Walton Hall Nature Trail, What's on Spring 2000

Walton Hall Nature Trail, What's on Spring 2000

After another mild winter spring started early but was suddenly checked by a cold wet spell. The river flooded on 4 April but water levels quickly returned to just below the top of the bank due to careful management using weirs and balancing lakes.

Birds Spring migrants have already (6 April) started arriving, I saw 25 sand martins huddling together in a small bush beside Caldecotte Lake recently. It must have been a real shock for them having come from tropical heat to a frosty Milton Keynes. Indeed the day of their arrival was cold and wet with no insects flying around for them to eat, if this weather had persisted for a few days they may not have survived. Migration can obviously be a dangerous choice. But as it happened the following day was much brighter and warmer with plenty of insects appearing and I spotted other migrants such as chiffchaffs (or similar warblers!) around the nature trail. Just after writing this I was thinking that a nice picture of one of the warblers would be useful but I did n't have one then I looked out of the window and a couple of them were working the tree just outside my living room window for catterpillars and aphids, obviously wanted to be on the Internet. In fact the trees were alive with birds, blue tits, great tits, wrens and particularly long tailed tits which were also collecting spiders webs from the window frames to construct their nests.

Over the winter there have been large (several hundred individuals) flocks of lapwing on Willan Lake just outside the bird hide, it will be interesting to see if these continue now that some of the fields near that OU that they regularly feed on are being developed for housing. As in previous years there have also been good populations of snipe at this bird hide, I have seen up to 29 on one occasion, so the reports that this species has all but vanished from Northamptonshire may be a little exaggerated.

Mammals The new housing is on fields that have traditionally been good for hares, indeed I saw one just a couple of weeks ago less than half a mile from the nature trail. Unlike rabbits hares need large open areas and are almost certain to disappear from the Milton Keynes area as it becomes more developed. It is increasingly important that the nature trail and green areas are maintained in as natural condition as possible and are not simply converted to urban parks with short cropped grass and heavily pruned trees otherwise even more species will vanish.

Amphibians This is the dreaded time of year when, after dusk, the paths are covered with frogs and toads trying to reach their ponds, how many are you going to tread on after that late night visit to the cellar bar? It will be interesting to see what effect the new library building has on the newt populations in the main OU pond, are the great cresteds going to be wiped out or will the mitigation works succeed. Of course with a swan thinking of taking up residence there at the moment it might start nibbling the newts anyway.

Plants There has been quite a lot of discussion over the past year concerning the over tidying of various parts of campus. The old hedge in the centre of campus has been more or less cut down and grubbed out and the management of a number of other habitats has been rather over zealous. There are now attempts at a more ecologically sensitive regime for grounds maintenance the details of which are yet to be worked out. The idea is to have highly manicured gardens in some areas and less intensively managed regions, this should provide an overall saving in money and help the wildlife. It is also hoped to provide interpretation boards so that people can see why some areas have been left and the sorts of wildlife they are likely to see there. Of course regular readers of the Nature Trail will already know about the ecology of the different areas!

Creepy crawlies Centipedes such as the one shown in the faint background image on this page are common in leaf litter and compost heaps round the trail. Interestingly the species shown was also rather common crawling across the bedroom ceiling in a dodgy old flat I used to live in! They have poison claws and one pair of legs per segment which distinguishes them from the unrelated millipedes which have two pairs of legs per segment. Can you count the total number of legs this one has?

The Snipe (shown right) probes moist mud with its long bill and sucks up its prey without even withdrawing its beak, perhaps just as well that the centipedes don't live in this very wet mud or the Snipe could get a nasty nip from the poison fangs.

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