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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 got the class into it, especially when she had us mimicking 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 Monday, I met the group at the bridge gate to Kingman Island 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 a frog call in the distance, but not at 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 we were hearing 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 if your interested.

At the final site, we heard a green frog. They’re often said to make “plucking” sounds, like a banjo, which I do hear. But I also always think of some impersonations of Mick Jagger, pursing his lips and going “Oo – oo – oo.” 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 local 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




3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 15, 2016 4:23 pm

    Good descriptive musical terms here😊 and great stuff involving citizen scientists. Here we’re after protecting leopard toads (endangered species).
    Mostly involving night patrols preventing toads from being squashed on the roads.

    • July 15, 2016 4:44 pm

      I just looked leopard toads up to see what they looked like — gorgeous!! We have leopard frogs here, but not toads 🙂

  2. July 15, 2016 6:34 pm

    Sounds like a really enjoyable night of listening. And THANKS for that link to the calls of some frogs and an informative blog entry.

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