Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Some personal notes on rearing Sand Lizards for reintroduction to the wild


In June 2010 I was asked to join the captive sand lizard breeding program. It was felt the amount of Merseyside animals being bred for release needed to be raised due to the large number of receptor sites.
During the summer months I monitored the levels and positions of the sun in my back garden to establish the best position to build an outdoor vivarium. Ideally this would be a south / southeast facing part of the garden with the maximum hours of sunshine available. The best spot was found but the surrounding vegetation needed a bit of a   haircut.
The enclosure was built to mimic as closely as possible an existing vivarium being used by a current member of the program. Based in the Lake District he has a great success rate working within the guidelines of the Captive Husbandry manual.

The next consideration after location is the size, biggest is best. The largest size possible was 12 ft. long x 5 ft. deep by 4 ft. high with a further 2 ft. being below ground level.
I started building the vivarium in February 2011and dug a hole to the above dimensions 2 ft. deep. This was filled with gravel 6 “ deep and then a breeze block wall was built to 4 ft. above ground level on 3 sides with the front being 1 ft. above ground level. Hard-core was then added to a general depth of 12” and additional contours were made to enable sand banks to be created. Sand was taken from the dunes at Blackpool airport along with marram and lyme-grass and habitat was created as close as possible to that found in a dune system. 8” wide plastic cladding was added to the top section inside the walls to prevent the animals escaping and the top and front of the enclosure was made safe from predators with 1“ x ½ “ mesh, there is a door at the front for access.

Four females and 2 males were introduced to the vivarium on 09.05.11 (about 2 weeks later than I had hoped). The animals were taken under licence from the frontal dunes at Southport. They were a nice mix of ages and all 4 females were gravid. They settled in well and after a few days seemed to loose all desire to escape.

The weather was really good in early spring but was pretty poor after 12.05.11 for most of the summer.  

All the females were showing egg bulges and were put into a Perspex enclosure within the main vivarium on 17.05.11 so that the eggs could be harvested after laying.
In hindsight this was too soon with the first female not laying the first eggs until 24.06, she laid 6 eggs of which 2 were infertile, a second female laid 10 eggs on 26.06, these were all fertile.
Probably due to the stress of being taken from the wild the 2 younger females re- absorbed their eggs. All 4 females were returned to the main vivarium as soon as they either layed their eggs or it became apparent they were no longer gravid.   

As soon as the females were back in the vivarium the males took an immediate interest in them and would probably have mated again if the females had laid a few weeks earlier and the weather had improved. Although it is felt it may happen in the wild but is difficult to prove, females kept in captivity will often lay 2 clutches of eggs in a season and it has been known in exceptional years with good weather, that a small percentage of animals may lay a third clutch. It is felt this is mainly due to the females getting back to their ideal weight very quickly after being fed with wild caught food as often as the weather will allow.  

The eggs were found to be about 3 “deep in the sand and were removed as soon as possible. They were put into small clear plastic boxes with 1” of damp sand in the base. The eggs were dug up very carefully and placed into the box in the same orientation that they were found. The boxes were placed into an incubating chamber.
This is in the form of an insulated wooden box where the temperature is maintained at 24 degs. The Husbandry manual says to repeat the best conditions likely to be encountered in a very good summer within the UK. This will result in the eggs hatching in about 40 days.

The eggs started to hatch on 07.08.11 and all 14 eggs hatched within 36 hours.
The babies were graded for size and put equally into 2 plastic containers, these  had sand in the base to a depth of 3 “, a heat lamp, a UV lamp, cool spots, water container and cardboard / slate to hide under and bask on. The lighting and heat is controlled by a timer it came on at 06.30 and off at 20.00 with 2 breaks during the day. They were fed 2 / 3 times a day on black crickets and buffalo worms, their favourite commercial food, these were dusted with vitamin powder. I also fed them on spiders of all types along with caterpillars and red flying ants. They more than doubled in size in the 3 weeks before they were released being around 100mm long, on occasion, when possible they were put outside to get natural sunlight.     

