like, toadally

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Mike Pingleton
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like, toadally

Post by Mike Pingleton » April 18th, 2011, 8:40 am

There’s something to be said for go-big-or-go-home herping trips to exotic locations. Red-eye flights, long drives in the car with your friends to places where everything is new and exotic, scribbling furious notes on what-when-where as you try to absorb it all, try to take it all in and make sense of what is happening. On the other hand, quick and simple day trips close to home often hold their own pleasures, and offer the chance for some introspection and examination in closer detail.

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A couple weekends ago, favorable weather and a day off coincided, and I headed out to look for Clonophis kirtlandi, always a hit-or-miss proposition here in Illinois. On this day, the Kirtland’s Snakes were missing, but other herps took away some of the disappointment – Cricket Frogs were calling from the ditches and ponds, Sliders and Paints were basking on logs, and the first Storeria dekayi of the year flattened its small form and rattled its tiny tail at me, in an attempt to look large and menacing. I snapped its picture and let it wriggle off the trail and into the tall grass.

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I was thinking of heading for home when sounds from an adjacent field caught my ear. I could hear American Toads trilling above the sough of the wind in the grass. I veered off the trail and headed towards a green smudge of willows, the likely location for water and calling toads. The willows thickly occupied a semi-circular depression in the field, a pond at times but at the moment all I could see was dried, cracked mud and algal mats sporting a lurid green color. There was water here earlier in the spring, enough to charge the algae and get it going for the year. Still, I could plainly hear several toads, so there was water somewhere ahead. I took out my camera and picked-pushed my way in among the willows.

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Not surprisingly the trilling stopped when I reached the water’s edge, before I could catch any glimpse of any calling toad. I knew it wouldn’t be long before they started up again, so I dropped to one knee, readied my camera, and tucked my head down to listen and wait. I thought about other calling toads in other places – along a lake in Kansas, next to a rocky creek in Indiana, in a roadside ditch in Arizona. It might have been my cold, wet knee that brought my mind back to my present location. Drooping sheets of algae looked like green curtains clinging to the willows - it looked like this pond had perhaps six more inches of water in it at some point. As the wind blew in gusts through the small trees around me, I mused about the nature of this pond. It was more or less at the bottom of the large, sloping field, and something about it made me think it was made by something, and not necessarily man-made. I wondered if it wasn’t an old buffalo wallow. Back in the day, bison would use their hooves to dig shallow depressions, removing the vegetation and then rolling in the mud (and in the summer, the dirt and dust) to remove insects and apply a protective coating of mud. The soil in these depressions became hard-packed over time, and while the wallows held water, the absent plant layer allowed water to percolate into the ground, helping to charge the water table.

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'A Buffalo Wallow', by George Catlin (1796 - 1872)

My speculations came to end as a toad started up to my immediate left. I slowly turned my head and looked for him – there he was, perched on a bit of floating wood, where no toad had been just a few minutes ago. He must have crawled up out of the water while I was woolgathering about wallows. I watched as he inflated his throat sac and let loose his quivering, quavering trill. Nearby, two more toads poked their noses out of the water and swam closer to the singer; one of them eventually started his own song, but the other did not, indicating it was either a female or a male without the full fit of procreation upon him.

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Off to my right several more males joined in, and as I looked for them I caught sight of another toad just a few feet from me, partially hidden by a curtain of algae. He was in the upright calling position, and his throat sac was slightly distended, but he did not sing again – I was too close, and so we just watched each other. I noted his mottled underside was a pale yellow, and from my angle, the thick projection above his eye gave him a frowning, stern look. A bit of anthropomorphism on my part, but I was interrupting his one shot this year to pass on his genes, and if our roles were reversed, I certainly would be cranky about possibly sitting out the season.

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Off to my left the first toad I had spotted seemed to be leading the songfest most of the time. He would start his trill, and the others would join in right after him. All the while the gusts of wind continued, and I noticed that the lead toad often seemed to synchronize the start of his trill with each gust – he rarely kicked off a chorus during the quiet interludes. This was food for thought, and something to research and perhaps learn more about later. These small moments may not hold much in terms of exciting, exotic discoveries, but they do contain layers of meaning and mystery, if one chooses to look.

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I took a few more pictures and some video, and then left the toads to their business of making more toads. That night rain passed through the area; I expect the male toads put forth their best vocal material, and I’m sure the females gave their silent answer.

Short video of Bufo americanus calling

-Mike

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BillMcGighan
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Re: like, toadally

Post by BillMcGighan » April 18th, 2011, 11:32 am

Super...
Short local trips "ground" you....
.
The soil in these depressions became hard-packed over time, and while the wallows held water,
That's really interesting and first time I've heard that.
.
In the Appalachians we have the National Forest Service who acts as buffalos (in several ways) by digging mounds, and subsequent holes, to block forest roads from vehicle traffic. These then become ephemeral pools for frogs.

Aquaboy74
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Re: like, toadally

Post by Aquaboy74 » April 18th, 2011, 1:49 pm

Real Real Nice shots. Caught the moment perfect! What camera/lens combo are you using in these?

The amphibious bulldogs! I love toads!

