A few night's ago I went into the Forest after dark to look for Great Crested Newts. The Wildlife-Savvy among you will know that these little amphibs have maximum protection under European and UK law- it is illegal to search for them, disturb them, move them, pick them up etc etc without a licence, and their presence on development sites can cause mega delays and disruptions and sky-rocketing costs involving the putting up of long lengths of exclusion fences to protect them and their habitat.
In the UK they are not particularly scarce- their protection status seems to originate in the fact that there aren't all that many of them across the rest of Europe.
Anyhoo, we had two members of staff with us who had the necessary licenses and so a group of us met up just before dusk in the forest to do an egg search in some calcareous ponds that formed there on the back of the marl industry, and then to wait till night had well and truly fallen before we searched for the newts themselves in earnest, them being mainly nocturnal and all.
I had never seen a GCN before and was amazed at how enormous they are in comparison to the Smooth and Palmates which are our other native newts here in the UK.
The crest pops up when mating season is here (a bit of classy showing off for the ladies). They also eat the smaller newts, although not, thankfully, on this particular night :o)
I'm jumping slightly ahead of myself, because before dark fell and we saw the newties, we found what we were looking for- GCN eggs. These are the two small white dots on the leaf in the third pic down. GCNs lay their eggs on submerged leaves and then fold the end of the leaf over the egg to protect it. Needless to say you can't search for GCN eggs without holding a licence either. The silvery-grey egg in the fifth pic is a Palmate newt egg.
Once night fell we found an enormous number of all three UK native newts in all the ponds we were looking at, as well as toads, dragonfly nymphs and caddis fly larva. It's another world there in the woods after dark....
Caddis Fly Larva- the insect is inside this elaborately constructed tower of interwoven sticks
Mr Toad floating serenely in the water
Because we had licence holders with us, we were able to net some of the GCNs and turn them over (carefully) to show off their amazing firey tummies. Gorgeous, aren't they?
And then one eagle-eyed student spotted a female GCN ovipositing (laying her eggs) in her pond...
By then it was pitch black and (typically) my head torch decided to give up the ghost, so I contented myself taking atmospheric shots of everyone else staring into the ponds....
It was a fab evening, and in fact I am off this Sunday to do a proper training course and get myself a GCN licence :o)
Tomorrow, I have a post to show you about the Shoresearch course I did before Cambs and all the amazing sea creatures we found on one of the lowest tides of the year, and them after the Cambs posts (which are coming soon I promise) I've got the results of yesterday's water vole survey to show you....
Hope you're all well. I am off to have a read of what you've all been doing.