Walton Hall Nature Trail, what's on September/October

Walton Hall Nature Trail, what's on September/October

We are now moving into autumn, the season of mellow fruitfulness. Blackberries, rosehips, haws and crab apples are ripening, and indeed many of the hazelnuts have already been eaten. The weather at this time of year can be rather variable, one frost can cut short many plants and insects but in recent years there have been a number of 'Indian summers', periods of warm settled weather which have allowed some butterflies and tender plants to survive almost until Christmas. If on the other hand its miserable outside try summer sounds - a [400k] recording of bumblebees and house martins made in one of the OU courtyards.

Plants Walking along the river at this time of year you can't miss the pink flowered Indian balsam (Impatiens glandulifera). It grows 2m tall, smells of balsam and has explosive seeds - just try squeezing one of the pods and see what happens! The species originally came from the Himalayas but is now widespread across Europe especially in damp habitats.

Brambles are again producing a good crop of berries this year although some of the bushes round Walton Lake look slightly orange from a distance. This is due to infection with the rust fungus Phragmidium violaceum which produces spots on the upper side of the leaf and pustules underneath. Spores of this species have a rather curious shape.

Birds This is the time of year for migration. The house martins generally leave their nests and flock together round the OU buildings before heading south so look out for this as you won't see them again for another 6 months. On the other hand species such as redwings and fieldfares should be arriving soon from Scandinavia to escape the more severe winters and eat all our berries. There is also a chance of seeing a rare migrant such as redstart, pied flycatcher or ring ousel all of which have been seen in this area in the past

Herons [picture right] are common throughout the year especially in Walton Lake. When not feeding they may roost together in a traditional 'standing ground', I have seen groups of 5 or more together in the fields behind Fenny lock but they will have to move on as this area is about to be built on.

Insects Grasshoppers and bush crickets are very common at this time of year. Males are often heard stridulating (singing) in the long grass round Walton Lake. Bush crickets are generally larger than grasshoppers and have very long antennae. The males of some species fly well and may be attracted indoors to lights. Females are fearsome looking beasts often with a sabre-like ovipositor, they can give a painful bite if handled.

Fungi Any periods of damp weather now are liable to bring on crops of fungi. Fairy ring champignon (Marasmius oreades) [below] is common round the OU campus. The tiny birds nest fungus (Cyathus olla) is also common on the pulverised bark path by the river. It is unlikely that the two rare species that appeared last year (Boletus impolitus and Hygrophoropsis fuscosquamula) will be here again as both areas where they grew have been disturbed but with 3000 UK fungi to choose from I expect there will be at least a few unusual species turning up.

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