Here is a beautiful article from Patrick O`Sullivan about the Natterjack Toad.
CALLINAFERCY is a small town land on the fringes of the Laune and the Maine, midway between Milltown and Killorglin. There have always been fishermen here, fishers of salmon in the slow moving rivers, the sun shining in the tide in the calm of summer days. Then, the river has a vitreous quality, glassy and gleaming under the sun, barely’ a ripple dappling its surface.
It is a small place, a quiet place, it was strange then to hear it mentioned on national radio one summer’s morning in July. It has a claim to fame, which I had never known before. It was here in the year 1805 that the first natterjack toads were recorded in Ireland.
As a lover of wildlife in general, and of frogs in Particular, it was a reference, which intrigued me. Frogs and toads have of course been emblems of good luck in many cultures for generations: they were sometimes shown in manuscripts and books with coins about them to suggest
the good fortune they implied.
HOW could I forget toad of Toad Hall, for it was in my very first year at the Intermediate School that I came
across Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows for the very first time, it was strange and intriguing then to think that we had our own association with the natterjack.
Hearing the reference to Callinafercy on the radio, I set
about trying to find out more about the original sighting of the toads over two hundred years ago. I spoke by phone with a man from the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Killarney. He put me onto a man in Dublin, a man whom he wittily said had ‘made the acquaintance of every toad in Ireland.’ When I got through to Dublin, however, I was
told that while they knew all about
the original reference, they did not have a copy of it.
This was a disappointment to say the least but I persevered. I telephoned several libraries. The trouble was that while many held copies of the Natural History
Magazine, none held copies going back to 1836 when the article appeared.
I spoke with the Heritage Officer with Kerry County Council who very kindly made contact with a researcher in U.C.C., the latter involved in a recent survey of the
natterjack toad in Ireland.
Again the researcher was well aware of the reference but didn’t have the article in question. She recommended someone in Sussex University, which seemed like a very long way to go to find out about toads in Callinafercy.
I had however already made contact with Trinity College and they came up trumps in the end.
Natterjack toads range in colour from pale green to pale black above, but the most distinctive feature is the yellow stripe down the middle of the back. Their skin is not as smooth as that of the more familiar frog. They are most active at night, hibernating in winter in burrows
in sandy soils, or in piles of rocks or even in dry stonewalls.
It is the middle of spring before they become active, the croaking of the male at the breeding ponds a familiar sound; the spawn laid in an egg string that looks like the beads on a necklace.
When the weather is fine, the spawn hatches in a week, the tadpoles and toadies developing in two months.
Renewed efforts are being made to conserve the natterjack and to extend its range, which has declined dramatically over time. It is in fact largely confined to a small number of coastal sites on the Dingle and Iveragh peninsulas.
Natterjacks need warm shallow ponds, without much vegetation, especially those that dry up in summer, as this means fewer predators of eggs and tadpoles. It is also important to keep the grass around the pond fairly low, as this is the habitat favoured by the toad.
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