Spring is still battling with a reluctantly-retreating winter, but the voices from the wetlands have spoken. Spring will not be stopped.
Am I referring to the Red-winged Blackbirds? Yes, they are certainly loud, but there’s something a lot louder…
Spring for me is so much more than what I see - it’s what I hear at any given point in the season. Early spring has its own special sounds which can be considerably different from mid and late spring. This is true for birds, for frogs and toads, and for combinations of both.
The first frogs we hear in NE Ohio are typically the Wood Frogs, and it can be quite a raucous chorus when they briefly return from the woods to the vernal pools in March.
Their songs sound somewhat like quacking ducks – very different from the Spring Peepers that will join them in these pools.
It’s a brief performance for them, though, as they disperse silently back into the woods shortly after the females have laid their eggs. Here's a female who is quite full of eggs.
This recording is just a small group of Wood Frogs, which will enable you to hear a few soloists.
Because their breeding season is quite short, this is one concert you’ll want to catch right away in the early spring. At this point, I’m only hearing a small number of them. Once they return to their solitary woodland lives, you may occasionally see one or two in the woods. Their black masks are a visual identification characteristic, but you won’t hear their distinctive voices again until early spring next year.
If you’d like to see a male and female together and hear a splendid recording, you can go to Lang Elliott’s outstanding Miracle of Nature web site and watch/listen to this post. The female is laying her eggs while the male, who is grasping her from above, fertilizes them. This close-up view is really quite splendid!
Spring Peepers begin their songs at almost the same time as the Wood Frogs and can frequently be heard together. The massive chorus of Spring Peepers seems to necessitate hearing protection around NE Ohio’s ponds and wetlands right now!
These frogs are quite tiny, especially considering how much sound they produce. I wrote about Peepers and their various songs last year at this time, and you can revisit that post here
There’s another very early amphibian song as well - it's a tiny frog that seems to begin singing just about as early as the Wood Frogs.
Western Chorus Frogs have been singing in marshes and flooded fields since March, and soon they will be finishing their concert season. Occasionally they can be heard singing with Wood Frogs if there is adjacent appropriate habitat for each species, as was the case in the recording above from Metro Parks Serving Summit County's Pond Brook Conservation Area in Liberty Park.
They are as tiny as the Spring Peepers and just as difficult to spot, but their songs are quite easy to hear. This photo will give you an idea just how small they are!
The song is often described as running one’s fingers over the teeth of a comb, beginning with the longer one and ending with the shortest. This description does indeed convey the rising pitches and the tiny separations between those pitches. Here’s a soloist:
The composite sound of a group of these tiny frogs is beautifully-peaceful. It's my favorite early-spring amphibian song.
Wood Frogs, Spring Peepers, and Western Chorus Frogs will sing during the day, though these choruses sound like a chamber choir compared to the large chorus of a mild spring evening. Daytime ensembles will also have ornamentation from birds such as Tufted Titmice, Northern Cardinals, and Song Sparrows – species that sing a great deal in March and April and seem to continue tirelessly throughout the day.
As the Wood Frogs are finishing, the Leopard Frogs take over the lower frequencies. (Here's one that is floating in a mass of recently-laid Wood Frog eggs!)
Many people would not even recognize this as a frog song, but it’s another sign of spring that delights me each year. Listen to this large chorus; I’m standing right here in the water with them. I was surprised to learn that Leopard Frogs can actually sing under water!
They can be heard in wetlands shortly after the Wood Frogs, and you may notice them singing with Spring Peepers. Here is a small chorus of both species together, sounding rather like a treble and bass duet as they sing over the wind in the open meadow.
Once they have finished breeding, you may still occasionally see them in grassy paths or pond and stream edges. They will silently leap away and can jump significant distances – often right into the water. If you hear a yelp when a frog jumps, though, it’s not a Leopard Frog: it’s a Green Frog.
Speaking of Green Frogs, these commonly seen and heard amphibians were beginning to emerge this past weekend.
They weren’t yet singing, but they were “yelping” when startled at the pond edges.
The American Toads also suddenly appeared and were just beginning to sing.
For me, these two are a part of the next group of amphibian songs, though the Spring Peepers will remain onstage through this concert as well.
When the toads begin to sing, I also look and listen for an influx of early avian migrants returning for the summer or passing through on their way farther north. Shortly thereafter, the Yellow Warblers will join the Green Frogs and Bullfrogs around the ponds. Although today’s approaching cold front and brief return to winter temperatures will be discouraging, winter is almost gone. Soon the American Toads will sing us into the next act of spring, and the Peepers will accompany them.