On 01.09 all 14 of my animals were released at Ynyslas North West Wales along with 29 from Chester zoo a further 17 were kept back by the zoo to be released later.

A normal release schedule will be 50 babies released per year over a 3 year period, by the third year the first release of animals should be mature enough to start breeding and so this new established colony should be self- sustaining, though it can be a further 5 years before it can be established if the release has been a success.    

The adults fed well during the summer when the weather allowed. When they were caught 1 male and 1 female had lost their tails prior to capture, although they had regrown their tails to about ¾ length they have not grown in overall size as the other animals have. They stopped feeding around the middle of August and by 18.09 the 3 older animals had gone down for hibernation and by 25.09 all six were no longer seen, this was pleasing to see as this copies the normal behaviour in the wild.
The 2 younger females did re-appear but by 15.10 they had also gone into hibernation.

My initial response to the first year on the program was that of disappointment, I was hoping to have released in excess of 25 animals but with only 2 females laying eggs this was not possible.
On reflection I have learnt a lot over this initial period and assuming the construction of the vivarium is correct and all the animals re-emerge next spring all should be set for a successful year in 2012, especially with the additional bonus of the animals possibly being released on the dunes north of the Ribble.  

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Late newt

While out 'general naturing' PL looked under a sheet of tin hoping to find perhaps a surprise snake but more likely a Field Vole. Camera in hand he got a shot of this Great Crested Newt. He tells us the vole was too quick for him.

Not a bad swap.
It's not too late to send records of amphibians or reptiles, lots of this year's frog and toadlets have been on the move during the wet weather and improving weather with sunny spells reptiles may be tempted out to bask.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Not the newt we were looking for

FARG member Dave had a look under some sheets where Great Crested Newts had been found earlier in the springThere were none there this time although there were about a dozen Toads, ranging in size from this year's hatchlings to three year olds like thhis one pictured.
 No live newts of any species were seen but on one of the boards was this almost complete newt skeleton; it could be any of the three species.
Please email any amphibian or reptile records from the Fylde to fyldearg @ gmail.com (without the spaces) with the species, date, location and finders name (if your not sure of the species please send us pictures if you have them...Many thanks.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

FARG will be at the NBPT Fun Day Saturday 13th August

The North Blackpool Pond Trail are having a Fun Day on Saturday 13th August on the football pitches behind Moor Park School in Bispham, Blackpool from 11 am to 3pm. FARG member Alan will be there with his 'touch' tray of pond goodies for you to enjoy.

Do come along and have a look at what is going on along the Pond Trail, it's all good stuff.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Yet more Great Crested Newts!

Fylde ARG member Dave seems to have a knack for sniffing out Great Crested Newts at the moment. These two beauties were found by accident; after taking a local naturalist to see a new colony of Bee Orchids he decided, on a whim, to have a quick peek under a nearby sheet of ply-wood. Last week the sheet had a two Smooth Newts, one with a very pale Palmate Newt-like chin. Today there were these two and several Toads along with a couple of yearling Frogs under it.
You can record any sightings of amphibians and reptiles in the Fylde on the South Lancashire ARG website (linked in side bar) or email us directly and we can forward them for you - all records are important ; we know more about the distribution and numbers of the rare Great Crested Newt than we do of the much more commonplace Frogs, Toads and Smooth Newts, records of reptiles are particularly welcome as there are so few in Fylde.
Members of FARG will be attending the Civic Trust event in Blackpool town centre (St John's Square, or indoors at the Winter Gardens if weather poor) next Saturday, 2nd July. Please drop by and say hello if you can.

Monday, 20 June 2011

How many frogs?

A picture was received today from a friend of FARG of the frogs in her garden pond recently.

How many frogs do yu think are in the picture?

Friday, 17 June 2011

Pond life - it's not all about amphibians.

