OPHELIA

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Easter landed early this year, and when I looked at the grim weather forecast for the long weekend I knew that my usual plan of finding a little sun trap at Strumpshaw from which to watch spring unfurl just wasn’t going to cut it. Enter the amphibians- known to spawn as early as January, I thought they would be one of the few things that wouldn’t be put off by the showers and which I could some of my four days watching and photographing. I knew lots of good ponds- surely there would be something?

There was nothing. In fact, the Easter weekend was a total a write off, and I arrived into work on Tuesday without seeing anything that suggested this persistent winter was coming to an end. Redemption, however, came quickly and unexpectedly in the form of the pond outside of the office. Though on Wednesday it was quiet and wintery, a bit of sunshine on Thursday changed everything. The toads had come- loads and loads from the surrounding area- and the day’s warmth sent them into a breeding frenzy the likes of which I’d never seen. Though from a distance the reeds looked quiet, getting close revealed them dotted throughout the pond weed, the smaller males clumsily clambering on the back of any female that would let them. Right at the edge of the pond, around ten of them were rolling around in a scrum from which I sincerely hope the female(s?) managed to emerge in one piece. Of course, I didn’t have my camera (though I’m aware that a big ball of mating toads is a pretty unorthodox subject) – but optimistically packed it in my bag for the next day.

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By Friday, the main event was over. Thankfully for this blog post, some toads were still there- but there were far fewer of them and the feverish urgency of yesterday seemed to have passed. A few pairs were still in amplexus- but mostly they were just lolling around amongst the vegetation and swimming through the hundreds of necklace-like egg chains that had been laid the day before. Half in and half out of the shallow vegetation, floatingg on the dark water, weirdly what they most reminded me of was Millais’s Ophelia. I’ll admit that a toad version of the tragic heroine of Hamlet is perhaps a little less romantic – but judging from the day before, the levels of passion being played out in that pond had probably been on par.

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p.s. Regular readers of Stripy Tapir may have noticed that there’s been quite a gap between this post and the last one. All I can say is that moving cities and starting a new job have taken up a lot of my time; but I now consider myself pretty sorted, and have a lot of things I’m excited to share. Normal service will resume!

 

 

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