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NATUREWATCH

What's all the ruckus? Its just the seasonal serenade of the gray tree frog

Gray tree frog

The gray tree frog has become a permanent resident of the Berkshires.

THOSE NOISY FROGS IN OUR NEIGHBOURHOOD

For several years, two close friends, now both deceased, would join me to go birding in early May along the coast. We would take Route 2. It was customary to stop at the French King Bridge, spanning the Connecticut River in Erving, on our nighttime return where we would listen to the racket that we rarely heard in the Berkshires. Except, as time continued, this racket became a familiar sound in South County and it slowly continues north. In the past couple of seasons — three in our neighborhood as my understanding — the gray tree frog has become a spring and ever warm season "serenader."

I remember one season, while visiting our daughter and her family in the outskirts of Holyoke, I would thrill at the amphibian, a close relative of our spring peeper (both being tree frogs). It would lay its eggs early in the spring, after they removed the winter tarp from their pool, and before they began adding chemicals to the water. The tree frogs consider this a pond, and, one time, I and the grandkids netted many hundreds of polliwogs and released them in more hospitable places.

I recall when reading "A Guide To Amphibians and Reptiles," author Thomas F. Tyning — now a Pittsfield resident and professor at Berkshire Community College — wrote of a friend’s swimming pool, while still covered, “Spring rains, however, had created numerous pockets of water on the crumpled surface of the plastic cover, and it was here that two dozen male tree frogs had set up their calling sights.” Maybe some nearby neighbors have noticed the same?

While I hear the tree frog adults on the local trees, I have not seen one nearby. It is 9:30 p.m. at my computer and from various windows I can hear the adults calling. A month ago their calls were deafening, now far less.

Like so many other amphibians, gray tree frogs lay thousands of eggs, in this case, up to 2,000 eggs. It doesn’t take long for them to hatch, between two and five days. The tadpoles are around 30 to double that number. Maybe you have had tadpoles on the top of your swimming pool cover?

Have you ever gone exploring in early spring and heard ducks quacking somewhere in the woods and assumed there must be a pond or lake not far off and began walking? Eventually, if lucky, like once when I was hiking with a friend in the 1960s, the quacking was very loud without a single duck to see. We found the cause — it was the male gray tree frogs calling for mates.

TWO FOREIGN WEEDS IN OUR YARDS 

When I returned to weeding over this past weekend, which I enjoyed ever so much, I left the flower gardens and worked in the veggie garden. One of the “weeds” there, which outgrows any weed, is one I planted but a few years ago. I remember the first year I planted the six chamomile seedlings. They were so were successful, I decided to let the flowers go to seed. Dumb me! The following spring, I must have had many hundreds of plants, maybe even a thousand. Three or four years later, nearly all of the garden was chamomile! So this spring, I offered seedlings to one of the nearby greenhouses. I inferred, for free. After I was told "No.,"  I offered again and the owner or manager reiterated, "No!" So I gave some to friends and the rest are in the middle of the compost pile. I no longer have to purchase Taylors Tea, imported from England, which, through the years, I found a delightful before-bedtime relaxant.

I’m sure I will again need to incorporate my helper to weed the garden again before planting another late spring.

Found in most backyards, ground ivy, or gill-over-the-ground, pretty as it is with its bluish-purple flowers, was my garden’s archenemy for many years. It reproduces by seed and stems that creep along and root at the nodes. Through the years I have learned that more than a turning of the soil is required to kill it. And, pulling it up almost always leaves broken stems and root pieces that develop. It is a mint related to catnip, and the odor of its leaves suggests that. It is somewhat a surprise to learn that this name [Gill] is derived from the French “guiller,” and refers to its former use in the fermentation of beer.

It can be used as a salad green, and in years past as an ingredient in herbal medicines. Its regard as a remedy was sufficient enough that the European settlers brought it along as they colonized the Americans. It goes back even to the Roman Empire. To this day, some gardeners grow it as an ornamental ground cover.

columnist

Thom Smith, NatureWatch columnist.

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