The tell tale signs began to emerge a few weeks ago. Shifting a pile of newly delivered logs, a couple of semi-comatose puddocks required relocation to a safe damp spot. Then one wet late evening as I left the house for a dog walk, an inquisitive member of the family Ranidae, hopped straight towards me in the porch before making an abrupt right turn and then dissolving quickly behind a green Wellington boot. Next day the builder rescued a couple of Rana Temporaria from a watering can.
The accumulating evidence was clear. Frog season was upon us.
According to my records, this very short annual event has in recent years usually taken place on a Saturday in March. Presumably the weekend leaves more time for the participants – their quotidian tasks complete and out of the way – to concentrate unidisturbed on the new matter at hand. But this year the important event began on a Wednesday, the 10th of the month, in the afternoon to be precise. Maybe those involved had been given the time off for games.
At any rate, the players went about their sport with considerable enthusiasm. Urged on, rather than deterred, by gusting winds and heavy rain, they set alive a shallow rather scruffy spot on the edge of the garden pond with their urgent need to reproduce.
Gurgling with energy, sending pulsing ripples in concentric bursts across the surface of the water, the frogs were now vibrantly alive after their winter sleep. The water became a cauldron of energy, back legs producing improbable, almost caricatured leaps. Heads like little basalt pebbles in the water, bulging eyes staying alert for predatory dangers. However slowly I walked up to them, however urgent their task, sensing my presence or that of the inquisitive spaniel, they would dive for cover, suddenly lost in the dark water, indistinguishable from vegetal detritus, bits of twig, or a sunken oak leaf.
Next day, in a spot of March-bright sunshine between downpours, I could capture the results of their leap-frogging. A fecund hubble-bubble of spawn brimmed at the surface of the water. I gazed on it to a sound track of watery grunts, croaks and sloshes as the frogs, with ballooning yellow-white throats, continued their mandate to mate.
‘Frog he would a wooing go’ is said to be a Scottish verse from the 16th century, found along with well known border ballads like Tam Lin and the Battle of Chevy Chase. It first appears in The Complaynt of Scotland of 1549, as a satirical rejoinder to the ‘rough wooing’ by which Henry VIII sought to break the auld alliance and have Mary, Queen of Scots, marry his son Edward. In that version it is entitled ‘The frog cam to the myl dur’. It may well have become more popular still in 1579 when the Duke of Anjou sought the hand of Elizabeth I.
In the song, Frog wants to marry Miss Mouse, but needs the permission of Uncle Rat. After numerous versifications, each with some repeating refrain or other, consent is duly given, albeit with multiple diversionary circumlocutions along the way. But then – check for yourself – despite the anticipated ceremony and the accompanying celebrations, in most versions things end badly and by predation. As the great Dick Gaughan once said, whilst introducing one of the bloodier border ballads, ‘this is the one where the guy gets killed’.
Meanwhile, two days after the rough wooing in the pond, all was calm. The tapioca spawn lay exposed, protein rich and vulnerable. The frogs lolled in the shallows in numbers I had previously never seen. The progeny of bygone frog seasons was everywhere, with much more to come judging by the extent of the spawn.
Then, as I gazed across the water from the house, a movement caught my eye to the right. A prehistoric-like winged creature flew in, head hunched in its grey-blue plumage, its beak like an awl. It landed in the shallow littoral with crazy back-drafting wings hard at work and then took up position right next to the largest and most bulbous batch of eggs in their glutinous caul.
Froggy did a wooing go, but now the heron was here – and seemed to have supper in mind …
Postscript 21 April 2021
Perhaps I shouldn’t have worried. As you can see from this short film taken today.
Post-postscript 21 March 2023
This year things have worked out very differently. On the morning of 20th February in a sudden mild spell, and to my great surprise, a blob of frogspawn was visible on the edge of the Dumfriesshire garden pond. Two days later the heron made its appearance and this time, from a window of my home I was able to watch it making short work, not of the spawn but of whole live frogs, which it dispatched with grisly efficiency. I took to waving my arms to send it away.
At any rate it didn’t visit for long, as quite soon another cold snap ensued and for several days the pond was covered over in ice that refused to shift even in the middle of the day.
But on the 13th March, with frost gone and a cautious hint of spring in the air, the full frog season did get under way. Perhaps more muted than in 2021, but nevertheless, extremely commendable, in the great mass of spawn at the very edge of the water.
The original post appeared on 18 March 2021 in Garden Musings.