The sounds of Sheep Hill

Spring: the season of relief. After a long winter spent shut in, we and the world begin to emerge. Snow cover melts and the ground thaws. When it’s not raining, the clouds part. Last Friday, many of us stashed our parkas in the closet, hoping that we won’t need them until fall.

Here at Sheep Hill, Josiah’s Pond has awoken after a long stretch of winter’s quiet. Red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) have gathered in nearby trees to send out their distinct calls (cong-a-reee!), and — as of Monday — the wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) are back, floating at the pond’s surface.

Wood frog floating at the surface of Josiah’s Pond.

You’ll hear the them before you see them. As you approach the pond, listen for a chorus of soft chuckling, or quacking, sounds. These are the wood frogs, their calls distinct from the high-pitched peeping you’ll hear later in spring (those calls belong to Pseudacris crucifer, the aptly-named ‘spring peeper’). Look closely at the water’s surface, and you’ll see bumps scattered across its top: the frogs’ heads just breaking through. These amphibians have a distinct dark mask across their eyes, like a bandit might wear. During winter, wood frogs hibernate and their bodies partially freeze. Blood flow, breathing, and heartbeat all cease until warm spring rains rouse them from their long sleep and thaw them out. (Creepy? A little. Amazing? Yes.) This time of year, the frogs are breeding and you may see clumps of egg sacs floating in the pond. Tadpoles will hatch from these eggs and dart through the pond in the coming months.

Early spring can be a roller coaster. If you’re willing to brave the fickle weather, you’ll see some of nature’s best sights: bright crocuses erupting above the grass (or snow!); the forest canopy open to the airy, high sun before leaf-out. The brevity of these sights — as winter hangs on, and spring comes forward — is part of the thrill.

This spring, check out some of our properties near water as amphibians and birds make their presence known (cong-a-reee!). Harmon Pond Preserve and Sheep Hill both feature ponds, and the Lehovec Natural Area abuts the Green River. For dreamy views into the leafless (for now) forest canopy, the Tenney Woodlands Preserve is hard to beat.

Colorful crocuses.
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