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🐞 St Mary's Field: Wildlife reports 2018

1st April (thanks to Gill Massey) Good news! Taking advantage of a day when the sun actually came out, we visited the pond in the orchard wildlife area, and were delighted to find that we now have thousands of very tiny tadpoles. They were obviously unaffected by the snow and ice earlier in the year when the pond froze over for several days. Most were basking in wriggly masses in the shallow, sunny (and therefore warmer) end of the pond. Many will end up as a snack for the dragonfly larvae and our newts, but our frog population appears to be thriving. Lots of birdsong to be heard, too: robins, blackbirds, starlings, blue tits, a wren and a chiffchaff all establishing their territories. Flowering celandines, dandelions and white dead nettle are providing food for the pollinators, reminding the gardeners amongst us that early nectar is vital for these insects, and to plan our spring gardens accordingly. The RHS has lists of plants both wild and cultivated that are good for pollinators on its website, if you need any ideas:
Meanwhile, it looks like good weather for frogs for the next few days.
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Breaking news from our working morning in the orchard (11th March) is that we have a lot of frogs and frogspawn in our wildlife pond. The surface was literally heaving with frogs mating and generally swimming around enthusiastically. Quite a few were hanging out with their heads just above water keeping their eyes on the activity and ignoring watching humans. Apart from the visual enjoyment this gave us all, ( I think everyone stopped by the pond at some point in the morning), we had the pleasure of hearing the frogs croaking. Actually the rather lovely sound was more like a continual purring than croaking. It was good to know that they had all survived the cold weather as the pond had frozen over for a day or so, but we have some quite deep water at one end which no doubt helped. Lots of birdsong accompanied us as we worked; blackbirds, robins, wrens and our first hearing of a chiff chaff.
At our last working morning in early February we had a brief sighting of a small brown bird with a pale eye stripe which was almost certainly a chief chaff. These little birds used to migrate in the winter to southern Europe and north Africa, and many still do, but an increasing number now overwinter in southern Britain and Ireland. Their little call of “chiff chaff” is one of the real signs of spring. Primroses and celandines are out and the first green shoots are appearing oh the hawthorn.Spring may have been dragging her heels recently but I’m hoping that she’s at last getting a move on.

Gill Massey
January 28th
Last Sunday's mild, cloudy and dry weather proved ideal for our annual pond tidying. We were lucky to have the services of Steve Scorey, who, as well as being an expert on ponds, also has the full length waders to enable him to boldly go into areas of the pond where not many have gone before.
Our plan was to remove some of the more vigorous bull rushes, iris and grass which were doing their best to turn the pond back into dry land, to leave more clear water. The window for doing this is extremely narrow, as it has to be in the winter to minimalise disturbance, but not when the temperature is too low.
Steve removed several large clumps of vegetation which we left for some time by the pond’s edge to enable any wildlife capable of doing so to creep back into the water. Over twenty frogs and possibly a toad or two plus several palmate newts all managed with minimal help to return to their home. All of these amphibians have just returned to the water after winter hibernation in order to breed. Other critters needed a more hands on approach. Dragonfly and alder fly larvae, water hog-lice (aquatic cousins to woodlice), pirate spiders, tiny freshwater clams and a huge quantity of rams horns snails were amongst those helped back into the pond.
The healthy quantity of (slightly indignant) frogs, toads and newts is an indication that, hopefully, we shall soon see some spawn. Winter’s not gone but spring will soon be bustling along.

Thanks to Gill Massey