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Portbury Wharf’s Amphibians

Portbury Wharf’s amphibians . . . 

. . . include common frogs, common toads, smooth newts and great crested newts.

This wetland has long supported Portbury Wharf’s amphibians. Now the disruption of house building is over and gardens have matured these native amphibians have moved back in and enjoy the rich pickings of garden slugs, worms and insects.


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All toads are actually frogs:

  • toads generally spend more time out of water
  • they have a drier, wartier skin and shorter hind legs
  • the common toad has a rather catchy Latin name Bufo bufo

(The common frog is Rana temporaria – not quite so catchy!)

One of Portbury Wharf's Amphibians - toad
Bufo bufo

When are you likely to see them?

February and March is the time when we are most likely to see them as large numbers converge on their breeding ponds.

They will have been overwintering in hedges, in muddy ditches, hiding under stones and plant pots or hunkered down under compost heaps. As the winter draws back a rise in temperature triggers the beginning of the breeding season.

Frogs become increasingly active in garden ponds just before the migration begins, a sure sign that movement is imminent. If weather conditions are favourable (mild, damp evenings) the onset of migration is sudden and they will begin, en masse, to head to their breeding ponds. Typically frogs migrate earlier than toads.

They take the quickest route along ancestral pathways to the ponds in which they were spawned. This often brings them into conflict with people.

They return to the ponds in which they were spawned. These routes take them along ancestral pathways bringing them into perilous contact with cars, cyclists and pedestrians.

Only male frogs have vocal sacs and croak to attract females. 
If you are lucky you might hear the deep croaking of the male frogs calling for a mate. A walk after dusk may well reveal numerous frogs and toads jumping and crawling across pathways as they make their way towards their ponds.

Males are smaller than females and you might spot some of them hitching a ride on the back of their chosen female in order to ensure that they are present to fertilise the eggs when she releases them in water.

paired up frogs
Frogs pairing up
paired up toads
Toads pairing up



  • Frogs spend the winter in semi-hibernation becoming active on warmer days
  • While hibernating their bones grow a layer and scientists can tell the age of a frog from the number of bone layers, a bit like counting the rings of a tree


Portbury Wharf’s amphibians


Portbury Wharf's amphibians - a toad at nightHow to identify a toad

Toads are generally brown in colour, their skin looks dry and warty and their eyes orange. They have shorter back legs than frogs and tend to crawl rather than jump.

Portbury Wharf's amphibians a migrating frog

How to identify a frog

Frogs have smooth skin, mainly green and brown, but also yellow, red, orange and black. They have a black patch on their heads behind each eye and two ridges running along their back.

How to identify newts

Newts are much harder to spot than frogs and toads.

Smooth newts are small, 10cm at most in length, including a long tail. They present as brown but have striking orange skin with black spots or patches underneath. They also have spotted throats.

One of Portbury Wharf's Amphibians GCNThe Great-Crested Newt has a black warty back, but with a vibrant orange underside with black patches. It has orange and black striped fingers, ending with orange tips. Males have a white flash along their tail. During the breeding season the crest along their back becomes more pronounced.

 Great crested newts are a bit of a rarity so are protected under UK and EU law.  It is illegal to handle them without a licence. Thankfully moving a great crested newt out of danger is allowable. So you can move a great crested newt from a footpath or road to a safe place nearby. Though they can  be difficult to spot on wet tarmac as they are well camouflaged.




Do you know?

  • The name for a group of frogs is an army or company
  • A group of toads is known as a knot or nest of toads


Portbury Wharf’s amphibians


Frogs, toads and newts are active at night and eat:

  • insects
  • slugs and snails
  • spiders
  • worms
  • small fish
  • and even tadpoles

Larger toads may even take

  • slow worms
  • small grass snakes
  • harvest mice

Tadpoles live on pond algae and only become carnivores as they mature into adult frogs, toads and newts.


Do you know?

  • Frogs and newts are very sensitive to pollution so having a good population is a sign of a healthy balanced ecosystem


Frogs and newts have lots of predators:

  • Other amphibians like snakes and lizards
  • Foxes, badgers, dogs and small mammals such as hedgehogs
  • Hawks, herons, seagulls and other birds will eat them
  • Pike and other fish, swimming mammals and even diving birds
  • Frogs even have to watch out for other hungry frogs



  • Frogs and newts are cold-blooded. This means their internal temperature is the same as the external temperature
  • On hot days they will need to cool off in water to stop themselves overheating


In your garden

Create garden habitats to encourage frogs and toads to move in. The best thing you can do is to create a garden pond. You will love it when the frogs come calling in February and March!

Perfect places for amphibians to hide:

  • A small log pile
  • upturned pots
  • large stones
  • less manicured area of lawn

Remember, frogs and toads are useful garden residents as they eat slugs and snails.

Find out more at :

In your neighbourhood

Portishead Toad Patrol help frogs, toads and newts survive their annual migration across roads in the Village Quarter and The Vale during February and March.

They collect about 1,500 creatures each year from roads, footpaths and driveways, and place them close to the ponds to which they are heading.

This frog used one of the ladders that the Portishead Toad Patrol installed in a gully pot.

This number demonstrates what an important habitat this is for Portbury Wharf’s amphibians and for the declining common toad in particular. Helping to prevent road casualties is a good way to mitigate the effects of increasing urbanisation within their ancestral territories.

If you can offer help please visit Portishead Frog Patrol on Facebook or email

If you do not live in Portishead there may still be a local patrol for you to get involved with. Froglife has links to patrols all over the country, so to help a frog or two have a look at:


 . . . DID YOU KNOW?


Do you know?

  • A frog does not need to drink as it absorbs water through its skin
  • A frog will shed its skin regularly to keep it healthy and then eat it

For a month by month guide of what to look out for on the reserve see What’s Happening

References and further reading:

“Portbury Wharf’s amphibians” photos courtesy of Helen Mason and