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Featured event:  Froggy went a courtin’...” 

Just as the September cicadas were a harbinger of fall, nothing says spring to me more than the calling of frogs in their eternal mating dance.  A few weeks ago (and perhaps still in some places), some were just the frogsicles of Late November, but now they have thawed, and have mating on their little minds.  

Only the males will call, attracting females and in some cases establishing territory.  This will begin when the air temperatures at night warm up to at least 8oC.  The first few may have begun calling at the end of March in the deep southwest, but April is generally their month to shine inmany parts of Canada..  Calls are most common from dusk to full dark, but some species will call during the day.  Look for mild, damp, still conditions after or even during a light rain. 

Fertilization is external.  The male clasps the female from behind and mixes sperm with the eggs as they come out of her body.  The fertilized eggs of early spring frogs sink well below the surface, where they are insulated from late, hard frosts and ice film. 

Below is information on a few commonly occurring frogs, in rough order of April appearance.  

When looking, remember that some of these frogs are no bigger than a bumblebee.  Look for their throat sacs as they call.  For more information on these and other frogs and toads, and to hear their calls, visit the FrogWatch site.

Frog

Location

Call

Look for

Western Chorus Frog

Almost any fishless pond; prefer grassy/ shrubby swamp areas.

Rising trill; sounds like a fingernail drawn across a comb.

On surface in floating plant debris; very hard to see.

Spring Peeper

Wide range of ponds, vernal pools; most common near brushy thickets

Loud, high-pitched peep, rising at end.

On vegetation just above water.

Wood Frog

Wooded wetlands and swamps; vernal pools.

Short chuckle, like ducks quacking.

On surface in floating plant debris.

American Toad

Shallow ponds, streams &roadside ditches

Long, monotone trill; different frogs have different notes.

In aquatic and emergent vegetation

Leopard Frog

Relatively permanent, fishless ponds

Rattling snore and guttural chucks; like wet hands rubbing a balloon.

Surface, mostly submerged.


Again, consider joining FrogWatch, and add to our information about these amphibians.

INVASIVE ALERT 

While exploring marshes for amphibians keep your ears open for the distinctive jug o rum call of the American Bullfrog.  If you have ever eaten frog legs, they likely came from this massive creature which just happens to be listed internationally as one of the world’s top 100 invasive species.  Bullfrogs will eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths including other frogs and tadpoles.  This voracious appetite can lead to population declines in native organisms which is exactly what is happening in British Columbia where the bullfrogs have become invasive and are impacting wetland ecosystems.  Throughout the rest of its Canadian range the bullfrog is not yet considered an invasive species but it is still an alien with the potential to become invasive.  So what can you do to help?  One of the best ways to prevent the spread of many non-native species is to ensure we don’t move these organisms into other sensitive habitats with our outdoor activities.  So go outside and enjoy catching and releasing tadpoles, just make sure you put them back where you found them!

Other Happenings:

  • Salamanders also have sex on their minds, and often travel some distance to mate in vernal pools.  The most commonly observed species are the Yellow-spotted Salamander, the Blue-spotted Salamander and the Eastern Newt.  By using these temporary ponds, salamanders avoid predation of their eggs and young by fish and turtles, but must breed early enough for their larvae to transform before the ponds dry up.  Mild, rainy nights above 8oC are a good time to look for them along roads passing through swampy woodlands.  Take care that you don’t run over any.  In some cases, underpasses have been built so the salamanders can avoid traffic.
  • Any early, fairly large mosquitoes that you see are from the Genus Culex, and have overwintered as adults.
  • Cold weather hasn't delayed the Monarch Butterfly  migration, with many clustering along the Gulf coast and beginning to move up the eastern seaboard and through Texas.  These are the same butterflies that left the North last fall, and they have now mated, but they won’t make it back up here.  They will stop and lay their eggs, mostly in Texas.  They will largely keep pace with milkweed, which has bloomed through Texas and into Oklahoma and the Carolinas.  How many Monarchs to expect this year is a significant question.  The population was down 27% compared to last year’s annual winter count, but somewhat higher than expected.  There have been declines in five of the last nine years, a worrying trend. The general decline has been linked to both deforestation of the overwintering habitat in Mexico, and a significant decline of milkweed and breeding habitat in general (147 million acres in the U.S. since 1992) resulting in part from an increase in the use of certain herbicides.  Everything is connected!  Stay tuned to Journey North for weekly updates, and sign up to report your first Monarchs.
  • Near birch or aspen woods, look for The Infant, a day-flying moth that appears orange at a distance.
  • Those other bears, the Black ones, are coming out of their winter dens – first males, then females with yearlings or no cubs, and finally females with cubs.  Denning periods are a good time to measure and tag both adults and cubs – check out Rick Mercer’s experience doing winter bear research with the MNR.  Spring bears are almost entirely vegetarian, starting on Balsam Poplar buds and going on to new aspen leaves, grass and dandelions.  Bears won’t gain back all the weight lost during the winter until summer berry season.
  • Look for River Otters active on the remaining ice margins beside open water.  They will bring prey up onto the ice to eat, and are highly visible against the snow and ice.
  • Groundhogs (Woodchucks) finally emerge from hibernation, if they haven’t already.  How did their Groundhog Day prediction (Early February) turn out in your region?
  • Ruffed Grouse males will be drumming throughout April, trying, of course, to interest a female.  The sound is at a fairly low register, and may sound like someone in the distance trying to start a balky motorbike (scroll down). 
  • April is the best month to hear Barred Owls (includes call).
  • “April showers bring May flowers.”  April is generally thought of as a rainy month, but in many parts of the country  May and June are on average much rainier.  Find out how rainy April generally is in your region, and see if it holds true this year. 
  • Boötes is now in the eastern evening sky, and Orion is low to the west, reclining as if tired of his winter-long domination, and finally taking his leave with the rest of the cold weather.  Mercury is at its furthest point from the sun on the 1st, easily visible 60-90 minutes after sunset.  Binoculars may come in handy.  Jupiter is in opposition, which makes it very bright, and visible all night long.  The moon joins up with it on the 10th.