Pond Arrivals

Never has the old adage “Build it and they will come” been more true of anything than of building a pond. Our new pond went in at the beginning of February – seems a world away now, given everything that has gone on in the world since then. The human world may be in chaos and despair, but for everything else life goes on and a new pond is a beacon attracting wildlife from all around. Every week if not every day something new finds its way to our pond. We’ve not been able to finish all the landscaping or get all the plants I would like to have got due to various restrictions, but it seems the wildlife doesn’t mind at all.

Quite a wide variety of insects have already found their way to the pond. A few tiny beetles whizzing around were the first we spotted, followed shortly by a lone water boatman. We suspect there are now more water boatmen, but since we only every see one at a time we can’t be sure. Both of the above have so far proved too fast to photograph.

Of course small flies and mosquitos were soon flitting over the surface of the water laying eggs, which soon hatched in large numbers into wriggling larvae. These will hopefully provide plenty of food for larger animals further up the food chain, so are a very welcome addition to the pond.

Within a couple of weeks our first pond skater arrived, followed by several of its friends! These insects are great to watch scooting across the surface of the pond in search of food. They regularly battle each other, that or they get very frisky, we’re not sure which. Apparently they use the middle legs for propulsion, the back legs to steer and the front ones for grabbing their prey.

Next insect to appear was this diving beetle which flew in and plopped into the pond while we were sitting watching. These diving beetles come to the surface and collect a bubble of air to breathe, so he or she pops up to the surface quite often.

Since then we have spotted numerous medium sized beetles whizzing around the pond, all adding to the food chain.

The biggest excitement though was the arrival of our first damselfly – a Large Red Damselfly to be precise. Hopefully this will be the first of many damselfly and dragonfly species to use the pond and I can do a full post on them soon. In the meantime here is our first one.

Other insects have been using the pond in other ways; a Holly Blue caught drinking from the pond, an Orange Tip butterfly nectaring off the cuckooflower and this snazzily striped hoverfly buzzing all over the place. The hoverflies have clearly been making whoopee as we’ve already started finding their larvae – the delightfully named rat-tailed maggots in the pond. Wriggling and semi-transparent these are very difficult to photograph, the best I could do was this short video.

Spiders have also moved in amongst the stones at the side of the pond, nipping in and out to catch unsuspecting insects.

The birds have of course continued to make good use of the pond (drinking, bathing, catching insects), to the point I feel they are annoyed with me for hogging it by sitting there for so long. My favourites so far are this pair of young magpies, exploring the world for the first time. They go everywhere together and particularly like the pond, squabbling one minute and then looking to each other for reassurance the next – a typical pair of siblings.

Sadly all the frog activity we saw in March came to nothing and we didn’t get any frog spawn this year. It’s not too surprising as the pond had literally only been in for a couple of weeks before their mating season. We’ve yet to see a toad around the pond either, but the newts have come up trumps. The first newt (they are Smooth Newts) arrived early April and since then there seems to have been more each day. I shall do a full newt blog soon as they’ve provided lots of photo and video opportunities, but here’s a taster.

Sometimes the things you don’t get to see in person can be the best though. Our hedgehogs have been making good use of the pond, carefully tiptoeing down the sloping beach that was put in specifically for them to access the pond. Obviously we rarely see them directly, but the night cameras pick them up regularly. This video shows 7 separate visits to the pond by at least 3 different hedgehogs over the course of one night. Shows the value of providing a drinking source for your hedgehogs, especially in hot weather.

