Summertime Walk on the Wildside
A walk around the lake at this time of year takes on a renewed excitement with the explosion of plant and animal life reaching its peak. This article takes you on a journey around the lake suggesting some interesting natural features you might like to look for as your journey unfolds.
Swallows and Amazons
From the Dam Head end of the lake on a warm summers day you can see why Rudyard is often called the miniature Lake District. With rows of sailing boats stretching into the deep green valley its easy to get a flavour of Swallows and Amazons into your imagination. Swallows however, need no imagination as you will normally catch a glimpse of Swallows and House Martins swooping low over the water scooping up small flying insects. Keep a special look out for the old boat houses as this is where they nest and need to go to feed their young. The boat houses are open most days and this is a good place see them and to hear the calls of adults and young.
Floral display on the Dam
At this time of year the Dam Head wall is peppered with flowering plants literally buzzing with insect life. Flowers include Himalayan Balsam, Angelica, Hogweed, Knapweed, Ragwort and many more. A walk along the wall offers a birds eye view of the flower heads where you can amaze at the number of insects on the umbrella like large white flower heads (umbels) of Angelica and Hogweed (pictured).
Hogweed takes its name from the historic practice of feeding the plant to pigs. Unfortunately, the flower heads of both plants have a rather unsavoury, musky, pig like smell. No wonder they attract so many insects!
Beware ! Hogweed has a close relative called Giant Hogweed which can cause serious skin problems if touched. It is difficult to distinguish between the two and so to be safe don’t touch any plant that looks like Hogweed.
Dinosaurs at Rudyard
As you follow the railway line northwards keep an eye out for the Herons that are often sunning themselves or fishing on the far bank. These large grey, black and white birds are often thought of as modern-day dinosaurs and if you see them in flight it’s easy to understand why.
Herons nest communally in heronries at the top of trees that surround the lake. This year’s young are now almost as large as the adults but you can still recognise them as they don’t yet have the darker feathers and are more uniformly grey than the adults.
Little White Egrets
As you pass onwards up the lake you may see another dinosaur-like bird searching for food on the mud flats or in the shallows at the edge of the lake. Similar in shape to the Heron with long legs and neck is the Little White Egret. As many as thirteen birds have been seen at one time this summer.
At the time the lake was formed these birds would not have been present and only started to appear in the UK in significant numbers in the late 1980’s. By 1996 they had started to breed and the UK breeding population is now estimated to be about 700 breeding pairs.
A Nectar Champion!
With its pink-purple thistle like flower head, Knapweed can be seen in a few places around the lake. As you pass the Hunthouse Wood railway station look out for the purple flowers on the banks of the lake. A closer look at the flowerhead reveals that it is in fact made up on many small flowers all bunched together.
Folklore suggests that in the past these small flowers were used to predict the meeting of young people destined for romance by placing them inside the clothing of young ladies. When the flowers opened it was said that a potential partner was nearby.
On warm, sunny days its well worth seeking out Knapweed as it’s a favourite feeding station for many types of bees and butterflies.
Invaders from the Hills
Himalayan Balsam is probably the most common plant that you will see on a lake walk in the summer months. As such, it seems strange that at the time the lake was formed, Balsam would not be seen for at least another 40 years as it was only introduced into Britain in 1839.
The images shown were taken at the north end of the lake near to the stone bridge where the view towards the lake is a ‘sea’ of pink, white and purple Balsam and Willow Herb flowers.
Despite its ‘invasive’ label, the Balsam flower produces large quantities of pollen and nectar attracting pollinators in large numbers. Some conservationists are concerned that insects choose Balsam as a food source in preference to our native plants which could suffer from a lack of pollination.
The bird feeders by the stone bridge at the north end of the lake provide plenty of opportunity to get up close to some of Rudyard’s bird life.
At this time of year many of the birds that you will see are young birds (fledglings) who are trying to make their own way in the world and are beginning to look more like adults than youngsters.
While some youngsters resemble their parents quite closely such as the Blue Tits and Great Tits, others have yet to gain their distinctive adult features such as the young Robin shown.
Butterflies at the Hall
Heading towards Rudyard Lake Sailing Club from Cliffe Park Hall you pass through a field with brambles and thistles on either side of the path. On a sunny day at this time of year the field is well worth keeping a lookout for butterflies!
A range of Browns and Whites are to be commonly seen here together with the more flamboyant Comma and Gatekeeper butterflies pictured here on the thistles and brambles opposite the Hall.
Did you know that the eye spots on the Gatekeeper wings deter birds from attacking it?
The Red Admiral is commonly seen at Rudyard and throughout the country although our summer population relies on an influx of migrants from Europe each year. Originally called Admirable (rather then Admiral) due to its striking bright colours. The butterfly pictured appears to be making the most of very ripe blackberries.
Swans with Muscles ?
Well actually, Swan Mussels !
As you return to the dam end of the lake you will see a small bay in front of the Sailability Boat House which is an excellent place to explore for Swan Mussels in shallow water. However, please don’t remove them from the water as they are great at keeping the water clean by filter it through tubes in their shell.
If you look closely at the image opposite you will notice that the two parts of the shell are slightly open and one of the small tubes or syphons can be seen in the gap.
This blog is just a snapshot of a few things to look out for on your walk around the lake in mid summer. There are of course many more waiting to be discovered! Sometimes walking is not enough, you need to stop, wait, and use all of your senses to uncover some of the lakes hidden secrets. Good luck !
Brenda and Gary Lowe