You play a big part in my eco education – thanks

A COUPLE of weeks ago in this column I warned of the dangers of an invasion of harlequin ladybirds and speculated it was probably only a matter of time before it happened.

I then got an email from a very helpful lady who runs the National Invasive Species Database at the Biodiversity Centre on the WIT campus in Waterford. She said there was a second Irish sighting last September and, after it was verified by experts, an Invasive Species Alert was posted.

The first recorded sighting in 2007 was in a head of celery imported into a Tesco supermarket in Co Antrim and, because it was an import, and the ladybird was killed, it didn’t trigger an alert. The second occurred in 2009, when one was found in a kitchen on the Ards Peninsula in Co Down and because this one could have flown in from the wild it triggered the alert. The species is rampant in Britain at present and the north-east of Ireland offers the shortest sea crossing for an invasive winged insect.

When I get emails from readers I try to acknowledge them and make some comments on the contents. But about a month ago I asked people to let me know whether they thought cuckoos were more plentiful this year. I got such a huge response that I haven’t been able to reply to all of them. I apologise for this but I would like to assure everyone who bothered to contact me that I read everything and the information was very valuable.

A couple of readers said they hadn’t heard the cuckoo this year and, in fact, hadn’t heard one for many years. But over 90% of the responses either said they’d heard one calling for the first time in many years or that they’d heard far more than normally. The information confirmed my suspicion that 2010 has been a good year for a declining species. Thanks for your help.

Now, I’m going to tell you a wildlife story. It’s not the most exciting wildlife story you’ve ever heard but I’m going to tell you anyway. Last week a frog took up residence in our water feature. Built last year, it consists of a modest rockery on the patio. There’s a small pool – about the size of a wash-hand basin – at the top and a larger one, a bit larger than a bath tub, at its base. The two are connected by a waterfall, which of course is driven by a submersible pump. The three goldfish that survived the big freeze live in the lower pool.

The frog arrived during the very hot weather and spends most of the day under a clump of heather that grows in the splash zone where it’s cool and moist. It takes the occasional dive into the pool but, like all Irish frogs outside the breeding season, it’s basically a land animal.

It emerges in the early evening and climbs the rockery, showing quite an amazing ability to ascend nearly vertical cliffs. I assume that it’s going hunting. To be able to watch a wild animal at close quarters over a period of time is a real privilege and demonstrates the value of a garden pond or a water feature in a wildlife garden.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the frog arrived from the west. A couple of hundred metres to the west of my house the limestone soil changes abruptly to peat. Frogs take on the colour of their environment. Mine is dark brown, the colour of the bog. The frogs that come from the rich grasslands to the east are green with a yellowish tinge.

* dick.warner@examiner.ie

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