 

I am so glad that we got to make the pond before the world went into lock-down. It has provided interest, relaxation, welcome distraction and so much more – we have spent an awful lot of time in the last 3 months gazing into the pond, grateful for having a garden we can sit in while staying home and staying safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a Frog’s Life

I’ve been virtually staking out our allotment pond since the middle of February, hoping for frog spawn.  As it turns out, it was probably a good job we didn’t get any spawn that early, as the heavy snow at the beginning of March would probably have wiped it all out. But in mid-March there were squeals of excitement down the lottie, when we spotted the first magical clusters. We had frog spawn! We’d put in the pond too late for spawn last year, but we did get several frogs and newts using it throughout the summer. So it was great that the frogs at least deemed it suitable for spawning in. No sign of any toad or newt spawn yet, but I live in hope. As I’d just got a waterproof GoPro camera a month or so ago, the arrival of the frog spawn seemed the perfect opportunity to test it out. So here’s my very first underwater video, taken on the first day we spotted the frog spawn – 11th March.

Since then I’ve been down the lottie regularly to check on progress. We can’t be sure exactly which day the frog spawn was laid, but I would guess it was only a day or two before we saw it. At first there was only one clump, but two days later there were three. So I’ve been trying to keep a video/photo diary of the development. I’m still getting the hang of the settings on the GoPro and also on getting things in focus, so apologies if the images are sometimes a bit blurry. So first up here are the eggs on Day 2 – pretty much perfectly round dots in their jelly bubbles.

No real changes were visible to the naked eye for the first week or so, but by day 11 they were starting to change shape. No longer perfectly round, the eggs were more like fat commas.

Two days later and the comma shaped were definitely elongating, with the suggestion of a tail.

By day 15 there were definitely mini tadpoles inside the jelly blobs. No sign of movement yet, but heads and tails were clearly visible.

Day 18 (28th March) and the tadpoles had started to hatch. Some were still in their protective jelly, but quite a few were clearly visible stuck to the outside of the eggs. These were all on the first clump of spawn we’d seen, the tadpoles in the other two clumps were not surprisingly a few days behind, having been laid later.

Day 20 and most of the first clump had hatched. They were starting to move a bit more now and had got a bit bigger so that gills were just about visible on some of them. They were still feeding off the jelly of the spawn.

 

Day 24 (3rd April) and some of the slightly larger tadpoles were starting to move away from the jelly clump. Some of the tadpoles on the other two clumps of spawn were now starting to hatch too.

Day 29 and they were free swimming – the pond was alive with wriggling tadpoles. They were grazing on the algae growing on the sides of the pond and on the rocks.

I felt ridiculously proud of them that they had managed to make it this far, despite the rubbish weather spring has thrown at them! But they’re not out of the woods yet – as the next video shows there are still dangers lurking in the pond!

 

Newts will eat tadpoles, so the chances are that not all of these will survive, but hopefully there are enough of them that some at least will make it. The newts have to survive too. With a bit of luck maybe we’ll get some newts laying eggs too – the newt in the video appeared to have a bit of a frilly ridge so is perhaps in breeding condition.

So that’s the progress so far in the first month of our tadpoles lives. Hopefully enough of them will survive that I’ll be able to do an update in a month or two’s time, as the tadpoles develop into baby frogs. Fingers crossed!

 

30 Days Wild – Day 5 – Apptastic

It’s Day 5 of 30 Days Wild and it’s been a bit of a miserable one weather wise – grey skies with intermittent drizzle all day here in Malvern. Add to that frequent gusts of wind, making any attempts at photography almost impossible. So I thought I’d try something new for me – I’d get all techy! I don’t really do apps on phones (must be an age thing!), but today I thought I’d go crazy and download a few wildlife ones, to see what it was all about. I picked half a dozen or so that seemed vaguely relevant and equally important – that were free!

It was easy enough to install the basic app for each of them, but actually using them proved a different matter in some cases.

First up the Great British Bee Count app. Run by Friends of the Earth, this app is for use between the middle of May and end of June – ideal for 30 Days Wild. You can either just record spot sightings of individual bees or do a timed count of a particular species on a particular plant. It was easy to use and would be great for kids. The only problem I found was that if you did the timed count you had to decide what bee you were looking for on what plant. I did a couple of 60 second counts of first honey bees on red valerian and then tree bumblebees on alliums. Needless to say the correct bee species never appeared on the correct plant in the relevant 60 seconds, so I recorded several zero counts. Admittedly this wasn’t helped by the fact that I was trying this on a dull day with not that many bees about.

