Our Patch: A Frog Chorus

By on Tuesday, March 11, 2014

our_patch_sj_jarmanThere have been subtle changes all around us over the last few weeks.

As the days perceptibly become longer, I have noticed the loud churring of blue tits, and fat bumblebees are emerging and are slowly flying around trying to locate some nectar or a good place to start a new nest.

Brushing the dog seems to be an endless, daily chore, and there are flitting birds collecting the hairs minutes after we have abandoned them.

Birds flying around with twigs in their mouths are commonplace, and many of them have started donning their breeding plumage.

Many true birdsongs can be heard as the days get a little warmer – rather than the territorial shouting of the winter months, proper melodies can now be heard. I was even treated to a skylark on the wing overhead, one of the most beautiful arias to be heard in our countryside.

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One of the sounds of spring I enjoy the most is not loud and bold, and it isn’t easy to hear, but it’s still one of my favourites. If I tiptoe up to the pond I can hear a sound like a distant machine drilling or grinding, it is the song of the very amorous common frogs in our pond.

From January onwards the battle commences. Dad rings me to see if we have frogspawn in our pond on an almost daily basis – in general Dad has spawn four weeks before our lazy amphibians lay theirs!

Although there have been frequent sightings of the frogs returning to their pond, they have only just started to group together. Once again, though, common frogs are nowhere near as common as they used to be, to the extent that they are no longer really very common at all.

They are unconventional lovers. They work themselves into a frenzy in their pursuit of spawning the next generation. We can find balls of several individuals, and often there isn’t even a female, just a load of randy juveniles mistakenly grabbing each other.

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There are often casualties; most years several of the females are drowned as they are held down by males attempting to mate with them, which is particularly worrying when you consider their breeding statistics – they can’t breed until fully grown at around three to four years old, and out of every 2000 eggs produced, only around 5 survive to adulthood. Take into account the number of ponds being filled in, and you can see amphibians need our help.

Our greatest concern is that last year (remember the weather?) our entire crop of frogspawn was lost to the ice and snow. They never spawned a second brood, so in our pond there were NO new frogs to add to the population.

This year, we are going to try to help by taking some of the frogspawn from the pond and allowing it to develop protected in a fish tank, in the hope that we can raise as many as possible to the froglet stage before returning them to the garden.

Although many will still be predated (I think our resident blackbirds consider them a delicacy), hopefully this will give a boost to a damaged population.

We are confident that it will be safe for us to do this as the spawn will be removed from our pond, and the froglets re-released there; there will be access for the froglets to escape the water; we will only be using water from our own pond, so there will be no cross-contamination from other water sources; and we will ensure lots of algae is allowed to grow onto the side of the tank for the newly emerged tadpoles to eat.

Please don’t consider removing frogspawn if you are not able to provide the necessary conditions – and bear in mind, it takes 12-14 weeks for the full metamorphosis to be completed.

It should be a brilliant learning experience for the children to watch the spawn develop from spots, to commas and eventually into wriggling tadpoles, who will in turn develop legs, lose their gills and turn into tiny frogs. Watch this space for a future column documenting our tadpoles’ journey.

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SJ, also known as Sarah and Sarah-Jane, held her dream job as a breastfeeding peer support worker until becoming a full-time mum of three. She still volunteers at Whiston Hospital.

In her spare time, SJ loves to read, and play cello with the Knowsley Youth Orchestra. She confesses to being a secret singer ever since hubby Trev bought her SingStar.

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