At the time of writing we have had our first warm day after about a week of sub-zero temperatures. After weeks, if not months, of wet or cold weather, the footpaths are squelchy and even grassy areas look damaged and slippery as people have slipped over them time and again. Its tempting to ask whether more can be done to create all weather footpaths, but on the other hand, adding some sort of paving / gravel / rubble now would make them less natural in the remaining months of the year. Hopefully with dryer and warmer weather in March the footpaths will return to better conditions, and new growth will rejuvenate the landscape. Hopefully crops will begin to grow, and pastures green up. Daffodils will be out and bring some cheer.
You may be lucky while out walking and see March hares, apparently boxing, or chasing each other, in fields. This is in fact females, fighting off the advances of the males who are seeing to mate.
At this time of year as it begins to turn warmer our amphibians return to water for spawning. Frogs arrive first followed by the Toads. Locally this is usually around mid-March depending on the weather conditions. Toads like to emerge and head for their breeding ponds under cover of darkness and usually on a mild wet evening.
Frogs and Toads look very similar at first glance and there are two species of each frog and toad in the UK but you will most likely see only the Common Frog and the Common Toad. The easiest way to tell the difference is by their skin. Frogs have yellow brown smooth slimy skin whereas Toads’ skin is dry and warty and brownish in colour. Frogs jump and leap but Toads which have much shorter legs walk or crawl. Frogs are much slimmer whereas Toads are more heavily built, stocky even.
The spawn of a Frog is in gooey clumps whereas that of a Toad is like a stringy necklace which attaches itself to pond vegetation. Frogs tend to use smaller ponds but toad tadpoles are distasteful so they can use larger bodies of water where there are more predators. Only one in 50 eggs laid survive to adulthood.
If you see an amphibian ambling along through the grass or along the road it is likely to be a toad as they spend most of their life away from water. Toads only return to their breeding pond to reproduce whereas Frogs remain close to water.
One third of our ponds are thought to have disappeared in the last 50 years or so. Creating a wildlife pond will bring a soft explosion of life to your garden. It doesn’t have to be big; even a buried bucket can provide a cooling off place for frogs and somewhere for birds to drink from. Add some native pond weed and make sure that you place a log, rock or ramp in it for creatures to climb out of the bucket.
Your pond could also attract Smooth newts (our most common newt) Dragonflies, Water Boatmen and Water Beetles. Come the summer it will be alive and ready for a little gentle pond dipping.
Visit www.froglife.org for more information on building a wildlife pond and Amphibians in general.
Julie Wise and Fran Bowes Lyon