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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman - Frogwatch

The little fellow you see pictured hopped up on my front porch to remind me that I hadn’t ever written about my actual experiences in the field as a volunteer for Frogwatch. I did write about the training, but at that time it was still too cold for the frogs to emerge, so I hadn’t actually participated in the program yet. At the training session at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, I was impressed by the 50 or so people that showed up to be trained to listen for the various frog calls. But like many such endeavors, the attrition rate is high. The coordinator said in May that of the 50 of us, only eight were reporting regularly.

The protocol is that in the evening, not earlier than 30 minutes after sunset, the volunteer locates himself or herself within five feet of a wetland. You wait for at least two minutes, quietly so the frogs forget you’re there or at least so they don’t think you’re a threat, and wait for them to start calling again. Then, with hands cupped behind your ears to magnify the sounds, you listen for exactly three minutes. When you get back inside, you fill out an online form that notes the date, time, temperature, precipitation, wind conditions, species heard, and the intensity and frequency of the calls on a scale of 1 to 4. It only takes about 10 minutes for the entire operation.

There is a wetland behind our house and I can frequently hear the frogs through open windows when I go to sleep at night, but the protocol demands that I be within five feet of the water’s edge, so I arranged with some cooperative neighbors to sit on their deck over the water twice a week. I like to think of LaGrange County as an ecological utopia, and I was hoping I could report that I heard all 11 species of the frogs and toads found in Northeast Indiana, but that was not the case. But I did hear frogs, and lots of them! I heard Spring Peepers, Green Frogs, American Bullfrog, Eastern Gray Treefrogs, and Midland Chorus Frogs. Those were the only ones I could officially record during my three-minute listening periods at my registered location, but I heard others while out and about in the county. I heard American Toads while out bicycling in the spring, and Wood Frogs during a hike at Pine Knob Park. And while we were in Southern Illinois in June I heard lots of Northern Cricket Frogs and Fowler’s Toads. So the only two that I totally missed were the Northern Leopard Frog and the Pickerel Frog. Not bad for a beginner.

The little fellow pictured is an Eastern Gray Tree Frog, but you wouldn’t think that by looking at him, until you looked at his Latin name: Hyla versicolor. Although his name says gray, they can change their color to blend in with their surroundings and this one was bright green on top and only slightly gray in a few places. Interestingly, this particular species has a doppelganger called Cope’s Treefrog that is visually indistinguishable from the Eastern Gray Treefrog. However the Cope’s Treefrog has only half as many chromosomes as the Eastern Gray, and a different call, and although their ranges overlap in some places, Cope’s weren’t on my list of species found in Northeast Indiana, and this one wasn’t talking, so I’m assuming he was a Gray since I’m not qualified to count his chromosomes!

There are additional benefits to being out in the night air. I also heard barred owls and screech owls, lots of geese, and some ducks. Other researchers from across the country reported seeing fishing spiders, glowworms, diving beetles, newts, salamanders, coyotes, red foxes, raccoons, beavers, and flying squirrels.

Amphibians are a good indicator of wetland health and they eat a prodigious amount of mosquitoes, so they are our friends and should be appreciated, although my experience was that they were focusing more on their breeding than their feeding while I was listening, because the mosquitoes were quite ferociously focused on their feeding – with me as their target!

So long, frogs – at least until next spring. You may still see them about for a while, but they aren’t singing anymore and since the census relies on sound rather than vision, we’re done for the year.