Posts Tagged Spring Peepers
Just before dawn this morning, thick frost glimmered in the fading light of a full moon. As the sun topped the nearby ridge, surfaces sparkled — walks, benches, lawn, even the trees. The thermometer on my cold hill bottomed out at 26 degrees Fahrenheit before the strengthening Spring sun began its work — Winter cold. Too cold.
The Spring Peepers, which have lustily chorused off and on since late December, have been utterly silent for four days. The American Toads, which had added their exquisite soprano trilling descant to the thrumming of the Peepers two weeks ago, have also gone quiet. The Green Anoles, which sunned themselves on our gutters on warm days all winter, have not ventured from their sleeping chambers in a week. To be sure, our weather has not been fit for cold-blooded amphibians and reptiles.
The plants in my yard agree. Half-open flower buds have opened no further. Some have browned from freeze damage. Others seem suspended in time, waiting for temperatures that match the astronomical calendar, knowing the equinox was last week, wondering like me, I imagine, why March turned so cruel in its waning days.
But while the plants and cold-blooded animals sleep, the warm-blooded ones are scrounging for food. A herd of five pregnant does devours every blade of green from our floodplain at dusk, when they emerge from their hiding places on the other side of the creek. Dark shadows in darkening light, they drift around the trees, more ghosts than flesh in the dimness.
The birds, on the other hand, have refused to concede to Spring’s reluctant arrival. Growing flocks of American Robins patrol the landscape, plucking fat earthworms from rain-moistened soil, muttering in delight at each new-found morsel.
The Red-shouldered Hawks circle the floodplain, then dive at crowded bird feeders in the hopes of pinning a slow-moving Mourning Dove or a greedy Red-winged Blackbird that lingers too long for one more bite. When the birds elude their grasp, they settle for patrolling the ground, pulling back fallen leaves with sharp yellow talons to reveal earthworms, which they greedily devour. When they’ve had their fill, they fly off with more; hungry nestlings must be fed, even while their favorite cold-blooded prey sleep securely in their winter hide-outs.
Flocks of Purple Finches grow daily. I think groups migrating from further south have heard about the snows in their summer homes up north. They linger at my feeders — free food — all you can eat! A pair of Carolina Wrens busily inspect flower pots, deck underpinnings, and an open garage for potential nesting sites. Wood Ducks paddle up and down the creek, preferring water warmer than the air.
A Great Blue Heron stalks from sand bar to sand bar. Rising into the air on massive wings, its majestic flight starkly contrasts with its harsh squawk of frustration at finding nothing tasty.
Suet feeders are perpetually busy from dawn to full darkness. Woodpeckers and nuthatches are feeding nestlings, and insects are difficult to find in the frigid air. They are joined by increasing numbers of warblers, which must be arriving for spring nesting season. Like the woodpeckers, suet is their fall-back food until the insects finally emerge.
This morning as I filled the feeders, I heard the characteristic melodic gurgling call of Brown-headed Cowbirds. They usually arrive a few days after the warblers, lingering at my feeders until they pair off, and egg-heavy females deposit their eggs in the nests of unwary warblers.
Warm-blooded life does not seem to have the luxury of waiting for Spring to assert itself. Somehow it must carry on despite the dearth of natural food and warming nights. I keep my feeders filled and birdhouses clean, in the hopes that this eases their struggle a bit — for my local population anyway.
The weather forecasters predict that our perseverance will be rewarded. Warmer days are promised soon. I think perhaps they might be right. I spotted a bright yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtail this afternoon struggling to make headway against a gusty northwest wind.
Any minute now, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will be arriving for their spring nesting season. I’d best dust off their feeders ASAP, because their usual early food sources — blooms of Red Buckeye and Eastern Columbine — remain tightly closed against the unseasonable chill.
Like the warm-blooded life surrounding me, my garden and I must persevere. Lettuce transplants huddle beneath garden fabric in the vegetable garden. I’ve been afraid to check on them, fearing that lifting the fabric might chill them more. And the tomato and pepper seeds I sowed a week ago have mostly germinated in the greenhouse. I’ve raised the thermostat to reduce the chances of cold air being fanned onto new-born seedlings.
Gardening is always an act of faith. This season, however, is requiring a bit more of it than usual. Believe, my friends. Soon we’ll be up to our knees in tall grass, mosquitoes, and summer squash.
But don’t blink. I have a feeling we’re mostly skipping Spring this year.
