15 May 2015

15 May 15 - My Last Native Amphibian

Given this is post number 300, then it is great to have a special Amphibian for the Post. It is also close to the 80k number of hits (in 19 months of blogging). So thanks to all of the readers who have helped get me to the first 80k. Hope you have enjoyed the Blog.

I am not sure when I first got into Amphibians, but it would have been well before the age of seven. It was the first wildlife group I got into & pond dipping was the route in. Within a few years, I had expanded to Butterflies, while the Birds didn't start to when I was about thirteen. So it is perhaps a bit surprising that I have gone all these years & not seen all the UK native species of Amphibians. The one that has eluded me was Natterjack Toad. This is a scarce species & it largely nocturnal. It is also restricted to a limited number of locations in the UK. Hengistbury Head is the only remaining site in Dorset. Unfortunately, they died about there in the 1950's. But there has been a successful re-introduction program which started in 1989. Now they are doing well in the area. My rules are re-introductions into natural range are tickable so this looked a good place to look. I had tried in May 2012, but only succeeded in seeing a large number of unidentifiable tadpoles. Almost certainly, these would have been Natterjack Toad tadpoles, but I didn't consider them as tickable. So I needed a plan to try & see Natterjack Toads & local CHOG Birder, Chris Chapleo, managed to get me a place on one of the guided walks that the rangers lead to look for Natterjack Toads. Generally, I'm not a guided walk groupie, preferring to look on my own or with a group of friends. However, this was a great walk & I would strongly encourage anybody else who wants to look for Natterjack Toads to join one of the walks. There is no certainty that you will see them, but it probably gives you the best chance. Also it was great to learn more about the Natterjack Toad's life history & the Hengistbury Head project to protect them.

We checked out the ponds as it was getting dark, but there was no sign of any adults. But it was only just getting dark, so we still had time to try again on the way back to the cars. But we did see over a thousand tadpoles. Our guide, Brian, confirmed these were all Natterjack Toad tadpoles, as they survey the ponds throughout the Spring to look for spawn. The only spawn found was from the Natterjack Toads. Frogs breed elsewhere on Hengistbury Head & there are no Common Toad sites within the SSSI. As we started to walk back, I was getting less confident, but the penultimate pond, came up trumps. Brian is fully licensed to handle the Natterjack Toads & brought one from the pond to show the group. Whilst not an ideal way to see my first Natterjack Toad adult in the hand, it is a pragmatic approach to avoid having a group of about 15 people walking up to the pond edge in the dark & running the risk of somebody accidentally trampling one (which has happened in the past). But I wonder how many Birders have ticked Birds seen in a ringer's hand.
Natterjack Toad: It's finally on the list. Note, handling them would be breaking the law unless you have a licence to do so (as Brian has)
There was the opportunity for a quick couple of photographs as it was released.
Natterjack Toad: Now that looks a bit more natural
I would certainly recommend anybody who wants to see a Natterjack Toad at Hengistbury Head to join one of the guided walks. I certainly learnt a lot about this fascinating species which has a really interesting life history. Join a walk & find out more.