FARG member Alan took these pictures at his garden pond this week.4-spotted Chaser dragonfly

A Water Scorpion showing its breathing snorkel and ferocious beak-like mouthparts

A mating pair of Azure Damselflies. They are on a leaf of Potamogeton, pond weed, which shows the characteristic semi-circular cut-outs made by a Brown China Mark caterpillar - a rather nonedescript moth whose larvae is aquatic. It cuts the shape from the edge of the leaf then sticks it to the underside of the leaf with silk and lives protected from view in there - a bit like an underwater sleeping bag.

Finally we do have an amphibian for you...a male Palmate Newt. Please be careful when recording the small newt species as although they are much less common than Smooth Newts Palmate Newts do occur in the Fylde. Females, and non-breeding males are more difficult to tell apart - look for a flesh coloured unspotted (or very few fine spots) chin, Smooth Newts will have a yellowish often well spotted chin. If in doubt get a pic and send it to us, we'll do our best to ID it for you.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Conservation in action!!!

One of the FARG members is a very experienced reptile specialist and has been involved with the conservation of Sand Lizards for sometime. So much so that he has been given a licence to breed them at home for the various current 'local' release schemes, North and Wes Wales and the Sefton coast. Members of FARG, BEAT Naturewatch, Fylde Naturalists Society and the Lancashire & Cheshire Fauna Society were invited to see his newly completed vivarium...a real labour of love involving the removal of over a ton of soil and bringing in almost 150 bags of sand!
Stars of the show were the two male and four female lizards. Looking at the picture you can see that one of the females is gravid with eggs. It is expected that the first clutch of eggs will be laid shortly. These will then be transfered to an incubator to given them optimum conditions for hatching and give the young lizards the best start in life. This involves finding a constant supply of live food from the garden. Bought in food could be used but as it is usually reared on little more than oats it is lackng in essential nutrients and vitams so crickets etc are kept for a while in a tank with fresh dandelions, carrots etc so that they absorb the essential minreals from them. The crickets etc can be dusted with a propriety vitamin mix but unless they are eaten straight away this rubs off as they crawl across the sand.
With good sumer weather a second clutch of eggs could be possible.
We wish Ray every success wth this scheme.

One becomes two

FARG member Dave was looking for Barn Owls and found a Great Crested Newt instead. The following day after still not seeing the Barn Owl he showed another naturalist where the newt had been and to their surprise a second Great Crested Newt had joined it.
Both have been recorded for the Lancashire Amphibian & Reptile Atlas project.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Great Crested Newt eggs found

This afternoon members of FARG went checking out a site where we found a single Great Crested Newt last year. The aim was to confirm that they aee still present this year after the hard winter.
The site is a series of fairly recently dug ponds whose vegetation still hasn't stabilised and the dominant species tends to vary from year to year.
This year Water Crowfoot is super-abundant but other plants that GCNs seem to prefer to lay their eggs on are notably few and far between.
After searching two of the ponds without success the third pond gave us a folded leaf. that is almost definitely the work of a female Great Crested Newt. 
Before long we found several more. Note how the fold is not at 90deg across the leaf but at an angle which is often a real pointer towards the activity of Great Crested Newt. 
 One leaf was just within reach and we took advantage of the fact to pick the leaf and check the fold, to make sure that it wasn't a natural curl to the leaf. We are not sure if  two eggs were found within, one still containing a growing embryo, or if the embryo has already eaten its way out of the egg abbove it.
The leaf was gently replaced near where we took it from hidden under some other vegetation, hopefully the embryo will continue to develop and become an eft in the next day or so.
Good to see that they are still present and doing well at this site.
Later in the week we hope to be taking a look at some more ponds on the North Blackpool Pond Trail.

