The uplifting role that wildlife plays in our lives has become more vital than ever. So, for my own sanity, I’m keeping a daily diary of what I find around my garden. Share your pictures on the Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Table Facebook page.
Day Sixty Three
The back garden keeps surprising me. Yesterday what I thought was a rock on the path turned out to be a Common Toad, I've only seen a couple in the garden in all the years I've lived here. The perfect excuse for some sycophantic toadying to an amphibian I adore; warts and all.
Toads are beautiful. Yes, I know they have lumpy, poisonous skin. Yes, I know they have a face like Ena Sharples. But that eye. That amazing eye. Next time you see a toad get right up close and allow yourself to be hypnotised by that mesmerising golden-ringed eye. Fellow toad lover George Orwell called it “about the most beautiful eye of any living creature” in an article from 1946. It's worth reading the entire article (here) if you have time, a wonderful piece about toads and life in general.
"I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and – to return to my first instance – toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable", George Orwell
(Photo Mark Monk-Terry)
Back in February that beautiful eye blinked open as the toad awakes from its winter hibernation. From under stones, logs and leaves they emerge and start the long walk home – back to the pond where they were born. They proceed on this pilgrimage with a determined, unsteady gait – like one of those old men you see gingerly crossing the shingle on his way to his annual New Year’s Day dip. But once the toad hits the water, he is rejuvenated and has one thing on his mind. Croaking and brawling, a peaceful pond is transformed into a Club 18-30 pool party, as male toads squabble over females in a writhing orgy of amorous amphibians.
(Photo by Bob Eade)
The results of this Bacchanalian bonding are long polka dot ribbons of spawn (unlike the frog’s shapeless tapioca blobs) and by May. the parent toads have left their breeding ponds to lead a more respectable life on dry land until their winter hibernation. Amazingly these animals can live for over 40 years.
(Photo by Dave Kilbey)
With their primordial appearance, annual gatherings and rituals there is a touch of the occult about the toad. Throughout England’s history they have been vilified; linked to witchcraft and strange superstitions. And, when it comes to folklore, there’s nowt so queer as toads. Rubbing toads on your body could cure cancer; a live toad in your mouth could cure thrush. Precious jewels (toadstones) were reputed to be hidden in a toad’s head. Immortal toad-eaters were a sideshow attraction at country fairs. Travelling toad doctors could heal you with toad hearts and legs. The mysterious toadmen used toad potions to cure horses (a practice that allegedly continued until the 1930s in some counties). It took Kenneth Grahame’s beloved ‘The Wind in the Willows’ to finally drag the toad out of the dark ages and put him in a tweed suit and the hearts of the nation.
For now I'll leave you to stare into that beautiful, hypnotic eye of my back garden Common Toad.
“All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.”
―The Wind In the Willows