The Pond Diary 2006

April (part 1)

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9 April - This is terrible. It's the best part of two weeks since my last pond report after I'd promised myself that I wouldn't let things drift this year!

I have been spending a short time by the pond most nights watching the newts, and I've still to see any evidence of egg-laying, or even courtship taking place. They continue to hunt amongst the weeds and around the young tadpoles.


These are now all out of the spawn, and while the earliest to develop are now free-swimming, most are still in large groups around the jelly masses. These are covered with a layer of green algae on which the tadpoles can feed.

The range of tadpole colouration shown up by the flash always amazes me, with some of them appearing quiet blue.



Again, I was able to see several newtlets hunting amongst the floating pond plants.

There seems to be a degree of gregariousness about them because all three were in the same clump of weed. This one measured about 3cm in length.



The frogs are maintaining a low profile at the moment. I'm not seeing any out of the water, and most are well hidden in amongst the plants, or are resting on the bottom.




10 April - Yesterday afternoon rain ensured that the pond had a welcome top-up, and it was still damp when I went out to watch the newts last night.

I still haven't seen any egg-laying going on but I did see courtship for the first time.

The darker coloured male was following the female before it approached her almost 'face to face' (left hand picture). then it turned away and started waving its tail in an exaggerated way.

I managed to miss the next moment as she followed him, stopping briefly at the spot where he had displayed, possibly to pick up a packet of sperm that he had deposited.

This was the only such behaviour that I saw. All the other newts I watched seemed more interested in hunting rather than courtship.



These two males were at the edge of an algae covered spawn mass,




while this female was surrounded by her food supply.



11 April - Rain forecast, so the ponds will get a top-up before the end of the day.

Last night I saw a single newt egg laying for the first time this year. She appears to be attaching the egg to a bit of moss. Although there is no egg visible, you can see her hind legs wrapped around the plant.

The lack of small pond plants at the moment is a bit of a concern. The pond seems to be way behind last year in this respect. There are no Water Starwort plants to be seen. These have been the favoured plants for the newts' egg-laying in the past.

There was no sign of courtship behaviour amongst the rest of the newts as I watch, so perhaps last night's egg-layer is a bit ahead of the rest.

12 April - I've just spent a short time by the pond around 9pm, and couldn't see any female newts egg-laying. However, it looks as though the newts are now showing more interest in each other than they are in hunting tonight, and I saw several males displaying.

Just one photograph tonight, of an event that I've seen happening to the newts several times in the past. This female has managed to put one foot down onto the open valves of a pea-shell cockle, which has responded by clamping down on one of the newt's digits!

The newt is still able to swim, but every-so-often wriggles violently in an attempt to free itself.


14 April - There was no sign of a 'clamped' newt last night. They were very active in the main area of the big pond, although I didn't see any actual courtship, and only one that may have been egg laying.

Today's sunshine has encouraged the first Marsh Marigold flower to open this afternoon, with numerous other buds that look close to following in its footsteps.

I'm still a bit concerned about the failure so far of the Starwort plants to appear. This weekend I must take a trip to a couple of nearby ponds, and the Basingstoke canal to see what the situation is like in those.



15 April - My usual after dark check of the pond last night revealed an unusual surprise, in fact two of them!

I spotted what I though must have been an earthworm in the water at the shallow end, but it didn't take long to realise that it was in fact a very large leech.  As I watched, it slipped nearly completely out of the water as it hunted amongst the vegetation at the water's edge. Extended it must have been at least five inches long.

This was the first time I have ever seen one of these in the pond, and it was even more of a surprise when I spotted a second one just a short distance away.

Looking at my Collins guide to pond life suggests that they may be members of the genus Trocheta, possibly T. subviridis, amphibious worms that feed on earthworms and other invertebrates.

I'm afraid that I was too tired to stay for long so I shall have to watch out for them again tonight.

I also counted nine newtlets, the largest number I have seen in one session of watching.

16 April - There was no sign of the leeches last night. While I could see one newt egg-laying, it seemed that there were a lot feeding amongst the tadpoles. The latter are increasingly mobile now, and I assume that in the dark the newts them by that movement because they ignore tadpoles that are static all around them as they hunt.

I was slightly surprised by this newt that I found on the grass near to the pond.

It was dry, with no sign of Duckweed stuck to it, which is a usual sign of having recently left the pond. Perhaps it's a female that is only just arriving.


It's not possible to count the newt numbers, but I have a feeling that there are more than ever here this Spring, which adds to my concern about the pond plant shortage. I haven't got out to the ponds and canal as I had hoped to - I must do that in the next couple of days.

21 April - Over the last three days I have started to see signs that the Starwort plants are starting to grow, and this evening I was able to move some from the shallow end to the main part of the big pond, where they were still to appear. It was a very mild day with the air temperature getting up to 18C, and this evening the thermometer in the big pond is registering 14C, which may help to explain the rapid growth of the Starworts today.

The newts continue to show limited interest in egglaying. It is happening, but they are still more interested in the tadpoles which continue to gather in large groups around the edges of the shallows.

It will be interesting to see how soon they start using the Starwort for their eggs.


While the frogs still stay largely under cover during the daytime, after dark they are very much out in the open.

Last night, several could be seen out on the banks of the big pond, including this one in a very awkward looking posture on a steep bit of the pond edge.



It wasn't long before the first newt had found the Starwort and started to use its leaves for her eggs.

She was photographed at around 11pm.



24 April - Yesterday's rain lifted the water level only slightly in the big pond, but the conditions seen to be encouraging the vegetation to thrive.

Today the first leaves of the Fringed Water Lilies have broken the surface. The larger leaves just under the water belong to a mint plant (possibly spearmint).

The frogs have started coming out of the water during the daytime now, and several could be seen around the edges of the pond today.




This evening I spent some time by the pond. These first images show two newts eggs attached to the Starwort.

The upper one has been attached to the top of a leaf rather than the underside in the way that the right hand egg has, with the leaf folded around it.



Running around on the floating leaves were numerous of the small flies that appear every year.




The time spent by the pond was rewarded when I spotted this pair of snails mating amongst the Starworts.

I don't know if the snails of this species are truly hermaphrodite, or if they start off as males and become female later. 


28 April - During these last few days of neglect, there has been a change in the behaviour of our frogs. Some of them have now started to spend much of the day out of the water, resting in the grass in 'favoured spots' around the ponds.

At the moment they seem to be doing this singly, but as the season progresses we will see them gathering in groups, especially on sunny days.




A curious observation next - yesterday I noticed that there were a couple of small snails up on the leaves of the Marsh Marigold. Each snail was in the 'cup' formed by the large leaf that it was on, and was firmly anchored to the surface.



I had another look this morning and found just this one, and this time it was active. It measured about 1cm in length, and I have no idea as to its identification.

It's shell shows a marked change in growth patterns. Does the pronounced line indicate the end of a year's growth? There is a similar mark on the snail in the picture taken yesterday.



30 April - A mainly dull day, but following an e-mail I received yesterday evening I spent a couple of hours lying by the side of the big pond today (I may explain why at another time).


Anyway, I was taking photographs of the small Shore-flies that spend most of each summer dashing about the floating leaves on the pond.

They are a real challenge to photograph because of their tiny size, their unpredictable wandering and the fact that they occasionally take to the air just as you are about to press the shutter.


Most of the time they are busy chasing each other as they search for a partner. When they do find a possible mate a sort of dance ensues as they circle each other.

I didn't see any mating occur today, but I did capture this one in-focus image of a pair checking each other out.

I've added a scale to give an idea of how small these flies are - their bodies are about 1.5mm long.

Click on images to see larger versions

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