Juliet Bailey

Newt Larvae News

Newt larva, approx 3cm, in shallow water

The pond with the newt larvae mentioned in the post of 25 June has shrunk to a miserable puddle 2 foot across.

Shrunken pond

As the water level descended I have been watching the newt larvae becoming bigger, coming up vertically to gulp for air in the fashion of adult newts. These larger ones are no longer visible. However, there are still some very small ones with external gills and feeble little legs that I am certain would be incapable of terrestrial life.

Will they survive in the mud? I’ve seen no dead newts, but what about predators? A week ago there were many diving beetles in the pond. This morning I saw a mole pushing its way round the soft earth of the perimeter. It appeared briefly from the tunnel, its fur patched with wet black gloop, before scuttling back off along the new tunnels. Are these newt predators?

Diving beetles taking air

Newt Larvae

There are hundreds of newt larvae in the pond in this wild garden in Standish. In the late afternoon they were near the surface, not gulping for air but just hanging there. Perhaps on this hot day there was more oxgen in the surface water than at depth (they still have feathery gills), or perhaps they seek out warmer places which would speed development.

These are great crested newt larvae Triturus cristatus, because of the filament along the tail and the black blotches, which larvae of smooth and palmate newts lack. They are about 5cm long at most.

Hornet Moth time

Hornet Moths (Sesia apiformis) are emerging from poplars in Standish. They spend several years as larvae feeding on the wood and roots of the tree, emerging often by burrowing out at the base of the trunk, so you can see signs at any time of year by looking for the exit holes which are about the size of the thickness of a pencil.

Copulating pair with crayon for scale

Old exit holes in base of poplar trunk with crayon for scale

Habitat. Poplar trees in garden

Lichens on the Web

An illustrated atlas of Gloucestershire lichens is available on-line at http://gloslichens.potsherd.net. The website is a working tool for lichen studies which will be particularly useful for beginners and intermediate lichenologists. There is a non-technical description and photos of the commonest species and distribution maps for all species.

There are about 2000 lichens in the UK, about 700 of which have been seen in Gloucestershire. The maps reveal patterns of distribution and frequency that were not hitherto evident.

The aim is eventually that all tetrads (2km x 2km on the Ordnance Survey national grid) in Gloucestershire should be visited. About half the squares are still virtually blank so there is plenty still to be done. Added to this, the lichen scene is in flux, particularly as a result of decreasing pollution levels and new information from DNA analysis. With climate change also implicated in arrivals and disappearances, it is an exciting time to be involved in lichenology.

For information on this site, or for details of the field meetings of the Gloucestershire and Bristol Lichen Groups, contact glos.lichens@gmail.com

Black nightshade in maize stubble

Fodder maize in a Standish field was harvested during the week. Gulls and woodpigeons are feasting on the dropped cobs. I’ve taken the opportunity to check the weed flora hoping to find some unusual alien plants, but the ground is overwhelmingly dominated by Black Nightshade, Solanum nigrum, which is also common in my garden. It is a member of the potato family, and has small starry white flowers and round fruit that turn from green to black without going through a red stage (unlike Woody Nightshade, Solanum dulcamara, that has purple flowers and fruit that go from green to yellow to red.)



A beautiful partial solar eclipse this morning. The sky was clear in Standish, and we were able to view it using both the telescope projection, and the pin-hole method using a colander and slotted spoon. It peaked at about quarter past nine, and finished about ten thirty.

At its height, it was noticeably colder and the light had a darkling evening quality.


Colander or Spoon method



Telescope method



Grass Cutting and Red Kites

It has been a good day for cutting the grass, with machinery in several local fields in Standish. This has attracted small flocks of Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls, but also at least two Red Kites. The Kites tend to fly a little higher than the gulls, as shown in the photo, dropping down occasionally to pick something up. Their mastery of the air, turning on the curve of a tail, is wonderful. At a distance the long graceful angular proportion of the wing lets you know they are not buzzards. A good view of the forked tail (as shown on the home page of this GNS website) is confirmation.

Red Kite above gulls to left.

Red Kite above gulls to left.

Baby Rabbits

Signs of spring. Baby Rabbits on my lawn in Standish. There is a burrow in the shrubbery, and a hole, that we keep trying to block but always gets re-excavated, that comes out in the lawn itself. We’ve seen up to 5 kittens simultaneously over the last week, which is the usual number here, so probably represents the entire litter. Anne McBride’s book Rabbits and Hares (Whittet Books 1988) says 5 is the average number in a litter.The photo was taken with my DMC-LX5 camera through a telescope, which I join together using a ring of plastic from a cut-off calking tube. Not high-quality digi-scoping, but it works for me.





Ash Dieback conference

Anyone wanting serious information on Ash Dieback should look at the webcasts of a recent conference “Living with Ash Dieback in Continental Europe”. http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCI810ZkJIgiS9ALeeT5tq3g

This was held at the Linnaean Society in London on 29 November 2013. In all, there are more than 6 hours of footage, with 23 papers.

They consider country by country the disease’s spread across Europe; the commercial implications; ways of combating it by plant hygiene or plant breeding. For naturalists, particularly concerned by the potential damage of the disease in the wider environment, the two opening talks of Session 3 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxNcNUYigMw) – Ash Dieback as a conservation biology challenge, and The impact of Ash Dieback on veteran and pollarded trees in Southwestern Sweden – are very valuable.

For modelling the Epidemiology of Ash Dieback in the UK, see the paper by Professor Chris Gilligan starting at 38 minutes into the webcast of Session 4. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eBKXElvVxQ). This is a brief paper, lasting only 10 minutes. Towards the end, he shows slides which indicate that before the end of the decade Ash Dieback will be across England and Wales.

In case one gets too depressed by the preceding papers, the final presentation by Professor Steve Woodward is on the Emerald Ash Borer beetle which is heading our way. He says that if Ash Dieback doesn’t get our Ash Trees, then the Emerald Ash Borer will.

Comma caterpillars, Standish, 18 August 2013

Pulling up nettles in my veg garden I came across several Comma (Polygonia c-album) caterpillars, which I moved to anotherĀ  nettle patch in a different part of the garden, where this one at least started eating young leaf immediately. They are said to look like bird droppings, thus are unmistakeable.

Comma caterpillar on nettle

Comma caterpillar on nettle

Pretty spikey bird droppings.