Chris Mattison Wildlife Photographer
Chris Mattison Wildlife Photographer
Chris Mattison Wildlife Photographer
Chris Mattison Wildlife Photographer

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Midwife Toads re-visited

Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans

A male midwife toad carrying eggs, photographed in North Spain some years ago. Probably Alytes obstetricans boscai

Since posting the original version of this blog we have been back to the colony and found two males carrying eggs in their late stages of development.  I have added a couple of new photos towards the end of the blog. 

The Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans, gets its English and scientific names from its breeding method, in which males carry strings of eggs around their hind limbs. Its natural distribution covers much of western Europe but several colonies have become naturalised in England.  One of these is in a small village on the South Yorkshire – Nottinghamshire border, quite close to where I live.

The toads there live in stone walls, using small chinks in the stonework to hide during the day and emerging at night to call, feed and breed. A small group – reportedly five toads and about a dozen tadpoles – were apparently brought to the area in 1947 and released into a private garden.  They seemed to disappear and the colony was forgotten about until the 1980s, when they were found again, by which time they had spread throughout part of the village.  Though rarely seen, they are often heard making their soft but persist “ooo ooo ooo” calls in the evening as it gets dark.

Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans

Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans

I was fortunate to be taken to the colony by a local resident recently and, though the conditions seemed too cold for amphibians, they started to tune up as dusk fell and by the time it was completely dark the full concert was under way.  Calls could be heard from every direction, far and near.  Around the same time we started to see individuals emerging from their daytime hideaways and before the night was over we had found eleven, including adults, sub-adults and juveniles.

Male plus eggs

Male Midwife Toad carrying a string of well-developed eggs.

Hatching eggs

Male Midwife Toad with well-developed eggs beginning to hatch.

Taxonomic note: midwife toads belong to the family Alytidae, which also contains the painted frogs.  The are five midwife toad species, all in the genus Alytes.  One of them, A. muletensis, occurs on the island of Mallorca and was only discovered in the 1970s, and another, A. maurus, lives in Morocco.  Two of the remaining three species, A. cisternasii and A. dickhilleni, occur only on the Iberian Peninsula while the remaining species, A. obstetricans, known as the Common Midwife Toad, has a wide distribution over western Europe.  This species has been divided into several subspecies, differences between them being slight (as, indeed, are the differences between the full species).  Identification of species and subspecies is made much simpler if their origin is known although there are areas where the ranges of the Common Midwife toad and the Iberian Midwife Toad overlap.

It is assumed that the English colonies originate from the nominate form, A. obstetricans obstetricans, which occurs naturally in France and neighbouring countries.

Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans

Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans

Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans

Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans

 

Majorcan midwife toad, Alytes muletensis

Mallorcan midwife toad, Alytes muletensis

 

En-crustaceans: Another Place for barnacles

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After spending an enjoyable but unproductive day at the Ainsdale Nature Reserve on the Merseyside coast looking for signs that the natterjack toads had started breeding (they hadn’t) we decided to use the last couple of hours of the day to re-visit Antony Gormley’s installation on the beach at Crosby, a few miles south.  Named “Another Place” it consists of 100 figures spread over a two mile stretch of the beach, each figure being a life-size replica of the artist.

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Statue head with barnacles

More to the point, the figures are submerged in the ocean at high tide and, as a result, have built up an impressive encrustation of marine invertebrates, mostly barnacles and mussels.  The barnacles are not one of our native species, but an invasive one, Austrominius modestus, (previously known as Elminius modestus) originating in Australia and first arriving on the British coast during the Second World War, probably in bilge water of visiting ships.  In the 70-odd years since, it has spread around the coast.  Prior to the “Another Place” installation it would have had little chance of colonising the Crosby shoreline as there are no rocks or other solid surfaces on which it could have settled.  The presence of 100 cast-iron statues changed all that so I suppose you could say that thanks to Mr Gormley the barnacles have found “Another Place” in which to live.

