Lovely day in Mid-Wales with a strange sound drifting over the forestry pond — like softly spoken geese. Not geese, not any bird, certainly not cicadas on this chilly, bright spring day. They are the muted tones of amorous amphibians — lovelorn toads!
Thirty, maybe fifty, in the pools of sunshine around the margins of the upland pond.
The smaller, more numerous, males clinging,piggy-back, onto the fecund females, bulging with eggs. Others joining in and some with their heads above the water calling.
See the strings of fertilized eggs and (below) an exhausted male!
or are we just seeing what was there all along, albeit in the shadows.
My daughter lives in a modern development in the centre of Peterborough, a city of over 200,000 people. They don’t have jackals in the subways (like Tel Aviv) but since lockdown she has been working from home and has noticed snakes in the garden, grass snakes and there are adders too. Her neighbour recently opened the door to a Roe Deer.
Feral goats have come down off the Great Orm, a hill in North Wales, to roam the streets of Llandudno left deserted by the tourists.
Locked down in Mid Wales we are spending much of our time out of doors and seeing more of the wildlife than I have ever done before.
In the wood there are flashes of Pied Flycatchers and all around the sound of Wood Warblers, starting their little engines. A Redstart poses briefly in the sunshine:
We have discovered lizards for the first time, basking in the unseasonal sunshine — skittish and shy, unlike this celebrity cousin down the road at Ynes Hir — posing for the visitors to the reserve when I last visited.
I always knew we had newts in the pond but we recently noticed something very strange — some have great big (relatively) floppy, webbed hind feet and pin-like tail extensions —
In case you are in any doubt about the identity of these little beauties — look! No spots under the chin:
Now we know that they are Palmate Newts we put them back quickly as they are protected!
Back home for tea having guiltily spent the afternoon pond dipping without even the pretence of a single grandchild but not before checking out the Pied Flycatchers nesting in the oak tree by the track.
To calm my nerves my daughter, who is staying in Australia, writes that she has been clearing the cobwebs from the outside of the house!
Today she sent me a picture of the St Andrew’s Cross Spider (one of her neighbours) :
If its back were showing you would see dramatic (wasp like) bands of yellow and black. She shows the characteristic saltire, that X of zig zag, actually spiral, threads called web decorations or stabilimenta. This last word says it all — these have to be stabilizers or shock absorbers to strengthen the web. These are formidable engineers.
Webs like this are made by members of the Argiope family all over the world. Here’s one we saw in the southern USA:
Just a little spider, sitting in the middle of a huge cross made of spiral threads, wrapping something up before Christmas. It was the cross that fascinated. In the US they call them Zipper Spiders (A. aurantia) or Writing Spiders — some of the more untidy spinners produce stabilimenta that look as if you should be able to read them!
You can find their cousins all over the world with assorted variations in markings and web stabilimenta. There’s at least one that can be seen in Britain (Argiope bruennichi) and isn’t it just typical that we have to travel half way round the world to find that out!
We’ll be looking for this one at Minsmere next summer!