I had more luck just recording spot sightings of individual bees. You could even add photos from your phone, which I presume they can use for verification purposes. Unfortunately me and my phone are rubbish at photos – see left, but I can’t blame the app for that. I particularly liked that you could choose different habitat types including allotments – not least because we have just got one and I was down there practising with the app! All in all this was an easy, fun app to use – just pick a sunny day though!

Next one I tried was Birdtracker from the British Trust for Ornithology. This one I did struggle with a bit. I put food out on the bird table and started the app up. But first I had to register with BTO, which it turns out I’d done years ago and forgotten my password. So then I had to wait for them to send me a password reset e-mail. By the time I’d done that the birds had eaten all the food, so I had to put out more. You then had to select a site you would be recording from – I was trying it in the garden, so tried to pick that – but the image on the phone screen was so small, I ended up having to go back inside to do it. It seems the smallest area you can pick is a kilometre square – seemed a bit excessive for our modest garden (wish it was that big!). By the time I’d sorted that, more food was required on the bird table. There is so much information on this app that the writing is very small (to my middle aged eyes). I know I could zoom in, but then I could only see a tiny part of the info and had to keep zooming back out. By the time I’d worked it out, yet more food was needed on the bird table (the birds at least must like this app!) Finally I managed to submit a few sightings. It did seem like this was intended for someone who had already collected their sightings and so had a list already written out – they could then input the data relatively easily. On the plus side, if you did it regularly it would be a good way of keeping track of what you saw in your garden. Also I did manage to see both the robin and the collared doves that had refused to appear for the yesterday’s bioblitz!

I tried out two apps from the Wildlife Trusts – both of which were very good and easy to use. The 30 Days Wild one gives you random acts of wildness to try out. If you don’t fancy the one it suggests, just click again and it comes up with something else – ideal on a dull day when you’re lacking inspiration.

The Nature Finder app was probably my favourite one today and I expect will be the one we use most. You can use it to find nature reserves near where you are – particularly useful if you’re on holiday. Or you can use it to suggest Events that are coming up – I found a couple that we might go to in the coming months. Or you can use it to find information on a particular species. All really useful tools in an app that was easy to use – perfect!

Next up was the Dragon Finder app – not as you might expect for dragonflies, but for amphibians and reptiles and run by Froglife. We’ve put in a tiny pond at the allotment, which has already attracted lots of wildlife, so I tried out the app there. Again this app is easy to use and didn’t require any special ID or techy skills. I managed to log one common newt and one sadly deceased common frog.

I did also download a butterfly and a dragonfly app. Thanks to the soggy weather I didn’t see any of these to be able to try out the apps properly. The butterfly app looked fairly straightforward and the dragonfly one a bit more complicated, but that may just be because I am more familiar with former than the latter.

Most of these apps have the common purposes of gathering data from people all over the country. Citizen science like this can hopefully provide lots of useful data for the scientists studying the particular group. These apps will also hopefully engage people who might not otherwise consider submitting sightings and get more people interested in the wildlife around them. So even if technophobes like me struggle a bit with some of them, they can only really be a good thing. And after all I can always go back to a pen and paper if necessary!

30 Days Wild – Day 4

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_04Day 4 of 30 Days Wild and today we took part in another event – the National Garden Bioblitz, thereby ticking off two targets with one activity (in true Too Lazy fashion). The aim of the Garden Bioblitz is to find and record as many species of plants and animals as possible in the garden in 24 hours.  Since we’re always identifying things we find in the garden anyway, a bioblitz is just a natural extension of that.

