The forecast for this morning meeting was for heavy rain, but the thirteen people who were present enjoyed sunny spring weather. The meeting was primarily for amphibians. Pond-dipping was engaged in enthusiastically and two Palmate Newts and several newt larvae were netted, the latter having over-wintered in the ponds.
We had placed bottle-traps in two of the ponds the evening before to demonstrate one method of newt surveying. This yielded numerous Palmate Newts of both sexes, but only one male Smooth Newt. Comparisons were made between the newts that had been bottle-trapped overnight, and Great Crested Newts, both male and female, that we brought to the meeting. People could therefore see the differences between the three species that are present at the site.
The picture above (taken by Tiz Butler) shows the difference between a great crested female (below) and smooth male (above), showing how much bigger the great crested is. It isn’t a trick of perspective as they were pretty much in the same plane. In fact, you can see that the rear foot of the smooth is over and across the crested. This would have been in a “black boxing glove” if it had been a palmate newt. So the thin whip-tail at the end of the smooth newt’s tail is just because it is folded over. It isn’t the needle of the palmate.
The party then walked along the track, stopping at another pond where frogs had been present in good numbers a couple of weeks earlier, with numerous clumps of spawn, and here we looked for newt-eggs on the leaves of pond vegetation, but none were seen. We moved on to Laymoor Quag, a Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust Reserve, where squares of roofing felt had been placed some weeks earlier in the hope that reptiles might be observed under or on top of the felts. Unfortunately they yielded nothing, although a brief glimpse of a disappearing Common Lizard was seen nearby.
We then viewed the new ponds next to Laymoor Quag which had been dug in the autumn of 2009. (Cinderford Linear Park is one of five areas in the county where new ponds are being created in order to enhance and encourage meta-populations of Great Crested Newt under the Biodiversity Action Plan partnership.)
Following the cycle track southwards towards Bilson Halt, where other ponds have been dug, we saw two Fallow Deer, and a Fox Moth caterpillar (big as a lady’s finger) was photographed. Here lichens were gathered by Juliet Bailey who gave us a brief lesson in the identification of them. A total of fourteen species were identified; the beard lichen (Usnea) being the star.
Of the birds present we heard Chiffchaff calling and a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, heralding the arrival of spring.