Posts tagged ‘Newts’

July 25, 2013

Unexpected frogs

25 July 2013

I’m still feeling a bit grotty, so for the foreseeable future, I’m dropping this blog down to a post every third or fourth day. Apologies, but I’ve got to ease the load – I’ve got an underlying health problem (fibromyalgia) which is rather unforgiving.

In the recent hot weather, things in the greenhouses have been needing a lot of water. I went up to the top greenhouse the other day, noticed things were flagging and grabbed the watering can to dunk it into the waterbutt. I’d actually got it into the water before I noticed there was something floating on top of the water, which proved to be a large frog! I was worried it was dead – there is no way it could have got out of the butt with the water as low as it was, so it would have become exhausted from swimming. The movement of the water, however, caused it to wave its legs, so it was obviously alive – hurrah! I grabbed an empty flowerpot and scooped him out, putting the pot on its side with him still inside – he sat there looking a bit dazed (if a frog can look dazed), so I left him to a bit of peace and quiet. Checking on him later, he’d hopped out and under the table, and has now disappeared, so hopefully he has recovered.

Top greenhouse, showing water butts either side of the door

Top greenhouse, showing water butts

The butts outside the greenhouse are very useful. Though I’ve got a hose running right up the garden, the tap is near the house, so if you see something that needs watering, it’s a long trek back down to turn the water on; and, anyway, I think it is best to save as much water locally as possible. We don’t keep the original tops on them, but have fashioned wooden lids, hinged at the back, so filling the watering can is as simple as flapping up the lid, and dunking the can. How the frog managed to get in is a bit of a puzzle, but I can only think he somehow got up onto a table that is round the back of the greenhouse, just out of sight in the photo, via all the greenery, and from there managed to get in the gap under the lid and fall in.

Water in open containers in the garden is always a potential danger to wildlife, so I’ll look at what I can do to avoid this happening again. I’ve already learned the lesson with the watering cans I leave in the greenhouse: I picked one up one day, filled it from the butt and tried to use it, only to find the water was only coming out very slowly. Suspecting a snail up the spout – a regular occurence, I tipped the can upside down and banged it on the ground. To my surprise, not one but two frogs fell out – both seemingly unharmed.

The other frog trap in the garden is the cold frame, round the back of the greenhouse; I cleared it out in mid-summer once, to find seven frogs of varying sizes in there. I think the big ones could get out, but the small ones probably couldn’t, so there is now a frog ramp in the form of a plank of wood sloping from ground level to the top of the front.

Providing water for creatures in the garden is one of the most wildlife-friendly things you can do, so please create some sort of water feature, no matter how small – just make sure things can get out as well as get in. It doesn’t  have to be sophisticated: when we first moved in, there were no water butts outside the greehouse, so an old washing-up bowl caught a bit of water; going up there one day, my husband found a newt in the bowl – the first newt we saw here. Having built a pond, we now see 30+ most years, but I don’t think they’d care if the pond was just a giganitic washing-up bowl – though I’d rather not do the washing up if it was!

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May 31, 2013

You can help wildlife just by counting it

31 May 2013

Did you see Springwatch on TV tonight? Great range of species covered, from the hen harrier to the garden snail. They also announced a Garden Bioblitz this weekend, which sounds fun – I shall join in. The idea is that the general public are asked to record the wild plants and animals in their garden over a 24 hour period in the first weekend of June – which is this coming Saturday and Sunday. If you don’t have a garden, you can’t join in this particular Bioblitz, but you can do one at any time in any place. Go to for full details of it all.

Two of the creatures I shall record in my Bioblitz: Newts in the pond. The male is on the left - identifiable by his crest, his red tummy and being generally darker.

Two of the creatures I shall record in my Bioblitz: Newts in the pond. The male is on the left – identifiable by his crest, his red tummy and being generally darker.

When it comes to recording butterflies and moths, the way is led by, who gather data from a host of sources, much of which gets to them via their 31 branches throughout the UK, like ours in Dorset. Butterflies are one of the easiest forms of wildlife, certainly of insects, to spot and identify – while some of the more specialist butterfly species are hard to find, there are a lot you will see in your garden or your local park, or if you go out into the country.

What excites me about joining in these recording efforts is that it is citizen science in action, and it really does make a difference. If someone said to you “get out there and save the Small Tortoiseshell butterfly”, the first thing you would ask is “well, where do I find them, and when, and where, and what do they eat and are their numbers going up or down ?”  It’s the same for the expert conservationists: they can only base their efforts on known data, and the more of it, the better.

Small Tortoiseshell on bright pink sweet william

Small Tortoiseshell

To take the Small Tortoiseshell as an example, it is known to have declined by 64% over the last 10 years (State of the UK’s Butterflies Report 2011). This is worked out from data contributed by people, including me, who do regular butterfly walks in certain sites every year, producing the data for the conservationists. If you go out and see a butterfly today, and report it to your local branch of Butterfly Conservation, it will be used to direct conservation efforts. So go out and make a difference – report a butterfly, do the Bioblitz, anything – just help put citizen science into action.

March 13, 2013

Homes for wildlife

13 March 2013

My garden is quite large, and in the country, so I don’t go for man-made wildlife homes:  it’s easier for me to provide natural habitats, or know there are some good ones just outside the garden. We do, however, try to build wildlife into our thinking when we do things in the garden, as shown by the photos below. “Dunsnufflin” came about because we have an area in which we put woody plant material waiting to be shredded; the bottom of the area inevitably fills up with leaves, which looked a good hedgehog habitat to us, so we put a pallet on the floor and stuffed the leaves inside, to give an area where hedgehogs could hide and on top of which we could put the to-be-shredded pile.

Dunsnufflin and Newt Towers signs.

Dunsnufflin and Newt Towers.

“Newt Towers” is in a small limestone bank we’ve built (I’ll tell you more about it one day), in which we deliberately put a few lengths of drainpipe, so things could crawl in for safety. I was clearing out the greenouse last autumn when I found a moribund newt under one of the seed trays on the floor: I was a bit worried I might have hurt him, so I held onto him for a couple of minutes, and I guess the warmth of my hands helped wake him up. When I introduced him to Newt Towers, he seemed happy to take up residence – or at least, to get away from me.

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February 8, 2013

The arrival of the newts

8 February 2013

Fantastic – the first newts have arrived in the pond. Only two so far, but it will build to 20 or 30 at the height of the season, and it’s another sign Spring is on its way.

I haven’t been able to get out to do very much in the garden recently – if it’s not raining, it’s so wet underfoot that it isn’t wise to tread on the soil. I leave all the top growth of plants over the winter, as it is good cover for insects (which are food for the birds) and I think it helps protect the young plant shoots when they come up. At this time of year, I start gently clearing them, going first for those which have fallen over, and those without any seed heads on them.

Small Tortoiseshell, Holly Blue and a bee on sedum spectabile

Small Tortoiseshell, Holly Blue and a bee on sedum spectabile

Sedum is one which can have the old stems chopped out now: the new shoots are starting, and they are amazingly tough. There is one type of sedum which is particularly good for butterflies: sedum spectablile, or ice plant, which comes in shades of pink and white. There is a variety of sedum called Autumn Joy which is often sold as good for butterflies, but whether this is true is questioned by some people; perhaps it depends where the plant is within the garden – butterflies will generally nectar on flowers in the sun, but not in the shade.