The Pond Diary 2005

March - Part 2

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16 March - With overnight temperatures remaining above 10C, and sunshine helping it to reach 17C by noon, the frogs were very active, although it still seems as though most are continuing to wait.

This trio (female in the middle) remained in a tight knot all day as far as I can tell, with others trying unsuccessfully to join them from time to time.

The extended legs of the males in this ballet are used to fend off any competition that threatens to usurp their grip on the female.


Today I counted over 120 frogs in the two ponds, so I would expect quite a bit more spawn over the next few days, which are forecast to be warmer than today.


The colours and spot patterns of the frogs vary tremendously, but today one frog stood out from the crowd with a pattern that I have not seen before.

The frog in the middle of this group has a very speckled pattern of small spots on a very light background. Compare it with the more usual variations shown by the other frogs.



17 March - No pictures today, but a first sighting of a Smooth Newt this season. Any sensible newt would be wary about being in the pond at the moment, as the chances of being kicked must be very high!

The pond was as busy as ever, and I'm not sure whether or not there are still frogs arriving. I nearly trod on one at the front of the house. A close inspection showed it to be free of duckweed, normally a decoration that frogs take with them when they leave the pond.


18 March - On another warm, sunny day it looks as though spawning has just about come to an end. Although there were still plenty of frogs to be seen and heard, only a small number visited the shallow end all day.

This picture shows the main area of spawn at 5.20pm, and there is not a frog in sight. My first impression is that there is less spawn then last year (compared with the image recorded on 15 March, when spawning finished in 2004).


However, there is a separate area of spawn this time which may well bring the total mass up to last year's quantity.



20 March - Yesterday, the hottest so far, the frogs were the quietest they have been since prior to spawning, with no more than 50 or so.

Today it seems there are some latecomers to the party in the form of this group that has been rolling about the pond all day. It looks as though we will have another lump of spawn by tomorrow.

Overall, there were less than 40 frogs visible in or around the pond today.


As that first picture shows, the water in the big pond has become quite murky as a result of all the frog activity of the last week or so. Fortunately it is now starting to clear again, enabling us to see the newts that have already arrived.

This picture, taken this evening, shows three newts exploring near the side of the pond. I had seen just the two individuals in the middle. It wasn't until I looked at the image on the monitor screen that I saw the one on the left.

Amongst the stories I came across as a child I can remember one about people diving for pearls in the 'South Seas' and the danger of getting a hand or foot trapped by a giant clam. We had one of those moments first thing this morning when my eldest son came to visit.

As usual he headed out to look in the pond, only to spot the bright pattern of the underside of a male newt in breeding colours. It was upside down and looking as though it was dead, so my son used a thin stick to see if would move. It seemed to be stuck and probably dead so he scooped it out, having to tug a bit as he did so.

As soon as the newt was out of the water we could see the problem. It had, like the divers in my story, put its foot into an open clam (well, in this case a Pea-shell Cockle measuring about 1cm across). The cockle had closed and trapped the newt. I have found newts with cockles attached before but they had still been able to move about. In this case the cockle seemed to be securely attached to the vegetation so that the newt was unable to get to the surface to breathe.

Fortunately it was still alive. My son prised the cockle off, returned the newt to the water, and after a couple of minutes it had recovered enough to swim off. I guess it was to be expected - This son works for Hampshire Fire and Rescue, and specialises in technical rescues (and he was wearing his uniform)!


21 March - The first day when absolutely no mating activity was seen and no croaking heard, in the ponds.

There were few frogs to be seen on the surface at all, although I could see some resting on the bottom.

This was the only one I spotted anywhere near the spawn. I couldn't help thinking how sad it looked, perhaps because the party is over!



This is a portion of the first spawn that appeared. You can see how the tadpole embryos are progressing. It will not be long before these will be wriggling free of their gelatinous spheres.



I spent a short time watching the newts tonight. I spotted a couple dozen, and saw one male in full display  mode, vigorously waving its tail about in front of a female.


