Amphibian and Reptile ID day at Shewalton

On Tuesday 30th April, ten people joined staff from SWSEIC and Garnock Connections’ Wildlife Recording Assistant Elouise Cartner at the Dundonald Links golf club (just south  of Irvine) for an opportunity to learn all about our native amphibians and reptiles. The morning session was spent going through the theory: easy things like recognising the differences between adult Common Frogs and Common Toads; some less obvious ID tips, like how to separate frog tadpoles from toad tadpoles; and the more challenging  task of separating terrestrial phase female Smooth and Palmate Newts. We looked at different ways of surveying for herptiles, from visual searching and checking refugia to nocturnal torch surveys.  During the morning the teas, coffees and ample cakes provided by the golf club were very well received.

Field visit

After a short lunch, we headed out for our afternoon field visit. The weather was not particularly kind to us – cool, overcast and with intermittent light rain showers. We first headed for the SWT reserve at Shewalton Sandpits to look at amphibians. Before we headed to the pond we stopped in the woodland to look under some fallen logs  and branches. Almost immediately we found our first amphibian – a dark-coloured Common Toad nestled in the damp below a rotting log. We headed on to the waters’ edge, where the shallows were teeming with small black tadpoles. Even at this very early stage, where toad and frog tadpoles are all very dark in colour, the blunt ‘nose’ was a clue that they were Common Toad tadpoles. Walking along the marshy edge of the water we found a predated amphibian, probably an adult frog, and some Fox scats – the likely culprit? Soon we disturbed several immature Common Frogs, of varying sizes, by the edge of the reeds.

We then headed on to the other bank to look at the emergent vegetation for evidence of newts – folded leaves enclosing a carefully wrapped egg.  A search along the margins by many keen eyes sadly produced no egg evidence, and subsequent netting failed to find any adult newts, which was surprising. There were numerous aquatic invertebrates though, as the pond fringes were teeming with damselfly larvae, water boatmen, caddis flies and back-swimmers.

We returned to the cars, checking fallen logs and and branches as we went. With time and weather against us we headed for a short visit to the nearby Shewalton Woods SWT Reserve to look at some good reptile habitat. Sadly, with no signs of improvements in the weather and little prospect of finding any basking reptiles, we returned reptile-less to the cars.

It was a fun day, and we are grateful to those who attended  – we hope everyone learned a little more about how to ID and look for our local herptiles. Hopefully the extra trained pairs of eyes will be able can gather a few more records in the region. The weather may have dampened our clothes, but I don’t think it dampened our enthusiasm for putting Ayrshire’s amphibians and reptiles firmly on the map.

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