Away from Bransford for two weeks, I returned to a full rain gauge and overgrown garden. Even before the garden was under control, I walked the trail to find out what else was going on. The great spotted woodpeckers’ new family have long ago left their nest but can still be heard feeding on insects in the canopy above. Their call is a sharp ”kek kek” which I hear often, but this medium sized, brightly coloured bird is actually very difficult to spot up in the tops of trees. However, I did stumble across a green woodpecker near an old oak with a lot of rotten branches. Typically, it flew up from the ground.

An evening visit to the trail and lakes at sunset with a friend with a bat detector showed that there were more than a few bats of at least two species around but not anywhere near as large a number as might be expected in this damp and wooded habitat. Bats like all other species of animal (including humans) need a home to live in as well as plenty of food and the majority of bat roosts have disappeared in the last 50 years, cut or fallen down or newly rebuilt with modern materials and highly insulated.

Bats like holes and crevices to hide in during the day. I recently talked to someone who has a breeding colony of a rare species of bat in his stable block roof space and he told me that when it gets too hot, how he sees the mothers move to a cooler spot carrying their young. Bats live for many years and normally return to their traditional spots which should never be disturbed (they are highly protected species due to their rarity).

Along the nature trail, the plants of summer are growing high. I noticed how the rather ugly burdock is now in flower and will in a few weeks be covered in those nasty sticky burrs where every seed has its own fishing hook ready to catch in the coats of dogs or walkers. Figwort and comfrey are also both in flower along the railway trail. Have you noticed how few red wild flowers there are and that most of these are flowers of summer. Figwort has tiny reddish flowers whilst comfrey can be red, pink or even blueish. The stunning crimson of the red campion will be replaced soon by pinkish purple hairy willow herb along the verges of roads and paths.

One of the most interesting red plants of summer is the Himalayan balsam which has been introduced to this country from … let’s guess where? You will find it in abundance along the banks of the Teme and many streams like the Leigh Brook but also in wet places where it grows rapidly during June from a small seedling until it is often over a metre high, when it quickly produces masses of red flowers with a sickly sweet smell, followed by exploding seedpods. It overwhelms native plants, but then dies back with the first frost to leave a bare bank ready to be eroded by the winter floods.

Volunteers in nature reserves like the Knapp & Papermill Reserve at Suckley every year will uproot or trample the growing balsam plants, so as to prevent seed production. Since balsam grows afresh every year from seed, this will eventually control this beautiful but pestiferous plant and stop the waterways becoming clogged with silt.

Around the nature trail at this time look out for:

  • Figwort, burdock and comfrey
  • Himalayan balsam (find one with ripe seed pods and touch the pointed end to see how the pod explodes scattering seeds everywhere)
  • Look closely at a single umbrella flower head of hogweed or hemlock and you will see many tiny species of insect, spider and even small snails
  • ALSO Listen – the cuckoos have mostly now fallen silent and one day not too far away, the small songbirds of summer will too, leaving only the wren and robin singing

Keith Falconer, July 1 2016

Himalayan Balsam image by Keith.

Keith Falconer is a local naturalist with many years experience of observing and photographing the wildlife of this region. He has an amazing knowledge of birds and bugs and all the creatures that live around us. Every few weeks he share his seasonal account of what to look for and listen to across our wonderful nature trail.