Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Toad Charmer

Did you know the toad belongs to the anuran family? No, nor did I. But as these engaging creatures seem to be attracting my attention a lot recently, I thought I should look up a little more about them.

The common toad is not particularly rare, but less common than good old frogs! The natterjack toad, though, is not only rare but endangered. I have had three encouters with anurans recently (hey, isn't that a great name for an alien in Dr Who?). The first was a frog. (see my previous Frog Blog for more froggy tales and my own pictures.)

It was a rainy night a few weeks ago, I was walking back from the station along a main road. It was dark, drizzly and I was thoroughly fed up. Winter blues in full swing. Next to the pavement I was walking on was a wall, atop the wall an old metal railing fence. Behind the fence was a hedge, part of the garden of a house. I was looking down, keeping the rain out of my eyes, when I noticed something unusual. A huge frog! He was gorgeous - green and brown and shiny in the rain. But on a pavement next to a busy road he was likely to get squished - either by unnoticing pedestrians or, should he(she) venture the wrong direction, by unseeing traffic.

I stooped to pick him up and he scrambed towards the wall. I held him in my hand and he settled immediately (perhaps the warmth of my mammalian hands was actually rather nice to a cold frog). I lifted him to the top of the wall where the greenery poked through and the earth and safety beyond beckoned.

I held my hand flat on the wall. He turned, and instead of leaping off, just looked at me. "Go on" I said. I swear he winked, and then he hopped onto the wall, and then off into the undergrowth.

The other day, cycling back from the station (instead of walking in the rain), I came via the Heath and as I trundled over the earthy heap that separated the open paths of Therfield Heath from our road, I noticed that at the side of the path one of the brown leaves was the wrong shape. I swerved the bike so as not to squash the toad who, nicely camoflaged, had chosen a pedestrian pathway to sit upon.

I picked him up and gently set him down further in the leaves, off the main path, so that he should not get squished. Hopefully he took the hint and stayed clear of the cold tarmac. He didn't seem to object to me picking him up. Toads excrete a rather nasty substance from their skin making them unpalatable to most predators. Perhaps that's what gives them their confidence when being handled?

That was encounter number two. This morning, however, the toad came a-knocking at the door. Well, not literally, but pretty close. I opened the front door to head for the annual Thriplow Daffodil festival and there upon the doormat was a huge, swollen bellied toad. Yellow, brown and with bright eyes, it looked at me. And then continued as if to enter the house.

Now I know that yon toad would not have had such a warm welcome from other, more squeamish, members of the family, so I picked her up. Again, totally unconcerned at my touch (she didn't even puff herself up, as some do), she settled in my hand. The answer was obvious - I took her round to the back garden and set her down on the greenery next to the pond.

Toads return every year to the same pond if they can, I just hope ours was the pond she was heading for. I am sure we will be able to tell as our little pond fills up with skaters and other wiggly pond life, and -without doubt - it's annual quota of frogs and spawn. I'll keep my eye out for the strings of spawn which mean our garden toads have decided to bless us with their warty, pleasing presence once again.

Photo from BBC, more info on toads: http://www.herpetofauna.co.uk/common_toad.htm
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