If you have a pond with newts, of any species in it, or frogs or toads please let us know..
Also let us know if you have seen any reptiles anywhere in the Fylde, unless they are Common Lizards along the coast - for which we have plenty of records.
For either amphibians or reptiles use the email address in the sidebar - Thank you

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Common Lizards in the dunes

Today a few members of Fylde ARG joined a guided walk to look for the Common, or Viviparous, Lizards at Lytham St Anne's Nature Reserve.
A bright, sunny morning meant the lizards were already quite warm and alert. We found a few in a favoured location of which this photo was the best of the few taken.
Common Lizards are still fairly common along the Fylde coast generally favouring the sand dune areas. They are also found on some of the golf courses just inland of the dunes and we know of one site in Blackpool away from the coast. It is possible there is at last one other inland site in Blackpool as we have had unconfirmed reports in the recent past.
A look on the NBN Gateway map shows an absence in the rest of the Fylde; is this a true reflection of the animal's distribution or just a lack of observer records? If you have found Common lizards away from the coast in the last 20 years please let us know at the address in the sidebar.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Strange record worthy of further investigation

An interesting and slightly bizarre sighting was received by FARG this morning of a chance encounter of a ???.
A worker was caught short out in the wilds of Fylde and had to ‘disappear’ behind a bush for two minutes. On his return he regaled a tale of a ‘dark snake-like animal’ about 15 inches (40cm) long and as thick as his finger to his supervisor.
We would guess that he didn’t think/believe it was a snake as they are unheard of round these parts by the general public.
So what was it? The contenders are:-
·        A Grass Snake – there have been records in this area but not for 30 years or so
·        An Adder – unknown in this area
·        A Slow Worm – too big, but perhaps our observer was exaggerating or mistaken
·        An Eel – maybe, the area it was seen is close to a wetland site and it could have been travelling from one water body to another even though it was daytime and there hadn’t been any significant rain for almost 24 hours.
·        Something escaped/released from captivity

What to do next? In an attempt to verify the record the site managers have laid some refugia around the area of the sighting, with a bit of luck the creature in question will give itself up for identification – fingers crossed it is what we hope it is.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

FARG at the launch of the North Blackpool Pond Trail

FARG was invited to the launch of the North Blackpool Pond Trail. Not surprisingly the ponds are home to a large number of amphibians. member Alan brought his touch tray of animals which included a Frog and Toad as well as several smooth newts. Tadpoles a plenty were joined by 3-spined Sticklebacks and a variety of inverts such as a dragonfly nymph (Brown Hawker?) on the point of thinking about emerging to metomorphose in to an sdlult, a huge Great Diving Beetle. A supporting cast of backswimming Water boatmen, Caddis fly larvae and Ramshorn snails...a great selection of the local aquatic wildlife and very popular with all the visitors during the day.

Two male Smooth Newts vied for dominance and the female in the tray.
One seemed to be the boss and the other became an escape artist

Note the differences between male and female Smooth Newts - easy to tell apart at this time of year. The female is gravid with eggs and the male is in his splendid spotty spring finery.
The male has slightly webbed feet and lobed toes, just visible in the picture, but far less so than Palmate Newts and lacks the thin wisp of a tail filament. We hope to get a picture of this fairly rare species in Fylde soon.
FARG welcomes volunteers who would like to help survey the Fylde's ponds and wetlands for amphibians and other areas for reptiles. Get in touch at the email address in the side-bar if you would like to get involved.
There is a training course in Bispham next Saturday, 16th April - lunchtime until 9pm for some torch surveying, with a break for an evening meal. Please let us know if you would like a place on the course.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Are there still any Grass Snakes in the Fylde?

