The Aquatic Life of Our Ponds

It’s been a difficult year for ponds. Both of ours were on the verge of drying out completely several times during the long hot summer and we reluctantly added tap water in the hope that some aquatic life could be saved.

But now it’s autumn and the ponds are nicely refilled and refreshed with rainwater:

The hide pond
The wild pond. The annual autumnal job of pulling out most of these reeds is yet to commence

We did some pond dipping this week to assess the health of the ponds following this most trying of summers. The two ponds are only a hundred metres apart and were built within a year of each other and yet the life within them is so very different.

The hide pond is usually very good for smooth newts and dragonfly larvae. By this time of year both the adult and the juvenile newts will have left the water but we did see some dragonfly larvae. Other than that, however, there was worryingly very little else to be found.

The large dragonfly larva has weed growing on it and is therefore difficult to identify. The smaller one is interesting with those white stripes which are thought to be some sort of disguise which stops them being eaten by the bigger dragonfly larvae

In contrast, the wild pond, which has a soil substrate above its liner, was absolutely teeming with life:

What a joyful sight
Damselfly larva in the wild pond, with three tail-like gills at the back
Ruddy darter dragonfly sunbathing on my bag whilst we were pond dipping

On a gloriously sunny but crisp autumnal day, I started the job of pulling the reeds out of the wild pond. This definitely involves waders:

Some progress was made before my lower back started aching and I climbed out for a cup of tea, but there’s still a long way to go…

The pulled reeds stacked up by the badger sett in case they want to use them for bedding – they usually do

Weasels live a solitary life and only come together to mate. We don’t often spot them here, but this year the meadows seem to be part of a territory and there has been one photographed on this gate several times:

Weasel on the gate in early September

This week we have seen it again, this time carrying its rodent prey:

The gate itself is at a right-angled junction of hedgerows and, at night, is a busy highway for rodents travelling around within the security of the hedge.

What an extraordinarily long tail this rat has

At the end of the second meadow, an awful lot of earth was excavated by mice over the course of just one night:

I put a camera on it to confirm that it was indeed mice producing all these diggings:

A much larger rodent has recently moved in with us here in the house. Now that our youngest daughter has gone to live up in London, she no longer has space to house her chinchilla, Pebbles. We rescued him years ago when she was a little girl and he was about five years old. We think he must be well over twenty now, but he’s still going strong:

Pebbles the chinchilla now lives with us in Kent
His home is rather large and has unfortunately taken over an entire bedroom. Pebbles is a friendly chap and comes out for nightly run-arounds in the bathroom, so long as he promises not to chew the skirting boards

A year of travelling the world is coming to an end for one of our sons and his girlfriend. They set off in mid October last year and are due back at the end of November. When they were in Peru, they visited Machu Picchu, high up in the Andes mountains, and saw a wild chinchilla amongst the ruins:

A chinchilla on the rocks, bottom right
A wild chinchilla, how amazing. I see that the ears are perhaps slightly smaller and that there is a black line running down its back, but otherwise very like Pebbles

They are now in Vietnam, a country of fantastic landscapes:

The mountains don’t look the same as ours because of tropical weathering and erosion – intense heat and heavy rainfall cause the limestone rock to be worn down differently resulting in very pointy mountains called tower karst.

Some of the eroded hills are very eye catching:

In fact, for the tourists of Vietnam, this pair of hills has been given a special name:

Whilst on the subject of our children, another daughter who lives in the North Downs in Kent has a thriving population of hedgehogs in her garden. They have been monitoring them all year, as well as providing food, water and a hog house. The animals are now preparing for hibernation and are trying to put on weight so there is much activity:

With one partially hidden in the entrance to the house, there are three hedgehogs in this photo

To get myself back on track, I return to the wildlife of the meadows and have some other interesting photos from this week:

Utterly terrifying sparrowhawk
The spider over the lens of the trail camera makes this photo difficult viewing for those of us with an instinctual fear of them
Jays are always amusing bathers
Although about ten great spotted woodpeckers were ringed in the wood this year, it is highly unusual to see one of these birds in the meadows
Surely a magpie’s beak cannot break open a walnut?
There was a confrontation between these two birds at the water bath…
…and I am so pleased that the kestrel stood her ground and continued to bathe
The second meadow is now finished, although, as usual, areas have been left uncut so as not to wipe out entire populations of invertebrates. It seems to have been much easier this year – there has been noticeably less vegetation because of the drought. As well as that, beautiful autumn weather has meant the grass is dry and flies effortlessly into the catcher and the tractor hasn’t broken down and needed to go in for repair like it did last year. The tractor measures the time it has been working and so we know that it took sixteen hours to cut both meadows this year
Fox emerging at dusk and ships at anchor in The Downs
The dog has been entertaining us by chasing and barking at swallows as they swoop over the meadows getting a last beakful of food before starting off across the Channel. This photo looks more like it involved some sort of woodpigeon violation though

Over in the wood, we are starting to plan this winter’s work. Although the section below is very near to the prime dormouse area, the trees here are too close together and there is no plant understorey, making it unattractive to dormice.

We hope to thin these trees out over the coming season to let light in and ground cover to grow. Whilst the trees still have leaves on and are easily recognisable, we have marked up the ones we definitely want to keep:

There are only a couple of sweet chestnut trees in the wood, but their fruit gets carried far and wide by squirrels:

Although summer is over and temperatures have dropped, tawny owls are still coming to this pond every night to bathe:

A little group of bullfinch visit this pond:

Autumn is the time for toadstools and a lovely variety has arrived in the wood as usual:

Fly agaric come up amongst the silver birches
This is a lovely little pixie cap of a toadstool although I haven’t managed to identify it

I had thought that the lack of rain for many months this summer might have led to a poor show of toadstools this autumn. But happily this doesn’t seem to be the case and there are so many around for us to enjoy.

6 thoughts on “The Aquatic Life of Our Ponds

  1. Hello to Pebbles, I didn’t know that chinchillas lived so long!
    The Fly ageric toadstools look beautiful. Are they mostly found around / under Silver birch trees?
    Seeing the weasel in your post has made me feel a bit sad as a weasel or stoat ( not sure which, probably a stoat) has recently killed my niece and nephews pet rabbits. πŸ™ The whole family is devastated and my sister has shelved her plans to get some chickens. X

    1. That is terrible for the kids to lose their pets like that, oh dear. Very upsetting. Yes, fly agarics are mostly found around silver birch, I believe – aren’t they so iconic?

  2. Good news ~ The Lowther Beavers have been spotted! They have just been in hiding for a while, a long while, but have been spotted on trail cameras recently. πŸ™‚

    1. Oh this is tremendously good news. I had been thinking about them and hoping they were ok – especially when the Lowther Castle garden was featured on Gardeners World recently. Don’t those gardens, by the way, look fantastic now? It is so fantastic to see this phoenix rise from the ashes of what was a saddening run down and mouldering away place when I was a child.

      1. The gardens have definitely come along way and it’s really good news about the beavers. πŸ™‚ If you follow Lowther Castle and Gardens on Facebook, there is a post with camera footage there.

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