The spring peepers are out
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.