22 March - Last night's rain filled the pond to its highest level all winter.

Now that spawning is over the behaviour of the frogs is decidedly different. Now, they are just as likely to be found out of the water as in the pond, hiding amongst vegetation around the two ponds.

Some have taken up the classic frog pose as they wait to ambush food that wanders their way.



Others seem far more relaxed and gather in groups such as this pair, perched for several hours on an almost vertical south-facing banking of the small pond.



At another spot I found this frog squatting on top of two others. Again, they stayed this way for a long time. It's strange they way the frogs underneath don't seem worried!



23 March - To start with, an item from last night -

One group of animals absent from this garden's list of likely inhabitants are the reptiles (I have seen a Grass Snake less than half a mile from here, but it is unlikely that one will reach this garden), and I must say that I am envious when I see the sorts of lizards that people in other parts of the world get as regular visitors to their gardens.

Instead, we have our newts, and to see these on patrol usually means getting out with a torch after dark.

This one was spotted on my last walk down the garden before bed last night. It was up on the West Wing, hunting along the grooves in the stepping stones under the Ivy tree, amongst the rotting remnants of the winter.

During the same walk I saw at least fifteen more in the big pond, and one in the small pond.

This morning the pond diary gains a bird photograph. Back in January I mentioned that one of the Reedmace seed heads had been attacked by a bird. It wasn't long before the head was stripped clean, not by birds, but by winds.

Up until yesterday the second Reedmace had remained intact. Then, yesterday morning I saw a Sparrow attack the bottom of it. I couldn't decide whether the Sparrow was after the tiny seeds to eat or the fluffy parachutes for soft nesting.

This morning the Sparrows have been making regular visits, and I'm still not sure -it could be a combination of both reasons as they sometimes fly up in the direction of the nestboxes, but at other times head for the Hawthorn to pick at the lump they have collected.



24 March - This morning the first of the Marsh Marigold flowers opened. This is six days earlier than in 2004.

Thanks to the Sparrows' activity which has continued today, the surface of the pond is scattered with lots of tufts from the reedmace - I will probably clear some of this on the weekend.




There are now groups of tadpoles that are free of their gelatinous albumen spheres.

In this picture you can see how the spheres have turned green with a coating of algae.

The emergence of the young tadpoles hasn't gone unnoticed. Tonight, the newts are already searching around the spawn for an easy meal.

Some were pushing their way through the spawn, but this pair was after those that were on the pond floor.

While the tadpoles are not yet ready to swim freely, it seems that they have to move their tails to attract the attention of a newt.



25 March - No pictures today, but a couple of things need to be noted.

Last night I spotted a newt laying an egg. I couldn't see a repeat tonight, but I will be watching out for photo-opportunities each night from now on.

A couple of pond skaters appeared in the big pond for the first time today.


26 March - Just one set of images today, taken tonight.

Within a few inches of each other I spotted two young newts, still sporting reduced external gills. They are shown here in the lower images.

To give an idea of their relative sizes the adult is shown at the same scale (the camera focused manually and not altered between shots), as is the rule.

As usual, it's encouraging to see these young newts which must be from last year's brood.

The frogs are really taking things easy now, resting in a spot for hours during the day. I hand cut some grass at the side of the small pond, and one frog stayed put even as I cut the grass right up to it. Meanwhile, I saw some tadpoles starting to swim free today.


27 March - I only had a brief look at the pond tonight, but that visit was well worth it. First of all I saw ten more juvenile newts, and they are much more in evidence than last year. This image shows much more clearly the external gills.

Most of them were hunting in the patches of Water Starwort (Callitriche platycarpa). This plant is favoured by the adults for egg laying, but it spreads so much that I have to clear much of it away during the winter. The clumps I left behind are now starting to spread, just in time.

Another plant that provides egg laying 'platforms' is the Water Forget-me-not. The plant seems to develop plantlets which drift around the pond, eventually growing roots into the soil. 


A leaf on one of these plants is being used by this newt. She is in the process of folding the leaf around an egg that she has already laid.



This is a close-up of the rear end of the newt with the folded leaf behind its foot. Unfortunately I couldn't get a better angle.


Click on an image to see a larger version

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