With the weather warming up and spring definitely on its way our Grass Snakes, if we still have any on the Fylde, will be coming out of hibernation.
A report reached FARG today of a Grass Snake being seen ‘a couple of summers ago’ near Fleetwood. This sighting, along with other recent-ish reports from the Blackpool area, suggests there may be very small populations hanging on along the Fylde coast in isolated pockets.
The National Biodiversity Network map only alludes to old records, from before 1956, in the Over Wyre area but no specific locations are given; Winmarleigh Moss might be worthy of investigation.
However, several people remember them being in the area that is now Heron’s Reach golf course on the eastern fringe of Blackpool from the 1960s perhaps into the early 70s too. The habitat now, although quite different to what was present before the golf course was built, looks quite good for them with a variety of sized ponds and lakes with a good population of small fish and plenty of amphibians. Are there any left in that area?
Female Grass Snakes lay 20 - 40 leathery matt-white eggs in June and July often in compost and manure heaps as the warmth acts as a natural incubator. The eggs measure 23-30mm long (about an inch). Pencil-thin hatchlings emerge in late summer and autumn. We ask gardeners with compost heaps, particularly those gardens with water features in them or nearby, to be on the look out for us.
Grass Snakes can be up to three feet long although most are much smaller than this. Look for the distinctive contrasting yellow and black collar just behind the head (the yellow maybe missing in older females but the black is always present). The rest of the animal’s upper-parts are a dark olive green, underneath they are paler with irregular narrow black stripes.
They are completely harmless to people and play dead or emit a horrible smell rather than biting.

Grass Snakes were once far more common than they are today and in 2007 they were included on the updated UK Biodiversity Action Plan as a species in need of conservation and greater protection.

FARG would welcome any information about Grass Snakes in the Fylde from the last 30 years.
Records of other reptiles, namely Slow Worms and Common Lizards from 1970 onwards would also be welcomed. So ask your older friends and neighbours if they have any recollections of reptiles in the Fylde and let us know.

Friday, 25 March 2011

A few ponds in Bispham, Blackpool torched

Last night two FARG members went to the outskirts of Blackpool to survey a selection of ponds there.
The first is small and quite overgrown, not that we like this term – better would be at a later successional stage – it has dense stands of Typha (Reedmace) with little open water and a deep layer of sunken litter.
Four female Smooth Newts were recorded along with two males and two unsexed tails disappearing in to the submerged leaf litter, making eight animals in all.
We also found a single female Great Crested Newt, the photo shows the warty skin nicely hence their alternative name, the Warty Newt.
Also seen well are the bright yellow toe nails and if you look hard a small length of the yellow band along thee underside of the tail. Click the pics to seee them full size.
On the underside shot you can see the distinctive yellow and black pattern which allows individuals to be identified. Notably there were few plants suitable for Great Crested Newts to lay on present, hopefully they will have grown by the time the next survey comes round in about a month’s time.
The second pond surveyed is bigger and deeper with much less emergent vegetation. In this pond we found a huge mass of Frog spawn over a metre across. No newts but a little further round the bank we spotted another much smaller clump of Frog spawn. This was interesting in that much of it had no embryos. At first it we thought that might have been due to recent frosty nights but frosted spawn shows white dead embryos. A closer look revealed the true culprits – several leeches were delving through the jelly to reach the living embryos. This is something neither of us had come across before. A pond with a high population of leeches could have a major effect on spawn survival as can be seen from the pictures they can crawl across the surface presumably they have attacked the underside of the spawn mass as well and can probably reach all through even the largest clumps. Has anyone else witnessed this?  A quick trawl through Google and Google images came up with nothing.

On the way to our next pond we found the only frog of the evening hopping around on the road. This pond is surrounded on three sides by dense Willow bushes but the few yards of accessible bank gave us two Smooth Newts, a female and an unsexed individual. Its ‘sister’ pond is even more heavily willowed and we were unable to torch any part of it.
Our final pond is a field pond and again only about half of it has accessible banks. Here we found our first Toad shortly followed by over 30 more!
Next week we hope to survey some ponds on the southern section of the North Blackpool Pond Trail.

The FARG covers the whole of the Fylde and Over Wyre and if you have access to ponds you would like surveyed or already have amphibian records for please let us know.

The official FARG website should be available soon and you will be able to upload your Fylde records very easily there.