Wildlife Column: Lizard-like amphibians are welcome

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My neighbour Mike called me out into the garden. He could hear a loud and repeated call from high in one of the big trees out back. After a warm, sunny day the sun was setting and the birds had taken up an intense evening chorus.

Several blackbirds and a song thrush could be heard across the neighbourhood, and in support were singing blue tits and great tits; the latter with their loud, repeated disyllabic song ringing out. However, the bird Mike had heard was the local nuthatch, and this is a species with a very loud and persistent song. In the 1970s they were uncommon across the region but they have now spread and turn up where there are big trees. Chatsworth Park is a great place to hear them.

This was not a smooth newt but a great crested newt

A pipistrelle bat passed low overhead with its bouncing almost random flight; a consequence of hunting tiny insects on the wing. Then a tawny owl appeared as an almost ghostly apparition, but followed by a cacophony of noise as a jackdaw and a magpie were in hot pursuit.

The owl landed in a tall birch tree and the mobbing was joined by a couple of blackbirds also unhappy with owl’s presence. Eventually the owl, presumably fed up with its unwelcome entourage, slipped silently away to a more peaceful area.

My wildlife garden is full of surprises, and while mending a hole in my pond, I decided to do a real job and reconstruct and upgrade. The whole exercise took several days.

However, as I pulled back the old liner, exposed once the water was bucketed out of the original pond, imagine my surprise to find a newt. These lizard-like amphibians are always welcome to find, and in truth I had already decanted out several smoothies (the common smooth newt), four frogs and a toad.

However, this was not a smooth newt but a great crested newt and probably about two years old. This species and habitat are protected, and my garden is a specially protected area.

The animal was carefully recorded and transferred gently to my other pond.

The underside of the great crested is brilliant orangey-yellow and marked with black lines and dots in a unique pattern. Each beast’s underside marking are like a fingerprint and can be used to record individuals.

I guess one day recorders will be able to scan them like a bar-code.

This newt was just a few inches long whereas a full-grown adult can be six inches or more.

They are also called the ‘warty newt’. Male smooth newts also have distinctive crests but are smooth-skinned, and much smaller.