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An Essex Wildlife Garden Update!

Printed From: Reptiles and Amphibians of the UK
Category: General
Forum Name: Wildlife Gardening
Forum Description: For discussion about wildlife (especially amphibian and reptile) gardening
URL: http://www.herpetofauna.co.uk/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=5169
Printed Date: 18 Jun 2018 at 10:49am
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 11.06 - http://www.webwizforums.com


Topic: An Essex Wildlife Garden Update!
Posted By: GemmaJF
Subject: An Essex Wildlife Garden Update!
Date Posted: 10 Aug 2017 at 6:08pm
I think the last I posted of the wildlife garden was the construction of the clay pond. It looked a bit like a building site so an update now nature is back in charge Smile

The pond renovation was documented here:

http://www.herpetofauna.co.uk/forum/hand-building-a-clay-pond_topic3889_page1.html" rel="nofollow - http://www.herpetofauna.co.uk/forum/hand-building-a-clay-pond_topic3889_page1.html

The wildlife garden as it is today:


Clay pond nicely topped up after heavy rain. The only introduced plants that were successful were the yellow flag iris and pond lily. Just as well they are my two favourites. Both are contained in planters so they do not take over completely. As you can see we have plenty of ivy leaved and ordinary duckweed, not much we can do being next to an arable field regarding nutrients getting in there but it does not seem to bother the smooth newts and frogs:



Purple Loosestrife is now mostly gone to seed, each year it self seeds and gets a little more established and attracts plenty of bees. New Tit box was put up last autumn and attracted interest straight away, two successful broods this year:




Hawthorn hedge now I think in its third year. Still keeping it fairly formal but the plan is to let it go a bit wilder on our side when it matures to provide berries for the birds:





This was a recent addition a pile of blackthorn logs. We had some blackthorn that nobody took responsibility for at the front of the property. It had got ridiculously leggy and top heavy so was getting blown over in the wind. After much negotiation with the village council (involving debating that a plant that is actually classed a shrub is not subject to the blanket TPOs locally)  it was agreed I could rejuvenate the blackthorn back to a formal hedge (with benefits for wildlife Wink). This provided me with new mini logs!




The adjacent bug hotel has largely been ignored by bugs. I have some hope that as the hedge establishes it might get used more. One of those, oh well I gave it a go but it was not really anywhere near as successful at attracting bugs as this.. ...good old fashioned compost heap (read as grass snake egg incubator/slow worm habit):





Now looking quite degraded, one of the five willow log piles, I want to add fresh logs in the next year or so. This is the absolute vision of what I think of when I think 'reptile habitat':




And the proof it really is reptile habitat, one of this years new-born lizards on Onduline, just the other side of the log pile shown above:



Was it worth the toil and effort of the clay pond that took several years to actually do? Of course! Big smile



Replies:
Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 10 Aug 2017 at 6:25pm
looks fantastic gemma, great effort!!! Clap

tom



Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 10 Aug 2017 at 6:50pm
Thanks Tim!

One more for today, just popped out to cover the compost heap and spotted this lot catching the last rays of sun that reach the garden in the evening. 3 generations, 2 adults, a subby and couple of juveniles Smile




Posted By: Iowarth
Date Posted: 10 Aug 2017 at 7:03pm
Wonderful job Gemma - and definitely well worth while!
Chris


-------------
Chris Davis, Site Administrator

Co-ordinator, Sand Lizard Captive Breeding Programme (RETIRED)


Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 10 Aug 2017 at 7:37pm
I absolutely love the look of that pond, I hope you will take it as a complement when i say it doesn't look cultivated at all, I guess it must take a surprising amount of work to ensure that the garden doesn't go completely wild, it must have a tendency to sprout everywhere when the weather conditions are right!


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 11 Aug 2017 at 11:57am
Thanks Chris.

Thanks chubsta, the non-cultivated look is certainly a compliment Smile

Management isn't so bad. I keep a path open to the compost heap which means mowing it once a week. The rest is just left to do its thing all summer.

In October I drop most of the vegetation, leaving some of the seed heads for bugs, but most comes down and goes on the compost. This opens the whole lot up so the lizards benefit from more light reaching the ground towards the end of the season and also the following spring. It makes it a lot tidier over the winter months too, the dead vegetation if left would look a bit grim.

Pond weed is thinned in the Autumn

The only other management is a Crack willow we have growing in there. Every couple of years I coppice it to provide material to top off the log piles. So it is mostly self sustaining, just with the addition of grass clippings from the rest of the garden to the compost heap and some hedge trimmings which I chip and add to the compost too.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 11 Aug 2017 at 12:46pm
Picture of the Crack willow, this is one years growth after coppicing last autumn. Another year and there will be nice straight branches to harvest as brash for the log piles. Been toying for several years with using it to make a small section of dead hedging, never seem to get around to doing it though, maybe next  year!




You can just see the bench we sit on bottom left of the picture, many hours spent totally relaxed and just watching the animals, much better than the telly Smile


Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 12 Aug 2017 at 11:09am

Whoa! That's my kind of garden (though unfortunately not my partner's - we argue!). Well done Gemma.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Aug 2017 at 12:46pm
Fortunately for me  Mervyn is like minded and he spends more time sat up there than I do! I get reports each day on how many lizards, frogs, dragonflies and new lily flowers he has spotted. The only thing he is not keen on is the grass snakes, but I still get a shout if he sees one Wink


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 12 Aug 2017 at 1:09pm
Great to see your garden Gemma. The pond looks like it's been there for ever, yet I remember its creation. 

