Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Ponds Part 4 - Fauna

As a final part of the pond series, we would like to tell you a little bit about the diverse fauna that we observed in and around our pond this past year.

Although we did nothing apart from digging the pond and planting a few plants, the explosion of wildlife around the pond and, actually around our whole property as a result has been breathtaking. The speed at which the individual animals conquered their new territory was especially astounding.

After digging the pond, the trench that was to take the overflow of water had quite a bit of water left standing in it due to some residual ice melt and general pooled water. Only 24 hrs after the excavator had left the site, I observed some Water Boatman doing their jerky little motions in the water. I really have no idea how these critters got there so quickly and can only assume that they were there the whole time. I guess just never saw them due to the high grass and rushes filling the trench.

Within a couple of days, we started to hear the ribbiting of frogs and have since observed three different type of frogs inhabiting the pond. One is the leopard frog, which is in my opinion the most stunning of them all. The camouflage pattern is so striking it can only be described as beautiful.

Pic 1: Leopard Frog

The second type of frog are the peepers. These frogs are very small, maybe half the size of my thumb and quite skittish. Their sound is unmistakable though. It is moire of a vibrato whistle than the traditional "ribbit" you might be used to. These frogs are very prominent in New Brunswick. A friend of mine and I were fishing one day and decided to try a little deadwater adjacent to the lake we were on. After we navigated our boat into the deadwater I was unable to hear what my friend was saying due to the enormous amount of breeding peepers. These things get LOUD!!

The third type of frog we discovered is the Bullfrog. Their sound is also quite unmistakable. I really don't know how to describe it. Maybe like a heavy piece of furniture moved over a wooden floor. But listen for yourselves here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M02_dnl9zCA).

Some of the frogs made it as far as our doorstep and we found them frequently sitting among our tomatoes and other veggies which grow around the higher parts of the slope above the pond. Which is great, because frogs also eat slugs. We definetly had very, very few slugs this year.

The good thing about the frogs is that they will eat mosquitoes, and, although I wasn't sure what to expect after we built the pond with respect to those little blood suckers, I must say we have had less of them than in previous years. I have since learned that mosquitoes prefer breeding in small puddles rather than deep ponds, which would explain the drop in population since we removed most of their beautiful, shallow breeding grounds by excavating the swamp.

On the other hand, we increased the population of dragonflies. While we always had a couple of the large green dragonflies hovering over our ground, this summer there was a lot more of them. There were also different types of damselflies. My entomology skills go as far as distinguishing between a dragon- and a damselfly, but I have no idea what species they were. Some of them had beautiful black spots at their wing tips with striking blue bodies. Others were pitch black with silvery gossamer wings.  I think we have seen as many as 5-7 different types, all still to be properly identified. And all of them are predators and also eat these pesky mozzies. You might be seeing a pattern here....

I was hoping that maybe a couple of ducks would start breeding in the pond, but this year only one female mallard used the pond as a quick resting place and took off again some time later that same day. Maybe this year the pond will be more established and more suited to host some water birds.

Although we did not stock any fish in the pond yet, a blue heron tried to find some food by patiently sitting on the side of the pond and staring into the water. I am not sure whether he made off with some of the enormous tadpoles or whether he decided to try his/her luck elsewhere.

Another addition to our site this year was an eastern kingbird (with the wonderful charming latin name of Tyrannus tyrannus). Despit its latin name, the kingbird is rather small, not even the size of a woodpecker with a white belly and a grey back. Its head looks like it is wearing a black vigilante mask.

Pic 2: Eastern kingbrid (Tyrannus tyrannus)

I first noticed the bird perching quietly on top of a young fir tree. The second time he made a bit more of a splash...literally. I noticed large rings on top of the pond, and, as a passionate flyfisher, that seemingly benign event triggers a biological response known only from other predatory animals like cats when they see the tail end of a mouse disappear around a corner. I was perplexed. There are no fish in our pond. So how can I see fish jump? I sat down and watched. After about a minute or so, I saw the little kingbird approaching low over the rushes and splash right into the water just to get back out and sit on the fence behind. This behaviour was repeated several times until the bird decided it was time to chill for a while.

Kingbirds are flycatchers, which means that they catch their prey in mid flight like a bat. I have observed this bird to do exactly that later. He would sit on a fencepost and every now and then shoot into the air and do a double somersault producing a faint *click* sound with his beak. I am not sure whether the diving into the water was also to catch prey (tadpoles) or whether it was a way of bathing. Maybe somebody can clear this mystery up for me.

Birds in general seem to love the water and we are frequently visited by whole flocks of starlings and sparrows which come to either bath or drink before continuing on to wherever they fly to.

Pic 3: Grackles taking a break (a bit hard to see, but every dark spot is a bird)

I mentioned that there are no fish in our pond yet. I will try to introduce some minnows this year to establish a food source for some bigger fish, which I might introduce into the system at a later stage. I want to be certain however, that my oxygen levels and the depth is sufficient to support larger fish before I go dumping them in there. 

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