Everyone keeps on telling me how many frogs they’ve seen this spring: in garden borders and ponds and in the countryside – frogs everywhere. One naturalist reported counting eighty males in a spawning frenzy in a single small pool – he’d counted their white throats as they poked their heads above the water.
We saw some for ourselves when we took a walk up the Valley of Desolation in the warm sunshine of mid March. We strolled through the old deer park with its venerable oak trees still sleeping their winter sleep and approached a small pool in a depression near a new plantation where cherry trees were already in blossom. At one end of the pool frogs had gathered and large clumps of spawn bobbed in the water. The frogs seemed to be resting from their labours, and only an occasional gentle snoring noise broke the silence – nothing like the raucous croaking which friends had heard there earlier in the day.
Their description of the noise reminded me of a summer holiday in Umbria when we were staying in an old farmhouse set on a hillside amid vineyards and olive groves. There was a large irrigation dam at the bottom of the hill and, every evening, a great frog serenade would start up, clearly audible in our garden about a kilometre away. If you approached the dam the singers immediately fell silent and plopped one by one into the water. However, if you kept still and very quiet for a while, they would re-emerge, and a few well-judged frog imitations could get them going again in a huge crescendo of competing croaks.
Frogs do seem rather feckless when it comes to choosing a home for their offspring. I’ve frequently come across clumps of spawn deposited in shallow puddles in the ruts left by tractor wheels. The tadpoles face a race against time – can they develop legs and get out before their home dries out? Even in our climate, the odds are against them. Another fellow naturalist told me how pleased she was earlier this month to discover some frogspawn in a rectangular stone trough, about 36 by 18 inches, which was filled with water and stood in her back garden. A few days later she looked again and found the entire trough solid with spawn – so tightly packed that it had already begun to stiffen on the surface. Something must be done. She scooped out four bucketfuls of the slippery jelly – no mean task – and transported them to a new home on the Otley Wetlands Nature Reserve. And this still left plenty in the trough to provide next season’s chorus.