Nature Talks - pic1

‘Tis the season to hear bullfrogs around the pond at night.

EVERY SPRING I feel compelled to mention frogs at least once in this column. This year, the opportunity presented itself from a conversation I had last week. After a work-related discussion, the person I was with said she had one last question that had nothing to do with the topic at hand. I can’t recall if she has told me she has seen my column or not, so maybe she was just picking the brains of three new people standing in front of her. Her question was (I paraphrase): “There is a bird that sings only at night. It just started in the last week or so. It is constant. All. Night. Long. What the heck kind of bird is it?”

We all puzzled over this for a minute or so. Whippoorwill? Owl? Then I said, “It’s not a bird but a frog.” She seemed a bit surprised but hopeful that her mystery was solved. When I got back to the office I sent her a link to Lang Elliott’s Music of Nature site (https://musicofnaturec.om/calls-of-frogs-and-toads-of-the-northeast/) which has recordings of frog sounds in the Northeast. The next day she was excited to confirm that it was frogs — spring peepers — she was hearing.

This conversation reminded me of the summer visits I made with my grandparents to their camp when I was a kid. At night, just about when we all had crawled into bed, a bullfrog would start croaking in a swampy area right beside the camp. My grandmother would insist that my grandfather go out in the dark of night and dispense of the bullfrog with a baseball bat so she could get to sleep. No bullfrog was ever harmed. The croaker would stop for a bit while my grandfather hovered and that seemed to be enough time for my grandmother to fall asleep. Or perhaps it wasn’t quieting the bullfrog but having the bed to herself that helped her get to sleep!

Speaking of nighttime nature, I was standing in the doorway of the dog shed at 4 a.m. recently waiting for the now-elusive activity that the dog woke me up claiming she needed to do. While I stood there, I heard a barred owl a short distance away. Then I heard it again a shorter distance away (one of the reasons I wait at 4 a.m. for my 13-pound Puerto Rican rescue to do her business). Then I heard quacking from a little distance get closer, then closer, then overhead, and then I heard a loud splash as the duck landed in our pond. There sure is a lot of bird activity in the wee hours of the morning.

The loons have returned. I do like hearing them do their googling as they flew by the house on their way to the lake on the other side of our property. Time to get the kayak out and cruise the lake myself. The loons are usually as interested in me as I am in them.

I now know there are three porcupines living under our barn. Good thing they are one of my favorite animals. I’m concerned the group has mange issues, though. One has no hair on its face. Another I saw the other evening sitting in the bucket of our tractor eating a blade of grass; when it walked away its whole back end was raw and without quills. Perhaps it had a near miss.

A reader emailed me a question the other day wondering if I had seen any chipmunks lately or whether others had mentioned the lack of the little rodents. Now that he mentioned it, I have not seen one chipmunk this spring. There is usually one that lives near our front steps and sits on the granite stone eating and tormenting one of my dogs who quivers just a thick piece of glass away. But nothing so far this year.

Then another reader emailed to ask if I had seen any this year and that she had not. Then, someone on one of the Facebook pages I follow asked if anyone had seen any chipmunks this year. Any other readers have 2019 chipmunk experience?

Black flies have arrived. They like running water so expect a lot of them this year. UNH Cooperative Extension’s fact sheet on black flies says that control of black flies is just not practical and avoidance is the key. Peak activity is mid-morning (9 to 11 a.m.) and late afternoon (4-7 p.m.). They recommended light colors, zippered shirts and hats made of netting. Repellents, says the fact sheet, are not as effective against black flies as against mosquitoes.

And so, spring has settled in with chilly dampness and little sun. But on my daily walk with the dogs between one day and the next the bluets and wild violets carpeted the landscape. The purple trillium is just out here and soon to be followed by painted trillium and ladyslippers. I find it comforting to see the lovely annual cycle of wildflowers.

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Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at naturetalksck@gmail.com.