Friday, March 26, 2010

First frogs

Little Pond

Another warm night has begun.
I step into my tall wading boots, slip under the cover of a long dark jacket, and ease beneath the slender strap of the light which will hang from my shoulder. At my hip this large beam will freely swing, slung like a purse, as I walk hands-free exploring the edge of Little Pond in the hours approaching midnight. My final garment-- the heavy winter hat, one that would appear to be far more than is needed on this evening late in March, I casually stuff into one gaping pocket. For it is warm and mild, a night lit in moonlight revealing a faded field bathed in a mist, thick and welcome on my face.
I step out into the night, where from across the yard, the frogs are calling.

Spring Peeper, male calling

Like distant sleigh bells, the ring of spring peepers drawn to the basin of Little Pond sounds sweet and gentle, a light dusting of sound floating with ease on the heavy night air. I walk with each step, closer, down the path. And my light reveals the sudden retreat of hundreds of night crawlers, each shrinking back into its small hole as my footsteps approach their 8 to 10-inch emergence onto the lawn. In this warm and damp night, they have risen to revel amidst the short dew-studded grass before tunneling deep, beyond the reach of any summer drought. From the woods beyond Little Pond, a barred owl calls, and calls again.
I cross the berm into the shallow water of this vernal pool, 30 feet across and almost perfectly round. The sweet ring from small frogs mounts now with such volume that above it no other sound is heard. From my pocket, I retrieve the heavy hat and tug it snuggly down, covering my ears—a muffler against the din that has become an almost painful roar.
With a sweep of my light in a wide arc from side to side across the pool, the tiny tree frogs are hushed in an instant, surprised into a silence that quickly fades. In seconds, the first brave soul perched and projecting from a blade of grass, calls out into the night once more.
And the uproar begins again.

Spring Peeper breeding pair in amplexus
(smaller male clasping larger female as she lays eggs)

Wood Frogs' eye shine across Little Pond

In the beam of my light, the eyes of wood frogs return a golden glow as they float motionless across the darkened surface. Their quacking call, as if half dog, half duck, gathers them here from the woods yards away to breed in the waters of Little Pond. Large, ruddy females, eagerly clasped by the small, dark males, have already left compact clumps of eggs, golf ball-sized dark orbs, which by morning will have swelled to the size of grapefruits. Communal egg masses, gelatinous rafts several feet across will stretch to cover this quiet corner, moored to first-growing grass at the edge of Little Pond.

Wood Frog breeding pair

Wood Frog eggs

Wood Frogs leaving eggs in communal egg masses

Northern Leopard Frog breeding pair

Northern Leopard Frog pair in amplexus

Northern Leopard Frog eggs

Leopard frogs, too, large, but barely seen as the dark brown and green of their bodies blends with the tangle of grass at the edge, call to one another in a low, ticking snore.
These first frogs of spring, at any other time buried in the depths of the woods or under the cover of tall field grass, now stare back at me from the cool water of Little Pond. With my light, I have stepped into their darkened world.

Spring Peeper and Northern Leopard Frog
(for size comparison)

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sounds and silence

The sound of peepers fills the air.
With my eyes still closed in the dark of a cool, spring morning,
like sleigh bells through the field grass, their distant chime forecasts another warming day.

For weeks I’ve driven past the still snow-covered fields, each time, looking for a change—
a sign that this winter, longer than most and having left layer upon layer of snow, would lessen its hold. And along the trail, I’ve followed the footsteps of deer, whose tracks, preserved in snow, lie beside those of the coyote, though I know they pass here, each in their own time.

Horned Lark, Eremophila alpestris

Eastern Bluebird, Siala sialis

In the dark before dawn, I’ve heard the woodcock calling,
while, from the basin which I call Little Pond, wood frogs have begun to quack incessantly.
It is these sounds of spring, that speak for those most silent.
Who, drawn to the cool, clear waters of their birth,
with flashes of their long, spotted bodies, yet say, "spring."

Spotted Salamander, Ambystoma maculatum

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