-------------
Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Aug 2017 at 1:20pm
Thanks Suz, first year since the pond renovation that the wildlife garden really feels like it is back to its former glory. The world feels right again Smile


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Aug 2017 at 5:12pm
Slow worms under Onduline today. Cloudy but warm so plenty of lizards showing, over a dozen juveniles scampered off the felts when I went to take a look. 

Not seen a grassy for a few days, will try to get a picture of one soon though. I have high hopes we had eggs laid in the compost this year so will be keeping an eye out for little bootlace grassies over the next few weeks.






Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Aug 2017 at 7:19pm
Just a quick post about composting. I've looked into composting several times down the years. The main aim is to come up with a system ideal for grass snakes. I do use the compost for the conventional garden purpose, but if an ideal 'system' could be established that generated just the right conditions for grass snake egg laying at the correct time of year, I would certainly use it. To this end I keep researching composting and one of the best resources I have found is here:
http://compost.css.cornell.edu/science.html" rel="nofollow -
http://compost.css.cornell.edu/science.html" rel="nofollow - http://compost.css.cornell.edu/science.html

There is a mix of very general information with the option of following links to more scientific info if required.

It is one of those things, we all hear of grass snakes using compost, but we get hit and miss results. I've no doubt grass snakes have used the heap in the past, but this year it seems more of a cold heap so 50/50 if it was used or not. I would love to pin down a method of building a heap each year that practically guaranteed the local grass snakes using it. 

The one element of composting I want to avoid is turning during the months the eggs and young are in the heap.

So the plan is over the autumn and spring to come up with a method and hopefully see the results. I thought about avoiding layering and making up small batches of mixes with the right C/N ratio right at the start (to avoid turning). This would mean I do not need to turn the heap and it should produce heat. I might though have to think of an alternative way of aerating such as putting in air tubes. Much to ponder but I will update on this thread as the plan comes together. 

Any thoughts or suggestions are of course more than welcome.




Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Aug 2017 at 8:45pm
Looking at the composting, I have put a graph of a typical heat creating compost heap up against the ideal egg incubating temperature of 27-28 degrees C (Townson 1990)



Interestingly the start of the heat producing composting process, the mesophilic is short lived (few days) and rapidly becomes too hot for the eggs.

The Thermophilic stage can last from a few days to several months and is far too hot to incubate grass snake eggs

It seems the only useful period to grass snakes in the process is the cooling and maturation phase.


Now bearing in mind that any actual compost heap will not follow the model exactly (some areas will likely be cooler and more suitable than others without getting too scientific) it still follows if one could aim to compost to the model above it might guarantee a high success rate for the eggs.

Food for thought.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 13 Aug 2017 at 2:32pm
More pondering. 

From my model I can safely turn the heap in February (too hot for slow worms or snakes to be in there), this is sometimes a good idea if the heap is getting very hot to aerate and prevent excessive heat killing microbes. Then again in May. I thought a good mix up in May might get the aroma going to attract grass snakes.

It is a case really of weighing up what materials are available when, how to get the C/N ratio near to optimal and then monitoring the core temperature to see if I am anywhere near my ideal model.

So plan is to buy a compost temperature probe and throughout 2018 record the core temperature. If it is close to my model, I have a system, just a case then of noting if we have young in the heap in September Smile


Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 13 Aug 2017 at 5:33pm
Complicated business this, to think I always assumed a compost heap was just a pile of old leaves and teabags...


Posted By: PondDragon
Date Posted: 13 Aug 2017 at 6:30pm
I just turn the heap in late winter / early spring (around March), put a tarpaulin over it and leave it undisturbed till the following winter. In the meantime I start a fresh heap next to it. Occasionally I've found the shells from a clutch in the fresh heap, but generally the grass snakes seem to breed quite successfully in the covered heap (and bask under the sheet). Never found any evidence of snakes overwintering in the heap, and after hatching I get the impression they disperse pretty quickly.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 13 Aug 2017 at 7:55pm
Chubsta, from my pondering I pretty much agree, composting can be that simple right to being a complicated science. I see though some wildlife managers are encouraged to put in heaps for grass snakes and there is little guidance really regarding what makes a good heap that might get used for egg laying.

PondDragon I think this is going to be close to the actual practice I follow. I have a large heap as pictured, think the plan will be to clear half for a new heap this Autumn. I will want to follow the temperature next year though and see how close it is to my model. I would guess generally it just works, most of us having more material available in the autumn months, so by the next egg laying periods it is very likely the heap is in the cooling/maturing stage. In the past though I have not really given much attention to C/N only adding some greens and browns so I think some years I end up with much better heaps than others. The plan is to get that consistent if possible and compare to see if it really benefits the snakes in the real world.

Just to add having a split compost heap, one side new one side mature has a lot of logic too. I can imagine if the new heap was still rather hot come June/July a nice temperature gradient would exist where it contacts the older adjacent material. So a good model to work with.