I’ve mentioned before that the five acres I’ve shared with Wonder Spouse (and myriad critters and plants) for the last 22 years started out pretty bare. The previous owner kept the huge canopy trees (thank goodness!), but eradicated every understory tree except dogwood. There was no shrub layer, and no herbaceous layer characteristic of Piedmont woodlands, except in the swampy parts of the floodplain and on a rocky north slope that he couldn’t mow.
For two decades, we’ve been adding understory tree and shrub species, slowly building the vegetation layers needed to create a rich woodland floor. Finally, in the last few years, I’m starting to see my dream realized. Inside the acre or so enclosed by deer fencing on the north side of our property, I’ve been planting choice wildflower specimens, nestling them beneath flourishing deciduous azaleas, viburnums, and vacciniums. This spring, I decided the time was right to add some of my favorite spring ephemeral wildflowers: trilliums.
Of course, I turned to my favorite local nursery that specializes in natives and choice non-natives. They are just a fifteen-minute drive from my house, and thus pose a constant temptation, which I have learned to — mostly — resist. I almost never impulsively buy a plant now. My yard is starting to fill out. Room for choice additions is becoming limited, so I plan my new acquisitions carefully.
I have always thought trilliums were especially lovely spring wildflowers. The three-leaved and three-petaledl beauties can be breathtaking when massed on a cool, moist hill. I bought one of each of the four species my local nursery sells: Trillium erectum (Purple Trillium), T. flexipes (White Nodding Trillium), T. grandiflorum (Great White Trillium), and T. luteum (Yellow Trillium). When I transplanted them two days ago, all four plants had impressively healthy root systems and multiple growing shoots. I am psyched.
According to the North Carolina Native Plant Society‘s handy dandy Web site, only the Great White Trillium occurs naturally in the Piedmont of my state. The other three are natives of the NC mountains. But as with any plant, if I can sufficiently emulate the conditions under which my mountain trillium acquisitions occur, I should be able to help them flourish in my yard.
The north side of my yard stays cooler — more like the mountains, I’m hoping. And the deciduous shade layers under which my just-planted trilliums are planted should encourage them to settle in and adapt to their new homes. They are buried in rich, loamy soil and surrounded by leaf mulch. My big challenge will be keeping them adequately watered. I am determined that they will not just survive, but flourish. These four treasures will get water no matter how much the drought deepens.
While I planted my new babies, I realized that the constant droning of the Spring Peepers was now enhanced by the soprano descant trilling of American Toads. They are singing three weeks earlier than last year. I know because I wrote about the arrival of their songs here. Perhaps early egg-laying will improve the chances that their birth puddles remain full long enough for tadpoles to become new toads — if a late freeze doesn’t zap them. Fingers crossed for my amphibian serenaders.
Meanwhile, my little greenhouse is fast becoming Veggie Central. I had hoped to have the spring veggie starts transplanted into the garden by now, but weather and an uninvited virus that invaded our household have thrown off my timetable. Note the size of the lettuces that I photographed two days ago:
I mentioned that I also started the Super Marzano tomatoes a few weeks ago. They all germinated and are growing with enthusiasm on the greenhouse shelf beside the peppers which also recently exited the germination chamber. Here they are two days ago:
The tomatoes are top left; the peppers to the right. The germination chamber is now full of seeds I sowed two days ago. They include all the remaining tomato varieties, three basil varieties, and two flower varieties. As of this morning, nothing had germinated, but it’s early. I’m betting I’ll have newly emerged seedlings by next week.
It’s an exciting time in the garden. As evidenced by the toad trilling, plants and animals all seem to be two to three weeks ahead of where they were last year. Will their gamble on early spring pay off? Or will late-breaking winter weather destroy their chances of reproductive success? I have no idea, but I can tell you that after the frightening weather currently heading my way passes by tomorrow, the forecast calls for below-normal temperatures for next week.
In truth, the success or failure of my plantings seems completely unimportant right now. My thoughts and prayers are with the folks living on the other side of the NC mountains, where killer tornadoes continue to ravage their landscape.
Forget the groundhogs. My money is on the peepers — those bitty little frogs that sing lustily during every late winter warm spell, urging spring’s arrival through the power of their voices.
I hadn’t heard them all winter. But today’s absurd morning warmth — 61 degrees F at my house — has roused them from their muddy slumbers. So far, I can still hear individual voices. The powerful chorus that rocks these woods on early spring nights has not yet manifested.
And because the temperature is predicted to return to winter numbers by this evening, that chorus probably won’t get going this time. But it will come. And soon. Why else would these hearty little amphibians be up singing before dawn on Groundhog Day?
Read about Spring Peepers and listen to their calls here.