Unfortunately my pond is in a north facing garden, so whilst everyone else is getting excited about frog spawn, I have to wait a few months until the fully grown frogs come to take advantage of my cool and shady pool. However, all is not lost because I have discovered that there are other things lurking beneath just waiting for me to find them.
I have recently acquired a microscope and am trying to find my way round it. Whilst other people could look at a slide and tell you all about the cell structure, or the type of creature that they have found I am currently satisfied to know the names of a few parts of a plant or to be able to focus the microscope without smashing the lens into the slide! In the near future I do hope to learn how to prepare sections of plant so I can prepare my own slides – but one step at a time.
After looking through some slides that I borrowed and, quite frankly, being not much wiser than I was I decided to grab some pond water and see if there was anything for me to find. I was quite excited to find some form of life wriggling around in the bit of water that I popped on the slide – although this was tempered by the fact that I worried I was slowly cooking the poor beastie. However, it fared better than the other little chap I found which I think I squished when the cover slip went on, although he did continue to twitch disconcertingly for quite a while.
Putting the guilt aside that I felt from this exercise I was pleased to get some OK photos out of the two little chaps, whatever they were.
Quick update – the chap or chaps at the bottom is a daphnia – I found it in an old biology book that I have.
At this time of year you may notice lots of damselflies zipping about. As far as I can tell these emerge from the pond earlier than dragonflies, and, who can blame them as they make a tasty meal for their voracious cousins.
The damselfly lays it eggs in or close to water and these hatch after about a month. The nymphs then remain in the pond for one to two years before crawling up a convenient piece of vegetation and emerging from their larval case (exuvia). I think we have had at least 10 emerge from our pond in the last month. Here’s a picture I caught of a damselfy as it was emerging.
The damselfly then has to sit there as it pumps fluid to its wings and dries out before it can fly off. The time taken for this depends on the weather and one I was watching took about 3 hours in early May, but about half that time a couple of weeks later.
Damselflies are much smaller than dragonflies, and sit with their wings held in to their long slim body (thorax) unlike dragonflies which are much larger and wider and who hold their wider wings out.
This is a large red damselfy (which I think is the species that emerged from the pond in early May). Unfortunately they only tend to live for a few weeks so enjoy them whilst you can. Can you think of a better reason to put a pond in your garden than to see these fantastic creatures close-up?
As you will no doubt be aware, the last two weeks have seen temperatures hover around or below zero almost constantly. The only break in the cold since Boxing Day being a day with some snow last week. Whilst this has curtailed all gardening activities it has provided many (mainly weekend) opportunities for birdwatching.
I think that we are one of the few gardens in the neighbourhood to have a pond, so we are always popular when the frosts come. Each morning either James or myself have been out diligently clearing a spot in the ice for them to drink from and bathe in, and have been amply rewarded by the large number of birds that have been coming in every day. (I think the sunflower hearts and peanuts haven’t hurt either.)
It has also been noticeable how territorial some of the birds get even in Winter, and how some are willing to risk a fight to get to the food and water. Of particular note around here is the abundance of blackbirds. We have a resident pair that tend to come in every day and throw as much compost and as many leaves around as possible. There also seems to be a younger bird (possibly one of last year’s brood) that keeps coming into the garden, much to the chagrin of the male blackbird (shown below having a drink out of the pond). He will chase him off as soon as he sees him, whereas the female will raise the alarm call if she spots an interloper, only going to the trouble of shoo-ing them away if the male doesn’t arrive.
We have also counted three robins in the garden. These are highly territorial birds and as soon as the third one is spotted in the garden he is chased away, with fights breaking out in mid air and air-borne battles taking place over several gardens.
My only concern is that warmer weather is predicted in the coming days, and, with the RSPB’s big garden birdwatch less than two weeks away, they will all desert me. Just maybe my count this year will be better than one greenfinch and a sparrow!
This year, for the first time, we have lots of waterboatmen living in/on our pond.Yesterday the weather was sunny enough for me to be able to get an OK picture of them without having to get the tripod out.
I thought it would be a nice idea to learn more about these little creatures, but then I entered a world of confusion. There are apparently lesser waterboatmen which do not bite, but which do not swim upside down. This is obviously not true of my friends (not sure about the biting though), these therefore looked as though they may be ‘backswimmers’ – never heard of them, but they are apparently all over the US (unlike myself – that would be a stupid idea). I then trawled around the web a bit more and found a bit more info on the BBC website. This looks as though it is a Greater Waterboatman (or backswimmer); notonecta glauca , they live in ponds and canals, are quite predatory and eat tadpoles (they are out of luck in my pond) and the larvae of diving beetles (these seem to be in shorter supply this year, I may now know the reason why). They are also known to bite, their saliva is toxic and they are not related to the lesser waterboatman. I am not sure how I feel about these now, I am a little concerned about my diving beetles and tadpoles to be.
A wander around the garden today (making the most of the sunshine) produced a few surprises and some quick photo opportunities.
The first of these was the emergence of a common darter (I think) from the pond. I disturbed one of them, but I think that this one needed a little more time to dry its wings so I grabbed a quick shot. This was the first I had seen this year.
The nymph stays in the pond for up to a couple of years, and then crawls out to emerge as the predatory adult. The common darter changes colour to more of a brick red as it suns itself.
Less than two weeks ago I was delighted to discover frogspawn in our recently redeveloped pond. I did some research on the internet and discovered it would be about a month before the tadpoles emerged but was a little disheartened to read that the spawn rises to the surface of the pond so that it is warmed by the sun. Mine didn’t do that – and it needs all the help it can get in the north-facing garden – this is not a pond to hang around in, lazing about – well not in Winter / Spring / Autumn. What is the lazy frogspawn doing I wondered. But the worst was yet to come – following all the wind and rain I looked in the pond and discovered it had gone deeper (although not much deeper because the pond is less than 2 feet deep). But, this morning there seemed to be some ice on the surface of the pond, and snow is forecast for the weekend (although I don’t remember the last time the weather forecast was right). I went to have a look this evening and the situation looks dire. Not only is the spawn at the bottom of the pond, it looks sickly and cloudy. I fear the worst for my would-be frogs, it looks as though another year will go by without any tadpoles and froglets.
I have anxiously been listening out for the sounds of Spring – the birds are singing, the expected flowers are starting to show up in various places and it is therefore with some anticipation that I have been listening out every morning for the sounds of frogs singing in the pond.
Other people had seen frog spawn in their ponds weeks ago, I was beginning to wonder if it was the fact that I had a north facing garden or whether we had upset the frogs by renovating their home last Summer. We spotted our first frogs last week, and this morning we saw frogspawn. See the photoevidence – please accept my apologies for the poor quality.
Now the worry starts – we have had the pond for a few years now, but apart from some tadpoles from some imported spawn we have not had any tadpoles yet. The frost has usually killed it all off in the past, but we are hoping that the fact that we have deepened the pond and the spawn is near the bottom may give them a chance this year. Fingers crossed!