Like muscle memory in sports, the arrival of a new season sets up sensory expectations. In the case of spring, hearing is a key one of the five senses called into service.
The changing of bird sounds is the first audio sign. Not only are there more bird calls to hear, but the calls are different from even just a few weeks ago. To birds, spring means mating season. It all happens fast and furiously, no time to waste in raising and rearing young in a climate where there are few short months to build a nest, breed, lay eggs, hatch, raise them to fledgling stage, kick them out of the nest, teach them to fly and eat, and then, for most, get strong enough to make a long flight south.
But before all that there comes courting — while there are many birds that do elaborate courtship dances to impress their potential mates, most rely on their showy looks and their beautiful song. Thus, truncated, staccato rat-rat-tats of winter transform into elongated operettas promising love and strong genes to whomever of his kind is within earshot.
The next aural heralding of spring for me is the ring of my phone. "This is your annual red-wing blackbird alert," I hear on the other end. My childhood friend, Linda, has called for the past 20 years to announce the arrival of the red-wings at her house, approximately 15 miles south of mine. It takes around two weeks before I hear the first "kon-ka-reeee!" at my place.
But the sound I await with the most anticipation is that of the frogs. Like the full leafing of the trees, the frogs always take longer to resurface than I remember. Each evening when I feed my horses I walk slowly back toward the house listening carefully in the hope of hearing the first "peep!" or the duck-like "cluck" of the American Toad. The clucks turn into long whirring sounds; one starts, another kicks in, peepers peep in a back rhythm, and a symphony to sleep by is right outside your bedroom window.
My friend, Linda, and I spent a late April evening once watching (and tape recording!) any frogs we could find in a vernal pool behind our barn and our fire pond. Peepers that have spent the winter hibernating under fallen logs and bark — and even totally freezing only to thaw out in the spring — lay eggs in water before heading back to dry land. For some reason, nature decided that sexy for a frog included blowing out the skin under the neck, making them look like a Red Sox player sitting in the dug out with a wad of Double Bubble. (If you really have time to waste, Google "baseball players blowing bubbles." It's kind of a hoot.).
Check out the Animal Diversity Web from the University of Michigan's Museum of Zoology (animaldiversity.ummz.edu) to hear some great recordings of frogs and toads (which are taxonomically the same but, as we all know, vastly different in the flesh!). The National Geographic site (nationalgeographic.com/animals) has informative encyclopedia-like pages of frogs including map ranges and audio clips.
But most importantly of all, when you are driving home on rainy nights for the next couple months, watch the road carefully and dodge and weave around frogs crossing the wet, warm pavement. Don't worry, when the police stop you for reckless driving I am sure they will understand!
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I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Stacey Cole and the New Hampshire Union Leader community for a warm welcome to the Nature Talks column. It is humbling to share this space with Mr. Cole, who clearly has a large fan base!
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The mail and email I've received already is a real treat! A lovely note from Margaret in Hampton was accompanied by a stunning photo (at right) of a pair of pileated woodpeckers circling a tree trunk. The photo was taken by Margaret's daughter, Pam Bates. Pam apparently has an etsy shop where you could purchase a copy of this amazing image.
I even got a congratulatory email from my husband which was nice since we are both so busy these days that email seems to be the main way we keep in touch — unless we're eating at the same table and then of course we text message too.
Until next time, throw open those windows and let the frog sounds soothe you to sleep!
Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. You can email her at email@example.com.