Autumn is the season when amphibians, reptiles and some mammals would normally be seeking a refuge in which to pass the winter. However, we have apparently just experienced the third warmest autumn on record and certainly we have so far seen not a sliver of ice on our garden ponds. With the weather so unseasonably mild some creatures that might have been expected to have begun their hibernation are still around. This was evidenced by a brief garden drama acted out recently. An adult frog shot from an overgrown flowerbed, crossed the patio in a series of giant leaps, ignored the safety of the nearest pond and continued down the garden to vanish into the biggest pond. The cause of its alarm followed as a hedgehog trundled across the patio, possibly oblivious to the frog’s flight although that had been justified for hedgehogs are omnivorous and well capable of tackling a frog.
Another amphibian showed up under more bizarre circumstances, a palmate newt in our downstairs toilet (pictured). I wondered whether it had explored the overflow pipe from the patio pond as a possible hibernation site, only to be washed down it after heavy rain into the sewage system from which it had clambered, choosing the incorrect pipe. I spent several days trying to rescue it, only for it to retreat around the U-bend every time I approached. Eventually, having crept up slowly, I plunged a jam jar into the water behind it. The suction dragged it into the jar and I released it into a pond with no overflow pipe, apparently none the worse for its ordeal.
I stepped outside one November morning to be greeted by the soft croaking, almost a purr, of several frogs, perhaps fooled by the mild temperatures into practising for the spring. There have been recent reports of frogs breeding up to five months early, with frogspawn seen in Cornwall in the final week of November, the earliest recorded in a decade. Such spawn is very unlikely to survive and as frogs only mate once a year they would be unable to do so again in the spring, so I hope our local frogs are not fooled into similar behaviour. We really need a few frosts and a freezing over of ponds to persuade both frogs and hedgehogs to bed down for the winter.
Wharfedale Naturalists’ Society