In the nine years that I’ve been walking the paths through the Wetlands here at the Museum, I’ve seen or heard 13 species of frogs and toads. Previous to March 24 I’d only heard southern leopard frog, I’d not seen one. Typically, I’ll hear one or two calling each year in late winter or early spring. Some years I don’t hear any leopard frogs.
Leopard frogs are not uncommon in this area. In fact, they can be abundant. But here at the Museum, the closely related pickerel frog is much more in evidence. The two species are similar in appearance but are variable in both their color and the spots they wear. Pickerel frog spots are more regular in their placement and shape, usually fairly evenly spaced and roughly rectangular or oval in shape. They also have yellow on the undersides of their hind legs. Their overall background color is usually more tan-brown than green.
Leopard frogs lack yellow under the legs (not helpful unless you catch the frog), can also be brownish or green, but the spots, if you can see them, are more rounded and scattered about the frog. Here’s the clincher though, if you see a light spot on their tympanum (eardrum – round thing behind the eye), no matter how brown, green, spotted or un-spotted the frog is, it’s a leopard frog. Oh, and if they call, the leopard frog sounds as if someone was rubbing their fingers, or thumb, on an inflated balloon (it really does sound like that!). Pickerel frogs sound like someone snoring.
Most of the mergansers we’ve hosted over this past winter have headed back to their breeding grounds as paired adults. The latest I’ve seen a hooded merganser in our Wetlands is perhaps the third week in April, typically young females and males. So, it’s not a surprise we still have a couple of hoodeds among us. These birds are in no hurry to head north, they’re non-breeders. No need to head home, stake out a territory, find a suitable nest site, lay eggs and hatch them. They’re free to linger if they desire.
Males in their immature plumage look much like females with the exception of having light colored eyes and dark bill. The merganser on the right in the photo is a young male who will not breed until next year. The next time we see him, if he comes back to this little wetland, he’ll be decked out in his sharp black and white head and body feathers and rich brown sides. The female should look essentially the same as she does now.