Sunday, May 6, 2012

Of ducks, snakes, frog fish and death

Have you ever seen a duckling eat a snake? I ask because I have just seen a snake slide into the duck pond where, next year, I hope to re-install ducks. One of the last lot of ducklings we had did actually ingest – it is the only appropriate word – a snake as I was watching. The duckling sat on the ground, feet neatly tucked under, the snake dangling from its beak. It was practically cross-eyed with concentration, like a small child with a new lolly. Slowly its throat muscles pulled the snake into its gut. I presume it was the throat muscles as the beak was definitely not opening. For once, the other ducklings were not disputing its prize.

In the absence of ducks, the frogs are back! At least, we hear them at bird-song time, the sound presumably coming from the Black Pond as it is nearest the house. I doubt whether the frog chorus would carry from the Lake – or even from the duck pond – as far as our terrace. Seeing frogs is quite another matter, you need to be a duck or a heron. There is a great deal of vegetation under which frogs can hide from human sight on the edges of all three potential frog breeding grounds.

That is probably the only element favourable to frogs, after the presence of water, naturally. I don't know whether the wild ducks have settled on the Lake but in past years it has been visited by a heron. Both will eat frogs, frog-spawn and tadpoles. It is surprising that the frogs make such a noise at dusk, surely they must know this will attract predators as well as potential mates?

Of course, some of these frogs may be toads, no way of telling. However, the mid-wife toad (which is really a frog but that is another story) has not yet made itself heard. It makes a very distinctive, tap-dripping sound and does not seem as gregarious as frogs. That is, we think we do not hear so many 'ploop-ploops' as we do frog voices.

For us the problem comes when the frog cycle is at its tadpole stage, assuming it gets that far. Tadpoles can be sucked into the watering system and block the sprinklers, even when these are just driven by gravity and not by the hated pump. And then the tadpoles have to be got out. The first time this happened JP and Arnold suffered a hilarious (to me) misunderstanding.

Arnold's mind had gone blank on the English for 'kikkervis' which is Dutch for tadpole, literally 'frog-fish'. He managed to get JP to understand 'kikker' as frog, some hand-waving indicating jumping and frog like sounds, but the concept of a frog-fish was too difficult. The only way to get frog-fish out of sprinklers involves cutting them sufficiently small (with the appropriate Leatherman gadget) for the water pressure to force the by then unidentifiable remains out of the spout. Not nice.

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