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Tiny chorus frogs begin spring songs

Hardy chorus frogs were the first ones to wake and begin calling this spring. Photo by Larry Weber1 / 2
Chorus frogs are the only striped frog species in this area. Photo by Larry Weber2 / 2

Except for a few patches of snow on north-facing hillsides and shaded woods, the long-lasting snow cover is now gone, but not all the ice.

We exited April with many lakes still holding their frozen coats. April was several degrees below with more snowfall than usual; however, precipitation for this spring month was less. Ten degrees below normal made the first half winterish; the second half was spring. Finally, after the snow melted, I can walk without boots.

I find that early spring walks are carefree and full of discoveries. Today was no exception. Waiting for the snow to move on, migrant songbirds are now abound. In the yard, I see phoebe, yellow-rumped warblers, sapsuckers and robins. Juncos and fox sparrows take the place of flocks of wintering redpolls that moved north last week. Tree and song sparrows are along the road and the late-arriving red-winged blackbird sings at the swamp.

Here, too, is the pair of Canada geese that have nested here for years. Flocks of tundra swans pass over while loud sandhill cranes call from a nearby field. And though I usually do not see them, ruffed grouse are drumming in the woods.

But these birds are only part of the news of the season. While red maples are opening buds, aspens are developing long catkins. The smaller alders also hold mature catkins and hazels form catkins and small purple flowers. But when it comes to flowers at this time, I like to find the earliest wildflowers blooming on the forest floor.

Searching some south-facing sunny sites, I'm able to locate the first hepatica with its six-white or purple petals. Consistently, this is the earliest woodland flower. And if there are flowers, so there are insects.

As I continue my walk, I see fluttering wings of a couple of butterflies: mourning cloak and comma. These hibernators are the first of their kinds to be flying, but they are not the only lepidoptera. A small moth, known as the infant, with brown outer wings and colorful orange hind wings is here, too.

Further along on my wandering walk, I go by newly formed vernal ponds. These small bodies of water, often temporary and drying in summer, now will host aquatic life. Most notable are the frogs.

We have a trio: chorus frogs, wood frogs and spring peepers that wake from their winter sleep and quickly move to the water to begin courting and mating. I'm always amazed at their activity in the chilly waters of these pools, which frequently freeze over at night.

But this year, the tiny chorus frogs were even more amazing. We received about a foot of snow April 15. Temperatures were in the 20s; all the ponds were solidly frozen. Slowly in the next few days, the temperatures rose to the 30s, 40s and 50s by April 20.

On April 21, as I passed a small shallow vernal pond, I stopped when I heard the creaking call of a chorus frog. Even more impressive was a few days later, when I found one calling from a vernal pond that was about 80 percent covered with ice. Chorus frogs are only about 1 inch long with brown or greenish-brown stripes. They are hard to see in the ponds, but the song that has been compared to running our thumb over the teeth of a comb is easy to hear. Their cousins, wood frogs and spring peepers, began calling a few days later.

A little later than normal, but the spring frog season has begun.

Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

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