Celebrating Spring Peepers! Tiny Frogs with a Mighty Voice

Now that it’s March, it’s almost time for the peepers to usher in spring!

Renowned science writer Carl Safina describes spring peepers so beautifully in his new book The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World. I enjoy reading anything by Safina, who usually writes about the ocean, sea animals, or birds. He’s won many awards for his work, including the MacArthur “genius award.” Safina’s writing reminds me of Rachel Carson’s—very lyrical, yet not sentimental. In this book, he writes mainly about a year he spent in a cabin on Long Island. In the chapter, “March: Out Like a Lamb, ” he writes this about spring peepers:

I open a window to let in the season’s lushest, most delicious sound. It’s from tiny tree frogs that come to water to go a-courting—Spring Peepers. So far, these little amphibians remain abundant. And for as long as they’ve been, and as long as they are, their singing makes the difference between the night of winter and the breath of spring…

Hearing them is easy. Seeing them takes some effort. But even after I step into the shallows as deep as my boots allow, even though I hear calls coming from the half-submerged vegetation right around me—well within the halo of my flashlight—they’re all but invisible. They’re smaller than the tip of your thumb, colored like dead leaves. The majority of my neighbors—even many who were raised here— have never seen one. Many people assume the callers are crickets. But the sound and the season are so different, one might logically assume the moon is just the sun at night.

Safina goes on to describe how as a teenager he taught himself how to find spring peepers by following the sound into the woods at night, but they were very elusive. He finally found one and

…when that tiny movement caught my eye, I saw the littlest frog I’d ever seen, his bubble-gum throat puffed almost as big as his body, calling his heart out. That mighty sound from that tiny body appealed to my teenage sensibilities. His was a strong, clear voice, defiantly undaunted about being so small a soul in so big a world.

Spring peepers Safina writes are a “strong and joyous life-affirming presence” and he would

…gladly suffer a chilly bedroom just to open a window in spring when the peepers are at their peak, and let the exuberant trilling chorus resonate in my chest. “We’re alive,” they seem to say, “and time is short.” No sound in our region is so welcome and welcoming, so revivifying, as peepers in full spring chorus. Or so seemingly unlikely. Out of dust, God is said to have made one man. But here, out of mud, such song!

To celebrate peepers and spring, Susan created a poster for Earth Day 2011, with a wonderful photograph by Richard D. Bartlett. Enjoy!


Creating a Nature-Friendly Garden or Backyard – Guest post, Marlene A. Condon

We’re so pleased that Marlene A. Condon offered to share her expertise about creating wildlife-friendly gardens and backyards. Marlene is a nature writer and photographer with a passion for creating wildlife habitat around homes.  A field editor for Birds & Blooms since the magazine’s debut in 1995, she has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines and is the author of The Nature-Friendly Garden: Creating a Backyard Haven for Wildlife, Plants, and People (Stackpole Books).

With fall upon us, the majority of gardeners are thinking about cleaning up the garden and putting it “to bed.”  But this year, leave the garden alone.  Numerous kinds of wildlife are getting ready for winter.  Your hands-off attitude in autumn will benefit them and they will repay you next year when you begin a new gardening season.

Japanese Maple with its leaves raked around it to provide hibernation cover for numerous kinds of wildlife, including tree frogs.

The falling leaves that pile up along your garden fence create a haven where Gray Treefrogs and Spring Peepers can hibernate.  Next spring, as temperatures rise and these two kinds of treefrogs awaken, they will climb up into your trees and shrubs to feed upon insects and spiders.  Peepers, which usually stay within two to three feet from the ground, might also be found on your herbaceous (non-woody) plants.  But no matter where they feed, these amphibians help to limit the populations of invertebrates to numbers that your plants can sustain without incurring serious harm.

Some species of spiders and insects are taking refuge within your dying and drying garden plants to try to survive the winter in an inactive adult state.  Other species will soon perish, leaving behind eggs, larvae, or pupae on or within plants to carry on the line—if they survive the searching eyes of numerous predators still active in cold weather.

Praying Mantid egg mass on Purple Ruffled Basil. Dried plant stalks contain the eggs of numerous critters essential to the functioning of the garden.

Watch your garden throughout the winter and you will see birds, such as Downy Woodpeckers and Carolina Chickadees, clinging to and poking your brown plants.  They are looking for the tiny insects and spiders, in whatever form, that provide our avian creatures with the fat and protein they require to survive the harshest time of the year.

American Goldfinches feeding in winter on Purple Ruffled Basil seeds.

If there are plants and food aplenty during the winter for them, birds that are permanent residents of the area may want to build nests next spring in your yard.  As winter comes to an end, you simply need to cut up the old plant stalks a bit and let them lie where they fall.  Many kinds of birds, such as Carolina Wrens, need such old stems, along with those dried leaves that sheltered the treefrogs, to construct their nests.

Carolina Wren chicks leaving nest made of plant debris.

The dried plant material that the birds don’t take will be recycled into the soil for the benefit of your growing plants.  As snails and slugs become active, they will be delighted to find their favorite food (decaying plant and animal matter) waiting for them to feed upon.  When these unusual organisms are provided with such a fine smorgasbord, they don’t bother your growing plants.  Instead, they help to fertilize them—which is exactly what their function in your garden is supposed to be.

Snails feeding on plant debris and sickly plant that need to be recycled.

In other words, when you allow natural processes to occur as they are meant to happen, you don’t bring about the problems that most gardeners assume they are destined to encounter.  As numerous kinds of wildlife go about their everyday activities in your yard, they limit populations of other kinds of wildlife, thus eliminating overpopulations that are usually the sources of people’s gardening difficulties.

By creating a nature-friendly garden, you save money, time, and effort by not needing chemical pesticides.  By avoiding the use of pesticides, you don’t interfere with “Mother Nature’s” system of checks and balances that exists to keep the environment functioning properly.

You also don’t inadvertently harm wildlife that is not injurious to your plants.  Any insects or spiders poisoned by pesticides are easy prey for all of the other kinds of animals that feed upon them which means those critters can be poisoned as well.  And plants sprayed with herbicides pose an extreme danger to our helpful insect-eating amphibians, such as salamanders and toads, which have very absorbent skin.

Therefore, to avoid garden problems, help wildlife to survive in your yard.  You’ll get to enjoy the lovely songs and beauty of birds, the sights and sounds of numerous kinds of wildlife, and a more relaxed and thus more satisfying manner of gardening.

Please  visit Marlene’s website to learn more about her information- and photo-packed book.

All photographs copyright Marlene A. Condon