KNOWING that frogs were now returning to their breeding ponds, I walked a couple of lanes in the Wee County the other week at night-time in the hope of detecting some on the move under the illumination of my torch beam.

They are much easier to spot when caught in the openness of crossing small roads than when in among grass and other vegetation.

The conditions that evening were perfect: light drizzle and the air relatively mild, despite it being early March.

I soon spotted the familiar form of a frog crossing the lane, and then several more, their pale throats catching the torchlight.

For some reason, frogs always seem bolder and less shy at night-time, and these ones were totally unconcerned by my near approach.

This could be because they are so consumed by the urge to reach their breeding ponds, or perhaps the torchlight confuses and dazzles them.

Whatever the case, when I crouched down to examine one, it made no attempt to retreat and happily stood its ground.

I also spotted several toads, which was most unusual, as they usually don't first emerge from hibernation until two or three weeks after frogs.

Could this be just one more indication of our warming climate?

Well, yes, probably. The timing of frog spawning has always been of great interest to me, because it is a key indicator of global warming.

As a boy, back in the 1970s, it was in the middle of March when I would find the first spawn in central Scotland.

Now it can be as early as the end of February. That shift in days might not seem much, but in nature terms it is gargantuan.

Frog courtship and spawning is a relatively benign affair compared to toads, who undertake their breeding with zeal and enthusiasm that borders on the unhealthy.

Every year, in another part of Clackmannanshire, there is a large pond that I religiously visit at the end of March to witness this most remarkable natural phenomenon.

Such is the eagerness of these toads to procreate, it is not uncommon to come across an unfortunate female trying to make her way to the pond carrying the weighty baggage of two or three smaller males clinging tenaciously to her back.

Once in the pond, the female may attract even more desperate males, resulting in a writhing ball of squirming toads.

It is enough to put even the most depraved Roman orgy to shame and it is a real wonder where the toads get all their energy from, especially since they are thin and emaciated after having just emerged from hibernation.

Such is the incredible intensity of the occasion that for many toads it will be their final act, and they will succumb from sheer exhaustion.