The Natterjack Toad is the rarest of Ireland’s three native amphibian species; it is only found in a scant handful of sites in the whole country, the most notable of these being the dunes at Castlegregory. They prefer habitats with loose sandy soil, where they rest during the day in burrows or under stones, coming out at night to forage over the dunes. The species is quite distinct from other species of toad in that its hind legs are short – it has a crawling, shambling gait more like a lizard than the more traditional hopping of toads and frogs, and is also not a particularly strong swimmer. Emerging from hibernation in March, the toads move to their breeding sites in shallow ponds, and at this time of year the loud calling of the males, amplified by their throat sac, can be heard for great distances. The female lays her eggs in long strings like a string of pearls, quite different from the mass of frogspawn. Given the species' threatened status in Ireland, the NPWS has developed breeding ponds in conjunction with landowners in areas where the toads are found to ensure their success; they are also found in great numbers around the water hazards at Castlegregory Golf Links, which is where we caught up with them a few weeks ago.
Given the poor weather, there was a fantastic turnout for the evening; more than twenty intrepid explorers turned up at dusk armed with wellies and torches for a night’s hunting. The toads did not disappoint, with the first one encountered crossing the path only a short distance from the clubhouse. Many more followed; we were lucky enough not only to hear them sing, despite the rain and the cold, but also to see several pairs clasping each other in their mating embrace in the ponds. For quite a few present, it was their first time encountering this beautiful little creature – absolutely worth the, for some, long distance travelled. The fantastic photos are courtesy of Anthony Dawson.