Nature Notes

Jenny Dixon

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

SPRING was approaching nicely at the beginning of last week till the arrival of Doris and accompanying wind, lashing rain, and a dramatic drop in temperature. However, as I look out at the garden with snowdrops and crocuses in full display, daffodils budding in the tubs and flowers on the witch hazel, I’m still feeling hopeful. On February 19th my sister in Scotland phoned to say the frogs were gathering at her garden pond and – the next day – there was the first spawn. In fact, the previous day she’d found clumps of spawn in the puddles on a forestry track nearby. Every year reckless amphibians take the risk of laying there. I suppose, in the urgent drive to reproduce, the muddy shallow warmth cancels out the risk of drying out. I’ve found similar jellied clusters in tractor tracks on our moors – though, not surprisingly given the altitude and exposed situation, later in the year.

For me, the appearance of spawning frogs is a reassuring sign of Spring: the males in full chorus, their heads with characteristic white chin patches bobbing just above the water like so many decorative lights. I’ve been scanning my new pond anxiously – but no sign yet. I have to remind myself that Sister lives on the west coast and at sea level. It’s different here. I say “reassuring sign” because our frog and toad populations are in decline. When I was a child, every schoolroom seemed to have its tank of tadpoles. I had an aquarium improvised from an enamel washing-up bowl of pond water sunk into the flowerbed outside the living-room window and carefully furnished with a sandy floor, some weed for hiding in and a few protruding stones to enable froglets to escape. We collected the spawn from Bleach Mill Dam at Burley Woodhead. In those days this was a sizeable, rather murky, pond. We children firmly believed that it had unfathomed depths and treated it with caution. Later it entirely dried out to reveal the truth – a shallow saucer!

Nowadays such wanton collecting is discouraged. It diminishes an already dwindling population and spreads the disease that – together with habitat loss – is probably responsible for the population decline. It’s certainly more important to make more ponds – even a small one like mine or a dustbin lid sunk into the earth – is a help. Frogs will eventually find it and you’ll have the pleasure of observing that amazing lifecycle in a natural setting. Certainly, I’m hoping to do so.