Monday, February 22, 2016

Start thinking spring!

By MaryEllen Mateleska & Beth Sullivan
It is definitely not too early to start thinking spring.
If you are like us, spring doesn’t truly arrive until you start to hear the “peeps” of spring peepers and the “quacks” of wood frogs. These signals let us know that during a walk to the vernal pools of Pequotsepos Brook Preserve and White Cedar Swamp, we may witness the movements of frogs as they hop into the water and hope to see the telltale signs of amphibian breeding season – egg masses!
Spring Peeper-little frog with a big voice

Connecticut diversity

Connecticut is home to 23 amphibian species, including 12 species of salamanders and newts, and 11 species of frogs and toads (including the newly discovered Atlantic Coast leopard frog!). As spring changes into summer, the breeding calls will begin to change as well. The spring calls of the wood frogs transition to the bellows of bull frogs, to the haunting call of the pickerel frog, or the unforgettable squawks of the endangered Eastern spadefoot. What is amazing is that these calls not only create the nocturnal music we’ve all grown to love but provide valuable information on the health of our local wetland and forest ecosystems, including Avalonia preserves.
Bull Frog in full voice. Photograph courtesy of the Mystic Aquarium.

Currently, a third of the world’s amphibian populations are listed as threatened or endangered. While habitat destruction and pollution are the top causes for population decline in our region, invasive species, and diseases like chytrid fungus, are threatening populations not just locally but globally. Now is the time to take actions to help save these vanishing species! Programs like FrogWatch USA train citizen scientists (next training is on February 27!) on how to collect and submit information on frog and toad calls; these calls inform us of any changes in breeding seasons and an estimate of population size.
Green Frog
Jefferson salamander egg masses. Photograph courtesy of the Mystic Aquarium.

Not sure if you can learn calls? Participation in guided walks flipping rocks and logs will help us understand salamander and newt populations.
Spotted salamanders are silent, and not easily found except during breeding season.
Still not sure how you can help? Try washing your shoes, boots and nets after you leave a preserve – this small step will help to stop the spread of any invasive species from one area to another.
Toads prefer to be dry, but go to wetlands to trill and breed.

Although there may still be ice and snow covering the vernal pools and ponds, we are looking forward to the day that we hear the first sounds our local frogs and toads. Happy Frog Watching!
Pickerel frogs sound like a low pitched snore.
Wood frogs sound like quacking ducks.

Frog Watch USA

To get ready for the season, without getting your feet wet yet, please join many of us at the Mystic Aquarium on Feb 27th , from 6pm-9pm for an introduction (or immersion) into the art of listening for the sounds of spring amphibians and turning into Citizen Scientists by collecting and submitting data. The training is free but registration is required and participants must be at least 15 years of age This is a great family activity. Email  to reserve your spot.
Once you are ready to listen, search, and identify, head out to an Avalonia Preserve that has wetlands. There are many: Pequotsepos Brook, White Cedar Swamp and Deans Mill Preserve, Knox Family Farm, Knox Preserve, Paffard Woods, Preston Nature Preserve, Henne Preserve, Babcock Ridge, Bindloss Preserve, Hoffman Preserve. These are just a few of the easily accessible preserves with wetlands just waiting for Spring. Check the Avalonia website for preserve descriptions, locations and directions.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

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