Walton Hall Nature Trail, What's on Winter 98/99

Walton Hall Nature Trail, What's on Winter 98

So it looks as if 1998 will be globally the warmest year of the millennium according the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia. After our rather miserable summer this seems a little hard to believe but they have the tree rings and ice cores to prove it! Closer to home it has been one of the wettest autumns for many years with the river at near flood levels. If it does overflow into the surrounding fields and hedgerows then keep a lookout for the displaced small mammals with homes awash.

If the weather is bad and you can't get out to walk the trail then why not try the NEW nature trail crossword

Insects Well arachnids actually. This is a good time to see spider's webs either the typical spiral shape created by species such as the garden spider or the complex layers of webbing in bushes or on the ground produced by species such as money spiders. If you go out early on a dewy or frosty morning there will be millions of the webs glistening in the sunlight, indeed the sports fields will be completely covered in gossamer.

Birds At this time of year several species of birds clump together in large flocks to roost overnight. There is a particularly spectacular black headed gull roost on Willan Lake only a mile or two from Walton Hall. Several thousand gulls come in at dusk, they settle on the lake but continue to make a noise and hundreds can suddenly take off an circle round before landing again. This is particularly eerie after dark as they drift in close to the shore. They leave again at dawn. If you are lucky there may also be a flock of lapwings roosting on the landing stage by the path and they tend to hang around until a little after dawn.

Starlings also form communal roosts, look out for them gathering together on various buildings and trees round campus. Do you know of any other good places for communal roosts, MK central station used to have thousands of starlings, are they still there? Starlings are often thought of as a nuisance but they eat large numbers of insect pests and their numbers have been declining in recent years.

Fungi - The autumn provided a good range of fungi as usual including some rather nice bright red Boletus versicolor associated with an oak tree near the cricket nets. However the interesting wood rotting species growing on the horse path beside the river were destroyed when the bark was replaced by aggregate. This was rather a shame, is the aggregate cheaper or better for horses than the bark or did they just have some spare? Every year there are one or two 'new' species found round campus, this is partly because some species only fruit rarely and partly because the ecology of the area is constantly changing as the new grasslands and plantings mature. This can be particularly evident around young birch trees, as they get older there is often a succession of different species of fungi popping up.

If you are interested in mushrooms and toadstools there is a new group being formed to survey the fungi of Buckinghamshire. Experienced people in the group will be able to give expert training in identification but as many people as possible are needed to keep an eye on their local area.

Animals - Keep an eye out for mink and other animals round the trail especially at dusk and dawn. Actually the nature trail is not the only place you might find mink as I saw one going through bins in Bletchley high street a couple of months ago - it was 4am though! The bad weather may force some of the predators out into the open searching for food even during the daylight hours.

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