Teme Valley Musings, August 2022

by Stephanie Mocroft

The wildlife interest brought by a pond makes it one of the most worthwhile assets that an eco-friendly gardener can create. Our garden pond was dug more than thirty years ago but we continue to be surprised by the range and diversity of both its residents and its visitors. We particularly enjoy the aerial displays provided by dragon- and damselflies and are delighted to see eleven species, but we also have larger flying visitors such as birds and bats which are attracted by what the pond can offer. Whether they come to drink, bathe or fish they are all very welcome.

During lock-down we had more time than usual to observe pond-life and spent the sunny spring of 2020 watching and wondering why hundreds of hairy shield-bugs were scurrying up and down the stems of our cotton-grass. Once at the top they busily combed its silky flower-heads. Hairy shield-bugs are not hairy as adults and rather confusingly have been given this name because they are apparently hairy in their youth. However, they are said to be commonly found sitting on a variety of seed heads so perhaps it is not surprising that they like our fluffy pond side plants.

In 2022, for the first time, we spotted a caddisfly larva which had covered itself in bright green segments cut from the stems of a soft rush. The segments were of equal size, about half a centimetre in length, and the insect hidden inside this odd carapace was able to move at remarkable speed. Doubtless it has been resident for ages, we had just not noticed it before.

Sometimes we see unfamiliar behaviour from regular pond visitors. If May happens to bring a sunny day, it is not uncommon to spot a grass snake swimming or cooling off in the water. With head up like a periscope and body flowing in the shape of a calligraphic arabesque, such visits have previously been brief and the snake has disappeared rapidly once sighted. May 2022 brought a lengthy display of swimming skills provided not by one, but by two grass snakes, who boldly powered around and across our pond. Each was over two feet long and one was of broader diameter than the other.

It soon became clear that they had chosen the pond for a tryst. They left the water to curl up together and were oblivious to their human observers. Afterwards, a bit more competitive sculling in the water brought their antics to a close. I had previously attributed the loss of toads from our pond to congestion by plants or to the presence of great-crested newts. Now, I wonder if our reptilian visitors spend rather more time there than I thought and have taken some clandestine amphibian meals. Clearly a lot of wildlife activity proceeds without garden owners ever having any knowledge of it.