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Jeepers creepers, it’s time for spring peepers! April 16, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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We’ve had such a cold spring here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, that our friend Ben was beginning to fear that our spring peepers—as central to the announcement of spring’s arrival as the first robins—were going to be summer peepers this year. Fortunately, they decided to defy the cold and started up their nocturnal chorus last week, filling the air with insistent mating calls that prefigure the sounds of cicadas and katydids in the summer nights.

Spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) are tiny frogs, slightly larger than a man’s thumbnail, who live throughout the Eastern U.S. and Canada. They prefer woodlands where vernal ponds form each spring—temporary patches of wetland caused by spring rains and runoff where they can mate and lay their eggs. By summer, these vernal ponds are just a memory, but by then the tadpoles will have turned into frogs who can survive on land. As winter comes, they hibernate under loose bark or logs, emerging in spring as the cycle begins again.

Spring peepers are nocturnal, and their nightly chorus is an eerie, amazing treat to hear. The website eNature.com (www.enature.com) describes the call this way: “A high-pitched ascending whistle, sometimes with a short trill. Chorus sounds like the jingling of bells. Males call from shrubs and trees standing in or overhanging water.”

Our friend Ben has never seen a spring peeper outside of photos, which show the tiny tan, brown or grey treefrogs with the trademark brown X on their backs. But Silence and I hear them every spring, calling from the vernal ponds that we assume form each spring in the small woods across the road from us. Lest you wonder why we haven’t taken flashlight in hand and gone across the street to see the peepers for ourselves, let’s just say that the gun turret* in the cornfield between us and the woods is an excellent deterrent. We content ourselves with their night music, instead.

The cold, wet, grey days haven’t been enough to stop the arrival of spring here at Hawk’s Haven, either. Our ornamental beds are at their best in spring—yellow and white daffodils, white-flowered bloodroot, snowdrops, and white-flowered Dutchman’s breeches rising from a sea of blue- and lavender-flowered Siberian squill, glory-of-the-snow, crocuses, and Grecian windflowers in the great island bed in our front yard. Pink-, purple-, and white-flowered bleeding hearts and white-and-cream ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils surrounding the house, soon to be joined by the mauve-blue blooms of vinca (periwinkle). Hellebores in their vast color range from chartreuse to white to pink to rose to purple to almost black, with the white flowers of the pachysandra and first violets and the blues of grape hyacinths setting off the yellows of daffodils and forsythia in the backyard.

The birds have not forgotten us, either: Pairs of cardinals, robins, downy and hairy woodpeckers, nuthatches, and mourning doves delight us every day. Flocks of bold, brassy grackles and goldfinches—the males just starting to come into their glorious yellow spring plumage—tackle our feeders and (in the case of the grackles) raid the bowl of food we set out for the outdoor cats. Chickadees, titmice, sparrows, house finches, and even juncos still turn up at the feeders, and we hear the insistent calls of phoebes and wrens every morning. We haven’t yet seen any hummingbirds, bluebirds, or orioles, but have confidence that they’ll be here in a month or two. And we’ve been delighted to see that the pair of mallards that return to our little stream, Hawk Run, have made their appearance like clockwork.

In our vegetable gardens, the walking onions, garlic chives, chives, and garlic are burgeoning in our allium bed, while asparagus, rhubarb, and horseradish make their presence known in our perennial vegetable bed. It’s time to sow seeds of cold-hardy greens like lettuce, mesclum mix, cilantro, and arugula.

Spring has sprung; there’s no holding it back. Now, if the so-called Genius of the Weather could just give us some mild, sunny days so we can enjoy it…

* This is actually a treehouse-like shack set on stilts in the middle of the cornfield to serve as a deer blind. Our favorite part is the small satellite dish sticking off one side. All the comforts of home!

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