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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 44.9653, -69.1086
Last night as I was getting ready to go to bed my ears focussed on something that I had given up on hearing around here ever again: the peepers were singing! Their chorus was as robust as it had ever been, but April 30 is the latest I have ever heard them in the 26 years we have lived here. Usually they sing at the end of the first full week in April, or just slightly later; one year they began on April 1, very early. I was so happy I couldn't fall asleep; I only wanted to listen, and be thankful that they haven't all died --or been killed-- off. Such a simple joy, but profound in the significance of its ongoing absence.
It rained last night; maybe the peepers were waiting for spring rains to wake them from their muddy sleep; maybe the spring rains set off some hormone within them that signaled it was time to mate, time to try to attract the most desirable female peeper in their pond, or maybe the temperature was finally warm enough for them to emerge from their hiding places. Two nights earlier I had heard one peeper, just one, and thought how sorrowful that was. Imagine being the last of your species, and yet still trying to find just one other like you, just one other. Many movies are based on this supposition, but always other people exist in pockets, and somehow, everyone finds each other to join together in the battle for continued existence. And the battered humans always win out. Will the peepers be as fortunate?
But what is life like for peepers? They call and they call, and then, usually in mid-May their song stops; if they are successful they have found their mates, and then the wood frogs' quacking starts, and later still the bullfrogs. It is a sequence that has not varied in over a quarter century until this year. Peepers are classified as chorus frogs; their scientific name is Pseudacris crucifer, the crucifer part being Latin for "cross-bearer." They only grow to about 1 1/2", but on their little backs is an identifying X, darker than their tan, grey, brown, or olive green coloring. The singing is so lovely, so boundless that I can't differentiate individual frog voices, but apparently the peepers perform in trios, with the deepest voice serenading first; only the males sing, night after night, but it is the females who lay 900+ eggs, so who do you think has the better job? When the tadpoles hatch it takes 8 weeks for them to transform into frogs and head for land; in the wild peepers can live for three years, three happy years of our being able to hear each of their glorious songs. I like to picture these little amphibians nestling into soft, warm mud when the weather is cold, but I read that they hibernate under logs or behind loose bark on trees. Mud sounds more comfortable.
Since we live between bodies of water, our neighbor's pond being on one side and the French Stream defining the limit of our back acres, we frequently see and hear wonderful wildlife flying over, or walking through, or hunting for food or shelter in our woods. From our back deck I have seen Bald Eagles, cranes, herons, hawks, geese, many different birds, butterflies, and dragonflies, groundhogs, porcupines, deer, an occasional moose, snakes, turtles, frogs, and, frequently, our neighbor's chickens, pecking in the grass. We keep binoculars handy for better viewing. Once, when I was sitting out back reading in the sun, I heard a rather loud commotion coming from right under the deck. I looked over, wondering what was going on, and there was an enormous turtle crawling between the rungs of a ladder tucked away beneath the deck. Its shell must have measured 16" or more in diameter, it was so large. Poor turtle seemed to be having difficulty climbing over the rungs, so we tried to help it by pulling the ladder with him (or her) on it, giving it a ride into the woods, closer to the stream. It rode along for awhile, but then clambered off; it finally made its way into the woods. Another time, when the kids were small, one of them came running to tell us about a snake that had tried to swallow a frog, only the frog was sideways in the snake's mouth, only one arm and one leg in, so both were stuck. We all laughed so hard we weren't much help to either of them at all, but finally the frog escaped and jumped away from the less than brilliant snake.
So many wildlife adventures, living in northern Maine! I even thought I saw a lynx once, deep in the woods a few miles from our house. But my delight and expectation right now is in hearing the spring peepers' chorus again tonight. I only wish it were warm enough to open the windows so I could hear them better.
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