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WILD WNY / Noisy Spring Marshlands

Amphibian loudmouths sing in the season

Wood frogs can be identified by their black masks.


One spring day, many years ago, when I was hiking the Conservation Trail near Springville, I found my attention arrested by what sounded like ducks quacking. The wetland area was only about ten yards in diameter, so I searched carefully but was unable to find the source of the sound. I later asked my friend, Chuck Rosenburg, who had a ready answer: “Those were almost certainly wood frogs calling.”


Wood frogs and other small fry

Members of the anuran species, wood frogs are only about two inches long, their stillness and drab coloration a perfect camouflage. The brown, tan, or even pinkish bodies may differ from individual to individual, but their black masks provide sure identification.


Then, there are the chorus frogs. Their notes are like the sound you get clicking down the tines of a comb: c-r-r-r-eek, c-r-r-r-eek, c-r-r-r-eek. Dozens of them create a kind of beat.


Very often found with chorus frogs are other tiny frogs called spring peepers, their name exactly announcing the noise they make: a high-pitched peep, peep, peep repeated about once a second.


If you do search them out, you will find the chorus frog with three distinct lines running lengthwise along its back and the spring peeper with a back X-line.


True frogs

There are three frogs—all members of the Rana genus, and referred to as true frogs—that most closely fit our standard picture of these animals. The green frog, leopard frog, and pickerel frog are all medium sized—about three inches in length—and leap several feet when disturbed.


The green frog is the most common of the three and sounds like the twang of a plucked banjo string. The leopard frog’s sound is long and deep and interspersed with grunts; the pickerel frog’s is quieter and steadier. I tell these frogs apart by a kind of body pattern mnemonic: plain, spots, and squares for the green, leopard, and pickerel frogs in that order.


As the ice melts and these amphibians rise from the bottom muck, you can head out to any local marshland to listen for their distinctive sounds.


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