Loss of Dunnock Nest - To a Frog!

By John Clarke

At first I thought it was a toad but eventually I saw it without its covering of moss, and of course it leaped out rather than climbing out.

I usually try to monitor bird's nests in and around my garden and the more unusual ones are more carefully noted and information sent to the BTO Nest Record Scheme. Some years ago I caused a certain amount of disbelief in some circles when I was monitoring Buzzards on the island where we lived. This particular pair had chosen to nest on an inland cliff and were doing well until one of the islands many feral. goats clambered down and ate the greenery lining the nest, breaking the eggs in the process. I had to submit the record - "outcome of nest - predated by goat"! Now I have another record which will be hard to believe - a pair of Dumocks which nested in a large Senecio compactus shrub, just outside our back door, had their nest taken over by a large common frog!

I found the nest, plus three eggs and frog on 28th April.. The nest is sited amongst dense twigs and foliage - just over three feet above the ground. The frog was largely undisturbed by my daily monitoring of its 'roost' - it remained snuggled down in the bottom of the nest, the eggs squeezed to one side and part of the side walls pulled over its back like a 'mossy duvet'. Its occupation was sometimes erratic - occasionally it would disappear for several days - but once there, it usually remained unmoved by the disturbance, as numerous visitors pulled back the foliage to get a glimpse of our 'nesting frog'. I tried to photograph the whole thing but found it almost impossible to get a good picture when only the frog's head and shoulders were visible and helpers were needed to hold back the foliage.

My last record of the frog was 11th June and, assuming that it will not now return, the occupation lasted over six weeks. It is interesting to speculate how the frog found and chose this unusual resting site - after all it was three feet above the ground in dense cover. So was the frog already clambering around in the bush, possibly hunting for food, or did it spot a dark silhouette way above its head and climb to investigate? Also, why did it choose to repeatedly return, surely that is quite a climb for a frog - especially when once there, a succession of nosy humans are likely to be disturbing your rest. Anyway, there are plenty of 'normal' resting places for frogs and toads in and around our garden and we frequently see them. So far I have been unable to find anyone who has heard of this type of frog behaviour. Maybe this story will encourage others to report unusual amphibians or indeed strange occupants of bird's nests.


Since writing to you in June, I assumed the frog had abandoned its 'roost' in the Dunnock's nest - but not a bit of it! It returned for a couple of days at the beginning of July, a day in early August, and again later in the month. Then, on 29th August, I was amazed to see a great big toad in residence - although that only stayed for a day. For most of September the nest was unoccupied but during the third week when dried leaves and flower heads started to appear in the nest, I concluded a mouse had taken it over. Imagine my surprise when a frog turned upon the 24th! During the next week or so I saw nothing - although more leaves appeared. Then, on 4th October the frog was back - and was still in residence in late October . The saga will no doubt continue - I will let you know what happens next!

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