Some thoughts on the Common Toad
In a beautifully written essay about the common toad and springtime in general, George Orwell (in one of his more optimistic pieces) wrote;
‘……This allows one to notice, what one might not at another time, that a toad has about the most beautiful eye of any living creature. It is like gold, or more exactly it is like the golden coloured semi-precious stone which one sometimes sees in signet rings, and which I think is called chrysoberyl.’
From ‘Some thoughts on the Common Toad’ by George Orwell,
First published in Tribune 12th April 1946.
……….and by George, he’s right !
Previously at the Pond…..
Right in the middle of the site where I look for the adders at this time of year is a fabulous pond which teems with amphibious life. It is called bomb crater pond and was kindly dug by the Luftwaffe. Its margins are shallow but its muuch deeper in the middle and there are beds of yellow flag Iris and rushes. The combination of shallow and deeper areas mean it is great for a variety of amphibians. Frogs, toads, and three newt species are to be found there. Back in 2019 this was the scene that greeted me one March morning………
I had happened upon the amplexus – the great gathering for mating. It was frog soup, and the spawn was so abundant it rose in great gelatinous mounds, several inches above the water level…….
It was such a good year for the frogs that year, and I managed to get some good shots of them using my 100-400 zoom…..
Spring 2021 – a different story
For some unknown reason the frogs didn’t appear in numbers this year. Usually they get to the pond and do their thing a week or two before the toads arrive, but not this time. This was a great shame because I wanted to try a different approach to photographing them, other than using my zoom. What I had in mind was some wider angle shooting to include more of their environment into the photos. The problem was that there were no frogs to photograph in the shallower parts of the pond, and the toads prefer deeper water which would see my wellies filling up if I tried to get out to where they were.
So I had to think outside the box a little. I had recently purchased some wireless triggers so I would be able to fire remotely, but how to get out to where the toads were? Then I had an idea about making a floating rig, with camera attached and cantilevered out just above water level. The design was formulated on the back of an envelope and an hour later I emerged from the shed victorious, and wielding my new contraption. In its first outing it tilted badly forwards but this was corrected thanks to advice from a couple of Fotobuzzers, Sandy and Rob, and now I also had a device to manouvre it into the exact position too. I did have to watch for it drifting off though, and also as it was made of bits of old wood I was expecting it to absorb water and gradually sit lower into the water over time.
So with the camera rig in position right in front of some submerged toads all I had to do was wait till they came up for air. I had my remote trigger in one hand and a flash in its waterproof housing in another just to provide a bit of extra foreground light, and I was good to go.
It worked out alright, but there were plenty of failures and I was using the lens focused manually and set at about 4 inches from the lens, so to be sure of getting at least one in good focus I was nudging the rig forwards and backwards a bit for each shot. The toads seemed not to be bothered by this big black shiny round thing right in their faces, nor did they flinch when the flash went off.
Obsessed with reflections
One of the days I was there was absolutely glorious and the sun was setting behind me and lit up the margins with beautiful golden light. There was no wind to speak of either so there were beautiful crisp reflections in the mirror-like surface. So I returned HMS Foto-Buzz to shore, moored her up, and got busy with my zoom lens at 400mm. I love the way you can get a bit arty with various compositions involving both toads and the vegetation.
Another good thing was that as the camera was pretty stable resting on my hand which was resting on the bank, and as the toads dont move much, I was able to use a low shutter speed of 1/80th sec, which kept ISO down to reduce any noise. I was thinking of popping a polariser on but I was enjoying myself too much to change tack, and anyway I think the reflections may have suffered if I had used it. I think it would be better used on the camera on the boat, because you want to cut through surface reflections to get at the detail underwater too. Ah well, next time I’ll try that.
Finally, my favourite shot of spring toads 2021.
I’m stiff as a board now from lying on a wet bank for hours on end, and you are probably bored stiff of the subject too by now, so I think that frogging is over for another year. Its been a bit different and at times its felt like the wee beasties were trying to socially distance themselves from me (not surprising), but I eventually came away with a few good shots. Next year I am thinking underwater photography here so time to get thinking about that. Any suggestions welcome!Published in