Flylady Photography by Wendy Cooper

A Bit of a Surprise!

Blogs on my Local Patch > A Bit of a Surprise!
18/10/2015 - 13:35

 Well back at the end of September, I went for a little wander on the Local Patch, to see what was about. It was a warm sunny afternoon and far too nice to be indoors.

Most of the butterflies had disappeared, with just a few Small Whites and Commas appearing here and there, some were nectaring on a few remaining thistle heads or hawkbit.  I could hear a lot of the birds - Wrens, Long Tailed tits, Great and Blue as well, Dunnocks and even a couple of Chiff Chaffs, however, these were only giving brief glimpses and staying mainly tucked away inside the Blackthorn bushes whilst chattering away.  There were also quite a few Goldfinch flitting from tree to tree and feeding busily.  Robins had also started to sing again from previous perches, renewing their territories.  

Comma Butterfly

Small White Butterfly

 

I decided to have a stroll along the edge of the meadow, where there is a small brook, bordered by banks of brambles and very young oak trees.  The path is also bordered by fairly tall grasses, thistles and common hogweed stands, all good for minibeast spotting and also for birds feeding in the hogweed.

Along the brook, there were a fair few Common Darters about, both male and female, although none of the males would settle, I stopped to watch a female, perched on a hogweed stem, munching away quite happily on a small snack

Female Common Darter dining out.

 

After she had finished munching, she took off and then settled in a particularly warm spot on a fallen tree trunk.  The tree used to be a favourite lookout for the Kestrels, however, it came down a few years ago.  There is not a great deal of it remaining, that which is, is devoid of bark and mined with (I think) beetle holes.  The wood has weathered and is a silvery colour, as it is in the sun all day, it is quite a hot spot and I have often seen Darters and butterflies basking there as well a various other insects scuttling about along the trunk. 

A quick sunbathe...

 

As I turned to continue my walk, a sudden movement on the trunk caught my eye.  I looked to see what it may have been.. nope, nothing, seeing things! So I waited a moment, peering at the log and suddenly, another movement,  I did a bit of a double take, blinked and looked again more carefully; there in front of me was a Common Lizard basking in the sunshine and watching me quite warily.  

My first Common Lizard! (F)

 

As I stood, a short distance away and taking care not to block their sunshine, I could gradually see more and more Lizards basking and running around on the log - they are fast!  Once they realised that I was no threat, I was able to get some very good views and managed to get a few presentable photographs of them at various life stages - my curiosity had been lit!

 

Common Lizards can be found in mostly dry, open, undisturbed places with good exposure to the sun and are often found on commons, in open woodland, heathland, on moors and occasionally in boggy areas.  They enjoy anywhere south facing as they use the warmth to raise their body temperature and become active to hunt for small insects and spiders to feed on.  In the winter months they hibernate either in leaf litter or deep underground, before emerging in the spring to begin courtship and mating.  The young are usually born in late summer, which would account for the number of hatchlings that I saw, although when I returned a few weeks later, these had grown bigger rapidly!

 

Watching the Lizards basking, I could see that there were a selection of various colours and sizes amongst them.  There were quite a few hatchlings - Common Lizards are viviparous, meaning that they give birth to live young, instead of laying eggs, as Sand or Wall lizards do.  When the young are born, they are black, fading to a copper colour with hints of the adult markings;

Hatchling Lizard.

 The lizards' markings and colourings are quite variable and it can be a little tricky to tell the males and females apart,  from what I understand, the males generally have small black and white flecks and the females have a dark vertebral line and flanks; their colours range from brown to tan to ginger, green or grey, with on occasion, a black melanistic variant being seen. (in the photographs I have tentativley added an F or M, as despite peering closely at the images I was not entirely certain!)

Common Lizard (M)

 

In the early part of the year, during the mating season, the males will chase or fight with each other, but this extended family colony appeared to be existing quite sociably together.

 

 

One of the things that I did notice, was that quite a few of the lizards had damage to their tails.  As a defence mechanism, Lizards are able to shed all or part of their tail by contracting the muscles at a suitable point (the detached part apparently may still move for a short while ) as a distraction or escape from predators.  The tail will eventually grow back, although this is a slow process and the new tail will be a slightly different colour to the rest of the Lizard.

Lizard with a (relatively) new shortened tail.

A pair of lizards where the tails have regrown, note the 'join' and the different colouration.

As with many reptiles, Lizards also give themselves a complete 'makeover' from time to time, by shedding their skin to reveal a bright, shiny and fresh looking set of colours.  Most of the old skin will slough away in one piece, but on a few of the Lizards I saw, there were still a few tatters left around their feet.  

(above and below)

Both of these show signs of recently sloughing their skins - look carefully around the rear feet.  

(larger views here https://flic.kr/p/zB9TYp and  https://flic.kr/p/yZMfyV )

 

The Lizards were not only basking on the log, but I also noticed a few of them clambering and lounging about in some of the nearby vegetation, enjoying the last of the afternoon's sunshine.  These were the views I had as I departed:

 

 

Common Lizards are one of our few native reptiles and are a protected species, however, as with any animal or insect that I encounter, their wellbeing comes first and so I observe, with respect, from a distance with minimal disturbance.

 

For more images of the local Lizard colony, have a little browse over here on Flickr.

 

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