What Lies Under A Piece of Bark

x5 images. Double click to enlarge.

Lifting a piece of bark in a garden border, the last thing I expected to find was a delightful Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris).

It remained where it was, frozen to the spot. I hadn’t got my camera, so I gently placed the bark back and went into the house to get my equipment. Thankfully, when I got back and lifted the bark a second time, he was still there.

It is the first time I have seen a Smooth Newt here, in fact, surpisingly, the first time since I was a boy back home in the 1970s., so this was quite an exciting find for me.

I found him at the opposite end of the garden to where my pond is located, but after their spring mating sessions in ponds they live the rest of the year away from water, hiding under rocks and logs in woodland, hedgerows or gardens, venturing out only at night to hunt inveretbrates.

The Smooth Newt is one of three native species to be found in the UK, and it is the commonest and the most frequently encountered of them all.

Frogs Are Coming


Common Frog (Rana temporaria) – This is an early stage tadpole, and I appear to have zillions of these teeming in my small garden pond at the moment. Note the branch-like appendages either side of the head … these are external gills, which as the tadpole develops will become wrapped in a pocket of skin to become internal. Amazing to think that this little fellow, if all goes well, will become a frog! Double-click for a closer peek.


Common Frog Rana temporaria early stage tadpole

Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 16th March 2020
Place: Rear garden, Staffordshire


Nighttime Pond Activities

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) early nymph

I have just popped out to the garden pond to see if there was any nightlife there, maybe a frog or a newt. No, not tonight. But to my utter surprise there was 30 to 40 or more of these Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) larvae on rocks beneath the water apparently feeding on algae. I have seen one or two during the day, but now realise these are very much nocturnal feeders, and didn’t realise how many there were in there. The image of the nymph above was taken last year, so they have grown since then.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) female laying eggs

I think it all goes back to last year  when I spotted this female Large Red Damselfly laying eggs at the bottom of my Water Mint. Apparently they can lay up to 350 eggs at a time!

First Garden Pond Flower Opens

Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris

The first pond flower of the season has opened up in my garden. One of my favourite water plants, the Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), which I planted last year, shows off a bright yellow bloom. Hopefully a good nectar source for insects. My pond is only small, as can be seen in the image below, but I am amazed how much wildlife it has attracted. It will be 1 year old at the end of April.

Garden Pond

 

Garden Pond – After The First Winter

Garden Pond

I created a small nature pond in my back garden towards the end of April last year, and after a good start, I wondered how it would fair through its first winter.

Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris

Most of the aquatic plants had died down, and the tiny underwater invertebrates had apparently gone to sleep. The only thing that appeared to have stayed awake and active was the Blanket Weed, stringy green algae which has filled out the pond. Now the warmer weather has arrived I have carefully removed some of this weed as I don’t want it to completely overrun the pond.

I am pleased to see the Marsh Marigold is budding and raising itself out of the water as can be seen in the above image, and below the Water Mint has spread and is coming into leaf.

The water has remained pretty clear, and I have seen some damselfly larvae sunning themselves on the rocks below the water’s surface. After resetting some larger rocks on the ponds perimeter, and clearing out some pond debris, I am pleased there is still life in it, and I will look forward to see how it progresses through the spring as the temperatures rise. Ducky, also appears to be quite pleased, too 🙂

Garden Pond

Common Pond Skater

Gerris lacustris

Common Pond Skater (Gerris lacustris)

Also called ‘Water Striders’, these freshwater bugs have long thin brownish bodies with long legs. There are wingless Pond Skaters and winged, and the winged ones fly quite well. They move across the water by skating quite quickly, hence their vernacular name. This is amongst several similar species of the genus Gerris, but as identification markers the front femur is pale with two narrow black bands that extend from tip but end before base, and the sides of the sixth abdominal segment do not extend as spine. Length 8 to 10mm.

Common Pond Skater (Gerris lacustris)

Pond Skaters are insectivores, and use their agile ability to move upon the surface of the water to hunt and capture their prey. They are covered in very fine hairs which are water-repellent and allow them to stay buoyant upon the thin-film of the water’s surface. Combined with the water’s surface tension, they are able to sense the movement of other insects. They use their middle and rear legs to propel themselves over the water smoothly and easily, the rear legs acting as a kind of rudder.  They also have the ability to hop across the water. They use their two smaller front legs to seize prey, and then they puncture the insect’s body with their rostrum or beak, and suck the liquid soft innards to feed.

Adults maybe seen all year round, but in the coldest months they shelter in leaf litter and other debris. Found in various freshwater habitats, including streams, ponds, rivers, ditches and lakes. Common and widespread.

Photographs of Common Pond Skater (Gerris lacustris) taken October 2011, local pond, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2011. Camera used Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38.

Lesser Water Boatman

Corixa punctata

Lesser Water Boatman (Corixa punctata)Back in June I found one of my first invertebrates in my garden pond which I had built in April. It was the nymph of the above adult Lesser Water Boatman. I am pleased to have noticed how it has grown into adulthood, and that there are at least two of them swimming around in my pond. The only way to reasonably photograph them is to catch them and place them in a white crock dish, which I finally did today, and that is quite a task in itself. I much prefer to photograph specimens in their natural environment, but some things are virtually impossible to do so. I always release them back safely.

Lesser Water Boatman (Corixa punctata)

Please see my previous post to learn more about the Water Boatman (Corixa punctata.

Photographs of Lesser Water Boatman (Corixa punctata), taken August 2016, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D7200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.

