Speaking of Nature: The telltale song of summer: Singing green frogs welcome me back to the Thinking Chair

A green frog rests in the shallow stream of clear water that drains out of my meadow.

A green frog rests in the shallow stream of clear water that drains out of my meadow. PHOTO BY BILL DANIELSON


For the Recorder

Published: 05-27-2024 6:01 AM

For most people, Memorial Day marks the first day of summer. The official first day may not actually be observed until three weeks later, but the three-day weekend gives people a chance to get outside and fire up the grill, or perhaps even go camping. In a past life, when I worked for a variety of different parks as a ranger, naturalist, or law enforcement officer, it was Memorial Day that was always seen as “the beginning.”

These days I work as a teacher and the first day of summer is dictated by the nature of the winter that we experienced. This year, due to very mild conditions, we will get out before the actual first day of summer, but not too much before. However, the arrival of hot weather last week certainly has me feeling like summer has arrived. This was especially true when I made my first visit to the Thinking Chair at the edge of my meadow.

I arrived to find only a few changes. We hadn’t received much snow during the winter, but what did fall was wet and heavy. As a result, many branches had come down off of the trees that stand within range of my camera and I realized that I was going to have to learn a new landscape. This will be easy, however, because no winter goes by without changing something.

The one thing that was impossible to miss was the fact that the ground was extremely wet. This, after all, is what prevents trees from growing in the bowl-shaped depression at the “bottom” of the hill upon which my house is built. Certain grasses can deal with the water, but so far, no trees have been able to handle the conditions. I also recalled hearing the weather roundup on the radio during which it was mentioned that we are about four inches of rain above normal so far this year. The wet meadow was absolutely soaking.

So, with my feet a little damp from my walk, I eased back into the comfort of my beloved chair and started taking notes. This bird here, that bird there, and so on. Then, to my absolute delight I heard the familiar sound of a green frog (Lithobatesclamitans) coming from the meadow. Right in front of the Thinking Chair is the lowest point in the meadow and it behaves as the drain for the entire area. If there is any free water to be found, then it will be found in this spot and on that day there was a nice flow of clear water through the grass. Apparently, the local frogs had found it to their liking.

I have never found bullfrogs in this sort of habitat, but green frogs are a little more flexible when it comes to where they will spend their time. From high up in the wet meadow to further down in the woods where a seasonal stream flows, green frogs seem to thrive. Eventually, however, the water always dries up and the frogs are forced to move to nearby ponds that retain water throughout the year.

I’ve always thought the song of the green frog sounds like it’s made by plucking the string of a banjo. I have no recollection if this was something that I heard from another naturalist when I was young, or if this is my own way of looking at things, but the banjo idea is firmly cemented into my mind. I suppose it doesn’t hurt that Kermit the Frog (wow, I’m old) also played the banjo in “The Muppet Movie.” Why think of anything else, right?

I know that there is at least one “pool” in the meadow where standing water can persist for quite some time and I am sure that females will lay eggs there every spring. The problem with this area is the fact that the water can dry up, which happens at different times on a year-to-year basis. The young frogs will need eight-to-10 weeks for their legs to develop and that puts them on a schedule that can be pretty tight.

I have seen small green frogs in the meadow in late summer, but I can’t really be certain of where they came from. So, I won’t worry about it. Male green frogs do a lot of singing because they need to attract females.

The males find decent habitat and then do their best to advertise the spot. Females will come around and either agree, or disagree. This year, with a warm and rainy spring, the frogs are clearly at it already. But even without the notion of breeding there is the simple joy of hearing the telltale splash of a frog jumping into the water when I approach the little drainage stream on my way to, or home from, the Thinking Chair. The bonus comes when I sit quietly for an hour and the frogs forget that I am there. Then the singing starts and the feeling of summer spreads out across the meadow.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 26 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.