Walton Hall Nature Trail, What's on Winter 98

Walton Hall Nature Trail, What's on Winter

This year so far has been rather variable with very wet and windy weather in early January followed by calm frosty conditions then extreme heat in early Feb*. As noted in the autumn, migrant birds have been in rather short supply. In previous years there have been large numbers of redwings and fieldfares around the OU campus but this year the first ones I noticed were on 7 Dec when there was a flock of 36 assorted winter thrushes. Since then there have occasionally been groups of 50+ on the playing fields but for much of the time there have been virtually none. This is probably linked to the lack of berries and residents such as blackbirds stripping the trees bare before the migrants arrived. [redwing shown right, photographed outside the BBC building last year.]

Mammals This is perhaps not a time when people normally think of looking for animals but actually they can still be found indeed their tracks are particularly obvious in fresh snow or mud. Look out for voles scurrying about in the shrubbery round the office buildings, they are also sometimes seen running across paths between the bushes. Also don't be surprised if you see one or two bats during the day. They don't hibernate and I've seen them in broad daylight at several places round campus during the winter months.

Birds As already mentioned food may be in short supply this year so it is a good time to check out the bird feeders round campus. Can you name the birds illustrated below, the last picture is a bit of a trick as this species does not appear on the nature trail bird species list (and you may have to scroll across in the browser to find it), however the habitat is suitable so we may eventually find them here.

Plants Many of the bulbs are starting to come through and on a nice spring like day they look very pretty. Some of the planted shrubs round campus also flower at this time of year for example the small pink, fragrant flowers of Viburnum are out along with christmas roses. Out along the trail see how many kinds of tree you can identify at this time of year, there are ash trees with distinctive light coloured bark and large black buds, massive poplars and pollarded willows for a start.

*Lunchtime walk on 13 Feb. The temperature was about 20 degrees C, there were brimstone butterflies and bumble bees about. The air was full of bird song and there were kingfishers zooming up and down the river. What on earth is happening to the climate?

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