Friday, March 21, 2008

Wednesday (March 19th) it rained almost all day and looked like it could rain off and on all night: perfect for a frog calling survey. Of course you don’t want it raining so hard you can’t hear the frogs calling, but wet weather is just right for loving and singing if you're a frog.

A couple weeks ago I signed up with NJ’s Calling Amphibian Monitoring Program (CAMP), which is part of the national North American Amphibian Monitoring Program (NAAMP). A lot of herpers (myself included) are impressed with national ornithology data collection projects such as the Christmas Bird Count, and the NAAMP might be the closest thing we’ve got: a national program in which amateurs can contribute important information to a national conservation effort. The individual data points we collect might not tell us much (it’s not earthshaking to hear peepers calling on a rainy spring night), but over decades and over lots and lots of data collectors we’re making it possible to track population trends and identify declines before they’ve gone too far. It’s still not too late to get involved this spring, so please let me know if you’re interested and I’ll put you in touch with the organizers.

My route is in Gloucester and Camden Counties in South Jersey. It’s basically a straight shot along one of the many county routes running through farms, patches of woods, old small towns, and new subdivisions. I stop at ten pre-determined sites and listen for five minutes. The stops are at places where the road crosses wetlands, so if the resident frogs are calling, I should hear them. I write down what I’m hearing along with weather conditions, and then at home enter the data on the NAAMP’s website.

I’m saying “I” but this is a hard task to pull off alone. Jen was my invaluable partner for the first run. The observations have to start a half hour after sunset, but we started early so we could check out the route in day light and make sure we wouldn’t waste time trying to find a seemingly random point along a two lane road in the woods in the dark. We ended up hearing a lot of peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) calling in choruses. On two stops I heard a few lonely wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) that I think might have missed their party a couple weeks ago.

So what do spring peepers and wood frogs sound like?

Last weekend (March 15th) I was up in New York City for my sister’s birthday. She and some friends were going to a day spa, and I chauffeured, driving a fifteen passenger van from the Lower East Side of Manhattan into Queens. As much as I like hot tubs and saunas, I’d rather be in the woods (Jen chose the spa), so I took the afternoon to check out a wooded park in Queens for frogs and salamanders. The temperature was in the low 50s, and the park had a few small ponds that looked good for spring amphibians.

I turned over a lot of logs and rocks, and I scanned all the water I saw for egg masses, but I found no salamanders (not even red backs – Plethodon cinereus). I did hear a lot of frogs calling – peepers and wood frogs. I was in my sneakers (although trust me that I did consider bringing my bulky hip waders on the Chinatown bus up to NYC) so I didn’t go wading in after them, but I did try out the video feature on my camera.

So, without much further ado, here is the first video file on Phillyherping. You’ll note that there’s not much going on in the image; it’s just a pond with emergent brush, but the peepers and wood frogs are rocking out on the soundtrack. The peepers are the ones peeping (no big suprise there), and the wood frogs are doing the chuckles. I don't know about you, but hearing this spring music makes me smile every time.