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Fantastic Frogs

It’s that time of year again when ponds boil with amorous amphibians, all seeking to find a mate and spawn.

The pond at the Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s tiny St Nicholas Park reserve must be one of the best places in the north east to witness the spectacle of frogs mating and they have finally arrived to begin their bacchanalian ritual.

It’s been pretty cold of late but the recent mild spell saw frogs begin to converge on the pond, in expectation of the start of a new breeding cycle.

As is typical, the males have arrived first to begin their croaking courtship ritual and these can be told by their pale throats and duller grey coloration.

There are some females though too and these are browner and have the typical mottled colours we associate with our common frogs.

Only a few had produced spawn at the beginning of last week but there is still plenty of time. What an incredible wildlife spectacle to witness at close hand!

Dazzled by a Golden Shield

Golden Shield lichen

It can be pretty bleak at this time of year, waiting for the season to change and the buds to burst but look closely and there are still dazzling sights to be seen. This lichen caught my eye recently, clinging to a hawthorn. In fact, you will see this lichen on almost any hawthorn and many other trees and shrubs too. It is called Golden Shield, Xanthoria parietina, so named due to the golden, shield-like protrusions you can see in the photo.

Lichens are an incredible symbiosis between two separate organisms; a fungus and an algae or cyanobacteria. The two organisms form a mutually beneficial association with the lichen fungus creating a stable structure and the algae or cyanobacteria producing simple sugars through photosynthesis with which to feed the fungus.

No one really knows who benefits the most from this relationship. Is the fungus farming the algae for its own benefit, or does the algae gain more by being able to colonise a far greater area with the help of the fungus it clings too? It is a fascinating question with which lichenologists are still grappling.

Equally as interesting, especially to ecologists and conservationists, is the fact that lichens are excellent environmental indicators; they tell of current conditions and also how an environment may have changed, or not, over time.

In areas affected by atmospheric pollution such as acid rain, the communities of lichens surviving are likely to be severely impoverished. Species that may have been typical in the past are no longer present because lichens are sensitive to atmospheric composition. This is one reason why the Golden Shield may be found in hedgerows all around the UK; it thrives in nitrogen-rich environments like heavily-fertilised farmland.

Similarly, lichens are excellent indicators of ecological continuity. The presence of certain or groups of lichen can be used to help grade the conservation status of woodlands; a woodland that has been clear-felled at any point in its history is likely to have lost the original lichen flora that inhabited it. On the other hand, the lichens in an ancient woodland receiving minimal human intervention may be vanishingly unique.

Whether common or not, lichens are there to be enjoyed if we just take the time to look. Their often bright colours and small forms make them jewels of nature but their fascinating biology make them even more amazing.

More information about lichens can be found on the website of the British Lichen Society.

 

Butterflies and botany

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Small Heath – Havannah nature reserve.

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Peacock – Havannah nature reserve.

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Speckled Wood – Havannah nature reserve.

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Red Admiral – Holywell.

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Scarlet Pimpernel – Holywell.

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Harebell – Holywell.

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White Melilot – Backworth.

Just a few photographs taken over the last few weeks of summer. I was especially pleased to find the White Melilot growing between Earsdon and Backworth – a new and unusual species for me.

All quiet at Holywell

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Waders and Wall Brown butterflies were my hoped-for species at Holywell pond this morning but despite fine weather and oodles of suitable mud, neither were to be seen.

Holywell can be a frustrating place for the easily disappointed but luckily I am not that kind of person and I was pleased with a smart pair of Red Admirals at the end of my morning.

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Disappointingly the farmer appears to have destroyed the small area of marsh in the centre of the field immediately east of the pond, no doubt with the intention of ploughing in this area for next year.

Though it was a relatively small bit of habitat it was great cover for Snipe and Grey Partridge and doubtless home to much else besides. It seems a pretty pointless act of destruction given that the area will surely flood again as soon as winter arrives.

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The farmer had also trimmed the verge in one of the fields on the other side of the bridle way, just where I was hoping to find my Wall Browns…d’oh!

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It’s been a while

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So here is a very nice Small Skipper. I haven’t seen too many so far this year, although one flew through the garden the other day, which is a first!

There has been some talk  that the weather has made it difficult for butterflies in 2016, which I guess is possibly true, although from my own observations I would say it depends upon the species.

There have been plenty of whites on the wing lately as well as the second generation of Small Tortoiseshells. I have spotted loads of Ringlet butterflies this year too so the conditions must have suited them, whilst there have been far fewer Speckled Wood than in 2014 which seemed to be a bonanza year for all lepidoptera.

Plenty of time left for some nice weather however, so I look forward to many morebutterflies over the coming weeks.

July Butterflies

What with the weather and work and various other obstacles I have not seen so many butterflies of late…still no Skippers this year and I think I have missed the first generation of Wall Brown butterflies that are normally on the wing from late May in this part of the world.

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However, Ringlet and Meadow Brown are now out in force, including these two beautiful insects which were at Havannah nature reserve last week.

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Roll on some warm sunny weather and there is sure to be plenty more butterflies on the wing…perhaps in time for the Big Butterfly Count which starts this weekend?