Exchanged Eyes

A common frog on a woodland path at dusk.
Rana temporaria: Common frog
A common toad on a woodland path at dusk.
Bufo bufo: Common toad

To walk in the woods at dusk now is to walk with trepidation.

The hedges are alive with rustlings, crawlings and leapings and during a ten-minute stroll on a warm night you can meet six or seven amphibians going about their nocturnal rounds. The majority of the ones we see where we live are common toads (Bufo bufo), often making their way from the dense leaf litter on the road side of the path to the denser, brambled undergrowth by the brook. I imagine they make the return journey at some point before dawn, walking ponderously back to the rotting logs and grassy tussocks by the parked cars, to sleep off the revels of their night out.

Rarely, we see common frogs (Rana temporaria), and when we do, strangely they are making the reverse journey; from the brook through the nettles to the shadows of the oak and beech and hawthorn that edge this tiny strip of woodland. Better dressed than the toads, they go black-masked and stripy-stockinged to their slug-fests, and you would never guess that they had spent the day dozing in the pond mud where the brook overflows.

‘Some say the lark and loathed toad change eyes’ says Juliet in Shakespeare's play, meaning the toad’s eyes are far too beautiful for its warty face, and so must have been the currency for some demonic trade with an artless avian.

And yet in the light of the camera and the magic of the flash, both toad and frog have deep, dark pools of optic jelly; un-blinking, arresting, the windows to their quiet, amphibian souls.

Romeo and Juliet (1597), Act III Scene v, line 31