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Field Notes

Pump Up the Volume

Step out the door at daylight and you are bound to hear the robins announcing their presence and marking their territory. A little higher in the trees, cardinals are letting the world know they are there and this is their world. As light picks up, the chickadees and titmice jack the volume by starting their calls. To add a little rhythm to the spring symphony, woodpeckers mark territory with a pounding staccato, enticing to the ladies and a warning to males of the same kind to stay away. Listen closely and many more birds join the spring choir every day.
Also in the background comes a strange, quacking chorus from the swamps and shallow waters and can be attributed to the Wood frogs. The males have assembled to collective call to the ladies that this is the place to be. This is where the action is. The water appears to boil with activity as they jockey for the best positions.
With a light brown skin and the black, raccoon like mask, Wood frogs are running a little late this year due to cold and dry conditions. Some years they may move to the breeding pools as early as late February. The woodies are very wary and will stop calling if approached by predators or people, so the best way to observe them is to move as close as possible to their pools in the daytime. Then just quietly sit and wait a little while for them to come up and breathe. If you don’t move, you will soon be surrounded by them.
In a few days, the Spring Peepers will join the party with their high pitched, ear piercing calls. These tiny, one-inch long, light brown tree frogs with the suction cups on their toes and a dark X on their back, congregate in the low water to meet and greet others of their kind. If you ever stood in a dark swamp surrounded by calling peepers, you know how deafening that can be.
Another expected, but more quiet arrival, the spotted salamander, is also running behind this year. Temps are nearly warm enough, around 45 to 50 degrees at night, but recently conditions have been dry. These black with yellow spots amphibians have a damp skin meant to be protected by earth or water and may not appear until we receive some warm, rainy or foggy nights. When conditions are right, they will crawl en masse to their native, breeding ponds like college students headed to the beach. Shallow ponds or sloughs without fish are preferred and dozens to hundreds of white, opaque, hen fruit sized masses of eggs will be left behind containing the next generation. When the “Spring Breakers” are done, this member of the Mole Salamander Family will head back deep underground until next year.
Spring is just getting a good start. If you want to learn more, just follow your ears to the woods and swamps where life is breaking out.

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