Posted By: PondDragon
Date Posted: 13 Aug 2017 at 10:23pm
I don't think my heaps get particularly hot - they generally suffer from being too dry and insufficiently well mixed. They seem to do OK for the snakes though, and produce compost that's usable if not especially high quality.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 14 Aug 2017 at 10:40am
Originally posted by PondDragon PondDragon wrote:

I don't think my heaps get particularly hot - they generally suffer from being too dry and insufficiently well mixed. They seem to do OK for the snakes though, and produce compost that's usable if not especially high quality.

That would be my average heap up to now also. Right now I think it is inverts rather than microbes doing the composting and we have huge numbers of them in the heap. It seems a bit hit and miss though and can take several years to get the compost.

The best grass snake year was when we had a pet rabbit. The bedding mixed with poop fired things up a bit and the heap was definitely more heat orientated and the garden was full of bootlace grassies that autumn.

It's interesting to investigate as a milder version of a 'heat producing' heap might be much better, considering the very high temperatures involved in the model. What I'm really aiming for is an annual cycle that works out each time, both for the snakes and me. Each year I have the material and the hard work is getting it all together and chipping it. It would be good to be a bit more sure I am doing the best I can with it for the snakes.

The only technical bit really is to use the same materials that are always available to me but calculate the amount of fresh horse poop and browns to get the ideal C/N ratio. Get the heat phase over by June/July and things should be good. The inverts can still carry on with one side of the heap and I would guess move into the new side as it cools. So I get my composting done in a season  and hopefully still generate ideal conditions for the snakes.




Posted By: PondDragon
Date Posted: 14 Aug 2017 at 11:02am
My feeling is that with a large heap, it probably doesn't matter if it's still in the hot phase when the snakes want to lay so long as the snakes can access cooler parts where the temperature is more suitable. The larger the heap, the more stable the temperature's going to be.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 14 Aug 2017 at 11:49am
Yes I think this could be it, some mix between generating heat in one part and a cooler section so that somewhere in between the conditions are likely to be ideal. 

I've ordered one of these:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Green-Wash-Ltd-19-2008-Thermometer/dp/B0036DCVB4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502707564&sr=8-1&keywords=compost+thermometer" rel="nofollow -
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Green-Wash-Ltd-19-2008-Thermometer/dp/B0036DCVB4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502707564&sr=8-1&keywords=compost+thermometer" rel="nofollow - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Green-Wash-Ltd-19-2008-Thermometer/dp/B0036DCVB4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502707564&sr=8-1&keywords=compost+thermometer

I thought it would be prudent to measure the current temperature of my invert heap to get a base line idea of the core temperature and how stable it is.

In all, I think I'm moving towards the idea of the double sided heap, one side renewed each year and heat producing, the other left over from the previous season, then it is very likely that somewhere in the heap conditions will be ideal.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 14 Aug 2017 at 3:37pm
So here is Plan A Smile


It might seem like a lot of effort, but from the currently available data the narrow band of ideal temperature that has been established relates to much higher success regarding the percentage of animals that actually hatch. That must be worth a bit of effort to give them a fighting chance. Wink


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 15 Aug 2017 at 11:11am
This is all very interesting stuff. I have my heaps covered in plastic always, to keep cats off and to keep moisture in to keep the heap active. There is very limited time to remove the compost as slow worms are in there, either hibernating or breeding. If we want to get any out then April is a good month when the slow worms are active. Any that get lifted out we place in another bin.

-------------
Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 15 Aug 2017 at 12:44pm
Thanks  Suz, have been pondering how to still accommodate slow worms within the scheme and particularly when to to remove material with the least disturbance to them.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 15 Aug 2017 at 1:20pm
Just an update on the grassies, one sub-adult yesterday and what looked like one of last years young just now today. Both fleeting sightings in the pond. Despite sitting for an hour with the camera last night, still no pictures!


Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 15 Aug 2017 at 7:14pm
go out without your camera gemma...you'll see loads lol! very interested to see the results of your experiments

tim



Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 16 Aug 2017 at 11:54am
That's exactly what always happens of course Tim! Go up to the pond with camera, not so much as a dragonfly appears. Go up there for a coffee with no camera, well you know, it is full of life LOL

Compost temperature gauge arrived today, so I will start getting some core temperatures of the compost as it is now. Will be interesting to see the results.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 16 Aug 2017 at 4:23pm
Ha finally! Changing tactics by going up to the pond for a coffee and pretending I really did not have a camera with me at all:







Posted By: Iowarth
Date Posted: 16 Aug 2017 at 5:23pm
Just goes to prove ..... they know you know!! Wink


-------------
Chris Davis, Site Administrator

Co-ordinator, Sand Lizard Captive Breeding Programme (RETIRED)


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 17 Aug 2017 at 7:31am
Pond Looks well mature should attract a few nats Keith

-------------
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 17 Aug 2017 at 10:34am
Lucky you Gemma! Well it's more than luck to attract them I know, but what a great feeling after putting in the pond.

-------------
Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Aug 2017 at 1:06pm
I certainly feel lucky Suz Smile Fortunately grass snakes are still relatively common locally, so just add water as I heard you say before, nature does the rest.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Aug 2017 at 4:32pm
Interesting results from the compost heap! 

