Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Frogs, Toads and Smooth Newts

The first rule of hunting for frogs, toads and the more rare, newts, is to go where you know they will be comfortable. Come to think of it, that probably applies to everything and everyone.

Frogs, Toads and newts are simple souls. They like cool, damp conditions with easy access to a small pool, pond or slow moving river and feed on bugs, slugs and snails.

In addition, they love to sit idly in the sun on a warm rock, tree stump or pipe and regulate their body temperature by hopping into and out of the shade, or water.

Frogs and Toads are not into extreme water sports and this year the rivers were running too fast for them to be comfortable. So, they had opted for the more sedate ponds and pools that are found dotted around the forest.

Enter the Cattle Grid
One other location that the smooth newts certainly favoured, was the bottom of a well drained cattle grid. The overhead bars of the grid provides dappled shade for the creatures and allow them to move around unmolested and unseen by passing pedestrians and motor traffic alike.

They are small enough to live in nooks and crannies around the edges of the cattle grid and as long as the grid does not fill with water when it rains, it stays nice, cool and damp.

The most I saw at any one time was 6, promenading around the edge of the grid. Clearly on a mission to somewhere but often in opposing directions. They looked as if they were warming up for some athletic event. Maybe they were.

Unfortunately, cattle grids that don't have an escape ramp, do have a bad reputation for trapping mammals and this one contained the skeleton of a hedgehog that had become trapped and, as a result, had probably starved to death.

However, the local newts, frogs and toads were able to move in and out at their leisure and found it to be a very suitable arena for their simple needs.

NB: There is a simple solution to making a cattle grid safe for hedgehogs. Put in a stack of stones or bricks for them to use as steps to climb on OR build a simple ramp by using a piece of wood with chicken wire wrapped around it for better grip. Prop the stick up at a gentle slope. such that the hedgehogs can easy climb out but not so it sticks out of the grid and is a danger to traffic or pedestrians.

An Essential Safety Note for Humans
The cattle grid, once you discover it, is an excellent location for the keen amateur to observe small creatures but you should be careful of a number of things; passing cars, slipping on the metal grids, falling into the grid and the strange quizical looks from bemused locals.

The sight of a wellie-clad eco-tourist lying sprawled out and face down across a cattle grid, can confuse and disturb the sensitivities of the local population, especially around closing time at the local pub.

Their first instinct will be to run to your aid, roll you over and try to resuscitate you by pummelling hard on your chest or worse, attempting to give you the dreaded 'kiss of life'.

Here is a tip to avoid some of these embarassing misunderstandings. Before they get too close. try to anticipate the intentions of would-be Good Samaritans and spring quickly to your feet. Try to do this without falling through the cattle grid.

Be aware that if you do inadvertantly fall through the cattle grid at this juncture, you will very quickly be stopped from falling by the metal structures.

Have no fear about damaging the cattle grid, it was made to withstand sudden impact with heavy objects. Unfortunately, your lower anatomy was not and therein lies the problem.

NB: A sudden shift of position on a cattle grid, needed to convince a passerby that you are uninjured, may lead to a dramatic and painful outcome, that will seriously undermine your argument.

To prevent such accidents, you could practice lying down and jumping up on the cattle grid in anticipation but again if this is observed by passers-by, it may lead to further complications and compulsory psychological assessments.

So, best just keep a weather eye out for other humans, whilst at the same time as observing the animals and, if anyone does happen to ask you what you're doing, tell them you dropped your keys.

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