Spring peeper show starts

Peepers have begun their spring songs this week. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Peepers have started singing their spring song this week. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Peepers take center stage this week with their joyous sleigh-bell like sounds in local wetlands. There may be chilly winds and occasional snow yet to come, but the peeper chorus is getting stronger, and a welcome song it is. This tiny tree frog can make a loud sound that carries half a mile or more. As spring moves along, their songs will swell into a mighty chorus. The purpose of the call is to attract females to the breeding grounds. They will arrive from their winter hiding places this month.

These small frogs have a distinctive x marking or cross on their back. Their Latin name is Hyla crucifer, and crucifer means “bearing a cross.” Their fingers and toes are equipped with adhesive discs, and their feet are not webbed. Peepers usually do not climb up into tall trees, but they climb among the cattail stalks and vegetation near their breeding ponds. They are sometimes hard to find, but if you know they are nearby, be sure to approach the area slowly, and they will call again. Take your flashlight with you. It’s fun to see their throats bulge out as they loudly peep.

This sound is made by the peepers as they force the air back and forth between their lungs and the vocal sac that enlarges beneath their throats. The sac remains as a bubble as the frog calls.

After the female arrives and they mate, she lays her eggs singly or in small clusters in the underwater vegetation. She may lay 1,000 eggs, but many are eaten by other creatures. The eggs that are not eaten by predators hatch in a week or two. Temporary pools are excellent for them, for they don’t have predators living in them. The eggs and young are eaten by larger frogs, water birds and larger birds, such as crows and many different mammals. Listen now for the peeper choruses. They often sound like 100s of sleigh bells ringing! It’s a favorite sound of mine.

Naturalist friends living near me saw a varied thrush this week pulling a big worm out of the ground in their yard. This is not a commonly seen bird on Mount Desert Island. It is listed as a “rare bird not seen in some years and no pattern of a regular appearance.” As its name implies, it belongs in the thrush family along with the robins, wood thrush and hermit thrush and several others that are seen here.

This lovely thrush is sometimes a visitor here from western North America. It is one of the thrushes found there in shaded woodlands. It is the general shape of a robin and acts in a similar way. The varied thrush is quite pretty with its orange throat and “eye-brow.” This one was seen in Tremont, so if you live in that area, keep watch for it.

I had two reports of a funny-looking robin this week. The bird looked like a robin and traveled with other robins, but both birds seen had a lot of white on them. I am thinking that they may be partial albinos with just some white feathers here and there. Partial albinism often follows feather groups, so you get a white head or wing or tail etc. One of my contacts is trying to get a good picture of it as it travels about her place with other robins.

Courting turkeys are being seen here and there with the toms strutting about with tails fanned as they do their version of the turkey trot. My older readers may remember that dance. A large group of female turkeys and a few toms is quite a grand sight and fun to watch. Courtship behavior often is humorous whether man or beast.

My best viewing of turkey courtship was at Cumberland Island, Georgia, a few years ago. This is a National Wildlife Refuge and filled with natural wildlife. Just outside the dining room window one morning, there were about 30 hens and six toms gathered. The hens were trying to act “hard to get” as the toms strutted and fanned their tails. Watching them was a great way to start the day and enjoy breakfast and Georgia peaches.

After mating, the female disappears and makes the nest, which she keeps hidden from the males, for if they find the nest, they will destroy it and the eggs. She must keep the nest hidden from the males from the moment it is made. After the eggs hatch, she continues to hide the young from the males as well. I don’t know why he has such strange behavior. She, however, keeps going back many times to the “dancing and courtship” area to join in the fun.

Another friend got to see a young beaver moving about an island pond this week. I suspect it was last year’s young since the young ones leave the lodge earlier in the spring. The beaver den all winter has been crowded with several generations all cozied up together. They are probably anxious to be out and about. This is a good time to visit your favorite beaver pond and see what is going on at dusk.

Because of our strange winter this year with little snow and warmer weather coming and going at odd times, both plants and mammals are reacting differently. How the season progresses is yet to be seen, and how the environment and all the local and migrant creatures are affected by it is yet to be seen.

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

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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