I checked the thermometer for accuracy (good across the dial to +/- 1 degree  and then recorded a shade temperature of 25 degrees C

I then took the readings in the full sun just now, I will try and get up early in the mornings and take future readings of the heap consistently before the sun gets on the heap, just to rule out any possible external heating and make sure I am seeing the lowest daily temperature.

Anyway some really interesting results that surprised me just a little. I measured at 3 positions as illustrated in my plan and here are the results:

Position 1: 37 C
Position 2: 31 C
Position 3: 28 C

So an early indication that my current invert heap already has a very good temperature gradient and includes an area in the range of the established optimum temperature.

Going to be really interesting to collect further readings over the next few weeks and see if this continues into September.

High reading:



Low reading



At £20 including delivery from Amazon, I think the gauges are great value and really interesting to start investigating the inner goings on of my compost heap!

Just to add that I was wondering if the readings might be skewed by an active and recently added top layer that is currently microbial and obviously warm to the touch. Investigation of the thermometer though confirms the reading is the temperature at the end of the 40 cm spike attached to it. So the recorded values are an accurate record of temperature deep at the core of the heap.

Who thought composting could be as interesting as nuclear physics LOL



Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 18 Aug 2017 at 12:32pm
Day 2 of the experiment. An average drop of a couple of degrees across the heap, the hottest end down a full 3 degrees, the middle fairly stable with a 1 degree drop and cool end down 2 degrees. Shade temperature was 1 degree lower at the time I collected the data, but breezy and much cooler here today. 

Early days but it got me to thinking about cool wet summers. Anecdotally I remember discussions on cool wet summers being very poor in terms of grass snake hatching rates. There is an obvious logic to it, but I wonder just how much the compost temperatures will actually reflect ambient temperatures in an invert driven 'cold' heap? Which gets me back on the idea of a heap at least partially made up of a microbial 'hot' material which may counter daily and seasonal fluctuations in the poorest years.

It would be great if anyone else is able to collect data from their heaps also. More data collected over several years would be of great interest to me. I'm not too concerned if grass snakes use the heaps or not, be interested to compare data from heaps that are not regularly used for egg laying with those that are. If anyone wants to I can put together an Excel sheet to enter the data into.



Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 19 Aug 2017 at 2:22pm
Day 3 of the experiment.

Overcast and noticeably cooler than the previous two days. Shade temperature 22 C

Noticing a strong correlation between a drop in ambient shade temperature and drop in temperature in the heap core.

This surprised me quite a bit as I think it could have been easy to assume the heap core temperatures would be a lot more stable and less affected by ambient temperatures on a daily basis. So perhaps an early indication that an invert 'cool' heap could be struggling in a cold wet summer to maintain the optimum stable temperature range for egg incubation. We will see!




Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 19 Aug 2017 at 5:17pm
How does nature manage?! When you consider garden compost heaps tend to have side enclosures of some sort, that must help to keep the temperature up a bit, what happens to natural heaps that grass snakes lay eggs in? I'm thinking that generally these will not be huge, and thus tend to be cooler as no edges acting as buffers to keep the core warmer. 
We are always told that a compost heap must be as damp as a wrung out sponge to keep active. In the wild a heap can presumably become sodden with rain or very dry if hot and no rain. What materials would act best to build up some warmth? Heaps of dead reed stalks beside water, or going more man-made - piles of municipal grass cuttings, sawdust at a mill (if such exists now?). We are told to layer our garden heaps for best/quickest working, but does that happen much in the wild? Would a heap in full sun be better than in the shade? Or is it best to have some sun, but not all day? 


-------------
Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 19 Aug 2017 at 5:46pm
This is what I am hoping to investigate at some level. I could though see it as a wonderful project for some MSc students to be sent of to investigate compost heaps, manure heaps and natural 'incubators' such as rotting logs and heaps of reeds etc and collect a lot more data. Smile

I was wondering if my corrugated iron is responsible for dissipating and absorbing heat from the sides of the heap. So perhaps not the best design to keep the core temperature stable, though quite traditional.

It seems the 'key' to heat is C/N ratio. This is not quite as simple though of having some browns and greens. Each item, be it grass cuttings, weeds, sawdust has its own C/N ratio, so it takes a bit of maths to come up with the optimum ratio of each item in a 'mix' to generate a lot of heat. I hope to do this and get a good heat producing version next year to compare with this years data of an invert only 'cool' heap. At least initially cool heaps look a bit hit and miss and very much at the mercy of ambient temperatures. Though it is fair to say it does seem to stay a few degrees higher than ambient.

Though I am now also considering shelter from wind, position in terms of sun, construction etc as all factors that would need considering if building an optimum heap for grass snakes.


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 19 Aug 2017 at 7:09pm
Yes Gemma so many variables to consider. I would join in this experiment but my heaps are small. One has corrugated iron sides and the other is an ex concrete coal bunker apart from that I have four plastic daleks.

-------------
Suz


Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 19 Aug 2017 at 8:26pm
Originally posted by Suzi Suzi wrote:

How does nature manage?! 

and isn't that the greatest thing - humans can analyse and perfect systems that we think will help, and all the time nature is just doing its own thing in the background, just like has been happening for hundreds of millions of years...

