Sunday, April 30, 2006

An Amphibious Chorus

Spring brings so many wonders of new life. The winter – as mild as it was – was long enough for one to appreciate just how magnificent spring is when it does arrive. As I have posted previously, each spring the chorus of northern spring peepers [Pseudacris crucifer] serenades us in the evenings. I could also hear another sound that for the longest time I mistook for a cricket. The peeper makes a fairly shrill peep. This other sound was a much softer and quite pleasant vibrating whistle.

Last summer at one of the meetings or conferences that we attended I picked up a CD entitled: “Natural Sounds of Ontario, Birds, Frogs and Mammals” by Monty Brigham. It is distributed by RMP Biological Ltd. C/o Monty Brigham, P.O. Box 1061, Manotick, ON K4M 1A9, Canada. Sale of the CD supports the activities of the Eastern Ontario Biodiversity Museum in Kemptville ON. See for more details.

The CD is a compilation of 97 natural sounds. Through this CD I was able to determine that the sound that I thought was a cricket was actually an American Toad [Bufo Americanus]. According to Peterson Field Guide, Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central America, by Roger Conant and Joseph T. Collins, ISBN 0-395-90452-8, this toad is probably the most common in this area and we are located in the midst of its range. For some more local information on the toad see This toad has a voracious appetite for insects and other invertebrates which is great as we have lots.

So now when I go to sleep to the amphibious lullaby I will know who is performing.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Screaming In the Woods, or Another Meso-Predator Bights the Dust.

At four thirty this morning I was wakened by a violent noise a distance away in the woods, that sounded like a small mammal - possibly racoon - in a vicious fight. This reminded me of a topic that was presented at the Ontario Woodlot Association AGM that was held in Peterborough, Ontario on Saturday March 18th last month. The talk was entitled Forest Songbirds in Southern Ontario presented by Erica Nol of Trent University. The presentation was introduced with the following text:
Forest songbirds are an integral part of our forest ecosystems. The range and abundance of songbirds is determined to a large extent by the availability of suitable breeding habitat. Come and learn about some of the common forest songbirds found in southern Ontario woodlots, their habitat requirements and some of the pressures impacting their habitat and populations.
In her talk I recall that she described the impact of meso-predators on forest songbirds. Meso-predators typically include the racoon, skunk, fox, bobcat and opossum. Opossums are not known here but are becoming common in Southern Ontario. These mammals will attack bird nests and prey on the eggs and young. The thrush family is a typical woodland bird that builds its nest low to the ground and thus is suseptible to this predator.

The speaker stated that the absence of major predators such as the wolf and mountain lion has allowed the release – or expansion – of meso-predators since they keep the meso predators in check. I am not sure where the coyote or fisher would fit into the predator ranks, but I am quite sure that what I heard was a coyote or fisher attacking or preying on a racoon. I have heard that racoon sound before when we lived in the suburbs when racoons were fighting either with themselves or another animal. In the suburbs we had many racoons and skunks in our garbage yet around here we have much fewer visits by these meso-predators. I am inclined to believe that the coyote and fisher are doing their part in playing the role of the major predator and keeping the meso-predator numbers down. Domestic cats, though unnatural probably qualify as meso-predators as well.