Guess what we were doing last Saturday night in the dark? No rude responses please, we were in Muirshiel Country Park with a high powered torch looking for newts!
CARG, which, for the uninitiated, stands for the Clyde Amphibian and Reptile Group, is a volunteer organisation of interested and much more knowledgeable people than us, looking to conserve and protect frogs, toads and newts as well as reptiles in the Glasgow and Clyde area. Nicola passed on some information about CARG to PNHS members in early February and so Gordon, having got into butterflies and moths during lockdown, thought we should have a new challenge.
CARG organised a Zoom training session which focused on identification of species and health and safety, both of the animals and the surveyors. The group has funding for travel expenses and equipment. We were required to contribute £1 each to make us members covered by the group’s insurance. They showed a map of the ponds to be surveyed which seemed to us to have a big blank space in Renfrewshire – just a couple in and around Paisley. We queried this and were told that they were happy for us to “go rogue” and report whatever we found. We were later also allocated three ponds in Gleniffer Braes Country Park, two of which had been dug some time previously by Frog Life. There are detailed survey forms to be completed for each pond and each visit, giving information about location, water quality, number of animals and spawn found.
We started off close to home in Elderslie by visiting places we had previously seen spawn, in the Windy Hill plantations off Auchenlodment Road. This is a very popular dog walking area so any little patches of water close to the paths are essentially frog/toad free. Slightly further off the beaten track, though, we found frogs aplenty and spawn. On a subsequent visit after a very dry spell the spawn looks in danger of drying out as the water level has dropped.
We remember that wonderful PNHS visit a few years ago to Glen Moss Reserve, Kilmacolm, led by Norman and Pearl, where we had to tread so carefully to avoid crushing froglets or toadlets on the path, so we returned to find no frog spawn but dozens of toads making their way to the water, some in amplexus, many quite good distances from the loch. We also found our first newt, a palmate male, in one of the little “dragonfly”ponds. That was a thrill. There is a real buzz about applying new learning in the field.
At our allocated ponds in Gleniffer Braes, two out of three were very close to much used paths and were obviously doggy playponds, so void of spawn. One though, just south of Glenburn proved to have a good quantity of frog spawn. Other visits included the RSPB reserve and Linwood Moss.
Muirshiel’s ponds have been the most successful as far as we are concerned, with both good mats of frog spawn and strings of toad spawn. Last night’s little adventure with the big torch (borrowed from CARG) let Gordon catch, in his home-made net, more than a dozen newts, all, we think, Palmate with some very fat females.
We would recommend taking part in the survey next year if you are at all interested. The committee are very friendly, knowledgeable and patient with complete beginners such as us. Thank you to Ehm and Eric for the night-time training session at Calderglen and the loan of the big torch!
Photographs by Gordon Phillips