It has been frog central in my garden lately.
Generally I get a big group of frogs lurking in the frog pond—far more than such a small space could possibly support, but they don’t seem worried by the lack of carrying capacity. But this fall, we’re getting them outside of the pond as well. I run into them in the paths, lurking in the mulch, breeding (sigh) in my rain barrel.
The dominant species are bronze/green frogs—they look like small brownish bullfrogs, although there’s a lot of color variation. I ran into this fellow sitting in a soggy section of the path, directly in the wheelbarrow strike zone. Attempts to convince him to move somewhere else resulted in half-hearted hopping and a great deal of glaring. I eventually gave up and worked on another part of the garden instead. It wasn’t worth traumatizing an already grumpy frog.
I’m not sure what caused the population to suddenly explode. We’ve gotten some solid rain recently, after weeks of drought, so perhaps they’re simply on the move. It’s also possible that these are last years tadpoles—some frogs can take two years to mature, and if they overwintered under the ice in the pond, they may only now be hopping around on dry land, looking for somewhere else to go.
On the other hand, we also have a gigantic insect population this year, owing to the very wet spring, so I won’t swear that it’s not a combination of available food and a much larger availability of vernal breeding ponds. Tiny cricket frogs, which breed in such ponds in spring, were out in force early in the year. (We’re fortunate to still have cricket frogs in vast numbers here. Their numbers are diminishing rapidly up north, as salt and de-icers used on the road melts into the temporary spring pools they need to breed.)
Not that this is Frog Eden, by any stretch. Bring frogs and you bring their predators. I am occasionally shocked awake by the sight of a red-shouldered hawk lumbering into the air over the pond, clutching a frog in its talons. (That WILL wake you up in the morning, let me tell you.) And every few weeks, a long black whiplash glides over the stones that edge the water—the black rat snake, on the prowl. She goes away hungry most of the time, but not always.
There’s also the yearly Rain Barrel Games, which are sort of like the Hunger Games fought between tadpoles and dragonfly larvae. (The dragonflies always win. Always. Occasionally, however, a tadpole or two emerges from the water as well.) From dozens of tadpoles in the rain barrel, there is now one large one with functional back legs and a half dozen dragonfly larvae moving jerkily about, waiting for some mosquito to get ideas about laying eggs. It was such a wet year, I haven’t had to use more than a few gallons from the rain barrel, so they’ve been largely unmolested. (In dry years, I will dip the tadpoles out into the frog pond.)
Still, every year there are more frogs. I keep waiting for them to hit the upper limit of frog-dom in this space, but it hasn’t happened yet.
I also ran across this grumpy fellow today…
This toad isn’t fully grown yet, I don’t think, and I am not good enough at IDing amphibians to tell if he’s a Fowler’s or American toad, with outside chance of a Southern toad. (All three can be found in my garden, and all three hybridize, although Southern toads are the least common out here.) He will probably be one of them. He had set up shop under a small drystone swale I was building, and was disgruntled to find me poking around his home. He settled for sitting grumpily in the mulch, chewing on a cricket that had come over for lunch.
Frogs are one of the things in my garden that really make me feel like I’m doing things right. Even as slap-dash as my pond is, as lousy as I suspect the water quality must be (there are oak leaves decaying in it, fer cryin’ out loud!) they think it’s fantastic, and there are more of them every year. Toads lurk under rocks. Cricket frogs chirp in the puddles. Tree frogs cling to the tomato trellis and sing.
With amphibian populations in world-wide decline, the fact that here, in this one little corner of the world, they’re abundant and increasing, gives me hope. They require so little to thrive—water to swim in and a pesticide-free yard full of bugs and worms to devour—and when we provide that little amount, the frogs take it from there.
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