Quietest time of year

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Lately, each morning and evening I sit on my deck and think to myself, this is the beginning of the quietest time of the year.

Earlier, from spring until mid-summer, during the day cicadas were making a racket, and several species of birds were issuing their mating songs. During nighttime hours, male green treefrogs and Fowler’s toads were loudly calling for females to join them to make new frogs, almost drowning out the calls of the less numerous bullfrogs, bronze frogs, and cricket frogs. On the ground, field crickets were trilling, and in the trees there was an abundance of noisy katydids.

By mid-August the volume of frog calls was several decibels lower than before, as was that made by cicadas and katydids. Very few birds were singing their love songs. And now, as September ends, nights are quiet except for a few persistent field crickets and katydids and the occasional hooting of Barred Owls. During the day, the silence is frequently broken by the cawing of crows, the call notes of woodpeckers, the chirping of omnipresent cardinals and, occasionally, the happy “tea kettle, tea kettle” songs of Carolina Wrens.

Also making their presence known this time of the year, and continuing throughout most of October, are eastern chipmunks. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the chipmunks begin issuing a low-pitched chucking sound, repeated over and over. Except in early fall, the sound is infrequently heard.

With the onset of substantial winter rains, when and if they occur, things will get a bit noisier. The creek in back of my house will resume flowing, making a gurgling sound, and upland winter chorus frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) will be calling from depressions near the creek that fill with rainwater. In years past, winter rains usually began in December and continued through February. In the past two or three decades, the weather has become increasingly unpredictable, resulting possibly from climate change, and in some years relatively little rain has fallen during winters.

On the subject of creeks, the two on my home place are among several headwaters of Choctafaula Creek, a stream that flows through Tuskegee National Forest and into Uphapee Creek. My two creeks are intermittent, meaning they often cease to flow during droughty weather in late summer and early fall.

Until recently, such streams were not considered to be “waters of the United States” and were not subject to regulations under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

In April the U. S. Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency jointly proposed that intermittent streams be designated waters of the United States and subject to regulations under the C.W.A. Jimmy Parnell, President of Alfa, is urging members of Alfa to register their opposition to the proposal, the so-called WOTUS rule. My streams merge and flow onto my neighbor’s property and supply water for his cattle. Rule or no rule, I’ll do my best to ensure that the streams draining my property are not degraded, because it’s the right thing to do. After all, as the saying goes, “We all live downstream,” and so do critters, including cattle.

The controversial practices of draining and filling ephemeral or temporary wetlands that have no obvious connection to any other wetland or stream ecosystem are strongly criticized by conservationists and hydrologists.

The former point out that numerous animal species rely exclusively on these wetlands for reproduction. Hydrologists have determined that the depressions in which so-called isolated wetlands occur are rarely isolated from other aquatic systems and that ditching or filling them usually results in increased nutrient export to downstream systems. Furthermore, much of the rain that fills the depressions helps to recharge aquifers and increase levels of ground water.

Thus, loss of “isolated wetlands” is likely to have negative impacts on wildlife and other aquatic ecosystems.

If for no other reason, learn to appreciate the cheerful singing of the winter chorus frogs and be thankful for the ephemeral pools that provide us with their songs.

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. 

He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

 

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