The final croak

September 30, 2013 § 10 Comments

A dark day in the sun

Lunch?  © Jane Powers

© Jane Powers

The heron ate my frogs.

Not “a heron”, but “the heron”.  In Ireland, serious threats are accorded the definite article: the fox, the blight, the whooping cough, and — on that fine day last spring — the heron.

Or rather, it was a fine day for the heron, but not so for the frogs. They had already had a stressful year. Spring had come early, and gone away again.  January was so mild that the frogs had spawned on the 7th (the earliest date yet in my twenty-one-year stint in this garden). They spawned again at the end of the month, and then, spring retreated and winter blew back in with flurries of sleet and snow.

When spring finally reappeared in March, they were in the pond again — glorious, tumbling bundles of fornicating frogs. I left them to their work, undisturbed by my camera. After the difficult start to the year, they deserved some privacy and peace. 

The heron thought otherwise.

My phone rang. It was a neighbour: “Are you looking out the window?”

No, I wasn’t (for once).

“There is a huge bird eating the frogs — like a crane or something. It’s amazing!”

I'll have this one. ©Jane Powers

“A crane or something” is eating the frogs
©Jane Powers

I was torn: should I reach for my camera, or should I shout at the dogs to scare off the intruder? A quick look out the window revealed that it wasn’t a crane (a very rare visitor to Ireland), but — as I suspected — a grey heron (Ardea cinerea), the largest heron in Europe, which is native to Ireland, Britain and much of Europe and to parts of Asia and Africa. My glance revealed also that it was too late for the frog, dangling darkly from the bird’s brutal bill, so I grabbed the camera.

My friend, the frog © Jane Powers

My late friend, the frog
© Jane Powers

I felt like a traitor towards the amphibians with whom I had shared many summer afternoons by the tiny pond, but I wanted the picture.  I am, after all, keen on wildlife, and here was wildlife — and wild death — happening right in front of my lens. Still, I felt affronted and angry. I had nurtured the frogs, thinking of them as “my” frogs, although they were nobody’s frogs but their own. But now, it was apparent, they were the heron’s.

Goodbye frog © Jane Powers

Goodbye, frog
© Jane Powers

The frog that was in the heron’s bill, and that would soon be in its stomach, was old enough to breed, so it was three or four years old. What a way to go. One minute in the throes of reproduction, and the next in the jaws of death.

I moved closer and closer to the heron. Was there a touch of annoyance in its golden, predator’s eye? Eventually, it unfolded its massive wings and flapped off to perch on a tree in a neighbouring garden, the frog still hanging from its bill.

Flying frog © Jane Powers

Flying frog
© Jane Powers

It swallowed it whole (and still alive?), and moved to the top of a swing set, perhaps contemplating its next move. Would it be able to cram in another frog? It was the heron’s own breeding season, so perhaps it was stocking up on food to regurgitate later for its chicks. A magpie arrived, sat next to it on the wooden bar, and then dive-bombed it several times. Maybe the magpie, a ruthless predator itself, was worried what might happen to its future offspring if the heron got too comfortable in this place.

 © Jane Powers

Magpie and heron: not friends
© Jane Powers 

The big bird came back to rest on the wall of my garden, but I saw it off too. I felt mean scaring it away, but it had already helped itself to several frogs. I thought it would probably be back before I managed to get some netting for the pond.

The most unpopular bird in the neighbourhood © Jane Powers

The most unpopular bird in the neighbourhood
© Jane Powers

And indeed it was: a while later it was swishing its yellow bill around in the weedy water, as if stirring a pot of porridge. After I had rigged up an unlovely wire grid over the pond — with room for songbirds and frogs to scoot under — the heron returned several times, puzzled at this barrier to its food source. It sat on the greenhouse roof (where it made a striking finial ornament), waiting to see if the wire mesh might somehow disappear. It didn’t. In making the pond inviting for the frogs, I felt I had a duty of care for them. The heron, I decided, could go somewhere else. 

Greenhouse ornament © Jane Powers

Greenhouse ornament
© Jane Powers


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§ 10 Responses to The final croak

  • Paddy Tobin says:

    Despite a large heron population locally we also enjoy a healthy frog population in the garden.


  • Kathryn says:

    Someone was asking me today why he no longer had any frogs in his pond – I suspect this could be the answer. I’m sure the heron will have found someone’s goldfish to make up for the frog deprivation


  • Stephen Butler says:

    Nature red in tooth and claw!! I don’t begrudge the herons the odd frog – or an even frog come to that – but I do object to the cats murdering them slowly and leaving them dead, at least the heron is killing to live. I feed my frogs worms and slugs, they swallow them whole and alive, and boy can they pack a big worm in a split second.

    Many years ago in London, with a small stream in a park behind us, my brother and I heard the most unearthly noise. On looking out, we had to look up, and there was a heron being mobbed by 2 crows. And how did they do this?? Each had hold of a heron foot, and they were being towed along by the unhappiest heron ever! Stephen


  • Great photos Jane! I had a similar conundrum recently ie whether to run for the camera or run and rescue. For me it was a game of cat and mouse but with an urban fox and a wild cat in my back garden. It took 20 minutes of each moving one direction then the other, then back the other way again. All the time their bodies moved but their eyes never left each other. The cat eventually got away with the fox in pursuit over my garden wall…


  • A story that evoked several emotions Jane. I can image the pleasure of seeing such a bird in the garden then the sorrow for the frogs. I know that I would have rescued them too. We had a spawning ground at a field entrance down the lane that my children have enjoyed visiting every year since they were tiny. The council repaired the roads this year and covered it over.


  • Anne Wareham says:

    Difficult being faced by these grisly realities.

    We have a now rather ancient fish in one of our pools, which managed to escape the getting-rid-of-all-those-fish session. (emptying pool and giving the then captured fish away to grateful visitors..) It now lurks around, neither fed nor tended by us and I believe it eats our froglings and newt babies. It is huge. Name of Bob.

    There is no way to get rid of it, would you believe? Can’t legally put it in another pool, I learn, in case it is poorly and contaminating. Illegal to kill it. (cruel)

    Could you lend me your heron? Xx


  • Ann says:

    Jane, I just saw this blog posting so forgive my tardiness. I love this post. What drama! My goodness. Sorry for loss of the frogs though. I share the sentiments of the comment above about having mixed emotions. Hope you are well!


  • zeldasydney says:

    We enjoy seeing herons (and frogs!) here in Vancouver, Canada, as well. Faulous post, superb photos! RIP frog.


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