THE SOUND OF SPRING
The wood frogs are calling. I hear their maniacal quacking everywhere now in the woods. Not the high trill of a spring peepers, the sound of the wood frog, Rana sylvatica, is somewhere between the sound of a duck and, well, nothing I have quite ever heard.
A wood frog floating in a vernal pool this afternoon by the big oak I am studying at the Harvard Forest. The woods are suddenly alive with their calls. Oaks and red maples are reflected in the clear, cold water which is just a few inches deep.
After making it through the winter, freezing nearly solid tucked just under the leaf litter and several feet of snow, these are the first frogs to head to their breeding ponds. John O’Keefe and I were out sampling trees today, to look for the first signs of spring. Then I heard it: the unmistakable happy racket of wood frogs. We finished our survey and I made a mental note to come back later and follow that sound.
Later in the afternoon as the temperatures soared into the sixties under an azure sky, I booted it across the greening pasture to the big oak I am studying at the Harvard Forest, and started listening. Not 400 feet from the tree, a beautiful vernal pool came into view. An ephemeral wetland, it was just inches deep, really just a wet spot in the woods. Amid a delicious tangle of rotted stumps, mossy rocks, and trees, this clear, cold pool, with ice still clinging to its edges, was alive with wood frogs.
At the first sense of my presence they silenced. So I sat myself down on a soft cushion of leaves and moss and let myself drift off into a nap, the warm spring sun on my face, waiting for the frogs to reassert themselves. It wasn’t long before they stirred, and so did I. How secretively they slid up from the leaves layered on the bottom of the pool, poking their noses out of the water, their eyes abulge at the still, glassy surface!
A fat beetle swam by under the water; delicate water bugs silked along the pool’s surface. So much life, and I never would have even known this pool was here, were it not for the sound of the frogs. The pool will dry by summer. That makes it a perfect habitat for the frogs to rear their young, because the pool cannot support fish, which would gobble the tadpoles. Instead, they will grow on to hopping froglets in time to take to the woods before the pool dries.
Everywhere in the woods now is the sound of water. The snow has melted as dramatically as it arrived. A few banks remain in the coolest shadiest spots, some 8 inches deep. But mostly, the forest is back, and coming alive with spring. A yellow warbler serenaded us as O’Keefe and I walked this morning, and a morning cloak butterfly flew and basked in the soft spring sun. The light in the forest is so special now, with the sun climbing higher by the day, and pouring through the trees to the understory with no leaves yet to shade it. We saw our first wildflower setting bud today, a Canada mayflower.
We looked hard at the trees John surveys — black cherry, quaking aspen, ash, yellow and black birch, beech, striped maple, paper birch, red and black oak, red maple and sugar maple. We studied the woodland shrubs: witch hazel, shad bush, and hawthorne. But while the striped maple had cracked its buds, and red maple showed swelling buds, it looks like it will still be a couple more weeks before the first leaves. The only bud I saw actually open today was a red elderberry, big and fat, and revealing the green nub of its flower to come.
Insects were in the air, the first bees were about, and for weeks now there have been more birds every day; I’m awakened every morning now by the drumming of flickers and wood peckers. I keep my window wide open to hear the frogs at night, and spring birds at first light.