After a few shadowy, eye-strainy outings with sup-par lamps (detailed in my previous newt survey logs #1 and #2) we finally received our shiny new batteries – and they really did shine! With the extra firepower we were able to more thoroughly survey the ponds, enabling us to see deeper into the murky waters, more accurately gauge the sex of the newts and pick up sightings further from the perimeter.
Last week we picked up 42 newts in the main pond, which I had thought was a huge amount. With the great power of Edison in our mitts and the crystal clear waters of the pond we scored a whopping 75 smooth newts this time – being able to discern the presence or absence of the many of the male’s showy back crests. In all, we had 33 females and 20 males, and 22 androgynous ‘couldn’t tell’s.
Often while surveying a newt will be caught in the light and just float there, seemingly basking in the rays, giving us a fantastic view allowing us to accurately inspect it.
However, there are others that don’t want to be seen, so you’ll catch a glimpse of something darting off into the shadows in a telltale newty fashion, but not quite see it well enough to make a judgement. Such is the life of a newt-spotter.
The pond next to the pond shed was less busy than previous surveys, with only 6 each of definite males and females, and one which we weren’t sure of. However, there was some interest to be seen in the form of a few case caddis larvae crawling around the pond vegetation with their armoured stone shells.
There was also an enormous dragonfly nymph, which must have been a good two inches in length, stalking through the sub aquatic undergrowth. I am in no way qualified to identify dragonflies (Maybe I need to go on Dave’s Dragonfly and Damselfly study day on 5th August) , but looking online at body shape and length, I think it was probably a type of hawker (Aeschna sp.) as the large, thick, torpedo shaped nymph seems to match that species, and we have found hawker exuviae (discarded skin) clinging to the vegetation of that pond in the past.
With our lamps still blazing bright, we moved on to the two smaller ponds, hoping to illuminate the depths and find a plethora of newts, frogs and other beasties. Even with our most dazzling and penetrating lamps, we had fairly little visibility in these ponds as the water was very churned up and cloudy, so we only picked up 7 ‘unsexed’ newts between both ponds. Disappointing! It was unfortunately the same story for the small pond by the allotment, only turning up 4 newts – unable to accurately tell if they were male or female.
Tomorrow we return to the ecology center ponds for a further survey, with an extra torch and an extra pair of hands! Hopefully our added firepower will answer some mysteries surrounding the newts.
Can we more reliably tell the sex of the newts? Have the newts been getting jiggy with it? Have they moved from the smaller ponds to the main pond? (We have yet to see a terrestrial newt on our surveys) Will one of us finally fall in?- all this and more in the next exciting installment of…. Newt Survey Log!