A return to more wintry weather of late has barely muted the love songs of our vocal amphibians.
It's still a couple of days until spring, but frogs have been calling for weeks. We tend to think of them as warm weather creatures, yet frogs are frogs all year. True, they do drop out of sight in the coldest parts of winter, but they emerge from frigid slumber long before balmy times.
This year, even as early as January, mild winter weather stretches put chorus frogs into full calling mode. Males turned out in wetlands, singing to attract females for the breeding season. Upland chorus frogs are some of the first singers of the new season, and spring peepers are typically not far behind.
Both chorus frogs and spring peepers actually start the breeding season before winter has lost its grip. When cold weather resurges and "catches" the little frogs out and about, it's hardly a tragedy. These small amphibians just tuck into the wetland cover and let the seasonally common cold run its course.
Freezing temperatures aren't the kiss of death that some people might assume. Some frogs have a kind of nature antifreeze that keeps their tissues from being damaged in sharp thermal downturns. Also, some frogs actually can endure partial freezing of their bodies without lasting consequences.
As the late winter amphib-fest has continued, leopard frogs have been chiming in with songs. Guy leopard frogs -- probably most commonly southern leopard frogs -- have been puffing out their vocal sacs and making rasping croaks and the laugh-like chuckles that are some of the loudest calls that we hear this time of year.
While I stood on a lakeshore on a recent cold evening, two leopard frog fellows apparently eased out of the water in the dark and staked out calling positions within 15 or 20 feet of each other. One would rasp and chuckle, always provoking the other to follow suit. Somewhere out there in the dark, perhaps, lady leopard frogs were listening and rating the crooning.
The chorus frogs and spring peepers are tiny things, yet the leopard frogs are considerably larger, with a body up to about 3.5 inches long from the snout to the rump. And that doesn't count the long, leaping legs. Some people have even reduced those leopard frogs to table fare, routing a collection of those legs through the skillet.
The more common provider of frog legs for human consumption, however, is the famed bullfrog. This, our most jumbo of the native frogs, is not so much an earlier riser from winter slumber as the smaller amphibians.
Bullfrogs aren't being heard calling right now, it seems. The croaking at present can largely be attributed to the smaller leopard frogs. The big bellowing bullfrogs (think "chug-o-rum") apparently hold off for warmer air and water temperatures to pursue their breeding season.
Likewise, prevalent tree frogs and the common American and Fowler's toads will add significantly to the night sounds over the next few weeks, but they are notably absent and quiet right now.
Ã¢ Â¢ Any hold-over trout from fall stocking still lurking in the Fairgrounds Pond at Fort Massac State Park at Metropolis as well as any new arrivals are off limits nowadays in anticipation of Illinois' spring trout season start-up April 1.
The Fort Massac pond is one of 52 sites statewide where more than 80,000 rainbow trout of catchable sizes will be stocked for the new season. With stocking of the fish beginning and ongoing over the next two weeks, regulations prohibit the taking of trout from these sites from March 15 until 5 a.m. on the April 1 opening day of the new season.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources isn't kidding about this no-harvest period. Anglers caught trying to take trout from the stocked waters before opening day will be cited and fined.
Once the new season kicks in, anglers can have at the freshly infused trout populations in these small waters. Participating fishermen should have an appropriate fishing license and an Illinois Inland Trout Stamp unless they are younger than 16, blind or disabled or active military on leave.
The daily creel limit on trout is five fish. There is no size limit.
Elsewhere in downstate Illinois, Ferne Clyffe State Park Lake in Johnson County is also one of the sites receiving stocked trout.
Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. Email outdoors news items to firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 270-575-8650.
Ã¢ Â¢ The Land Between the Lakes' Woodlands Nature Station will host Girl Scout Day 10 a.m.-3 p.m. next Saturday, March 25. The Nature Station's staffers have a schedule of hands-on activities, live animal program, scavenger hunts, guest presentations and more to help Daisies, Brownies, Juniors and Cadettes at all levels of Girl Scouting earn badges and complete journey requirements.
Some of the programs this year include encounters with search and rescue dogs, therapy horses and dogs, and a police K9 team. A schedule of activities is listed on a Girl Scout Day flyer posted on the website www.landbetweenthelakes.us under uploads.
While the special day is scheduled with Girl Scouts in mind, the programs and activities are open to all and covered by general admission at the Nature Station: $5 for ages 12 and older, $3 for ages 5-12 and free for those 4 and younger.
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