The spring peep­ers are out

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake jamiedrake­out­doors@out­look.com

Last week I glee­fully men­tioned some of the signs of spring around my house: Daf­fodils and cro­cuses bloom­ing, leaves ap­pear­ing on trees and shrubs and green shoots start­ing to poke out of the ground.

There wasn’t enough time be­fore the news­pa­per went to print to add in some­thing else I no­ticed at the end of last week. The spring peep­ers are out.

I’m not talk­ing about the fluffy baby chicks at Trac­tor Sup­ply Com­pany that mirac­u­lously ar­rive in the back of the store around Easter, much to my chil­dren’s de­light and my cha­grin. It’s hard to say no to four lit­tle girls who have tears in their eyes. It’s not quite time for that spec­ta­cle yet.

The peep­ers that are out right now are of the am­phibi­ous per­sua­sion — tiny lit­tle brown­ish-gray frogs that can make a holy racket as soon as win­ter is wan­ing and spring is around the cor­ner as they emerge from hi­ber­na­tion to get a jump-start on pro­cre­ation.

The ca­cophonous chirp­ing you hear this time of year around swamps, wet­lands and ponds is part of their mat­ing process and are ad­ver­tise­ments from males to fe­males.

What ex­actly are the males ad­ver­tis­ing? Sci­en­tists don’t know for sure, but they have de­ter­mined that the most vig­or­ous frogs are more likely to achieve mat­ing suc­cess. Ap­par­ently, the males that call the most, call the loud­est and call the long­est end up hav­ing the best luck with the lady frogs.

Could there be any par­al­lels be­tween the life­cy­cle of frogs and the dat­ing habits of hu­mans? Those guys who still think cat­call­ing is a good way to pick up women are just obey­ing the over­pow­er­ing in­stincts of their an­cient rep­til­ian brains. They haven’t yet got­ten the memo that what works for frogs no longer works for hu­mans (at least not in the ver­sion of the story I tell my daugh­ters when re­count­ing how their fa­ther and I met).

I walk the edges of some fields near my house sev­eral times a week, and in the dead of win­ter the air is nearly silent ex­cept for the oc­ca­sional sound of a car pass­ing by. But not since the peep­ers have wo­ken up and be­gun their an­nual ver­nal mat­ing ri­tual. Their chirp­ing is of­ten com­pared to the sound of sleigh bells jin­gling.

Per­son­ally, I find their peep­ing a lit­tle shrill for my taste and would prob­a­bly pick the more melo­di­ous sound of bull­frogs over peep­ers, but nev­er­the­less the crazed din is wel­come to my ears be­cause I am ready for spring.

It’s hard to imag­ine that a tiny frog, about the length of a pa­per­clip, can make such a deaf­en­ing sound.

The chirp­ing noise comes from the frog’s bal­loon-like vo­cal sac. The sound is meant to woo fe­males, but it is also a hom­ing-bea­con for preda­tors. To keep them­selves safe, peep­ers have fig­ured out a way to per­form a crafty feat of sur­vival ven­tril­o­quism. They

can am­plify and project their calls to make them seem like they came from some­where other than where they ac­tu­ally are.

If you want to hear the peep­ers usher in spring, now is the time. These frogs live near ephemeral or semi-per­ma­nent wet­lands, small ponds and swamps. Fe­males lay their eggs in water, and within a few days or weeks, those eggs hatch into tad­poles.

Dusk and night­fall are good times to hear them. On a warm and over­cast or rainy day, just put down your car win­dow as you drive past some wet­lands and you’ll likely hear them in the mid­dle of the day dur­ing the peak of the breed­ing sea­son. It’s hard to spot in­di­vid­ual frogs be­cause they are so small, and their calls are of­ten echo­ing, but you will cer­tainly be able to hear them loud and clear.

Learn fly fish­ing

Fly fish­ing con­tin­ues to gain pop­u­lar­ity in our re­gion. Word must be get­ting out about how fun it is to catch pan fish, bass and trout on a fly be­cause I see more and more fly fish­er­men on the banks of the lo­cal lakes and ponds these days.

If you want to get hooked on this mode of fish­ing, South­ern Mary­land Fly Fish­ing, a fam­ily-owned out­fit­ter in Hugh­esville, is of­fer­ing an in­tro­duc­tion to fly fish­ing course at the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land at lo­ca­tions in all three coun­ties this spring. This course will cover how to select a fly-rod, rig it prop­erly, tie knots, cast and re­lease fish prop­erly.

Mike and Shane are a fa­ther-and-son duo and they have years of ex­pe­ri­ence teach­ing all ages, from teens to se­niors. Ev­ery year they vol­un­teer with the or­ga­ni­za­tion South­ern Mary­land Vaca- tions for Vet­er­ans to teach wounded vet­er­ans the ins and outs of fly fish­ing. And this will be the fifth year they’ve taught this be­gin­ning fly fish­ing course at the col­lege.

Par­tic­i­pants can bring their own fly rod and equip­ment or bor­row a rod and gear from the guides. The all-day class takes place on April 1 in La Plata, May 13 in Leonard­town and June 3 in Prince Fred­er­ick. The cost is $95 and in­cludes a class book and hand­outs. Regis­ter on­line at www. csmd.edu/go/regis­ter or in per­son at any of the cam­puses.

South­ern Mary­land Fly Fish­ing also of­fers per­son­al­ized 2-hour pri­vate lessons that cover ev­ery­thing from equip­ment setup and knot ty­ing to fly se­lec­tion and cast­ing tech­niques for $100. Lessons can be cus­tom­ized for more ex­pe­ri­enced an­glers who want to fo­cus on spe­cific skills. For more in­forma- tion, go to http://somd­fly­fish­ing.com.

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