Friday, 15 April 2016

Fire-training amphibians

It was around this time last year when I received a call about newts trapped in some grating, at Gatwick's Fire Service Training Ground. I collected my airside pass, a permit for my tools-of-the-trade (aka net and bucket), and was escorted by airside operatives to the western end of the runway.

Shooting along Taxiway Juliet (at the breakneck speed of 30mph) 

When I arrived, those sneaky newts were nowhere to be seen, but it looked as if they might easily able be to climb out of the shallow grating. However, after checking some open drains, we did find a few lost-looking toads and newts...

Each year around the country, thousands of toads, frogs and newts - often while migrating to their breeding ponds - accidentally fall into drains and roadside gullies. If they cannot climb back out, they will eventually die of starvation or drowning.

Smooth Newts (Lissotriton vulgaris), fortunately rescued in time

This year, I returned with back-up in the form of Barry, Cici and Aidan of the Sussex Amphibians and Reptiles Group (SxARG). Another 'tools of the trade' pass for more odd equipment (nets, buckets, metal plates, plus a sizeable roll of Enkamat plastic mesh), back through the airside security gate and this time a fire service escort over to the training grounds...

Fishing for amphibians in the separation tank

A pair of Common Toads (Bufo bufo)

Smooth Newts (Lissotriton vulgaris)

We managed to fish out around 11 newts, 2 toads and 2 frogs which were already swimming around in the seperation tank. Barry and Aidan then installed the specially designed drain ladders (weighted plastic mesh), enabling any other trapped amphibians to climb out under their own volition.

Laying the Enkamat lining

Steep, but climbable by most small amphibians

In order to become a fully-qualified firefighter, you have to be put through the paces with a series of physical tests. These toads and newts have shown a lot of promise (sticky feet mean they can ace the 'grip test'). So, those which are fit enough to clamber out will automatically qualify as honorary Gatwick Fire Service team members!

Dan and Jules with their new mascots (it's not all about cats stuck up in trees)

Released back into the nearby pond

Many thanks to Simon, Ryan, Jules and the rest of the fire team for giving Gawick's amphibians a leg up, and thanks to Cici for her photos. Find out more about the use of amphibian ladders in this article on the Sussex ARG page.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Gatsbees B-Log: Late Winter 2016

While I waited for the bees to go to bed in the mildest winter for years, our local hedgehog, which had clearly been living here for much longer than me, finally made itself known in mid December. By the way, I’m not feeding it baked beans, the tin is my measuring stick so I can judge their size...

and a couple of weeks later her friend came along. How exciting; hedgehogs!

The fox left a gift in their feeding bowl to show it’s appreciation of our efforts.

I was surprised to see honey bees collecting pollen from Viburnum tinus in my garden in January. They rarely do, so maybe they are planted in too much shade for the nectar to flow.

We finally had a flurry of snow, but unfortunately it didn’t stay long enough for me to get to the apiary in Ashley's Field to photograph the hives looking wintery. Sorry!

Hurray! Clear skies at night and freezing cold mornings. The bees have gone to bed at last!

Snowdrops – an early supply of pollen and nectar

On the last check before the bees go to bed, we carefully lift the hive on the two sides, one at a time, to feel the weight of it. This is called hefting and we generally do that once a month to make sure they have enough stores of honey. If it’s getting light, we put some fondant under the roof in direct contact with the bees.

On a warm, sunny afternoon in February, the bees flew out to defecate away from their hive, and clearly one of them got caught short (bottom left hand side). We will have to look out for colonies which have persistant diarrhea as they may have a fungal disease of the gut called Nosema apis.

They also forage for food whenever possible and those running up the front of the hive seem to want to gain some height for take off.

A queen wasp hibernating in the log pile.

Not quite in the ‘other visitors to the hive’ category, but a ground beetle (Pterostichus sp.) living under a piece of wood under one of the hives.

March. ‘ Hurry up, out of my way, pollen to unload, places to go…………’ 

Blackbirds singing, bees buzzing, spring has arrived and very soon, we’ll be looking to see what the girls have been doing all this winter. We will keep you posted.