Sex in the woodland

Yesterday we walked the one and a half mile circular footpath around Laide wood, stopping as usual for our mini picnic at the seat alongside one of its pair of beautiful lochans. No wind so not a ripple on the lily padded water and no sound - except ... geese high overhead talking to each other? We scanned the ice blue skies. Nothing. The honking, grunting calls just went on and on. Then we noticed ripple rings on the lochan. As we knew there were no fish in its shallow waters* it must be - it was - frogs! Closer observation showed them in their thousands, almost all underwater; no, in their tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands. Great pulsating knots of them locked together in their annual mating ritual.

For eleven and a half months of the year you would not come across a single frog in Laide wood or its lochans. So where had they all come from, how long had it taken them to reach this place of pleasure, hopping and crawling through the roughest, wildest of tangles? Most intriguing of all the questions, how did they 'know' that this was the right time and the right place?

As we ate our lunch surrounded by such wild sexual excitement and with latecoming hoppers around our boots making for the action it was difficult to avoid feelings of intrusion, almost of voyeurism. We looked more closely at the creatures still on dry land, discovered that some were typically green and shiny frogs but others had the unmistakably dark, drier, warty skins of toads. A positive cornucopia of mixed race croaking swimmers! Surely not inter-breeding?

At this point we remembered previous years when we had been much puzzled by thousands upon thousands of whitish, inside out frog skins distributed all around the edges of this lochan. True, there was a heron in the area and herons do enjoy frogs, but there would have needed to be dozens of those birds to dispose of so many victims. And could a heron skin a frog? Then on Autumwatch TV came the answer. Otters like to catch, skin in one practiced flick and eat frogs. Once, years ago and before the wood was purchased and 'civilised' by our Laide Wood committee, we had forced a way through to this very same lovely little lochan. Once there our pair of vizslas were surprised by - or perhaps surprised - a massive looking dog otter that sprang from the vegetation and disappeared underwater. At least one question answered!

* For the very first time, yesterday Dee spotted a tiny fish in the water. Hooray.

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