Author Topic: More small animal nosalgia - from Gyppo  (Read 1773 times)

Offline Gyppo

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More small animal nosalgia - from Gyppo
« on: February 28, 2007, 06:25:49 PM »
I've seen smaller frog/toad migrations since, measured in the few dozens, but many of the ponds and swampy areas around here have been drained and built upon, or sometimes just built upon, to the horror of the new and perhaps gullible houseowners when it rains heavily.

When I was at Junior school our teachers could rely on the local kids to find almost anything live for a biology lesson.  it was no hardship if she asked "Can anyone bring in a toad, some newts, and perhaps a slow-worm?"  Then one of the kids from the dozen or so remaining huts of the 'Polish Camp' (A former Army Barracks which had been turned into a DP camp) would ask if she needed any more lizards, or baby mice, or a dead adder or two.  One of the older Polish Dads killed adders quite regularly and skinned them.  According to his son he sold the skins, which may or may not have been true.

After school the intrepid hunters would fan out and the next day most of the pre-ordered aninals would be there, and a few unexpected ones as well.  Most were released alive after class.  Some probably died from being released in the wrong places, but we meant well.

School always had a big tank full of frogspawn, or a few strings of toad spawn, and once they had hatched the tadpoles would be fed a lump of beef from the school kitchen.  They attacked it like Pirhanas, fighting for their share.  Once the frogs/toads were big enough a few would be transferred to another tank to grow on into full sized creatures whilst one of the teachers would select three of four volunteers to take a car ride with the tank and release them into the local lake.  Compettition for that job was intense.

Most of the hunting grounds are now built up, but for many years I've known where to find a Kingfisher nest tucked away in a wee triangular fragment of water meadow landlocked between a motorway, its adjoining slip road, and an ugly great building.  Hardly anyone ever goes there now and I don't intrude too often, perhaps only four or five times a year, but a few months back I swore my eldest daughter to secrecy and showed her.  I trust her to keep the secret and use it wisely.  (When she was about four I showed her a clutch of baby partridges huddled togeter in the furrow of a ploughed field, their camouflage almost perfect.  If they hadn't been hungry and chirping softly for food I would probably have missd them.  She never even told her mother until years later...)

In the Summer it is a riot of wild flowers, and there are even Muntjac deer coming down to the water's edge to drink.  The air is tainted with the diesel fumes from passing lorries and the river- except when flushed clean by a good spate - is often littered with debris from the factories a mile or so upstream, but the animals are so undisturbed that the occasional presence of a stealthy and well-intentioned human doesn't bother them.

So far I've avoided taking my camera.  It's a special place, for pictures in the mind, not on film.

I used to fish for trout in a deep hole in this section - when it was still part of the open farmland.  The hole is more of a shallow dip these days since the bank eroded and fell in, but it is home to shoals of darting silvery minnows.  No wonder the Kingfishers nest there, with a ready larder right below their hole in the bank.

I once saw a heron fishing there in the moonlight.  Probably gorging himself on the shoals of elvers which wriggle upstream every year in search of the home ponds which are no longer there.

When I sit there long enough to fade into the background I can sometimes tune-out the motorway noises and it's like my own personal time machine...

You can see why I don't tell many people where it is.  And I never will.  If I ever have grandchildren I probably won't tell them until they're old enough to keep a secret.

At the nursery where my daughter works one of the kids found a huge great spider and bought it in to ask what it was.  The staff on duty all had a screaming fit and chased him back out, and all they told him about it was that it was 'dirty'.  If my daughter had had been in that room she would have caught it in a glass - because they give her the creeps - and they would have had an impromptu lesson about spiders.  "How many legs has it got, children?  What do you think it eats?"  Some of them would have drawn pictures.

Just a few years back I delivered mail to another nursery and found a minute baby snail on the post where I leaned my bicycle.No more than an eighth of an inch across, 4mm max for those who that system.  Now, if you've never seen a really baby snail they're fascinating.  Their shell is still transparent and you can see all their little organs inside.  If you have a magnifying glass it's even more interesting.  The little antennae and everything are all there, just in miniature.

I transferred him to a leaf and asked the nursery owner if she thought the kids would be interested.  It's a fantastic nursery, with bright enquiring kids, rather than just a dumping ground for ill-concieved little bundles who spoiled Mummy's career, and the owner welcomed her little one-footed guest with open arms.  After making her promise to put him back in the grass at the base of the post where he came from I handed him over.

Seems he was amazingly popular, and the next day kids were hanging over the fence asking if I was the 'Snail Postie'.  My managers often made similar suggestions ;-)  That was a wonderful delivery, with so much to see.  Located along the one edge of our now hugely develeoped village which hasn't really changed much over the last fifty years.

Well, time to get off the nostalgia train (steam powered of course) for a while I think.   Maybe some more another time.

Gyppo
« Last Edit: February 28, 2007, 07:32:03 PM by Gyppo »
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Gildedcage

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Re: More small animal nosalgia - from Gyppo
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2007, 06:51:22 PM »
Wow, Gyppo- that gives a whole new meaning to 'snail mail'! ;D

And what in the heck is a 'slow-worm'?

What clear images this gives... thank you for sharing it. :)

GC

Offline Gyppo

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Re: More small animal nosalgia - from Gyppo
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2007, 07:29:48 PM »
Slow worm.  A legless lizard varying in colour from a bright silver to a dark bronze.  Some people refer to it as a grass snake, but that isn't so.  The grass snake is  proper snake.

Without checking in a bookI can't say for certain, but as children we aways believed the silvery ones were the females.  Because sometimes we would turn over a pile of dead leaves, or a spare sheet of abandoned corrugated iron at the 'Polish camp' and find a fat bodied silvery slow worm surrounded by baby slow worms an inch or so long.  I never saw a bronzey one surrounded by children.

Like all lizards they don't have a fixed body temperature and slow right down in cold weather as all their bodily functions slow.  So much so that when I found one coiled up on the pavement/sidewalk one winter day I assumed it was dead and took it into school thinking our biology teacher might want to dissect it.  They did stuff like that back then and I can't ever recall being traumatised or needing counselling;-)  Anyway, back to the tale...

It was curled up tight and flat like a catherine wheel, or a bronze colored coaster, and the teacher put it one one side of his desk for later.

One of the girls was the first to suggest it was moving, and at first we all thought she joking, or imagining things.  The comparative warmth of the classroom had thawed it from the dormant state and it was unrolling itself.  The teacher put it in a box for safekeeping, and after a little unscheduled chat in which we learned about the non-fixed body temp etc we took it up the far end of the school playing field and released it onto the railway emn=mbankment.  Being thoroughly warmed up by then it swiftly wrigged away into the undegrowth

Being puzzled as to what it had been doing out on the chilly tarmac I asked 'Sir' for a possible reason.  He suggested it had been curled up in semi-hibernation amongst the dead leaves etc, and then unearthed by a marauding fox or hedgehog, which had in turn been startled and dropped it before running away.

They're a bit creepy, but not in the same class as snakes.

Gyppo     
My website is currently having a holiday, but will return like the $6,000,000 man.  Bigger, stronger, etc.

In the meantime, why not take pity on a starving author and visit my book sales page at http://stores.lulu.com/gyppo1