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July 15, 2016

Fowler’s toad, Anaxyrus fowlerii. By Jimpanz, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On Monday evening I joined a group led by the DC Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE) to go out and listen to frog calls. DOEE started a DC chapter of the national FrogWatch group, a citizen science organization. The goal of FrogWatch is to monitor frog populations throughout the country, relying on trained volunteers. Volunteers go out to their chosen sites (wetlands of some sort or another) after dark, and follow a protocol (stand quietly for two minutes so the frogs adjust to your presence, and then listen for three minutes). They’re not looking to spot frogs, but rather to hear their calls. Frog species all have different songs, used during breeding season to attract mates. Some are melodic (the gray tree frog has a musical trill), and some not so much (the American bull frog sort of sounds like a low-flying propeller airplane). And since different frogs have different breeding seasons, the chorus changes from month to month. Spring peepers are often the first ones out, in February, and late season breeders such as the green tree frog can go until July or August.

To prepare for this, earlier this year I went to a FrogWatch training led by DDOE’s Rachel Gauza, who is based at the Aquatic Resources Education Center in Anacostia Park. The training was excellent — and fun! She really got the crowd into it, especially when she had us mimicing a frog chorus. Our local NPR affiliate even covered the training and the first group outing in a great story — it’s worth checking out.  

Back to the present day, I met the group at the gate to the bridge at Kingman Island on the Anacostia a few minutes after sunset. Kingman Island is an amazing spot — it’s manmade from material dredged from the Anacostia River, and is currently owned by the DC Government and managed by Living Classrooms. It’s truly a bit of wild in the city — you can see the lights from RFK Stadium, and hear and see the rumble of the Metro on a regular basis.

We wandered along the path, heading towards three sites that have already been monitored this year. At the first, we could hear someone call in the distance but no one present at the that site. So we moved on. At the next, we were closer to the critters-in-question, so were able to record them. I incorrectly thought it was an Eastern spadefoot (I’d memorized that their call was sort of like a whining old man), but it was actually a Fowler’s toad (they also sound a bit like whining old men!). There’s a great website, DC Frog Calls, which has audio clips of some of the frogs that live in DC — I’d encourage you to check it out.

At the final site, we heard a green frog. They’re often said to make “plucking” sounds, which I hear. But I also always think of some impersonations of Mick Jagger, pursing his lips and going “Oo – oo – oo.” But I might be alone in thinking that! 

It was a fairly quiet night, but was also getting towards the end of the season (especially since it seems like it’s been an early summer — our fireflys came out early, as did our cicadas), and it hadn’t rained in several days. So I was happy that we heard anyone, and I’m looking forward to“adopting” my own patch of wetlands somewhere and doing regular monitoring.

Just to make a pitch for citizen science, it’s always a great way to get to know your natural world a bit better. Besides learning new skills (some of which are quite complex, and some of which are very simple), it forces you to just stop and really look at something for a while. And it helps research projects that are working on protecting the wildlife around us. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

Green Frog

Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans). By Contrabaroness, under a CC license via Wikimedia Commons




52 Weeks of Urban Nature, Week 20: California Edition

June 3, 2016
52 Weeks Week 20 twitter

(c) Megan Draheim, 2016

We were in sunny San Diego for a conference earlier this spring. Well, it was sunny until our day off from the conference, when it rained the entire day! We still had a good, albeit slightly soggy, time.

I am addicted to palm trees, of all shapes and sizes (I’d probably fit in well with the members of the International Palm Society. Check out this article from the fabulous Atlas Obscura about the Society and their field trips). And yes, I know they’re not native to many of the places they’re grown. But that doesn’t make them any less magnificent! I might have to do a separate post sometime with nothing but palm pictures. But not until after I catch up on posting my 52 week photos.

52 Weeks of Urban Nature Week 19: Unfurling Edition

June 3, 2016
52 Weeks Week 19 twitter

(c) Megan Draheim, 2016

Yes, these are fiddleheads. And yes, my ferns have unfurled themselves into all of their glory already! Needless to say, I have been not so good at posting these in a timely fashion. But I’m determined to get caught up in the next couple of weeks. And I have been faithfully taking a photo a week!

I love ferns — always have. There’s something so beautiful and graceful about them, and at the same time, so, well, prehistoric. We only have a couple, but they’re some of my favorite plants in our yard. And every year I’m fascinated by the way they grow.

Backyard Musings

April 21, 2016
(c) Megan Draheim, 2016

(c) Megan Draheim, 2016

Spring has really, fully sprung! Our spring flowers are in full bloom, our trees are leafing out (or, in the case of our dogwood above, flowering), the weather is warming up, and suddenly everything is just alive again.

I’ve been working near our back door a lot lately, and so am getting the chance to notice all of the action going on in our yard. The cardinal couple that’s taken up residence have been quite busy lately; both have been seen flying around the yard on a daily basis. Our chipmunks have also been seen scampering across our patio (this especially mesmerizes one of our dogs, who sometimes watches closely from behind the door!). Some species of bees are once again buzzing around some of our early blooming plants (we have flowers throughout the season for them). And I saw our resident melanistic squirrel being chased by a “regular” grey squirrel the other week. The newcomer meant business, and went tearing after our black squirrel — up and down trees, over the fence into our neighbors yard, and up their dogwood, where the chaser promptly jumped at the chasee, causing them both to fall quite a ways to the ground. There was a pause in action, and then they were at it again. I was worried that our black squirrel might get chased off (grey squirrels are territorial), but the next day and the next he was back, so all appears to be well. Black squirrels tend to be uncommon in the mid- and southern-part of the East Coast (much more common in New England and Canada), but they’re relatively common in DC, for reasons that I’ll share soon!

All of this reminds me that we’re only sharing the land with our non-human neighbors. So slow down and take a minute to notice the spring activities of your neighbors, and perhaps give them a thought as you’re choosing what to plant in your garden this year (natives!), and how you’re going to plant it (organic!).

52 Weeks of Urban Nature Week 18: Shapes Edition

April 17, 2016
Washington, DC, (c) Megan Draheim, 2016

Washington, DC, (c) Megan Draheim, 2016

I’ve mentioned before how much I love tree bark, right? This caught my eye on a walk with the dogs — gorgeous graphic shapes, I thought.

52 Weeks of Urban Nature Week 17: Reflections Edition

April 9, 2016


Louisville, KY, (c) Megan Draheim 2016

Louisville, KY, (c) Megan Draheim 2016

Still playing catch-up!

I was in Louisville a few weeks ago and found this image, walking along the waterfront. The waterfront there has always puzzled me a bit — it’s a grand riverfront with what could be a great path walkway, but it’s almost all paved. In fact, this little bit of green is pretty much the only green I saw! I hope there are plans in the future to turn this into a much more useable, pleasant space — one that will help the residents of Louisville get to know their river a bit better.

52 Weeks of Urban Nature, Week Sixteen: Cherry Cherry Edition

April 7, 2016
Washington, DC (c) Megan Draheim, 2016

Washington, DC (c) Megan Draheim, 2016

It was cherry blossom season in DC! One of my favorite times of year. I say “it was” because I am in fact several weeks behind in posting these photos. I’ve been taking them, just not processing and posting them. But I will get caught up soon!

I’ve written about our cherry blossom season before, and it is really one of my favorite traditions — lovely for both locals and tourists alike. I prefer the trees on the Tidal Basin for many reasons (mainly the history behind them and my own personal traditions), but the entire DMV region has adopted this spring-time ritual, so there are other places to stroll around without quite the same crowds.


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