Thursday, 23 September 2021
A MOVEMENT in the damp grass caught my eye.
Blending in with blades of grass shiny from the rain was a young common frog, rana temporaria, only 2cm long but perfectly formed with angular knees and eye ridge, shiny green and brown.
I bent down to capture it to show to the children and it hopped right over my hands (so it was a frog), leaping the equivalent of 20m for a human.
Unless I kept it completely enclosed, froglet found a chink in my cupped hands and hopped out every time, so that it seemed cruel to keep it confined. I set it down in the wet grass and it sat still at last, in surprise or contentment, before climbing uphill and under the foliage.
It was a young frog because it was stripy and hopped, not slimy but soft and light to hold.
If it had been a toad it would have been spottier, wartier, more rounded and less hoppy, although they too will make a leap for freedom if confined.
How had it climbed hundreds of metres uphill from the pools in the strath and avoided the hungry ducks, otters, heron, badgers etc?
Well, because where there are so many, some must survive. On a warm, wet day in summer, the paths by the lochans can be hopping with newly emerged black froglets, still rounded and featureless and less than 1cm long.
Sensitive visitors, especially vegetarians, have been known to turn back from a walk, knowing that if they continue they must inadvertently crush some of the tiny amphibians.
Some years ago, when I still bought peat to enrich my poor Chiltern soil (unaware of the environmental destruction I was supporting), I seized a handful and placed it in a newly dug hole before turning back to bed the plant on top and was confronted by two beady eyes of a toad blinking through a layer of peat grains as it nested snugly in the cavity.
How could I have picked it up without noticing I had a live animal in my hand? Because it, too, was so light and soft. How long had it survived, compressed in a bale in a plastic sack, I wondered.
I was flabbergasted, so rushed to find a witness but by the time we got back it had gone.
I have never found a toad before or since on this dry Chiltern hill above Henley.
28 August 2017
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