Following a lengthy period of droughty winter weather, the “December Rains” arrived. My rain gauge indicated that altogether, at least 16 inches of rain had fallen on my property in western Lee County. The morning after the heaviest deluge, I attempted to drive the dirt road to the north-south paved road, but my creek had overflowed the road preventing my passage. I then drove northward on the paved road segment and barely made it across an overflow. When I reached the Loachapoka Road, I turned toward Auburn, but water resembling a river was flowing across it. Police were there to prevent vehicles from attempting to ford the overflow.
I turned around and finally reached Auburn via Bee Hive Road and Wire Road. For the first time in four years my pond is at full-pool. Both my creeks were overflowing their banks, and the bottom in back of my house was flooded. Also, for the first time in the 30 some-odd years we’ve lived here, the basement had standing water on the floor. But the problems I experienced from the “El Niño rains were insignificant compared to those experienced by many other residents of the state, including some resulting in fatalities. The governor announced that 200 roads in the state were impassable. Many residents were forced to evacuate their homes; Elba had some of the worst flooding.
A few critters probably suffered from the rainy weather, but one group, winter-breeding amphibians, probably never had it so good. Salamanders that rely on flooded depressions to mate and lay their eggs may have had the most successful reproductive season they’ve had in years. Winter-breeding chorus frogs are taking full advantage of the ephemeral pools and ponds to reproduce. Drive around slowly at night when the temperature is 50 degrees or higher with your windows open in and around the Auburn-Opelika area and you will probably hear upland chorus frogs calling from flooded depressions. The calls, made by male frogs, consist of a continuous series of short trills, “prreep…prreep…prreep,” resembling the sound made when the thumb is run along the teeth of a plastic comb, but somewhat more ringing. Farther north, in northern Lee and Chambers County, one is likely to hear another species, the mountain chorus frog. It’s call is a rasping “wrink, wrink, wrink,” which has been said to resemble a squeaking wagon wheel.
One other chorus frog, the ornate chorus frog, has been heard only once in Lee County, in a pool alongside Wire Road, close to the Lee-Macon county line. Ornate chorus frogs are fairly common in places in Macon and Russell counties. This frog is colorful and it’s call is a high-pitched “peep or peet,” which sounds like that made when a steel chisel is struck with a hammer.
Anytime I hear frogs calling, I am reminded of what my PhD major professor, the late Archie Carr, wrote in his book, “The Windward Road,” an excerpt of which follows. “I have always liked frogs. I liked them before I took up zoology as a profession, and nothing I have had to learn about them has marred the attachment. I like the looks of frogs and their outlook, and especially the way they get together in wet places on warm nights and sing about sex.”
“…..the frog sings for the sake of the female frog, to lure her and guide her. The male sits in the pond edge and croaks or whistles or buzzes or roars, according to his kind, when something mystic outside or inside tells him it is time for new frogs, and his calling draws the females there, and in this way frogs are provided for the new year. The singing of the hermit thrush is a sweet blustering. The song of a frog is a shout for the flowing on of the life stream.”
So when you have nothing more important to do during this time of the year, drive slowly around the country at night with your windows open and enjoy and appreciate the songs of the winter chorus frogs. And be thankful for the ditches and depressions that fill with rainwater which provide the frogs with places to make new frogs.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.