Nature: Spring is a time of anticipation



Male spring peeper with vocal sac inflated as it sings.
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

As winter loses its grip, wildlife gets on with reproducing.

Watch for purple finches. They are not really purple, but they are a lovely raspberry-colored finch that may come to your feeder, and they have a musical spring song to listen for.

These finches can be found across North America and even into Canada. The females look like a heavily streaked sparrow with a finch beak. Always look at what kind of beak every bird has to help figure out what you are seeing. A beak is very helpful in identification. I think a purple finch looks as if it had been dipped in raspberry juice. Finches like sunflower seeds.

One of my favorite sounds of spring is that of the spring peeper. This frog is one of the smallest of the frogs – it can sit on a nickel! But its voice is very loud and can carry about a mile.

The Latin name of the peeper is Hyla crucifer, meaning ‘bearer of the cross.’ The design of the cross is on the back of the small creature. When males call, they are advertising for a mate. Hearing them call is a welcome sign that winter is pretty much over. I love hearing it, especially on a warm spring evening. Standing at the edge of a pond when many peepers are calling is wonderful – though deafening. My mother-in-law thought it sounded like lots of sleigh bells ringing. I liked that description.

Spring peeper in the palm of a child’s hand.
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Peepers do not climb very well. Their feet are not webbed. The toes and fingers are equipped with adhesive discs on the tips. They do not climb far into trees but prefer to climb cattail stalks and plants growing in a small pond or other wet habitat.

Although peepers are more often heard than seen, it is possible to get a look at them if you go out on a wet spring evening with a flashlight wherever you hear them calling. The sound is made by trapping air within the male’s body and then forcing the air back and forth gently between the lungs and the bulging vocal sacs. It’s interesting to watch.

If the weather turns cold again for a few days and nights, the tiny amphibian retreats and waits for the return of warmer weather to start calling. He’s very persistent!

Spring peepers feed on gnats, mosquitoes, flies, beetles, spiders and sometimes tadpoles. Peepers get eaten by frogs, crows and mammals.

By the end of the month, land-dwelling salamanders have laid their eggs in ponds. In some years I have noticed them in my pond by April 25. The eggs are in a gelatinous mass attached to underwater sticks.

There are six species of salamanders on Mount Desert Island. They are the spotted salamander, the red-spotted newt, dusky salamander, red-backed salamander, two-lined salamander and the four-toed salamander.

The spotted salamander is my favorite, for he is handsome and bizarre. His chubby body is shiny black and generously covered with bright yellow spots.

All salamanders on MDI are harmless and all are quite shy. Look for them on warm spring nights. If you find one that has fallen in a hole, window well or in your cellar, just moisten your hand and take it out in the wet woods or other shady, moist area.

Send any questions or nature sightings to [email protected].

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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