Yesterday I met with the Amphibian and Reptile Officer for North Wales and we spent the morning surveying several sites around Flintshire, North Wales.
It was a nice warm day but the rain first thing meant we were plagued by dreaded horseflies as we walked though the long grass and wildflower meadows in the muggy summer heat. This however, didn’t stop our enthusiasm as we strolled through the nature reserves wafting our arms about madly whilst looking for reptiles and amphibians.
We started our hunt by looking for refugia, which is a shelter. Although there are plenty of natural refugia on the sites, it is good to have man made ones (corrigated metal/felt) so that amphibian and reptile populations can be monitored.
Each man made refugia is grid referenced so I had my first lesson in using a handheld GPS (global positioning system). It wouldn’t do as it was told at first but I soon started to get the hang of it. We started to find the refugia and peered carefully underneath them for signs of life.
We found juvenile grass snakes, tiny toads and froglets as well as great crested newts hiding under the refugia. As it was a warm day, the snakes were very active under the refugia so it was hard to get good photo as they were moving about alot.
The grass snakes thought they were being predated so covered us in a secretion from the anal glands and wriggled about covering us in the pungent goo.
Although rather smelly all day I now feel like I have been officially inducted into the world of reptile hunting.
Under two of the metal refugia I found grass snake sloughed skins. Its fascinating to see all the detail of the scales, pattern and even the eye.
As well as looking under the man made refugia we also decided to look in and around the ponds on each site. Its amazing to see how ponds in different areas contain different vegetation which in turn contain/attract different creatures.
I was really excited when we started to see great crested newt larvae along the bottom edges of some of the ponds.
The great crested newt larvae have feathery gills around the head which point forward which distinguishes them from the smooth newts. It was so lovely to watch them.
The ponds were also teaming with other life, from common blue damselflies, ghostly blue leaf hoppers, water boatman, beetles and lots of spiders that darted about on the waters edge.
Whilst walking through the nature reserves I saw animal track ways, various sized burrows and the strong smell of foxes. It was also lovely to see such a beautiful variety of wildflowers such as self heal, red bartsia, yarrow and lady’s bedstraw.
Even though I went looking for amphibians and reptiles, I ended up seeing and experiencing so much more.