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April: Spring Frogs

Singing frogs create a strange nightly symphony of peeps, trills and whoops.

bullfrog

On spring evenings in the Harbor Bight region, you don't need a flashlight to find your way to ponds, wetlands or any other standing water that might be near your home. All you'll need are your ears -- listen and you'll likely hear a chorus of male frogs, wooing new mates. It can be an otherworldly music, featuring the high, whistled peep of spring peepers; the metallic plunk of green frogs; the deep cello-saw of bullfrogs; and assorted other ducklike quacks, buzzing trills, whoops and bleats from other frogs and toads.

One of the earliest singers of the season is the spring peeper. Small frogs with dark X-shaped markings on their backs, spring peepers have rounded discs at the ends of their toes that help them climb and cling to shrubs, branches and other vegetation. Spring peepers spend most of the year on land in moist, grassy fields, in the damp leaf litter of forests, or among shrubs and marshes near woodlands. But in March or early April they move to breeding sites in temporary ponds, flooded meadows or along the edge of permanent ponds and lakes.

Male spring peepers do all the singing, calling from an exposed perch in the tiny territories they stake out (each territory is about forty centimeters across). They will keep up a very loud "peep...peep...peep..." all through the night; it's thought that a single male repeats his call more than four thousand times each night -- which explains the awesome racket that arises from heavily populated ponds during this season.

spring peeperSpring peepers also regularly make use of vernal pools -- confined depressions, either natural or human-made, that hold water for at least two consecutive months out of the year and are devoid of breeding fish populations. Amphibian eggs and larvae are a favorite food of fish, and so the absence of fish is a major plus for frogs. Vernal pools provide habitat to many species of amphibians, insects, reptiles, plants and other wildlife; it's thought that between 3,000 and 5,000 of these pools occur each year in New Jersey. Sadly, these small, ephemeral but important habitats are often filled for development.

Where to See Them: Much more often heard than seen, spring peepers and other frogs can be heard at almost any pond or wetland area; take a flashlight so that you can slowly zero in on the call of a male and observe them singing. Choice spots include Greenbrook Sanctuary in Alpine, New Jersey, the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge along the Jersey Shore, and Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

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More Highlights Red Foxes: Undeniably cute, the red foxes of the Harbor Bight region are also a prime example of the ripples of damage that human meddling can send through natural ecosystems. Foxes are not native to the mid-Atlantic region, but their range and populations have expanded over the centuries -- natural predators such as wolves have vanished, and foxes have adapted and thrived amid humanity's presence.

The problem along New York and New Jersey's coasts is that foxes are finding their way onto barrier islands via roads and bridges -- and they are wiping out entire colonies of nesting seabirds and diamondback terrapins. Endangered beach-nesting birds such as least terns and piping plovers evolved their habit of nesting openly on the beaches and dunes because these habitats used to be devoid of predators, and they are defenseless against the marauding foxes.

red fox

Photos: Don Riepe/Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

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