I have 8 absolutely perfectly positioned and built hedgehog houses in my garden, they offer all the shelter and protection a hog would ever need, but apparently they are only good for use as a toilet and a pile of leaves under a hedge is a much better design.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 19 Aug 2017 at 8:36pm
I have to say chubsta I have wondered if those hedgehog houses might be a bit of con, we have never had them but always have hogs. One of my interests in the optimum 'heap' is changing farming practice. Grass snakes once could rely on an abundance of muck heaps in the countryside, but they are getting less abundant with the changes in farming practice. Much like the way wildlife increasingly relies on our garden ponds instead of dew ponds. I have a feeling the humble compost heap might be the grass snakes best hope of staying abundant locally.


Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 19 Aug 2017 at 10:29pm
i know what you mean about the hog houses, but there are also log piles, piles of brush etc, all lovingly created to attract hogs which just poo in them and go somewhere much nicer every morning...

Interesting point about the dung heaps, i guess as more and more chemical fertilisers are used and dairy herds are reduced etc due to milk imports we are seeing a marked reduction in them, and of course that will be great news to the townies who hate the country to smell like the country!


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 20 Aug 2017 at 11:53am
Oh yes our new townies neighbours still talk about the slurry being spread last year and how dreadful it was. I thought it smelt rather wholesome LOL

We are mostly arable locally. 10 years ago most farmers still had at least some livestock, even if it was just a sideline and I have seen that decline to a point where now the majority of herds have gone. Since the recession also a reduction in the number of horses being kept locally. So at least round here there is a steady decrease in potential egg laying sites. Within just a mile circle around the house at least three large dung heaps are now gone.

PS just to add at least the poo shows they visit the habitat! Unless I go out after dark the only signs of hogs in our garden is the little presents they leave on my path to the compost heap. If you get a lot of leaves in the Autumn, we found big piles of these are a real magnet for hibernating hogs, has to be a fairly deep pile though say 3ft minimum. Wink


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 01 Sep 2017 at 6:32am
nice to see you have plenty of juvs in your reserve seems there is plenty round here to regards Keith

-------------
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 01 Sep 2017 at 1:19pm
Originally posted by GemmaJF GemmaJF wrote:

If you get a lot of leaves in the Autumn, we found big piles of these are a real magnet for hibernating hogs, has to be a fairly deep pile though say 3ft minimum. Wink

Last year i had good intentions of going to the woods and collecting a few bags of leaves but didn't get round to it, this year will definitely give it a go and put a couple of big piles in the garden, hopefully one of two will hibernate in them. Hadn't really thought about the depth much but guess that it does need to be pretty big to insulate and be waterproof so will aim for 3ft then.


Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 17 Sep 2017 at 9:57am
Originally posted by GemmaJF GemmaJF wrote:

One of my interests in the optimum 'heap' is changing farming practice. Grass snakes once could rely on an abundance of muck heaps in the countryside, but they are getting less abundant with the changes in farming practice.


Funnily enough, i commented to a landowner last week, how good rural south Wales can be for reptiles, what with it's often much less intensive food production traditions, more frequent unmanaged 'wild' spots on farms and better connectivity to old habitats beyond.
Other than on say, premises contiguous to nature reserves perhaps, observing an adder on farmland in my area would be a noteworthy event, but as i have discovered first hand, not so much in places like Pembrokeshire.

He then related an anecdote that made me smile. A ageing neighbour with a large garden had recently asked for his help in moving the compost/muck heap to a more convenient position nearby. Deciding that the quickest and easiest way would be with his tractor, the farmer duly rolled up later, having first affixed his 'muck grab' to the front.
With the neighbour looking on, he firmly grasped the entire pile in one go, when suddenly the pair of them got an unexpected shock as "8 great big", panicking grass snakes shot out in all directions!    


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 24 Sep 2017 at 12:42pm
First sighting today of a 2017 hatchling grass snake. Made my day to lift the plastic sheet on the compost and see the perfectly formed mini snake looking back at me. Smile


Posted By: Iowarth
Date Posted: 24 Sep 2017 at 5:07pm
Wonderful Gemma - the kind of sight that still, after all these years, makes me go WOW!!
Chris


-------------
Chris Davis, Site Administrator

Co-ordinator, Sand Lizard Captive Breeding Programme (RETIRED)


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 25 Sep 2017 at 9:33am
Wow Gemma! Brill!

-------------
Suz


Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 26 Sep 2017 at 7:29pm
wow that was quick!!! great to hear!

Tom


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 27 Sep 2017 at 4:08pm
Thanks guys, much as Chris has said even after all the years, these things still give me a big WOW. It's been a bit of a battle to get the wildlife garden back where it was 10 years ago, but now I really feel all is right again.

Been up to the compost a couple of times since and not seen more, though I do not want disturb it too much while hatchlings are in there. 

Other news is returning male frogs. Several returned to the pond in past few days. They have been calling loudly in the day, they must think it is spring already!



Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 27 Sep 2017 at 9:04pm
September and even August I seem to get frogs tuning up in the garden. Always from cover - never seen them.

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Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 16 Feb 2018 at 6:49pm
Well back out of hibernation as it were, seen a couple of newts active in the pond, but no frogs yet. Getting a little worried no adult frogs will show up this year after the taddycide spray last year. Can't imagine it does the adults much good if it so easily kills tadpoles. Hopefully still time yet, was warmest day of the year so far here by a long way and saw my first bee of the year, so will keep an eye out for frog activity over the next few days and nights.



Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 16 Feb 2018 at 11:05pm
Apart from the two frogs who headed across the garden a few weeks back I still haven't seen any in my pond despite daytime being quite warm as the sun strengthens, I guess as we still get frosts each night it is keeping them in shelter.

Do you know what dates you usually see your first frogs each year?

I too suffered an air-borne pollution last year which killed most of my tadpoles but the ones that did survive led to a bigger than usual number of froglets so hopefully yours will be the same and plenty will come back. I guess if only a couple make it they can lay enough eggs to quickly populate a pond as the food supply should still be there - as long as there are no repeats of the pollution again of course, good luck..

I have installed new cameras everywhere so believe me, if a frog moves in my garden I will see it!


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 17 Feb 2018 at 11:11am
I went out last night and a frog swirled off in my larger pond. The temp was 5degC and there were no newts seen. We've had quite a few minus four nights with ice on the ponds much of the day.

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Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Feb 2018 at 11:24pm
Hi chubsta and Suzi, part of the reason I came back on here yesterday was to see if there was a record of when our frogs appeared last year. Found I posted they spawned on 4th March, so still plenty of time. We have had the same here, some warm days but still very cold at night. Think it might take a warm wet evening to get things moving!


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 18 Feb 2018 at 12:44pm
Gorgeous here today, really very spring like. No herp activity to report (yet) but noticed the blue tits inspecting the bird box. Bottom of box was coming loose so had to quickly pop it down and put in some larger screws. Was a lovely plug of mossy material from last year and signs of a successful brood, we knew they had used it but wasn't entirely sure chicks had made it. Looks like they did! Thought it might put them off doing the quick repair, but happy to report they were back inspecting it just a minute after I put it back up. Smile



Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 18 Feb 2018 at 2:48pm
A very mild day yesterday and today and frogs seen in both ponds. 
Saw a blackbird collecting nest material this morning in the garden.


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Suz


Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 18 Feb 2018 at 5:09pm
Still nothing here, checked the pond and the only sign of life was a water boatman! Went for a long walk along our local canal and there wasn't a whisper from the usually raucous Marsh frogs so I guess it is still just too cold for them. 

One very ticky hedgehog late last night, will have to get her in for a clean-up, she seems to have two nests, one is tick free but the other must be swarming with them, last saw her over a week ago and she was tick-free at that point but obviously went back to sleep somewhere she shouldn't.

Other Spring sightings today were a wren, a gold crest and a giraffe and some African wild dogs, but to be fair, the latter were because we went down a bridal path that runs through the local wildlife park...

Do love Spring though, great sense of anticipation



Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 18 Feb 2018 at 6:50pm
Yep love the anticipation of spring, seems I come alive with the wildlife every year. Only takes half an hour sat by our pond in the sun for life to seem just fine again. Smile 

Just back in from my after dark frog watch, finally!! Think there is a good chance these are ones that returned to overwinter in the pond last Autumn, after such a nice day assuming the water temperature may have gone up a couple of degrees and got them active. Fingers crossed for the others to arrive soon Big smile










So a big note to myself, first frogs sighted in pond 18 February 2018!

PS one of them might not be a frog Wink


PPS Couldn't resist going out again at 9.00 pm, now 6 adult male frogs Smile Watched a male smooth newt displaying for a while too, lots of tail waving. Though we have a lot more weed in the pond now, water is crystal clear. Has taken several years for the murkiness to go.



Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 19 Feb 2018 at 9:41pm
Tonight's count 7 males and the first as yet unpaired female spotted. Smile





Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 19 Feb 2018 at 10:44pm


Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 20 Feb 2018 at 10:11am
Lovely photo



Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 20 Feb 2018 at 10:18am
Just walked past my ponds and a couple of frogs swirled away. Still just the one clump of spawn.

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Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 20 Feb 2018 at 2:00pm
Thanks chubsta, some seem quite approachable at the moment so was able to get close enough for this picture.

No spawn here yet Suzi, think weather forecast is for dropping temperatures so may delay things for a while.


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 20 Feb 2018 at 5:16pm
We too are forecast for a temperature dip. I guess nature factors in frosts etc. with spawn.

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Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 21 Feb 2018 at 7:37pm
A bit cooler this evening with light drizzle. Not so many frogs showing, though I did see my first pair of the year:

uploads/21750/froggy_pair.jpg" rel="nofollow">


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 23 Feb 2018 at 6:01pm
Pond had a thin layer of ice this morning and with more cold weather on the way expecting a halt to frog activities for a few days. Not really quite dark here yet this evening, but just braved the cold wind to take a look. Not a single frog showing, they have got more sense than me lol. 



Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 06 Mar 2018 at 10:00pm
Out on frog watch tonight. Not many showing early on, but the smooth newts were very active. Then a really big surprise, female GCN, first I've seen in the garden pond in 13 years of living here:




Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 07 Mar 2018 at 11:54am
Brilliant on the GCN news! So where do you think are the nearest places for them Gemma? I'm thinking ponds not general habitat. How far might the nearest population be?

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Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 07 Mar 2018 at 10:39pm
Trying to find out for sure Suzi. Nearest I know of is in next village, which is a pond just over 2,000 meters away, though I don't think anybody surveyed it for years. Just arable fields between the pond and ours with reasonable hedgerow connectivity. Trying to see if EARG or the EFC have any records for closer in recent times as passed on being the county recorder and can no longer use the database.

