Weekend toad patrols

3 min read
Hayley Kinsey Toad Crossing

The toads are on the move two weeks earlier than last year. This makes everyone uneasy; climate change is disrupting the rhythms of the natural world, with consequences we can't yet fathom.

It's pouring rain when we arrive to patrol, but unseasonably warm. On the first walk down the road we don't see anyone, but on the trip back Jack spots a Toad in the road, sitting up in that curious, to-attention way they sometimes do. When I pick her up, her little squeaks connect to my soul in an ancient way. It feels like coming home to the Earth.

Oyster catchers peep across the night sky as more Toads are gently placed into my beach bucket. They squeak softly as we walk along, a sort of mewing that warms the heart. It feels good to be outdoors at night, to have a purpose in the light rain on a dark evening.

Hayley Kinsey Toads

A small male clings to my thumb as I pick him up, holding on with unbelievable strength, like a Koala to a tree. He's not trying to have sex; toads engage in external fertilisation. The male hops on the female's back, holding her tight with his nuptial pads (which look like tiny thumbs), and fertilises her eggs as she lays them into water. When males are hanging on away from water, they're probably just hitching a ride, or trying to find a mate early.

The Toads aren't the only ones out early. A Bat flits through the darkening sky, swooping for the few small moths on the wing in mid-February. If changes in behaviour due to climate change aren't synced between species, food might not be available, and more complex relationships could be threatened too.

Hayley Kinsey Toads in Water

A toad's warts aren't as obvious as you may think

Every time we pass the gap in the hedge, we pop the Toads in their pond field. Toads from previous drops have disappeared into the soupy night near the water. We can hear them squeaking and chirping merrily over there.

Often, a Toad is found frozen mid-step, like a cartoon character caught on their way towards the crown jewels. When the beam of a headlight or torch falls on them, they usually keep completely still, in whatever position they happened to be in. This response is helpful if you're trying to avoid the beady eye of a heron, but no use against cars. A flattened Toad by the Willow hurts us, her black eggs shining on the tarmac.

On Saturday night, warm and rainy, we rescue 69 Toads and 2 Frogs from the road. Sunday is colder and dry; we rescue the 10 Toads we find and call it a night.

I wrote about my experience as a Toad patroller. You might also be interested in how to tell the difference between Toads and Frogs, or in learning why Toads cross the road.

Froglife's Toads on Roads campaign organises Toad patrols - check whether there are any you could get involved in. They also aggregate the data from patrols, and offer guidance and insurance.

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