Noise

 

(This 1047th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on April 17, 2011.)

 

You and I think of spring as the time when winter retreats. We can put away the snow shovel, car window scrapers and heavy overcoats. We can even venture outside to sluff off the cabin fever we developed over those long months.

 

But these are minor changes in comparison to the life-defining events of the animal world. For them this is migration time and it is also the time they breed.

 

We usually think of migration as something birds do. Or perhaps, if we are avid television nature watchers, what great herds of large African or Arctic animals do. But this is also a time when millions, perhaps even billions, of small animals migrate. Some of those migrations are measured in feet or even inches, but they are mass migrations nonetheless.

 

Salamanders and toads emerge from rotting logs or from under vegetation where they have hibernated to march from woodlands down to the nearest pond. It is as though the forest floor comes to life when so many of these rarely seen animals crawl out of their hiding places for this brief period. Hundreds are killed where their testosterone-driven march toward mating sites takes them across roads.

 

Those migrations are seldom more than a quarter mile. The migration of frogs and turtles is far less. They merely rise to the surface of the ponds where they have spent the winter. The turtles hibernated deep in the mud at the bottom of those ponds. Frogs can't do that because they need the small amounts of oxygen contained in the pond water itself and they simply rested quietly on the mud pond floor, equally deep in hibernation.

 

Up they come when the ice melts, the turtles to sun on exposed logs, the frogs to nose up to the water surface, both to breathe in that delightful spring air.

 

This is not, however, a time for rest and relaxation. This is a time to get on with it: to find a mate - or perhaps several dozen mates if you can work that out.

 

And how do you attract them babes, as our TV sit-coms might put it? You sing as lustily as you can. That's why our marshlands ring out with sound.

 

Several years ago I wrote a column about the springtime anthem of frogs and toads. I told about how much I appreciate those sounds that define our springtime evenings. That column drew several angry responses. "I can't stand those damned screechers," wrote one. "You've got to be kidding about those noises," wrote another and she continued, "I don't get any sleep when they are out there screaming away. Even with the windows closed, I hear them and they drive me nuts."

 

I guess I can appreciate their problem. When Dick Christensen and I surveyed anurans along Eighteen Mile Creek several years ago, the noise of chorus frogs was so loud we had trouble talking over it.

 

And I suppose the monotony of the cheeps of spring peepers can get to you as well. They don't bother me but I recall once camping near a calling whip-poor-will, whose repeated cries went over a short time from an exciting forest noise to a strident alarm clock we couldn't turn off.

 

Other wilderness sounds I consider lulling and appreciate them: loons calling or coyotes yipping or just rain falling on my tent add to my pleasure, but those are the just the kind of sounds that would leave my wife as sleepless as would lions roaring in the backyard.

 

Okay, so different people react differently to sounds. But surely everyone should appreciate the softer calls of my two favorites, wood frogs and American toads.

 

You have to listen closely just to hear the quacking of wood frogs. And there aren't nearly as many of them as there are peepers and chorus frogs. I also think wood frogs are the handsomest of our swamp dwellers. Their black mask gives them the appearance of little bandits.

 

American toads sing to each other as well as to me. The extended quarter-minute soft trill of one no sooner ends when another takes up the call a few notes higher or lower. I love to hear them but some friends compare their calls to ringing telephones.-- Gerry Rising