Then, ahead of us, the other guide darted forward and shone his light on a large amphibian nestled in amongst some leaf litter on the forest floor. It had a white underbelly and green and brown mottled back and legs but it had a knobbly head. We realised it was no mountain chicken. This was the dread cane toad. It is unclear just why the cane toad came to Montserrat. On other islands; Antigua and Jamaica, for example, they were brought in to the sugar cane plantations to control pests, but of course became a pest themselves. Maybe a few cane toads made it on shipments to Montserrat, or somebody decided to bring them in to control pests on another crop. Whatever, they have found a good niche here on the island.
The cane toad was duly noted in the field sheet (although it was an unscheduled transect, Scriber wanted to record his data) and we moved on up the ghut. Soon afterwards the guides’ torches focused once more on the forest floor and I saw what appeared to be a garden ornament. Standing stock still was a large amphibian again; but this time it has strong dark and light colourations – stripes on the legs and blotches across the back. It had a black streak running from its shoulders to its eye sockets, and, in the torch light, the most amazingly deep amber eyes. It perched, yes perched is the right word, on the ground; its front legs angled inwards and the toes pointing towards each other. The massive back legs were curled tightly on themselves. This was our elusive mountain chicken, coiled up in readiness to fly if needed.
But instead of escaping us, it stayed motionless in the full glare of our torches. Scriber said it was a common behaviour against predators. It looked a darn stupid one to me. Scriber grabbed hold of it – it more than covered his fist but still made little struggle. Maybe a reason it was not doing so well…..
It was weighed and measured and they took a look at its health and features. They photographed it and then Scriber placed it carefully back on the ground. I looked down at it and then realised both why the marking were so good and why a behaviour of freezing on encountering danger could work. I could hardly make out the frog from all the leaf litter, twigs and other detritus down there. If it moved it would be immediately noticed and possibly eaten.