IN ONE of the chapters in my new book on a wildlife year on the River Devon – If Rivers Could Sing – I recounted the fascination of my discovery last spring of a breeding colony of toads in a side-pool of the river.

These toads were a surprise to me because typically they breed in ponds and lochans, and not by river margins.

Although this backwash pool of the Devon is mostly calm and placid, it is connected directly to the open river by a channel several feet wide and is exposed, at times, to the vagaries of the river's powerful flow.

The toads had probably successfully spawned here for many years, as they are traditionalists in their breeding sites, but I wondered how the tadpoles would cope whenever the river turns to spate.

Compared to the calm of an enclosed pond, these river tadpoles would also have to contend with predation by trout, kingfishers, and dippers.

Ever since finding these river toads, I had hankered to snorkel in among them, and with this season's spawning underway, I now had my golden opportunity.

Thus, last week on a rain-scattered dawn, I plunged into this icy cold pool of the Devon and slowly snorkelled to the far bank where the spawning toads lay.

The shallow bottom of the pool was thick with silt, but as I glided across the water, the first toads appeared.

Initially, a lone individual resting on the bottom, then another, followed quickly by a pair in their mating position known as 'amplexus' (the Latin for 'embrace').

Here, the male had a tenacious, vice-like grip on the back of the female in readiness to fertilise her string of eggs when released into the water.

Toads' go about mating with a zeal and passion that borders on the unhealthy, and as I swam up to the pool margin, a breeding ball of toads lay beneath me.

There were perhaps four or five toads in this squirming mass, but it was hard to be sure because they were so entangled in their mating mayhem.

It was a mystery to me where these toads managed to pull their energy from, especially since they were thin and emaciated after having just emerged from hibernation.

Such is the incredible intensity of the breeding occasion that for many toads this will be their final act and they will perish from exhaustion.

These river toads were a natural enigma and snorkelling in among them had unveiled an exciting new dimension to these intriguing creatures.

Keith's book on the wildlife of the River Devon – If Rivers Could Sing – is available at, or other online booksellers.