Barnacles, Austrominius modestus, an invasive species, growing on one of the statues

Barnacles, Austrominius modestus, an invasive species, growing on one of the statues

 

For the sake of completeness, these are the native acorn barnacles, Balanus balanoides, photographed in Northumberland

For the sake of comparison, these are the native acorn barnacles, Semibalanus balanoides, photographed in Northumberland

Zoological note: despite their appearance, barnacles are crustaceans, related to shrimps, crabs and so on.  They occur in three basic forms: acorn barnacles, one of which is the subject of this article, and which are encased in four or six hard bony plates with a small aperture at the top; goose barnacles, characterised by a long “neck”; and a parasitic barnacle, Sacculina carcini, that attaches itself to crabs, especially the shore crab, and looks like a little yellow bean stuck to its underside.

Photographically-speaking barnacles are not among the most challenging subjects.  To all intents and purposes they don’t move, and they are often stuck to a flat surface, so depth of field is not a problem as long as they are perfectly aligned.  A macro lens helps, as does a tripod.  If you stand the tripod in damp sand be sure to rinse it off in fresh water as soon as possible to prevent a build-up of grit and corrosion.

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A couple of good eggs

Leopard snake, Zamenis situla, hatching

Leopard snake, Zamenis situla, hatching

A new arrival gets his (or her) first view of the world.  60 days previously he was one of four eggs laid by a female leopard snake.  With very few exceptions, notably the pythons, snakes do not display any parental care.  Once the female has laid her eggs, in a moist, secluded place such as a cavity under a rock or log, or in decaying vegetation, she takes no further interest in them.  

Hatchling number two puts in an appearance.

Hatchling number two puts in an appearance.

The young snakes often remain in their eggs for several hours, or even days, after they have created a slit in the shell, seemingly recovering from the effort of hatching and waiting for an opportune moment to slide out and disperse into the surrounding countryside.

Leopard snake, Zamenis situla with clutch of recently laid eggs.

Leopard snake, Zamenis situla with clutch of recently laid eggs.

Leopard snakes occur in southern Europe, including Italy, Greece and several Mediterranean islands. They are among the most attractive European snakes and feed on small rodents such as mice and voles, which they are ideally equipped to follow into their burrows and nests.

The photographs are of captive animals: the chances of discovering a snake in the process of laying its eggs in the wild are almost non-existent – catching one in the act of hatching is even less likely.

 

Breighton Bucker-fest and fly-in, 2013

Note: This post has been moved. I have decided to restrict this blog to wildlife photography and similar subjects. I have set up a new blog here that will covers other interests, including aviation.  

Mull report

Basalt rock formations, Staffa

This year our workshop on Mull had mixed weather – two glorious days, two rather wet and windy days and two days with a bit of each, but we found plenty to photograph, as usual, and on days when photography was not possible we held Photoshop and Lightroom tutorials, largely thanks to Alex Hyde, who came along as a third tutor this year.

Puffin on Lunga, Treshnish Isles

Puffin on Lunga, Treshnish Isles

As usual, we had a full day on the water photographing a white-tailed sea eagle and a long day on Lunga, with everyone’s favourites, the puffins.  Other activities included visits to the standing stones on the Glengorm Estate, within walking distance of our accommodation in two of the estate’s comfortable and well-equipped cottages, a couple of seashore visits and an attempt to photograph orchids, although the late spring made them more difficult to find this year.  The outstanding display of thrift, however, more than made up for this, as did the bluebells at several locations, the first time we have been on Mull when these were at their peak.

Sea ivory, a lichen, growing on the rocks at Grass Point

Sea ivory, a lichen, growing on the rocks at Grass Point

Feedback from the participants has been favourable and we will be running a similar event in June 2015.  Please contact me or Nick Garbutt to register an interest or to leave a deposit for a firm booking.  We look forward to seeing you!

American West Coast gallery added

Hall of Mosses, Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington state, USA.

I have just added a new gallery American West Coast to display some of the photographs taken on a trip to this interesting and varied region back in 2008.  Sorry it’s taken so long!