Helping newts -Day 29 of 30 Days Wild

Today was spent looking at underwater video footage from the garden pond. Its fascinating watching little pond creatures especially newts.

We have 2 types of newts in the garden pond and they have been busy laying eggs.

The problem this year was the newts arrived early to the pond given the very mild winter. They started their courtship before any vegetation started to really grow around the pond. The newts here lay their eggs on plants the cascade over the waters edge, so this year I gave them a little helping hand.

I make artificial egg laying strips for them until everywhere greened up around the pond, and this is how I made them.

Materials:

Black bin bag, stones, scissors and string.

Make egg laying strips:

Measure suitable length from the bottom (sealed end) of the bin bag upwards. (this will depend on how deep your pond is) I made mine about 10 inches. Now cut straight across the bag.

Measure across the bottom half way and cut the bag in two.

Next get one half and start to cut strips down towards the sealed end of the bag but stop about 3/4 of the way down.

Do the same with the other half of the bin bag.

Now open up each half. You will have a section in the middle of each which has not been cut in to. Place a stone inside this area and gather the strips up around it.

Now tie string around the  strips to keep the stone in. Do the same with the other and there you have newt egg laying strips.

When you put them in the water the stone helps to weigh them down, all you need to do is maybe help separate the strips a bit when submerged.

What the newts thought of them:

As soon as I put the strips into the pond, the newts were curious and came over to have a look at them. Check my little video out here

The newts like them as they mimic the leaves of submerged plants and they are flexible enough for the newt to place an egg on a strip and fold it over like a little parcel to protect it.

The pond is now full of vegetation cascading over the sides so the newts have many options of places to lay eggs.

Here is a photo of a smooth newt egg folded up on a blade of grass. It is greyish in colour with a clear jelly around it which differs from great crested newt eggs which are white in colour.

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Amphibian & Reptile Ramble

Yesterday I met with the  Amphibian and Reptile Officer for North Wales and we spent the morning surveying several sites around Flintshire, North Wales.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Even though I went looking for amphibians and reptiles, I ended up seeing and experiencing so much more.