Water Mint

Mentha aquatica

Water Mint (Mentha aquatica)

Not long after making my garden pond earlier this year I planted Water Mint on the margin. It is a strong-smelling mint with large flowerheads comprising of two-lipped lilac-pink petals and crimson sepals. The stems are reddish and hairy with leaves which are oval and coarsely toothed, and often have a reddish tinge. The flowers can grow  up to 6mm long, and the plant up to 1m tall.

It flowers July to September. In the wild it is found at the edge of ponds, pools, ditches and lakes, often growing in the water. It is also marshes, swamps, and similar freshwater habitats. A native species, widespread and common throughout.

The flowers are a good source of nectar for insects, and the leaves a good food source for caterpillars. The plant also has various medicinal properties and culinary uses.

Photograph of Water Mint (Mentha aquatica) taken August 2016, rear garden pond , Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D7200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.

Large Red Damselfy Nymph

This morning when I went to have a look at my garden pond under an overcast sky, peering close at the submerged rocks and stones I noticed a few of these early stage damselfy nymps.

My mind went back to June when I saw a Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) female laying eggs at the base of my Water Mint. I consulted one of my many books to see if it was the larva of this damselfly, and I believe it is.

These are just a little smaller than a common garden ant, and can be quite a challenge to photo, especially on an overcast day and submerged in pond water, so I removed one specimen and placed it in a crock dish to have more control over the conditions. It was released back into the water unharmed after it had completed its photo shoot.

I could have to wait for up to 3 years for the larvae to develop into mature flying adult damselflies.

Photographs  taken of Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) early stage nymph in August 2016, rear garden pond, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.

Four-spotted Chaser

Libellula quadrimaculata

The four dark spots on the wings of this medium-sized dragonfly are diagnostic of the species. The wings also have yellow bases that extend along the front margins. The sexes are similar, and have brown eyes, thorax and abdomen. Body length up to 45mm. Forewing up to 40mm.

The males are very territorial, and can be quite aggressive towards intruders. Males and female mate in flight, which is a very brief affair, taking but a few seconds. Eggs are laid in flight, and they hatch about four weeks later. The larvae live in decaying plant debris for two years or longer before emerging as adults.

It flies June to July. It occupies a wide range of standing waters. Common and widespread throughout Britain, but scarcer in the north-east.

Photographs taken June 2010, country park pool, Staffordshire.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Orthetrum cancellatum

The males of this medium=sized dragonfly have a blue abdomen, except where it tapers towards the end which blackish. The eyes are greenish-blue. The female eyes are brown or olive, the abdomen is yellowish with two dark stripes.

The female dips the tip of the abdomen into the water’s surface to lay her eggs. They hatch about 5 to 6 weeks later, and the larvae will live in plant debris at the bottom for 2 to 3 years before emerging as adults.

Seen May to August, and found around most bodies of water.

The Rush And The Darter

I think its wonderful when nature brings together two of its most beautiful creations. Here we have the Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum), and the Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus).

In The Night Pool #2

I have been in the garden on and off during the week in the dark hours to see what comes out under the cloak of night, and here they are again, two Common Toads (Bufo bufo).

One was on a garden step, and the other was swimming in the pool.

Visit Common Toad (Bufo bufo) to learn more about these wonderful amphibians.

In The Night Pool

Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

Finally, I have vertebrate activity in my garden pond. And more than I could have wished for!

I went out after dark tonight to see if I could spot anything going on in or near the pond, and then I saw a toad swimming in the pond towards me. And then, lo and behold, I saw another which appeared to be feeding at the base of my Water Mint.

So from May when I first built the pond, and when it started with a bloom of green algae, then teemed with gnat larvae, and after more invertebrate activity, the ecosystem has evolved and attracted its first vertebrates as I know of.

I am so delighted to have been witness to nature colonising  new territory in the form of this small garden pond, and I hope that if these toads are a pair, that maybe there will be baby toads on the way.

Visit Common Toad (Bufo bufo) to learn more about these wonderful amphibians.

Pond Life

This is life from the garden pond, and some of the life forms that have appeared there since I built it back in May of this year.

I only have a small back garden, so the pond had to be small, but I managed to plant some marginal plants and some underwater oxygenating plants to try to help keep it balanced and healthy.

The first to appear were the Culicine mosquito larvae, a few at first and then the waters began to teem with them. They appeared to be feeding on algae which had soon taken hold on the rocks and stones. I generally find the larvae hanging from the surface of the water at an angle as they breathe air through a tube near the tip of the abdomen.

The mosquito larvae attracted predacious beetle larvae like the Great Diving Beetle (Dytiscus Marginalis) as seen below. I photographed this in the shallows as it fed on a mosquito larva. It is in an eraly stage of development.

The mosquito larvae soon changed into pupae in readiness for the adult flies, completing the insect cycle, which in warm weather, and from egg to adult, can take just two weeks. These pupae do not feed, but move rapidly through the water in jerking motions to avoid predation.

I saw tiny silvery beetles crawling over the flat stones in the shallows. I believe this is a Laccobius species, which are mainly scavengers.

There were insect in the air also, damselflies and hoverflies circled and landed to investigate this new waterhole. The hoverfly below is called the Sun Fly (Helophilus pendulus), and has become a regular visitor.

Rat-tailed maggots appeared in the water, larvae of a fly similar to the above, with long tales which helps them breath underwater. They feed on decaying matter.

A water boatman nymph, coloured like amber, was seen swimming beneath the surface of the water. It is called the Lesser Water Boatman (Corixa punctata).

I feel very lucky and privileged to have witnessed life take a hold in the garden pond, and will look forward to the coming days, months and years to see what else I may discover.