Very chuffed about her being there. Saw her again tonight. I guess it's possible she is just passing through, but still lovely to see her. It's was quite funny really because even after years of doing surveys it was so unexpected I had to go out again and really make sure I wasn't seeing things! Wink



Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 08 Mar 2018 at 8:44pm
Originally posted by GemmaJF GemmaJF wrote:

Very chuffed about her being there.  </span>Wink





I bet you are!

Your observation neatly illustrates just how adept newts are at wandering and colonising. Shame the same can't be said of many of our reptile species....


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 08 Mar 2018 at 10:09pm
Yep, I've long thought Ben that at least some of any amphibian population just wander off for life until they happen to find somewhere suitable. We've have a few experiences like finding toads all along the sides of motorways, suggesting they just kept going and then the motorway proved to be a barrier. Our smooth newt population existed before the pond, were some using it within days of us putting in the pond first time round, so they must have been nearby already just waiting for a pond to appear.



Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 08 Mar 2018 at 10:13pm
Update on the frogs, now have 3 pairs, 19 loan males and 1 loan female, things are hotting up!



Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 10 Mar 2018 at 9:02am
Originally posted by GemmaJF GemmaJF wrote:

Yep, I've long thought Ben that at least some of any amphibian population just wander off for life until they happen to find somewhere suitable.


I agree, and have a feeling i read that somewhere too.
The amount of times people with new ponds have told me "they just turned up, i don't know where they came from".
Like you i've frequently found newts under logs/stones hundreds of metres up on top of hills - and far from the nearest standing water.

Another indicator is the fact that usually, if they're in one pond, they'll also be in all the other ones in the vicinity.

It seems to me that other than protection of habitat/connectivity, all newts need to do better, is more healthy ponds.


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 10 Mar 2018 at 10:52am
When I reported my sighting of a male GCN to the Devon branch I was told that a female had recently been reported fairly near to me. I knew of a male that had been seen in a domestic pond about ten years ago (and maybe half a mile away in a straight line). As I've said here before I put in my larger pond in the hopes of attracting GCNs as I'd seen one under a plant pot in the garden a few years earlier. I was beyond thrilled to see one in the pond two years ago and last year I saw an adult male in both ponds, but am not sure if it was the same creature. Someone said to me that it is unlikely I've just got one GCN, probably more. It is difficult as Natural England said I must not look in the ponds with a torch. Had I not done that I would not have been able to pass my sighting on to the record centre. So I have to respect that and so have no idea whether I've still got GCNs or not. I've never seen them surface for air whilst sat watching in the daytime and it makes me think more people here might have them than realise as they are hard to spot. 
I live in a valley bottom and the hillsides to the east historically had marl pits, a few of which are now ponds. However I think the likeliest hotspot will be the flooded old brickworks about a third of a mile away. It is on private land and undisturbed.
Between me and the brickworks is a housing estate, fields and roads. The sunken stream at the bottom of the gardens here comes partly from the brickworks so I guess that is a route. The water flows swiftly and is a raging torrent in flood times. Grass snakes also find their way here, so there are ways they get here. 



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Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 10 Mar 2018 at 11:16am
I think there is a paper about it this and GCN Ben. They found a proportion of newly metamorphosed newts followed the adults back to habitat they traditionally used outside the breeding season, but many dispersed out in every direction with no known nearby good habitat. So a case of take their chances until they found some. I guess getting technical it would make sense in the UK we have species that do that, there wasn't much time for them to colonise after the last ice age, so it would have favoured mobile and rapidly colonising species.  Totally agree, it's just connectivity and more suitable ponds, if I ever win the lottery, the next day, forget the cruise around the world, I'm buying a farm and a digger Wink Never really thought any herp conservation was difficult, habitat creation and connectivity is about all it is for any species. Unfortunately in the wider view it is loss of habitat and connectivity that has always been the main problem.



Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 10 Mar 2018 at 11:22am
There has been recent house building here and it is as near to the old brick work ponds as I am. Would be nice if legislation meant the developers were obliged to put in ponds. I can see the problems ...who would care for the ponds...danger to children...etc.

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Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 10 Mar 2018 at 12:06pm
There are moves to change things Suzi, though there seems to be at least some skepticism about the scheme, I'm keeping an open mind. The idea is that developers pay into the scheme, so the money gets spent on habitat creation rather than miles of fencing and capture work. I would guess in many cases it would be giving the green light for the diggers to roll over the newts, but on the other hand the system we have doesn't really work so well and rarely results in a net gain in habitat. We all know about the bad mitigations and lack of follow up work on receptor sites etc that goes on. So perhaps this approach will benefit the newts more in the long-term. 

http://naturespaceuk.apps-1and1.net/" rel="nofollow - http://naturespaceuk.apps-1and1.net/

I have plenty of concerns, would worry in a county like Essex where herps are heavily under recorded the records would not really be representative for a scheme like this. Also worry about loss of genetic diversity. Think many feel at the moment the scheme at least seems at first view more a get out of jail free card for developers. We will have to see though, there are good people such as Tony Gent involved. Even in the early days when people started to realise we might have a problem with herp conversation it was Tony Gent who talked most sense in terms of habitat creation and connectivity. Shame the consultants who were raking in the money did not read more of his advice on what they should be aiming to achieve.



Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 10 Mar 2018 at 12:28pm
Interesting read Gemma. 



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Suz


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2018 at 8:01am
All looking good from my bed in A&E for kidney stones freeking pain hope to be out today Keith

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   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2018 at 8:59am
Oh dear Keith, sorry to hear you've been in dock. Hope you soon feel better and are fighting fit for the herping year.

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Suz


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2018 at 11:26am
Keith - I currently have a 1cm stone in place trapped by a plastic stent awaiting removal (the stent saved my kidney/life a month ago).  I know what you're going through!!  Good luck with them.


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2018 at 12:22pm
Oh best wishes to you Will as well! 

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Suz


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2018 at 1:48pm
thanks Suzi!  they say it's the worst pain a man can bear - at least with childbirth you can get all the drugs you want...


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2018 at 2:29pm
Oh no! Was wondering why you had both been quiet on here at the start of the season. Wishing you both Keith and Will speedy recoveries. 



Posted By: will
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2018 at 5:16pm
Thanks Gemma, yes, a bit surprising when they said the stone was 'life threatening' but hopefully the temporary solution will last til the overstretched NHS can laser it out.  Hoping to put some frog stuff up here soon - numbers building up nicely in the pond after a lean year in 2017.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2018 at 5:32pm
Will sounds pretty scary, hopefully they will sort you out soon. Looking forward to your frog updates. 


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2018 at 5:42pm
Just going back over this thread looking for a picture from last year I never updated on my pondering regarding the compost and grass snake egg laying.

Temperature measurements surprised me, but found that a perfectly normal worm compost heap kept optimum stable temperatures throughout the egg incubation period. So probably no need to worry too much about complex heat producing compost for grassies. In fact it is  likely the core temperatures would be way off the scale and simple but fairly large traditional compost heap is pretty much all they need.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 13 Mar 2018 at 11:37am
First clump of spawn this morning!




Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 13 Mar 2018 at 1:06pm
Exciting Gemma!

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Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 13 Mar 2018 at 6:01pm
Made my day Suz, been checking every morning for the last week! No more has appeared during the day, but will see in the morning. Was 12 clumps last year I think, be nice if more this year but will be happy with what we get.



Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 13 Mar 2018 at 7:23pm
Originally posted by will will wrote:

thanks Suzi!  they say it's the worst pain a man can bear - at least with childbirth you can get all the drugs you want...

Sympathies from a fellow sufferer! Without going in to too many details I know what you are going through, unfortunately I have suffered terribly with them for over 20 years, my last one was an eye-watering 8mm, which was a relief to pass last November, my particular type are the very spikey crystalline ones that whilst nice looking in a certain way, rip you to shreds over about 3 weeks as they travel down.

In terms of pain though, I was bitten on the hand by a false-widow spider last October, and in many respects the pain was even worse, the difference being it wasn't in such a sensitive area.

Anyway, get well soon!



Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 13 Mar 2018 at 7:24pm
Nice to see some spawn in Essex, hopefully here in Kent we will start to see some although frog numbers are very low, no more than a dozen when I would expect to see at least a 100 as the weather has been warmish and wet.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 13 Mar 2018 at 7:32pm
Frog Cam 1 - one of my oldest wildlife cams but still the best. Some interesting behaviour here. Last year they spawned in the top right of the picture. Many of the males have been concentrated around that area in the past few days. So I naturally expected to find the spawn there this morning. Not though, the first spawning female decided the bank on the left of the picture was much better this year. The males have now switched to being very active all around that area. This suggests quite a lot of co-ordination among the frogs. Firstly memory of last year and secondly being able to switch to where the first clump was laid, I guess because they know other females will go for the same spot. Never would have imagined such complex behaviour but it certainly looks that way from the last few nights of observation. Will be interesting to see if all the other spawn clumps get grouped around the first.





Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 13 Mar 2018 at 7:36pm
Lovely footage - I love the way they move when they are perfectly relaxed, a couple of kicks and then the rear legs spread out as they glide to a slow stop, behaviour you can't really get to see without the use of night-vision cameras.


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 13 Mar 2018 at 7:47pm
Nice footage Gemma. As this is my first year of having lots of frogs spawning I've stood and watched on several occasions and thought the frogs looked like they ran across the surface at times.
With regard to placement of spawn, all my spawn is in one area. In fact I can't really count clumps as it's so squashed together. An area about as large as a dustbin lid (archaic expression?!). The frogs rarely moved outside this area for very long, which I found odd. It seemed to make for problems as when they tried to dive it was hard work amongst all the buoyant spawn.


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Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 13 Mar 2018 at 7:50pm
Absolutely, that's the value of the night cameras, seeing totally natural behaviour. I'm hoping to get some HD footage both at night and in the day, sometimes when things really get going they are not too fussed about me being there. Right now if I went up there though, they would all dive down and one might think there was not a single frog in the pond!



Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 13 Mar 2018 at 7:57pm
I remember last year Suz once we had spawn the males were totally obsessed with it, spent most of the warmer days jumping all over it, amazing it all stayed in one piece!


Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 13 Mar 2018 at 8:22pm
Hope you get well soon Keith and Will.

Enjoying all the updates (and footage!), please keep them coming the rest of you!



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