Saturday, February 27, 2016

Leapin' Leopard Frog

Drawing of Northern Leopard Frog

Rarities: In 2008, a new species of Northern Leopard Frog, genus Rana, was identified as living in our area: the Bronx, Staten Island, Manhattan, New Jersey, and Connecticut. It was the first new amphibian discovered in New York since 1854 and the first found in the U.S. in three decades. That’s pretty cool!  We know frogs are good jumpers and leapers, so I thought it would be appropriate to mention them while celebrating Leap Year Monday 2016. Another rarity. 

Here’s something you may not know about Leap Years: there are three hard and fast rules.  It can’t just happen that any old year can grab onto a February 29 and call itself a Leap Year.  It has to do the following: 1) be divisible by 4; 2) but if the year can be evenly divided by 100, it CANNOT be a Leap Year, unless 3) the year is ALSO evenly divisible by 400.  Then it is a Leap Year.  So we can figure out that 2000 and 2400 are Leap Years although I doubt most of us will be around to celebrate the latter.  And in case anyone was around, 1900, 1800, and 1700 were not Leap Years, but 1600 was.  You can figure out why.  Interesting stuff.

But back to the newly found Northern Leopard Frogs, the newest amphibian species discovered in our area, which by the way were originally found in another Leap Year--2008.  The spotted, brownish, greenish, and approximately 3”-4” frogs were first heard by Jeremy Feinberg, a Rutgers University graduate student, on Staten Island. It seems these frogs have a snore-like chirpy call different from other known northern leopard frogs. They live in open-canopied wetlands and grassy areas. Researchers using DNA and other types of genetic measures identify their epicenter to be near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx although they were found in wetlands in Staten Island. For all we know, they might be responsible for the Yankee or Bronx cheer.  Okay, I know that’s silly. A couple of differences between the newly found frogs and the previously known species are the already mentioned sound of the call, larger vocal sacs, and slightly darker backs of the legs.  Leopard frogs are known to hibernate for about three months of winter.  So again, I think that Leap Year Day is a good time to think of them as they emerge from their hibernation thinking about food--yummy bugs and worms, spring love, and breeding.  Let’s all leap for frogs...for joy!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Happy Valentine's Day

Beth Bergman's Photo of Chickadee
Just got an update from Mohonk Preserve in New Paltz that spring is on its way.  How do we/they know?  The Black-capped Chickadees  (Poecile atricapillus) are starting to make their spring breeding call.  Instead of the familiar “chickadee-dee-dee,” they are beginning to whistle their two or three note “fee-bee.” Males do it more, but both males and females start singing this new tune when spring is around the corner and they are thinking about love.  In fact, maybe that’s what “singing a different tune” refers to—time to start singing for love, making a nest, and breeding.  For those of us in the Northeast, this particular Valentine’s Day is a good day for nesting at home and avoiding the below zero, freezing weather.  I don’t know about the hunting for seeds and bugs that the chickadees do at this time of year, but curling up with someone you love in a nice warm nest sounds pretty good to me. Fee-bee, Fee-bee!

The picture above is one taken by Beth Bergman for the Field Guide to Neighborhood Birds of New York City by Leslie Day.  In it, Day tells us that the Chickadees are monogamous, that they stay in their home territory for life, and that both parents take care of the young.  They make a warm cozy nest out of fur, plant down, feathers, and cocoons.  The female produces up to 10 speckled eggs; see my drawing below.  

If you have a feeder or live near a park or a woody area, you are sure to see chickadees.  They live in all five boroughs of New York City and most other parts of the northern United States and Canada.  They are cute, curious, and clever little birds. And love birds too!