Our garage appears to be the scene of an ever-deepening frog mystery. It began some weeks ago with the appearance of a solitary frog, calmly making its way through the garage, presumably on its return to the rather grandly named Ruscombe Lake at the bottom of the valley. This in itself was worthy of note (see post 25th February), on account of it being the first frog that we have found in the garage in nine years of living in this house, the distance, steepness and hazardous nature of the land between our house and the lake and the mystery of where the frog had in fact spent the winter. The following day, a further two frogs were found nestled against the garage door apparently waiting for it to open. At this point I felt further investigation was required and soon discovered two more frogs sitting in the narrow passageway at the back of our kitchen.
The discovery of these two frogs, bringing the running total up to five (plus two toads), confirmed my previous assumption that our back passageway has become a kind of winter resort for hibernating amphibians.
The location clearly has some advantages from an amphibians point of view. It is more or less always damp as it receives very little sunlight. It is inaccessible except from the garage or via the descent of a flight of steps from the back garden so therefore very unlikely to harbour any predators. It is sheltered and I imagine relatively frost free. Finally there are a number of lengths of spare plastic guttering stored around the edges which provide a safe place under which to spend the winter. However, it is not without significant disadvantages, chief among which is the same inaccessibility which makes it safe from predators. As mentioned in my previous post, without the convenience of an open set of garage doors, the only way for an amphibian to find its way into the passageway is to ascend a steep flight of steps, pick its way along the back of the garage and finally descend a further flight of steps to reach its destination.
Having in previous years found a toad and a newt there – in fact the newt was in the process of climbing the steps out of the passageway but more on that later – I had assumed that they had probably got there by accident, finding themselves at the bottom of the steps in a steep-walled cul-de-sac whilst searching for a hibernation site and deciding to stay put until spring rather than expend vital energy on trying to find somewhere else. This theory now appears unlikely given the apparent increasing appeal of the passageway to what is perhaps best termed an assortment of amphibians, a quick online search having revealed no collective nouns to properly describe such a collection.
Whilst I am delighted that so many frogs, toads and occasionally newts are finding sanctuary in the environs of our house, I have also now begun to fret about them. The nightly chicken checks have begun to include a quick scout around for any amphibians that might be trapped and in a weakened, post-hibernation state, be reliant on the presence of an open garage door for escape. When I found the newt a couple of years ago it was in the process of making the long ascent up the steps so this gives me hope that such a feat is possible. If a newt can climb the steps then surely a frog and a toad can do the same? Equally I worry that having made it into the garage they will be trapped and slowly desiccated or worse, caught and crushed in the electric door. So far my nightly checks have revealed nothing although this afternoon I did find a very fat, apparently healthy looking frog under one of the plastic gutters. I have left him in situ but am now going to worry that for some reason he is unable to climb the steps and has been left behind by all his mates. The other problem that the frogs have generated is all the potentially unanswerable questions that they raise. How and when did they all get there? Why have we gone from no frogs to five or six frogs in just one season? Did one set off confidently from the lake last autumn even though he had no idea where he was going and the rest just followed him blindly? Or did they each arrive independently and decide that this damp and unremarkable spot met all their hibernation needs? Or did they follow one of the toads who might have been here before? Do frogs and toads get on in that way? Sadly without the expertise, time or resources to study the matter in more detail I am unlikely to ever find the answers to any of these questions. Instead perhaps it is better to just be contented with the simple presence of these animals and marvel at just how little I do know about such common and familiar creatures living literally on my doorstep.