feeding on seedheads.

The redwings and fieldfares have arrived in large numbers again. Fieldfares can be seen noisily defending their own berry trees around campus and redwings are often found in small groups in the grassland near Walton Lake.

Sparrowhawk can often be seen in the late afternoon over Walton Lake hunting buntings coming in to roost.

Fungi Fungi have been abundant along the bark path by the river. Species which are still around in early November include the spectacular green verdigris agaric (Stropharia aeruginosa), shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus) and various Conocybe, Melanoleuca and Paneolus species. Most of these are saprophytes living on rotting organic material. There have been very few mycorrhizal species (those which form a kind of symbiosis with plants especially trees) so look out for examples of this type such as the brightly coloured Russulas or milk producing Lactarius species especially under oak or birch trees and let me know if you spot any.

Amphibians Amphibians are finding places to hide away for the winter, often under piles of rocks or at the bottom of ponds. Little is known about what they do during this period.

Mammals Could n't think of anything to say about mammals until this morning when I noticed some voles rushing around in the undergrowth a few feet way from where I was trying to photograph some pyracantha berries outside Venables building. Voles are mainly active at night during the summer but can sometimes be seen outside their tunnels during the day in winter. If we get any snow then look out for their tracks, also look out for bark stripped at ground level. There are several rather similar species of vole in the UK (i.e. I don't know which species these animals were!)

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