- Michael Nerrie
The Sounds of Spring
“One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of March thaw, is the Spring.”
~ Aldo Leopold
SPRING IS COMING
Here at Distant Hill Gardens & Nature Trail, in the hills of southwestern New Hampshire, over three feet of snow fell in the month of March. Although the calendar tells me that the season of renewal is upon us, gazing out a window at the head-high snow banks lining our driveway makes me think that spring will never arrive. But there is hope, for the early sounds of spring are in the air - literally!
As they typically do in early March, a large flock of red-winged blackbirds returned to Distant Hill. And they made their presence known in no uncertain terms. Singing from the tops of trees, the simultaneous clamor of hundreds of these avian songsters couldn’t be ignored. The cacophony of songs and calls of these early spring migrants was, at times, almost deafening. But after a long silent winter, I find the rich musical ‘conk-a-ree’ of the male red-winged blackbird to be an uplifting sound, no matter the decibel level.
Another sound of the season heard recently here at Distant Hill, a sound not heard since fall, was the ‘honk’ of Canada geese. The ponds were still mostly frozen when they arrived, but the few patches of open water here and there were irresistible to these migrating waterfowl. Heard in spring, their honking is yet another promising sign that warmer weather will prevail. Heard in fall however, their somewhat harsh refrain is a bit foreboding!
SPRING HAS ARRIVED!
But the sounds that I most eagerly await each spring, the sounds that prove to me that winter is truly over, come not from the sky above but from two species of native frogs: the wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) and the spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer). Both of these harbingers of spring freeze solid during the cold winter months, but as our wetlands and vernal pools begin to thaw, so will these cold-hardy amphibians. Even before all the snow and ice has melted, a loud chorus of newly awakened spring voices will be heard.
Often heard but seldom seen, spring peepers are the most vocal of these two frog species. In small numbers the ‘peep’ of the diminutive, inch-long ‘Pinkletink’ (its common name on Martha’s Vineyard) is soothing and melodious. But in a large army (the term for a group of frogs), the collective sound can be unbelievably loud.
The wood frog, although twice the size of its smaller cousin, has a call that is a much more restrained. And, unlike spring peepers who will breed in any wetland including permanent water bodies such as ponds or lakes, the wood frog breeds exclusively in seasonal vernal pools. They spend most of the year in wooded uplands, migrating to these ephemeral pools during the first rains of spring to breed. The males call to the females with a distinctive ‘quack-quack’, described by some as “ducks in the woods.”
Any day now, when we get a big soaking evening rain with temperatures above 40 degrees, the amphibian migration to vernal pools and ponds will begin. The sound of wood frogs and peepers will be the confirmation that we all have been waiting for: confirmation that spring has finally, truly, and definitely arrived!
Written by: Michael Nerrie
Distant Hill Gardens & Nature Trail
If you'd like to take a CLOSER LOOK at vernal pools, join us on April 24th at the Horatio Colony Preserve in Keene from 1-3pm for a Vernal Pool Hike. More information on our Closer Look Series webpage.
*** Would you like to experience the sights and sounds of spring for yourself? You can by visiting Distant Hill Nature Trail. Just ten miles north of Keene, NH, this mile-long, wheelchair-friendly trail gives easy access to five vernal pools, a quaking cranberry bog, and a forest seep. These wetlands are not just home to the vocal spring peepers and wood frogs, but they are breeding sites for many other interesting aquatic animals, including spotted and Jefferson salamanders and the very cool fairy shrimp.
You can explore Distant Hill Nature Trail for free any day of the week, dawn to dusk. For more info and directions visit: www.distanthill.org