It’s noisy out there, but there’s a reason: Frog songs of love fill the night air

IslandWood event explores the frog songs of spring.

Amphibian expert Christina Doherty and a young citizen scientist examine a salamander egg mass in a local park.

Amphibian expert Christina Doherty and a young citizen scientist examine a salamander egg mass in a local park.

Ever wonder what those noisy tree frogs are talking about? Here’s your chance to find out.

The always popular presentation,  “Amorous Amphibians Night Hike at IslandWood,” returns to Bainbridge from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 2.

IslandWood, whose mission is to provide exceptional learning experiences and inspire lifelong environmental and community stewardship, has its own amphibian specialist, Christina Doherty. And she’s ready to tell all.

“They chorus in great numbers,” Doherty said of the Northern Pacific Tree Frogs. “They start about the end of February and they sing through May.”

But what many people may not know is that they are singing a breeding song. And it’s only the males who sing.

“To think that these frogs, which are only about 3 to 4 inches long, can make so much noise,” Doherty said. “We can’t take them for granted.”

Tree frogs get the attention of people in this area because they are loud, she said.

“There’s a curiosity about them,” she said. “In the Northwest, their song is truly a herald of spring.”

At the annual amphibian night hike, participants will hear her speak about frogs and other amphibians for about 30 to 40 minutes. She’ll tell the basics and even the not-so-well-known facts.

“Some species of salamanders have to be on a stick to lay their eggs,” she said. “And with some amphibians, the female lays only one egg at a time, while others can lay up to 20,000.”

And salamanders aren’t vocal to mate, she said. They find each other by scents left behind.

After the talk, participants will go for a night hike at dusk to hunt for breeding frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and their eggs in a frog-filled wetland in IslandWood’s Cattail Marsh.

“We’ll be out there with our flashlights looking for them in the water and watching them breed,” she said. “You just don’t forget a memory like that.”

Doherty has a degree in zoology and has worked in environmental education for 20 years. She’s a naturalist and is certified in amphibian vocalization and egg mass monitoring. She can easily tell the difference in the songs of the various frogs and toads.

As a youngster, she was the kid who brought home the injured bird, but was drawn to amphibians.

“I was lucky to grow up in a part of New York where there were forests and streams all around. Being outside was a big part of how I grew up. But nature can be found anywhere.”

Classes like this one are offered at IslandWood to help residents on Bainbridge to become “citizen scientists.”

“We want people to know that you don’t have to have an advanced degree to be involved in science and the environment,” she said. “Making observations in your environment and reporting what you see, is an excellent way to help out.”

In fact, there’s an organization called FrogWatch USA, where people can register and report what they observe in their local area. Doherty is part of that network and after the program, reports findings from the Cattail Marsh and the pond at IslandWood.

Similar groups exist for those who watch birds and like to study plants.

Doherty also hopes getting the word out will lead islanders to look for the Western Toad.

“It’s a species that hasn’t been seen on the island in years,” she said. “It’s documented that it was here in 1933 on Mac’s Pond. Why is it gone? We don’t know. We want people to know about things like this so we can do the detective work together on these mysteries.”

Engaging students of all ages about the natural world is an important aspect of what IslandWood does, she said. There’s example after example of species that are disappearing due to negative effects on the environment.

“It’s up to us to put on our listening ears and to not be afraid to touch things,” she said. “We want to encourage everyone to learn and then go out there and contribute.”

The class is for anyone, Doherty said. Families are invited, but you don’t have to have children to attend. Younger children are welcome, but the presentation and hike are best suited for ages 6 and older.

The hike is a short distance on trails with roots and a small footbridge. Wear appropriate shoes. Dress warm in boots, jacket and a hat. Bring a headlamp or flashlight. Cost is $5 per person.

To register, or for more information, go to www.islandwood.org.

 

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