Mike

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RenoBart
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Re: like, toadally

Post by RenoBart » April 18th, 2011, 3:07 pm

Cool report. I spent MANY, MANY days of spring as a kid in Illinois stalking American Toads. I kept several, and to this day I have a soft spot in my heart for those ever pondering, beautiful, misunderstood, toads.

Bart

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Antonsrkn
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Re: like, toadally

Post by Antonsrkn » April 18th, 2011, 4:26 pm

Yeah like Bart I also have a soft spot for toads. Good job on being patient enough to wait out the toads I tried to do the same with some woodfrogs yesterday and they were having none of it, I waited a while and nothing then as soon as I moved on they started calling again. Love the photos.

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Mike Pingleton
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Re: like, toadally

Post by Mike Pingleton » April 18th, 2011, 5:52 pm

BillMcGighan wrote:Super...
Short local trips "ground" you....
yeah! they do.
.
BillMcGighan wrote: .
In the Appalachians we have the National Forest Service who acts as buffalos (in several ways) by digging mounds, and subsequent holes, to block forest roads from vehicle traffic. These then become ephemeral pools for frogs.
That's an interesting technique for closing roads (no gates?) - let me know if you see any rangers rolling around in the mud :D
-Mike

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Mike Pingleton
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Re: like, toadally

Post by Mike Pingleton » April 18th, 2011, 5:58 pm

Aquaboy74 wrote:Real Real Nice shots. Caught the moment perfect! What camera/lens combo are you using in these?

The amphibious bulldogs! I love toads!
thanks Mike, I use a super-nice point-and-shoot - a Panasonic Lumix FZ-28. 10 mpx, 18x optical zoom.

-Mike

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Marty Whalin
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Re: like, toadally

Post by Marty Whalin » April 19th, 2011, 3:41 pm

My best herping experience involved a knot of toads. A story, like most of my stories, I've told you several times, Mike. For the rest of you, I was once amplexed by five toads at one time.

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Mike Pingleton
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Re: like, toadally

Post by Mike Pingleton » April 19th, 2011, 4:50 pm

Marty Whalin wrote:My best herping experience involved a knot of toads. A story, like most of my stories, I've told you several times, Mike. For the rest of you, I was once amplexed by five toads at one time.
And you survived to tell the tale, although you're a changed man since that day.

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Dan Krull
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Re: like, toadally

Post by Dan Krull » April 19th, 2011, 7:09 pm

Great stuff Pingle!

Nice job grabbing the video too.

Once, long before I was a herper, or knew what that was, I was in my grandparent's woods. In the whole 90 acres (which we called "The Ninety" there was but one small, vernal pond. I was looking for mushrooms one spring day when a little storm blew in. The sky went from sunny to cloud, and a short shower rained down on the forest and I. As I stood on the side of the pond, I began to hear the singing of toads. Alerted to their presence, I looked about and noticed several hopping in from the woods around me. They would stumble and hop to the water's edge and begin to sing. Sometimes a male arriving would confuse those already there and, mistaking him for a female, they would start a short lived mating ball. I didn't know much about toads or amphibians in general at the time, but I knew I was witnessing something special, and something ancient. I didn't find any mushrooms that day, but I came away with a deep, sacred, memory that has helped make me the person I am today.


Dan

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Mike Pingleton
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Re: like, toadally

Post by Mike Pingleton » April 20th, 2011, 5:21 pm

Great story! The personal experiences in response to this post have been interesting.
-Mike
Dan Krull wrote:
Once, long before I was a herper, or knew what that was, I was in my grandparent's woods. In the whole 90 acres (which we called "The Ninety" there was but one small, vernal pond. I was looking for mushrooms one spring day when a little storm blew in. The sky went from sunny to cloud, and a short shower rained down on the forest and I. As I stood on the side of the pond, I began to hear the singing of toads. Alerted to their presence, I looked about and noticed several hopping in from the woods around me. They would stumble and hop to the water's edge and begin to sing. Sometimes a male arriving would confuse those already there and, mistaking him for a female, they would start a short lived mating ball. I didn't know much about toads or amphibians in general at the time, but I knew I was witnessing something special, and something ancient. I didn't find any mushrooms that day, but I came away with a deep, sacred, memory that has helped make me the person I am today.


Dan

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Cole Grover
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Re: like, toadally

Post by Cole Grover » April 21st, 2011, 12:26 pm

Mike, between your writing style, photography, and general knowledge/divulgence, your posts are some of the best there have ever been (on this forum or others). I whole-heartedly agree, too - sticking close to home and in familiar territory allows a person to focus on the inimate details of a place that might otherwise go unseen. That's a valuable thing to realize. Good stuff, all around!

-Cole

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Ames
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Re: like, toadally

Post by Ames » April 22nd, 2011, 4:22 pm

Thanks for sharing this. I've always enjoyed your posts. Absolutely well done!

:beer:
- Ames

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Mike Pingleton
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Re: like, toadally

Post by Mike Pingleton » April 25th, 2011, 1:47 pm

Cole, Ames, thank you - much appreciated.

-Mike

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peterknuteberg
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Re: like, toadally

Post by peterknuteberg » April 26th, 2011, 12:09 pm

Loved it and the comments. Toadally Dude!

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kyle loucks
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Re: like, toadally

Post by kyle loucks » April 26th, 2011, 12:52 pm

I am a toady too... Nice report Mike.

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