A common frog features in part seven of the nature writing series that describes my encounters with wildlife on a walk from Rosthwaite to Dock Tarn in the Lake District in early August.
Although this piece can be read as a stand-alone piece, you may wish to read the earlier parts first (oldest to most recent): The Clapping Wood Pigeon, The Fiery Robin, A Peacock Butterfly, The Greenbottle Fly, The Birch and the Blue Tit, and A Sea of Heather.
A Common Frog
Dock Tarn’s shallows are as transparent as a windowpane. Swimming unperturbedly through the glassiness is a shoal of common minnow fry, each fish a part of a community through which streams a strong sense of togetherness.
I take two steps closer and the close-knit group, like skittles struck by a bowling ball, scatter in an instant, each unit darting blindingly about, their velocities changing from one split second to the next. Indeed, the chaoticness caused appears to be on a par with that of a spectacular explosion.
When I return to a motionless stance, the brotherhood is quick to rekindle and order is rapidly restored. It is as if each fish is an atom in a large molecule, the atoms joined by an invisible but physical bond that keeps them all closely connected.
I move again and, as quick as a flash, the mass of minnows again expands; then I stand still and it contracts. Their actions appear to be those of buddies bound by loyalty, but science says that each individual is being selfish, or rather their genes are being selfish, the compelling wish to be part of a shoal only due to the increased chances of survival and reproduction that result from such behaviour.
I leave the anxious, little creatures be, allowing them to relax back into feeding on daphnia and other microscopic aquatic invertebrates.
Continuing around the tarn, I spy, in the corner of my eye, something scurrying across the debris-ridden footpath. It is an anuran, an amphibian, more specifically, a toadlet; it is a tiny common toad that, without a doubt, spent its earliest stages of life as a tadpole in the sublime waters of Dock Tarn.
Its skin is granular and coloured with a blend of browns and augmented with the occasional golden, fleck-sized twinkle, a side-effect of the high dosage of sunshine interacting with the moisture on the surface of the toad’s skin on this fine afternoon.
Further around the tarn, the one and only bird on the water, a female mallard, dabbles discreetly amongst the lilies, her bill busily engaged as the upper and lower mandibles converge and diverge in rapid succession, producing subtle splashes at the water’s surface that lull my senses into a state of serenity.
Every now and then she takes her foraging to greater depths, dunking her head and neck under the water to sift through mud and detritus in order to isolate tasty morsels. Despite this behaviour being completely normal, the look of a headless duck afloat on water always strikes me as rather odd.
When the head reappears, it is joined by a captivating display of its waterproofness as beads of liquid roll off its feathers like words off a storyteller’s tongue. Each limpid droplet glistens dazzlingly in the sun so that a sudden flick of the duck’s head initiates a mini meteor shower.
I potter over to a small promontory for an alternative prospect of the tarn, in particular, its little island thronged with heather and home to several small birch trees. On my way, whilst traversing moderately boggy terrain, a sudden plop betrays the presence of something in a tiny, puddle-sized pool attempting to give me the slip. Upon inspection of the pool, I spot the suspect skulking through submerged moss and grass stems as it makes its way back to the surface. Having reached the surface, it rotates its body, repositioning itself so as to sit semi-submerged and facing towards the pool’s interior, ready to spring to safety again should the need arise.
The creature is a common frog, Rana temporaria, a young one, roughly the size of a squash ball. It is an austerely dressed thing, its slippery skin, for the most part, a sober grey-brown with yellow ochre undertones. Its two bulging eyes, however, are graced with the colour and lustre of golden sequins, two traits that are rendered even more arresting by a chocolate-brown stripe that covers the tympanic membrane behind the eye and tapers to the nostril, a stripe that creates a stunning contrast with the sequin that sits within.
Also standing out, is the dark brown, almost black rim along the length of the upper jaw; and sandwiched between the most posterior part of this maxillary stripe and the aforementioned eyestripe is a short, striking strip of white.
Well aware that this common frog could comfortably sit here all day long, I move on to take in the view of the tarn before returning to the village of Rosthwaite.