Friday, April 19, 2013

Magical Music

The frogs are back, and with them the song of spring.

Tuesday I drove home at dusk, dodging small amphibians as they leaped across the darkening road. I slowed and rolled the windows of the car down, craning to hear the happy, birdlike sound of the spring peepers and the quack of wood frogs that sing from ponds and vernal pools as winter melts away to spring. Alas, I heard not a peep, despite the hordes of migrating hoppers in the road.

Looking for spring peepers.
But the next afternoon my six-year-old son came running down the driveway from an excursion with his sisters and grandparents to the little pond across the road. “Mama, the peepers are back!” he declared. In a rush he explained all the frogs they’d seen at the pond and how he’d almost caught one. Then he grabbed his scooping net and headed back toward the water.

Turns out those were wood frogs, not peepers, but that did nothing to lessen the excitement for any of us. We returned the following day to sit quietly at the edge of the little pond until the raspy quacks of the black-masked frogs sounded back and forth across the water.

Last night as the light faded, I stepped onto the porch and listened. At first I heard only the singsong trill of the hermit thrush from the woods at the edge of the yard. And then from a further distance came a peep here, and another one. It’s not the full-blown chorus that will come a week or two from now, but it’s a start.

The peepers’ song is one in a string of welcome signs of spring. We spotted our first robin on Easter morning as we headed to the mountain for our last day of skiing. Soon, we were seeing flocks of the red-breasted birds hopping around yards and fields everywhere. The first crocuses bloomed purple and yellow and white among an otherwise brown garden Monday morning as the sun warmed the day, and the daffodils are ready to follow. We’ve heard that the bears are awake and roaming around looking for food. And now the peepers have started their song.

The chirping song of one spring peeper sounds like an overly confident spring chick, a hearty “peep” (thus the common name of these frogs). But as the small amphibians, barely larger than a quarter, gather by the hundreds in springtime, their voices merge to create a sound as big as the night sky, like the tinkling of elfin chimes echoing through the forest. 

The peepers’ warm up – a brief, solitary tune here, a high-pitched chirp there – crescendos into a lively chorus after dusk on the warmest mid-spring evenings, rising and falling, encompassing the gathering darkness. The peepers sing to us through dinner and well into the night, where their song becomes a happy lullaby.

The male frogs – peepers, wood frogs, and others – warble for the females, drawing them in with beautiful music. At the height of their mating season, the peepers seem to call from all sides – the pond across the road, the deep drainage ditch in the side field, the swampy marsh around the corner.

The frogs begin their spring song as the first flowers open, before the leaves pop to turn the landscape from dull brown to cheerful green. They sing us from the end of winter into the beginning of summer, their music carrying us through late snow showers and chilly rains into the warmth and color and brightness, when the local tarns that swelled in spring evaporate into the heat of summer.

By the time the music fades, we are close to the solstice and have become, perhaps, too busy to notice. No longer waiting for the arrival of spring, we’ve moved onto other things – long summer days and dips into cool rivers, cookouts and gardening, hikes through forests dense with rich green foliage.

But in these days when spring is taking hold, when frost still whitens the grass some mornings and the trees are mostly bare, we wait each evening for the peepers, listening for their magical music, welcoming this cheerfully tenacious song of spring.

For more information about spring peepers, I recommend an article by ecologist Michael J. Caduto, from Northern Woodlands magazine: Spring Peepers, Winter Sleepers.
To learn more about wood frogs, I recommend this page from NH Public Television.

No comments:

Post a Comment