You know how sometimes you get distracted from herps because of other herps? That’s how I’m feeling today. I heard Common Loons this week while trying to find Mink Frogs, the Loons and Limnology class starts next week, and I have spent the afternoon trying to figure out why I like loons.
I don’t like birds. Obviously, this is not a catchall phrase, because loons are birds, and cormorants are birds, and blue jays are birds, and I think all of those are pretty damn cool. But in general, I prefer their featherless brethren.
Time out. Birds are herps, too! Proof (from Herpetology, 2nd edition, 2001, Zug, Vitt, and Caldwell):
Anyway, I decided that I like loons because they remind me of Hesperornis, a prehistoric water bird that looked and swam a lot like a loon. And the reason I like Hesperornis? Well…things that lived with dinosaurs get an automatic pass just for being so badass. Sometimes, I’m still a middle-schooler in love with dangerous creatures because they’re cool. You don’t get to judge me.
I spent time in Peacham, St. Johnsbury, and Danville this week. Still no Mink Frogs. I’m starting to worry a little about them, but even more disquieting is how devoid of vertebrate life my Wednesday night was. I heard no frogs whatsoever in St. Johnsbury that night. Farley tells me it’s probably just because the rivers were high from all the rain. The majority of our frogs need emergent vegetation to breed.
But honestly, it wasn’t just the frogs. Most nights I will see foxes or deer, or a brave rodent will bounce across the road in front of my car. On Wednesday night, the only non-domestic vertebrate life I saw was one super-sized female snapper digging holes next to the road. This is where they lay their eggs. Snappers are ugly, but they’ve grown on me, and they’re important for our ecosystems. Please don’t run them over.
St. J is also just…not up on the street signage. Or maybe they are, and I got so confused trying to read my Google Maps directions and drive at the same time that I missed them. It happens. I think living out in the country has dropped my threshold for visual stimulation. Driving in cities is horrendously complicated.
Despite the Twilight Zone feel of Wednesday night, I went back out to St. J on Friday (to different collection sites), and heard a few amphibian vocalizations. I feel a lot better about the health of the Moose and Passumpsic Rivers. These peepers on Crow Hill Rd were particularly emphatic:
Joes Pond in Danville also caused me quite a bit of concern. The shoreline is so built up—thick, sod lawns laid right down to the water’s edge and aquatic vegetation pulled up to facilitate human water activities. All but the most stubborn frog species seek out habitats more conducive to tadpole survival. Happily, at least the American Toads are still hanging on.
The large, tri-town “pond” also brought me a pleasant surprise. While waiting for frog calls, the beautiful, mournful wail of a loon for her mate took my breath away. Then her mate yodeled his signature song across the limnetic acoustics, and they trilled together for a few minutes before going about their business. And that whole time, my camera was recording. I also picked up a toad call toward the tail end of the tape.
Another interesting endothermic experience from this week occurred when I found myself atop what looked like an old dam in Peacham. I heard something big dive into the water less than an hour after sunset. The waning moon offered little light on the open expanse, but it looked like something large and flat swam along the side of the dam. My best guess is American beaver, but I really don’t know.
Despite the promises in stark black and alarm-yellow as I drive along the rural highways, I’ve yet to see a moose on my nocturnal explorations. Maybe the moose are gone. Maybe the signs are lying. Maybe I should just be grateful that one of Vermont’s most iconic life forms is not out on the road.