Artist, and Pond Conservation’s favourite froggy photographer - Julia Page, speaks about her pond, and the joy it has brought.
Moving house is always traumatic and sometimes heartbreaking. That's how it was for us back in September of the year 2000 when we had to leave behind our garden pond and its fifty plus froggy occupants. There wasn't a pond at the new property, so shortly after we moved in, I made one, stood back and waited. No frogs came though and by March of the following year my pond lay silent and still.
One morning, approaching our local bus stop, I noticed a very large clump of frog spawn just lying on the pavement in front of me. I wondered how this strangely Biblical deposit might have arrived as there were no ponds in the immediate vicinity and the blob looked far too big and heavy for a heron to carry. When I got off the bus on the way home the spawn was still there so I quickly scooped it up into a handy carrier bag, brought it home and triumphantly plopped it into the waiting pond. Two or three weeks later, hey presto! Lots of tadpoles were happily swimming around and we haven't looked back since. Some mature frogs soon discovered the pond and laid spawn the following year and it wasn't too long before frogs of all sizes were visiting and claiming the pond as their own. Other creatures arrived too, such as newts, damsel flies, dragon flies, daphnia and water snails. Many birds have visited including some rarer species such as a redpoll and in May time, our pond becomes a starling jacuzzi!
Sometimes the spray whizzing up in the air at one of their sessions looks like we've acquired a dramatic new water feature. The pond is also a vital watering hole for local foxes especially in the warm, dry weather of summer when we frequently notice a significant lowering of the water level overnight.
Our not so new pond has been going for over twelve years now and the annual highlight is the first mild day at the end of February when I can get my camera out and photograph the pond coming to life again after the long, cold winter months. This year though, because we experienced a SECOND winter in March, our frog friends retreated for five or six more freezing weeks. Happily, they've just re-appeared to complete unfinished business and looking completely unaffected by the topsy-turvy season. I find that they are very willing photographic models especially if I get right down to their level and CROAK ! It is the shear variety of their faces that is so intriguing, each one having their own individual expression. Even after such a prolonged and bitter spell of weather, their infectious smiles tell me that nature is very resilient and all is well in Frog World.
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British journalist and author, Celia Haddon talks about her toad rescuing exploits
Dusk falls. The deer move out of the bushes to graze in the field across the way, the rabbits come out to play, and Caspar the village Bengal cat goes hunting up the road verges. Only the local buses and cars disturb the peace with their lights and roaring engines.
It is a tiny yelping noise that tells me that the toads, like the deer, are moving out of the bushes at the top of the hill. Slowly, they crawl down through the fields and the gardens, seeking their native pond, as they have done for thousands of years.
One of modern life’s realities, however, is evident in the busy road that lies between them and their pond. Several squashed bodies of these amphibians are a sign that this ancient mating journey is now threatened as never before.
Luckily for the toads, Matthew and Harriet who live in the village come out with buckets to help them cross in safety. I am one of several volunteers who are part of their team.
I wear gloves so that my hands do not hurt their cold-blooded amphibian skin with my warm blooded mammalian heat. I carry a torch so that I can see them in vegetation – and also for safety so that the relentless traffic sees me. Once I have spotted a toad, I pick it up, put it in my bucket, and place it through the barbed wire on the other side of the road where they can crawl across the final field to their pond.
We see them laboriously crawling down the road trying to find a gap in the fence where they can get through to the pond. Or they appear in the middle of the road, helpless in the glare of headlights. Most pathetic are the large fat female toads, slow and weighed down with eggs.
Some already have a sex-mad small male clamped on their backs. This embrace is the amplexus, whereby the male positions himself so that when the female reaches the pond he can eject the sperm on her eggs before any other male gets to her.
In my area frogs usually mate before the toads, so that mis-matings do not occur – though I have seen a witless frog purring away for a mate surrounded by toads yelping. The two species cannot interbreed so this difference in timing is Nature’s way of preventing useless effort.
Patrolling this small Cotswold village from about 5pm onwards until complete darkness falls, is inspirational for me. Across the field, yelps from the pond tell of group sex, an explosive orgy in which the males scramble to dislodge their competitors and a female may be weighted down by the sheer number of males attached to her body.
The curtains of the cottages are drawn tight. Men and women withdraw and nature moves into the space they leave. Silence falls with the dusk and I think how lucky I am to be alive and part of nature.
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