Calls for mates fill the night
From the lips of little brown frogs, the peepers' song is for people, too
CAPITAL REGION Dusk wouldn’t fall for another 12 minutes, and already their song rang out from the moist stream banks and wetlands of the Indian Kill Nature Preserve in Glenville. The nighttime hum is familiar to country residents, where shifting trucks and whizzing cars can’t drown out their chorus.
It’s the season for spring peepers, and at 7:30 on a recent Friday night, the tiny brown frogs could be heard through a crack in the window of a car driving past the preserve. At first listen, they could be mistaken for 100 chirping birds, but then a real bird chimes in with a squawk and the song is recognized as that of the northern spring peeper — steady, omnipresent, the background noise that lulls restless children to sleep.
Some nature lovers mark the season with their calls.
“As soon as they start, it’s spring for me,” said Dee Strnisa, of Pattersonville. “Sometimes the wood frog will call a little earlier, but just before it gets dark, as the sun goes down, I know they’re out there.”
Spring peepers come alive in spring, their songs heard across the eastern U.S. and into Canada. The frogs, usually less than an inch in length, have a vocal sac by the throat that expands and deflates to create the high-pitched peeping. The males are the loudest, and use the calls to attract mates. In the deep shrubs of forests, amid wetlands and ponds and swamps, their eggs and tadpoles can survive.
“They find a nice place to call from, like a stick sticking out of the water or something, and then the females come to the pond and choose the male based on who has the better song,” said Strnisa. “Believe it or not, there are what we call satellite frogs who hang out by the good singers and catch the females as they come in.”
Strnisa spent a decade working for the state Department of Environmental Conservation as a water education specialist. She grew to love the reptiles and amphibians she rescued and rehabilitated, and kept some as pets into retirement. She’s also a member of FrogWatch USA, a citizen science program that reports the calls of local frogs and toads to help know more about and ultimately conserve the species.
“You don’t get paid for it,” she said. “You do it because you love it and we’re trying to find out what’s going on with the frogs. It’s not just peepers, it’s wood frogs, toads, spadefoots. All of these things are explosive breeders.”
In Patrick Clear’s experience, you’ll find a peeper anywhere there is water without fish.
“Pretty much any pond,” said Clear, executive director of the Environmental Clearinghouse in Niskayuna. “They’re very common and they’re very easy to find around sunset. My neighbor across the street has a little pond and we hear them all the time.”
Most members of ECOS are into bird watching or tree planting. But anyone with an appreciation for nature can name ideal places to hear the springtime chorus frogs. Strnisa prefers Lock 7 in Niskayuna or the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.
“I’ve heard them up at Landis Arboretum in Esperance,” said Clear.
Fred Breglia, the arboretum’s executive director, said he’s not surprised.
“The arboretum is alive with nature sounds,” he said. “We have four ponds and a large wetland, so peepers have lots of habitat. Visitors can pick up a trail map and see the location of the ponds and wetlands, so finding these little springtime peepers is very easy.”
Up north, Margo Olson has heard the peepers plenty at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park. In particular, you’ll find them on Fox Parcel, a portion of the preserve off of Route 50 full of sandy uplands and pine barren vernal ponds; Neilmann Parcel, 145 acres of preserve off of Ruggles Road that’s full of old logging roads, swamps, wetlands and vernal pools; and Camp Saratoga, offering 310 acres of woodlands, wetlands, streams and ponds.
“The Spa State Park is also great and the Saratoga National Historical Park is another good spot,” she said.
Five Rivers Environmental Education Center in Delmar not only has the peepers, but also has environmental educators who teach about frogs and how to monitor their well-being.
“Frogs are kind of the canary in the coal mine,” said Strnisa, explaining why we should care about their calls. “They breathe through their skins, they’re open to the environment and when there’s something wrong with the water, they’re the first ones affected. So if it’s affecting them, then something’s going on with us, too.”