The moon hangs suspended in the translucent night sky, the day’s dry dusty smell mellows to a fragrant scent brought on a cool moist breeze as we approach a small reed lined dam. Clad in gum boots and sporting a head torch, net and bucket we are going frogging in the immediate ponds, dams and rivers near the hamlet of Rondevlei between Wilderness and Sedgefield in the Garden Route.
Approaching a small dam, the sound of our boots crunching on the dry grass is soon drowned by the raucous croaking of frogs. Here the congregated Painted Reed Frogs in particular produce an extremely loud cacophony that reverberates in your ears, numbing all thoughts with the shear loudness and high pitch. The combined calls are a mixture of territorial challenges to other males and courting calls to nearby females, although with the volume of sound she could be 1000m away and know where to go.
Suddenly the sound stops at the crack of a twig snapping as it is stepped on. With no perceived threat the frogs are back in full song, giving us the feeling of being conductors at this amphibious chorus.
The trick to frogging is to echo locate a single frog, catch it in a net and then begin the process of identifying it. Easier said than done. Frog calls in a parabolic depression of a dam can create a ventriloquist effect, confounding any echo location efforts. Then of course those long legs send them arcing into the centre of the pond when you get too close. At night they can simply disappear in a single bound. Time to stalk another one.
Caught up in the search, Amanda and Carla edge down to the water line and pan their torch along the fringe of reeds and Bulrushes till they see a glistening frog in the beam. Edging forward they attempt to capture the frog before it launches into the safety of the water without success. Noting were the frog landed Amanda leads Carla into the water. Reaching down, they use their hands and get a grip on the frog, being careful to hold it in a manner that does not squash it or harm the rear legs in particular.
Now the identifying process starts, a check list from an identification key that offers a short list of what the frog can be. Shape of pupil, length of rear toes, position of stripes, shape of nose, profile of back, and finally geographical location are the systematic way to identifying the species. I find it best to photograph the frog before release. Next it is back to listening for a new frog, scanning the waterline and tracking it down as the sparkle in Carla’s eyes beams her excitement.
Frogging is definitely not about the number of frogs you locate in an evening, but about the adventure of tracking them. After a few hours of watching his daughter Carla splashing through ponds and rivers beneath the moonlight, Mark vocalised his astonishment at how captivated and focused she had been the whole time. Most importantly, how much information Carla had retained about the frogs she had found and the environment that they are in.
While the romance of night frogging is half the thrill, it trains you to be on the look out for frogs during the day. An unusual tree frog, a rare rain frog or the unexpected seething masses of Bullfrogs congregated in rapidly drying mud pools in the middle of the vast Karoo will enhance your appreciation of the magnificent diversity of wildlife that abounds around us. It is a process that teaches you to see the cryptic critters around you.