Peepers and cluckers

This male Wood Frog, along with many others, are trying to attract females by clucking as loudly as they can. They are the Wood Frog section of the early spring swamp choir!

I love the swamp that is close to our house. It’s got cool shrubs, like dogwoods, and trees like silver maples, that grow right out of the water. And it’s home to so many animals! We see turtles, dragonflies, ducks, fireflies at its edge, and so much more! But the best time for me is early spring when it’s the site of my favourite sound in the world – a chorus of singing frogs!

Some people wouldn’t say that frogs sing. Their sounds are more like “calls,” not as complicated as robin or cardinal songs. But to me they are beautiful. Even before the ice is gone, in our swamp two kinds of frogs start to sing. The first is usually a Wood Frog, a beautiful medium-sized frog with a dark mark over its eyes, and the next are the Spring Peepers, tiny songsters with an amazingly loud voice!

So this afternoon, in early April, I put on my chest waders, huge boots that go up to my chest, and a lifejacket just in case (you can’t swim wearing chest waders). I grab my camera and wander down to the swamp. I can hear Wood Frogs clucking away, like a bunch of crazy chickens, right at the edge of the water. Back farther in the swamp I hear the lovely peep-peep-peep of Spring Peepers. But today I’m after Wood Frogs.

Compared to a wild animal, I make a lot of noise walking around, and the Wood Frogs stop singing. To them, I might be a clumsy raccoon (raccoons would be way better at sneaking up on frogs) or maybe a Great Blue Heron. But I can see just a few of the singers floating silently in the shallow water. I sit on a stump that’s right in the water, and now it’s a waiting game. Will the frogs realize I am not a predator, and sing again before I leave? Will I give up and walk up the hill to get my dinner and try another time?

I decide to be really patient. Besides, sitting in a swamp is very interesting. I spot a fishing spider, walking right on the water, hoping to find a bug for its dinner. The water is so clear in early spring! I can see the detail of every leaf that fell and sank to the bottom last fall, and the reflections are so beautiful.

About ten minutes go by (but who’s counting?), and I see some ripples. Another minute, a half-hearted cluck, then another. More and more frogs start up, and I am in the middle of the choir! This is so fantastic! On the closest frogs I can see their vocal sacs puff out when they call, sending ripples radiating out across the still water. Sometimes one will approach another. Of course, mating and laying eggs is what this is all about. Clucking males are hoping to attract a female, then she will lay eggs that he fertilizes. The calling and mating is all over in just a few days, so there is urgency here! Wood frogs are “explosive” breeders (sounds impressive!). That means they get together in a large group, call, lay and fertilize eggs, then hop back into the woods after only several days. Other frogs, like Spring Peepers, take much longer to finish calling and mating.

The eggs hatch after about a week, and the tadpoles metamorphose into tiny frogs by early to mid-summer. It’s got to be quick, or else the pond or swamp might dry up too soon. Other frogs, like green frogs, choose bigger ponds and lakes and their tadpoles can take a year or more to develop into adults.

Wow, I’ve been in the swamp for way over an hour now. The Wood Frogs are still clucking, checking each other out, and meanwhile, the distant Spring Peepers are getting louder. Tomorrow night I’ll try to find them.

But this afternoon I feel like an honorary member of our local Wood Frog choir.

In the video above, two Wood Frogs float among thousands of eggs at the edge of the swamp.

…and now the Peepers

At night in a swamp, a tiny male Spring Peeper frog belts out his romantic peeps, accompanied by the rest of his early spring amphibian choir.

Well, I’m back in the swamp again. But now it’s night-time, and the choir has changed. The Wood Frogs are still clucking, REALLY clucking – they sound so intense! But I’m deeper in the swamp, actually in a canoe, and I’m surrounded by a beautiful chorus of peeping sounds. These are frogs called Spring Peepers, and their calls are my favourite sound in all of nature.

There’s one calling really close, just a few metres away! I slowly paddle closer, and I’m lucky enough to find him almost right away. He’s in a tangle of old plants and twigs, and is he EVER singing! He’s tiny (he could sit comfortably on a loonie) but he’s SO loud! I love it!

His vocal sac looks like a balloon under his chin, and it puffs out and in, as air is pushed back and forth from his lungs to the sac. That forces air over his vocal cords, and produces the “PEEP!” He’s clinging with suction cup-tipped toes to the twigs, and he’s sitting up straight and peeping in a whole-body effort.

Of course, like the Wood Frogs, he is trying to attract a mate. If he does, he’ll fertilize her eggs. Spring Peepers keep singing in a swamp or pond for over a month, then return to the woods to eat tiny insects until late fall when they hibernate under logs and leaves. Then, one warm-ish late winter or early spring day, probably a rainy one, they’ll hop back into the swamp to continue life’s circle. I can’t believe how much energy the males have after going without food for months!

Paddling back, I’m thankful for wetlands like swamps and marshes that are home to so much wildlife. For many animals, they are like protective nurseries, since they allow tadpoles of frogs and salamanders, and many larval insects to grow up and become adults, while wetlands along lakes even provide shelter for baby fish.

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