Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Flying Frogs, On the Cusp

Just a few degrees make a huge difference, and so when temperatures climbed into the mid-forties it looked, felt and smelled like spring. It was a prime opportunity to get into one of my favorite creeks to see if things underwater were changing as fast as they seemed to be on land. I was specifically trying to learn the timing of a large darter gathering at a local waterfall. I watched them congregate here for the last 2 years, and wondered if it was just a fluke, or if this meeting was intentional and specifically timed with season. The air might be warm but the water still stings. I’m used to it now, and soon the cold doesn’t register. No darters, still and I’m starting to get a little concerned. There were darters here this time last year. In fact they were here 2 weeks earlier last year, and I hope they return. The water temperature is 3 degrees colder this year than last and maybe that slight difference explains their absence. I inched my way down a shallow riffle and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I couldn’t make out what splashed into the deeper faster moving water, but I assumed it was some kind of fish. I slid over algae covered rocks and sailed into a deeper pool, with a strong recirculating current. A frog twirled in the strong eddy, and did slow turns between the surface and sand bar bottom. I thought it was dead, and thought what a waste. I wondered what killed it as I circulated with its motionless body through an eddy. It looked so clean. Its legs were a creamy white and brilliant yellow. Its abdomen looked strong, and its body intact as we twirled together in a kind of a post mortem dance. It lifelessly flew through the water. I reached out, grabbed it and felt one of its hind legs push slowly but firmly against my hand. The frog wasn’t dead. It was cold. Some frogs must have also taken advantage of the warmer day and emerged. The movement I saw earlier that I assumed to be fish wriggling for deeper water I now think were frogs, right on the cusp of the breeding season, wanting to be the first ones out to increase their chances of attracting a mate. I placed the frog into a clam shallow pool near the shore, and it assumed the usual frog position, legs under body, poised to jump. Soon this river will be full of darters and trilling frogs, hopefully migrating herring too. The pent up biological energy is almost palpable. We are right on the cusp of spring, and the frogs are flying.

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