This morning we had frogspawn in our smaller pond at the bottom of the garden. We took the nets off a couple of weeks ago, which is always a messy and cold job. As normal we had to carefully sift through all the leaves that had gathered on the top, in order to rescue those frogs that had decided to hibernate late. Sleepy frogs look as dark as soaked oak leaves, are as sleek as jelly rabbits and are covered in a slimy mucus which camouflages them amongst the wet debris. We must have picked out a dozen of them and slipped them into the water to carry on snoozing. There was just one that had obviously been up for a while and was a wonderful bright, khaki and green.
Once the nets were off and the ponds became as shiny and dark as a scrying bowl, we had our first visit from the herons. As much as I love to see them so close, I get rather annoyed with them. Last year one persistent bird must have accounted for tens of the poor frogs, which are caught in the ponds, much like fish in a bucket. If we have the same problem this spring I think Mr Stoatie and I will have to try wires or raised nets to keep them off.
There are a couple of large heronries nearby, at Worsley, Greater Manchester and also on a reservoir near Macclesfield Forest. These are actually both about ten miles away, but herons think nothing of flying up to 15 miles to a good hunting site. They are one of the earliest nesting birds and some of them will be incubating eggs by now – it is one bird species whose population is actually increasing here in the UK.
Herons spend as lot of time standing still as statues gazing into the water in search of their prey, occasionally stirring up the bottom in order to provoke the poor old froggies to move and reveal themselves. They are graceful birds in the water but are very ungainly flyers – it normally takes a couple of laps of the garden in order to gain enough height to clear the trees and with their heads tucked back into their body, the large wingspan and the huge spiky beak they look like some sort of pterodactyl.
Herons are of course, associated with the element of water. Their habit of gazing for hours into pools, the realm of emotions and intuition, means that if you start to notice heron around you it may be a sign to spend a while examining your own inner depths. Take a moment to sit silently, still your mind and plunge into your feelings.