We had better luck in the small clearing beyond the woods. We saw three Hermit Thrushes foraging together, darting from open tree branches to thick brush piles as we slowly walked along the trail toward them. Three or four more Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were active in the same area, noisily chasing each other from tree to tree. Then a flock of 8 Rusty Blackbirds flew over – although similar to grackles in appearance and sound, their call is more musical than a grackle’s raspy squeak and they lack the keel-shaped tail.
At the edge of the woods I was delighted to hear a pond full of Wood Frogs quacking. A friend of mine described the sound as a distant room full of people talking at once; to me it sounded like a distant room full of ducks calling at once! We followed the sound to a large wet puddle at the bottom of a steep incline. The water was full of branches from small shrubs, and I wasn’t able to get close enough to see a single frog.
We decided to go to the Dewberry Trail next as my friend had mentioned the Wood Frogs were present there, and I was hoping to see one. I had never been there before, and wasn’t expecting to see the feeder right next to the parking lot standing in a tangle of shrubs. A couple of White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos were scrounging for food on the ground, and in the dense vegetation I saw an American Tree Sparrow and a Fox Sparrow. From there we followed the trail through the woods, coming across a single Pileated Woodpecker working on a tree.
Not long after we passed the Pileated I heard it: the sound of a whole bunch of Wood Frogs calling! I followed my ears to a large, deep vernal pool in the woods. This time Deb and I were able to walk right up to the water, and we could see several small Wood Frogs swimming around. Deb also spotted a pair of frogs mating right at the edge of the puddle.
On closer inspection, however, we realized that a third frog had attached himself to the other two! I am not sure what all the insects are, but they were everywhere – on the water, on the frogs, and on the leaf litter at the edge of the pond. They might be springtails (aka Snow Fleas) but I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at them.
Wood Frogs can be identified by the dark mask under and behind the eyes and the dark blotch on the chest near each front leg (not shown here). Up to eight centimetres in length, Wood Frogs are one of the earliest frogs to emerge in the spring and are remarkably cold-tolerant for such a tiny creature. They can survive sustained temperatures of -6°C and the freezing of 60-70% of the water in their body. Because of this ability they begin to call in early spring when ice still covers the ponds.
Wood Frogs migrate to small ponds that are free from predatory fish where they breed. After mating occurs, the female may lay up to 2,000 eggs in a mass that is attached to submerged vegetation.
We both enjoyed watching and photographing the frogs in the pond and spent a long time in the area. When at last we moved on, we found a couple of Hermit Thrushes and a Winter Wren in the woods and a small Garter Snake in an open area. This was my first snake of the year.
From there we headed over to Milton and Frank Kenny Roads to look for geese, but the large flooded areas had disappeared and we didn’t see any large flocks close enough to the road to warrant a stop. We drove over to the large ponds on Giroux Road and found a pair of Ring-necked Ducks and a pair of Common Mergansers in with the Canada Geese. Then I spotted a large raptor soaring above the trees. It was dark, but the white on its underside didn’t match the white patches of a Rough-legged or Red-tailed Hawk. Then I noticed the heavy bill and realized it was a juvenile Bald Eagle – my first of the year!
After such a great day at Mer Bleue I wasn’t expecting to see a Bald Eagle at Giroux. It was a fantastic end to the day.