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.