Garden BioblitzLast time we did this a few years ago, we recorded about 120 species; but that was before we got into moth trapping and bee identifying, so hopefully we can beat that this time.  I’m writing this late evening – we’ve been busy in the garden all day, photographing and listing everything we could find. I’ve still got loads of things to identify from the photos and then everything has to get logged onto the i-record site.

It has pretty much been the perfect day. It started at about 4:30 am when I got up to empty the moth trap (to beat the cheeky robin to the catch). Then went back to bed for a bit more sleep (always good), before resuming the challenge at a more reasonable hour. For once the sun shone on the righteous (questionable I know) and we had the perfect conditions for trawling the garden for photo ops. Pretty much the whole day was spent crawling about the garden with the cameras. We finished off by cranking up the BBQ and cracking open a bottle of Prosecco – the perfect end to the perfect day.

Elephant Hawkmoth 2During the day we tried every trick we could think of. Obviously the moth trap had been out over night and produced at least 20 species of moth – I’m still working through the photos, so this total may rise. Highlight was the always stunning Elephant Hawkmoth.

 

Diamond Back mothI was also really pleased to get several Diamond-back moths – tiny moths that migrate over from the Continent. They’d been mentioned on Springwatch and social media was full of people saying they’d had loads of them this week, so I felt ridiculously glad that Too Lazy’s garden hadn’t missed out. Moth envy is a terrible thing!

 

CJL_5328We also tried pitfall traps for the first time, using old plastic tubs buried in the ground. This produced this rather splendid (and still to be identified) beetle, plus a couple of woodlice and a spider (also still in need of ID). I suspect pitfall traps take a bit of practice in sussing the right location – we might try them again at other places in the garden.

We tried the “suspend an umbrella under a tree and wack the branches” technique as demonstrated by Chris Packham on Springwatch.  We only have the one mature tree (an apple) so this didn’t produce too much, but was interesting to try.

FrogWe dipped in the pond, which produced mainly duckweed, but also some leeches and water louse. It also meant we spotted one of our two amphibian species of the day – a Common Frog, watching us warily from his duckweed blanket.

 

 

NewtWe of course turned over stones and pieces of wood, which yielded our second amphibian – the Common Newt. We also found most of our molluscan species this way, both snails and slugs. We achieved a respectable 4 species of snail, but sadly the Girdled Snail, which I know we get in the garden, remained steadfastly hidden today.

 

Collared DoveThe rest of the day was spent generally bird watching and chasing various bees and insects round the garden.  I haven’t tallied up the birds properly yet, but we managed at least 10 species including this Collared Dove. At least 6 bee species put in an appearance, with possibly a new one – we spotted some kind of leafcutter bee carrying (not surprisingly) a piece of leaf – hopefully we can get an ID on it soon, although the photo wasn’t brilliant. DSC_3856Fortunately other bees were more obliging.

Only 2 butterflies showed their faces today – a Small White and a Holly Blue. Assorted insects made up the remainder of the animal count, while the plant count is at least 25 species, with probably a few more to ID.

We’ve spent the whole day in the garden photographing our wildlife and it will probably take several days more to go through all the photos and get them loaded so that they count for the Bioblitz. But it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable experience and has got us rooting about bits of the garden, that we may otherwise ignore. We won’t know the final tally of species for a couple of days, but I’ll post an update when we do. I’d recommend having a go at a Garden Bioblitz for anyone – you don’t need to be especially skilled – just take it to whatever level  you can manage. You’re sure to learn something new and hopefully enjoy your garden all the more for it. There’s still time to do it for this year – http://www.gardenbioblitz.org/ for more information.

Bindweed 30 WEEDSDay 4 of 30 Lazy Weeds and a truly beautiful if sometimes bothersome flower – Bindweed. The bane of many a gardener, but if you take the time to look at the flower itself, it really is stunning. Pure white and beautiful in its simplicity. Gardeners will plant similar looking flowers, but weed out these, which seems a shame. I know their stems do wind themselves round pretty much everything, but for me the flowers more than make up for this.