What You Can See on March 2
Submitted by Ted Williams on Thu, 03/02/2006 - 12:57.
From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Spring Quackers How can there be so many ducks in that tiny puddle of snowmelt? Tiptoe toward it, and instantly the quacking ceases. Yet there is no explosion of wings—only the faintest of ripples and the rustle of budding trees in the March breeze. Where are the ducks? Not here, because these vocalists are male wood frogs—handsome fellows wearing brown waistcoats and rakish black masks, and who distinguish themselves among frogs by singing by day as well as night. Take a seat, and after 15 or 20 minutes they’ll start again, their double vocal sacs flashing white with each inflation. As many as five males will grasp a larger, redder female, occasionally killing her in their ardor. Eggs, floating in tightly packed, apple-size masses, hatch quickly, because vernal pools are short-lived. Wood frogs are largely terrestrial, inhabiting moist north country and/or high country all the way to the Arctic Circle and beyond—farther north than any other reptile or amphibian. Antifreeze in their blood protects them from sudden cold snaps. Permafrost defines the northern limit of their range, preventing them from hibernating in the mud. Chipper Chaps Regardless of what the calendar decrees, spring does not officially arrive until a chipmunk peeks over the rim of its winter burrow and scampers across your yard. In the eastern half of the country (except for the extreme South), your harbinger will be the eastern chipmunk; in the West it will be one of at least 16 species, all strikingly similar. The capacity of a chipmunk’s cheeks is prodigious. One load, for example, was reported to consist of two heaping tablespoons of corn kernels. It’s an easy task for an individual to empty and cache the entire contents of a bird feeder in less than an hour. While chipmunks remain underground for most of the winter, they don’t hibernate. Instead, they sleep for a few days or a week, then snack from their pantries, which double as bedrooms. A burrow also has a bathroom. Chipmunks, the most fastidious of rodents, are obsessive groomers and able to reach every part of their bodies with mouth or paw. Therefore, they have few external parasites. In the language of eastern chipmunks, a chuck expresses fear or anger, a chip-trill surprise, a chuck-trill aggression. When you hear a chipmunk uttering 80 to 180 chips per minute for half an hour, it is saying, “I am a chipmunk, and I am here.”