A spring peeper

Peepers a welcome sign of spring



The sound of the first spring peepers is beautiful music to my ears. The call carries for over half a mile and summons all females within hearing range. The males are hopeful and persistent! When the females hear and respond, they head for the nearest small pond, marsh or wetlands. The little spring peepers are small, brownish tree frogs with a darker cross on their backs. If the weather is warm early in the season, you may hear them before the end of March when there is still snow on the ground in places. As the weather gets warmer, their calling increases. The first warm spring rain brings them into full chorus. They call from their resting places low in the vegetation around wet areas. They may even call in the daytime on an overcast day.

When a pair has mated, the female deposits her eggs in the water on any underwater vegetation near the bottom. The eggs are very tiny, and she may lay anywhere from 750-1000 eggs. Keep an eye out in suitable areas where they might be, and you’ll see them. Leave them where you find them and go back frequently to watch their development.

These tiny frogs feed on such creatures as mosquitoes, flies, gnats, spiders and beetles. The little frogs themselves are prey for bigger frogs, water birds, big beetles and numerous mammals. Wildlife is always either looking for food or trying not be eaten!

Quite often, we hear wood frogs first in the spring. These are small brownish frogs with a dark mask over the eyes. They are quite pretty, but they make a strange sound early in the spring that reminds you of a quacking duck. They are more often heard than seen. Adults live in moist woodlands and only go to ponds to breed in the spring. They are well-camouflaged and easy to miss, but once seen, they are readily identified. The egg masses appear as gelatinous blobs in small ponds. The little tadpoles are carnivorous and will even be seen feeding on freshly killed water animals. In the food chain, these frogs are sought after by larger frogs, mammals, birds and snakes.

On Mount Desert Island, we have six species of frogs and one toad, They are the American toad, spring peeper, pickerel frog, gray tree frog, bullfrog, green frog and wood frog. The leopard frog used to be here in the 1930s, but it is considered rare at this time. It is listed as a frog to be found in all of Maine but is much less common than the pickerel frog.

Enjoy the sounds made by the various frogs and toads in the vicinity of local ponds and wet areas. There is a great book published by the University of Maine that is a big help in knowing them. It is called “Maine Amphibians and Reptiles,” by Hunter, Calhoun and McCollough. It also contains a CD with all the sounds made by Maine’s frogs and toads.

Flickers have arrived recently and are making themselves known when they fly up from the roadsides and lawns showing that white patch at the base of the tail. I saw four at once on my driveway, and other residents are reporting numerous sightings. We have several resident woodpeckers with us throughout the year including the downy and hairy woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers and the rare black-backed woodpeckers. The northern flicker and yellow-bellied sapsucker are migrants leaving us in the winter. Occasional visitors are red-bellied woodpeckers and red-headed woodpeckers.

I had a question this week about tracks found in the snow when a resident was cross-country skiing not long ago. The tracks were definitely bird tracks and went wandering along for over a quarter of a mile. A naturalist friend and I identified them as turkey tracks, for these big birds frequently choose to walk rather than fly. My grandson met two turkeys on my driveway one day. They are much smarter than the barnyard turkey. They sleep in trees at night. They can fly, of course, but they spend a lot of time walking. You may have met them on island roads in small or large groups. Always slow down or stop until they decide where they are going. Let their leader take control and decide what course they will take. The rest will follow, and you can enjoy the encounter. Many females and their young are frequently seen together. Males do not take part in any family life after mating.

The field across from Ship Harbor is a good one to see woodcocks doing their courtship dance. Park at the designated area and listen for that bzzzzing call they make. They are comical birds.

Great blue herons are back and ospreys can be seen flying in our skies again.

Warblers are returning and are at their best in the spring when their colors are not confusing. The breeding plumages show birds at their best. If at all possible, get a photograph of any warbler you see even though it’s easier said than done sometimes. If your sighting is to be accepted by the birding community, you need proof. Cell phones with the ability to take excellent photos as well as handy recording devices built in really help in proving what you have seen and heard. Pictures are worth a thousand words. In John Audubon’s day, birders shot the bird and then identified it. The cell photo and other cameras certainly have been an improvement on that method of identification and enormously helpful in figuring out what you may have seen or heard.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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