Ear to the Ground - nature notes with Steve Blacksmith: The temperature regulates when things appear...

Winter planted seeds
Winter planted seeds

You might tend to believe all you read in print, which could be a mistake if you read in the Yorkshire Post the piece (April 11) about amphibians and the phenomenon of the toad migration.

Sam Moore, on toad patrol at Portsmouth Fishing Lake, above Cornholme, carefully provided the reporter with plenty of facts, of which some were then somewhat lost in the translation.

Amphibians are NOT scaly, none of them, and 5C is far too cold to start Common Toads moving. They need at least 8C, and most move when it’s over 10C. I have seen a Common Frog hopping around in a chilly 4C.

Otherwise it was a good article, and publicised the need to conserve endangered species near home, not just in far-flung places.

Sam did have the coup of getting BBC Radio 4 to come and record the cute little chirping calls of the male toads and broadcast it as the “Tweet of the Day” early one morning (usually a bird is featured.)

The toad breeding migration has finished now for the season, and we volunteers can have our evenings back ( the toads mostly start coming on to the roads at dusk.)

This year, at the site I help picking up the little creatures at Boulderclough, Sowerby, the season was from March 30 to April 14, but it can start earlier if the evenings are above 8C.

All together, about 3015 toads were counted this year at 8 sites in Calderdale, five of these being in the Upper Valley, the biggest site being at Portsmouth.

More volunteers are needed here next year, as Sam reported 100s of toads killed on the main A646 Burnley Road, which he and his team couldn’t stretch to.

Put a note in your diary for next year, you fit and active nature lovers.

lI had a nice surprise with a pot of tree seeds I sowed over a year ago.

We ate a delicious bag of fresh apricots from the market, and I kept all the stones and sowed them in some good compost.

The label said February 2014, and they all burst into life in March 2015.

A lot of trees that are adapted to cold winters are like this. The seeds need to be kept outside in the winter damp and cold for at least one winter.

In my apricots’ case they had one and a bit winters and came up in the second spring.

The cold sets up the correct conditions within the seed for it to germinate when the warmth of spring finally comes. Maybe it was the lovely warm spell we experienced in April that did the trick.

Gardeners and foresters call this process stratification, after the way the seeds are laid up in bulk in layers in sandy leaf mould, then spread out in nursery rows after they start sprouting.

My little pots of tree seeds get a single layer of large stone chippings over them to stop rain washing the compost out.

Apricots don’t have showy blossom, and the fruit needs a warm summer to ripen, but it’s worth a try.

They fruit as quite small trees but need a warm, south facing wall to ripen fruit in the north of England, where they should be trained flat with a fan system of branches.

The books encourage me by saying they come true from seed, so I could get the same delicious apricots as the ones I got the seeds from.

The trees can be grown in large pots, stood out in the cold of winter, then brought into a greenhouse to ripen the fruit, but there are chores involved in that course of action, not least the watering.

l A birding friend of mine from Halifax, Andy Cockroft, was doing some surveys around the South Pennine SPA (Special Protection Area)in April and with skill and perseverance found seven Dotterel in a field above Bacup Road in Todmorden.

They are always a much sought after bird in spring as they rest on their way north to the Scottish Highlands where they breed.

A traditional place they are found in May is on Pendle Hill, just over in Lancashire.

Other places they have rested in Calderdale are Crow Hill, Sowerby, and Soil Hill, Ogden.

They have grey and chestnut plumage, with a narrow white line across the middle of their breast, and strong white eyebrow (supercilium) lines that meet at the nape.

They were more numerous at one time, and parties of sportsmen would gather on the farmland of East Yorkshire just to bag this plover- like bird.

There is a moorland pub near Reighton still bearing the name “The Dotterel”. It was built to accommodate the shooters.

It’s interesting in being one of those species, like the Phalaropes, in which the male does all the incubating and guarding of the chicks, leaving the female free to roam and find other males to fertilise other clutches.

Consequently, she is the one with bright plumage, while the males are dowdy and camouflaged to help him protect his brood.

Two other bits of trivia about the Dotterel are that a party of them is referred to as a “trip”, and that their breast feathers were much sought after by fly fishermen for creating artificial flies.

lFinally this month, there will be a plant sale just off the canal bank in Hebden Bridge on Saturday, May 9 from 10am to 2pm.

At Helen Blackwell’s Garden, with coffee and home-made cakes.

It’s upstream of the town centre, near the locks.