Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mourning Cloaks and Peepers

The first high pitched bells of the annual spring peeper chorus availed themselves on a 70 degree Monday morning as we set out for the woods. Driving past farm ponds all over the Ozarks you'll hear them, too, the bursting eardrums-loud calls of thousands of diminutive little frogs who congregate in fishless ponds (and even sewage lagoons)in the spring. We never had a February fake-out, days in midwinter when the temperatures climb to spring only to crash hopes by plummeting down into the teens again. But mid-March in the Ozarks is not only shaping up for prime prescribed fire time with low humidities and longer day lengths, but for the slow pace of early spring.

We went looking for Harbinger of Spring but never found it. In a moist sinkhole protected from the fierce winds and fluctuating temperatures, I did find my first spring wildflower, barely poking up through the rich black soil. The mourning cloaks, one of Missouri's few butterflies that overwinter as adults, have broken out and started making daily flights. Later that afternoon, I counted no fewer than 40 cooters hanging out on a log sunning in a streambank. The world is fresh and new and spring is coming on, beginning the cycle again of growth and robustness, of healthy systems and the intricate inner workings of the natural world. Boy, we've had a long winter.


Cynthia said...

Thanks for the mention of peepers in lagoons. I wonder if the environment is harmful to them though. Not much I can do about it, but I noticed that my peeper population moved from a small but stable pond on the bottom hollow of my land, up to my lagoon about an eighth of a mile away. The only thing I can figure is that the lagoon water temps must be more conducive to reproduction. I wonder if anybody else has noticed this phenomenon.

Allison Vaughn said...

I doubt anyone is really studying amphibian use of sewage lagoons--it's obviously not very safe to be working in human waste to dipnet or sample egg masses. I've seen a sewage lagoon loaded with spotted salamander eggs, too. I bet you're right about the water temperatures and the high nutrient loading in your lagoon versus your farm pond. It would be very interesting for someone to investigate with a study in the spring.