Saturday, April 13, 2013

Spring Peepers: listening to the solo voices in the chorus








Spring has finally fought its way into NE Ohio and the Spring Peepers are singing everywhere! Large choruses in our ponds and wetlands can be so loud that hearing protection would not be inappropriate at all.  Peepers look so tiny, so sweet, and downright cute when I find them sitting on plants out in the meadow later in the year, but April is their time to belt out songs that are louder than seems possible for such tiny animals.



It’s not a uniform chorus, however, and if you listen closely you’ll hear considerable variation in their songs.  Let’s explore the voices of the individuals that make up the massive chorus.  All the songs you’ll hear were recorded in the Geauga Park District (The Rookery, Frohring Meadows, and the West Woods),  the Cleveland Metroparks (Wilson Mills wetland trailhead area of North Chagrin Reservation), and at Liberty Park in Twinsburg (Summit County).
First, they will not necessarily be singing the same pitches.  Here is the standard Spring Peeper song followed by an example of some of the variations you might hear from adjacent singers.  

 
A Peeper’s “peep” will often stay within a very limited pitch range, but it can also slide up quite a distance (musicians will identify this interval as a perfect 4th).   You will hear one such singer who sounds like a featured soloist and then another whose song comes through the sonic texture of the chorus.



Peepers can have a smooth, clear, quality to their voices, but you will also hear songs that sound squeaky, creaky, and even downright hoarse.  I know that Tufted Titmice can easily alternate between clear songs and raspy ones, but I do not know if Peepers have only tone quality per individual or if they can alternate between them as well.




Spring Peepers can sing both single calls and longer trills.  Trills can be an indication that one male feels that another male has gotten too close to his space.  The trills tend to have a slight pitch ascent, which is generally true for the more typical calls as well.  What I find particularly intriguing is that sometimes I also hear trills – like songs – that are squeaky and harsh.  At times, the squeaky trills may even seem to wobble or have a slight descent rather than a small ascent.  This next recording demonstrates various kinds of trills. 



Finally, people will sometimes confuse trilling Spring Peepers with Western Chorus Frogs.  (Yes, we have Western Chorus Frogs in NE Ohio.)  If you listen to each species, you’ll hear the difference.  Here are Western Chorus Frogs from Liberty Park in Summit County (NE Ohio) followed by Spring Peepers and their trill call.  The photo next to the sound file is a Western Chorus Frog I photographed singing at Findley State Park (near Wellington) last year.



I hope you have a chance to get out in the evening soon to listen to these wonderful songs.  You can certainly hear quite a few Spring Peepers in the daylight hours as well, but after dark is when you’ll find the singers onstage and hear the full impact of the mighty Peeper chorus!


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