Frog Foray: Fish frantic.

August 22, 2009

Last night brought tumultuous weather—winds, rain, thunder, lightening.  Early this morning, the clouds began to dissolve in the bright sun.  The air was still thick on my skin though, a lingering reminder of the tempest of the previous night.  It’s been a stormy summer, but the storms typically don’t have much impact on the behavior patterns of our frogs.  They are creatures of habit.  But this morning, everything was confused.

The only female bullfrog moved from the Ponderosa to the People Pond

Female bullfrog sitting on water lettuce in the People Pond

First of all, the green frog that sits at the edge of the Ponderosa while we have coffee was nowhere to be seen.  Hopefully he’s ok.  The female frog, who we have never seen venture out of the Ponderosa, was sitting prominently in the middle of a water lettuce patch in the shallows of the People Pond.  Ed, the largest bullfrog, was sitting in the spot that Tommy sits in every day.  And that brings me to Tommy, the second largest bullfrog.  He is about six inches from nose to butt.

Tommy sits underneath the pickerel rush plants, next to the water lily, in the People Pond.  He has been there every single morning this summer.  We see him there every evening when we return from work.  This morning, we found he had migrated to the Ponderosa.  We have never seen him in the Ponderosa before.

Tommy the Bullfrog, camouflaged by water lettuce, stalks fish.

Tommy the Bullfrog, camouflaged by water lettuce, stalks fish.

While we enjoyed our morning coffee, Tommy stayed for a while in the plants at the side of the Ponderosa, but then he moved over to the shallow end (about a foot from our feet).  He scoped out the area for a few minutes, then emerged from the water, camouflaged by some small water lettuce plants.

He sat there for a brief period, waiting.  Then, a decent-sized goldfish (perhaps 4 inches or so) swam by.  Before we knew it, Tommy pounced, grabbing the fish headfirst.  He emerged from the water with that fish half in/half out of his mouth.

Tommy the Bullfrog with goldfish tail hanging out of mouth.

Tommy the Bullfrog with goldfish tail hanging out of mouth.

We had seen him go for the small mosquitofish before, but this was a huge eat.  We were worried that he would spit the fish out (after killing it), realizing that it was too big to eat.  He took that fish, swam a little farther away, and gradually choked down that fish over a period of about 15 minutes.  What a show!

Tommy as he digests the goldlish, the tips of the goldfish tail hanging out of his mouth.

Tommy as he digests the goldlish, the tips of the goldfish tail hanging out of his mouth.

The fish were not amused by this display of frog-gression (ha!).  They fled the scene, disappearing into the depths.

Note:  The quality of these pictures is far from optimal.  The humidity caused the lens of the camera to continually fog up, making it very difficult to focus.

Female and male goldfinch eating from sunflower plants

Female and male goldfinch eating from sunflower plants

A family of goldfinches has taken over the sunflower patch.  Luckily, the bees don’t seem to mind.  The birds flit from flower to flower, nibbling on the sunflower seed hearts.  There is usually at least one male and one female present.  Sometimes they bring Junior, who waits patiently on the top-most flower for mom or dad to feed him.  They have made quite a mess, leaving the seed shells all over the deck, but the show is worth the mess.  They seem to be the only birds interested in the sunflowers, but the squirrels enjoy them too.  This morning I found a half-eaten sunflower on the deck railing.

Between the bees and the goldfinches, I’ve found that the sunflowers are a good bang for your buck in the garden!

Click here for more information about attracting goldfinches!

Fledgling Cardinal

Fledgling Cardinal

“We should all do what, in the long run, give us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.”

E. B. White

The grapevines at Dragonwyck Sanctuary were heavy with sweet, white grapes.  As such, we spent much of today picking (and eating) grapes.  And we were not alone.  In the early hours of the morning, a family of cardinals flew into the trees above the grapevines.  They stayed there all day long.  (In fact, it is 7:30 pm, and I can still hear those baby cardinals chirping away!)  The mother and father took turns joining us in the grapevines, taking grapes, and bringing them back to their offspring waiting in the nearby trees.  There were two fledgling cardinals—old enough to fly independently, but young enough to require assistance feeding.  We only saw them several times during the day, but we heard their continuous chirping throughout the day.  It was a big cardinal family event.

Baby Grackle Watching Cardinal Family

Baby Grackle Watching Cardinal Family

The cardinals were not the only birds partaking in the feast of grapes.  A catbird and a robin stopped by several times as well.  We also had a baby grackle come for a visit.  He seemed a little out of sorts.  He watched the cardinal family for a while, almost as if he wanted to join them.  Like the cardinals, the grackle was old enough to fly independently, but he was not very graceful.  He fell off a branch once, and later got tangled in a cluster of leaves.  He flew over to the People Pond for a swim, but one of the frogs jumped at him, and he immediately left with a squawk.  We never did see a grackle parent, but he didn’t seem injured or in any danger.

Overall, there was a lot of activity around the grapes today, but nobody seemed to mind that we were underneath those grapevines.  The birds enjoyed them so much that we ended up leaving half of them on the vines.

We picked over three gallons of grapes.  Tomorrow--jam!

We picked over three gallons of grapes. Tomorrow--jam!

Black-capped night heron waiting for pond access.

Black-crowned night heron waiting for pond access.

He’s baaaaack!

This morning, about 6:30 a.m., we crept outside to see if we could spy some very tiny frogs that we have been glimpsing as they dart away from us in a flash.  As we approached the Ponderosa, our friend the night heron flew into this tree.  He just sat there, staring down at us.  He was rather skittish during his last visit.  I am assuming he was waiting for us to leave so he could sample more of our wares.  After about ten minutes we waved our arms and chased him away.

We were able to get much closer to him this time.  I hadn’t appreciated the enormity of this bird until now.  He is huge!  It is hard to convey this in the photos.

I’m pretty sure that he arrived only when we were outside.  I didn’t see any evidence that he had been there earlier.  Last time all the fish were huddled at the far end of the pond.  Also, Tommy (one of our two large bullfrog residents of the People Pond) was sitting by the thalia plant, as he does most mornings at that time.  We didn’t see any other frogs, but that is pretty common for the early morning.

Meet Pete the Toad

July 26, 2009

Newly emerged toad hiding under the deck.

Newly emerged toad hiding under the deck.

“I’m not sure that’s Pete.”

“Of course it’s Pete.  Look at him!”

O Brother Where Art Thou

This is the little guy we found on Friday.  He is very tiny–he would easily fit on the surface of a dime.  We caught a glimpse of him zipping through the flowers.  At first we thought he was a grasshopper, but on closer inspection we realized he was a newly emerged toad.  A Fowler’s toad, perhaps?  He spent most of the evening in this little area underneath the deck, but we’ve not seen him there since that time so I don’t know if it is his home.

We’ve not had much luck with toads at Dragonwyck Sanctuary.  Two summers ago, our next door neighbor brought one over, thinking it was a frog that had “escaped” from the pond.  That one was, in fact, a Fowler’s toad.  We released him at the water’s edge.  Later that week, we heard a crazy sound coming from the back of the Ponderosa.  We were inside the house when we heard him. He was loud enough to easily hear over the sound of the air conditioner.  After some research we discovered it was our new toad calling.  Unfortunately, that was the last time we heard him.  He was making such a racket back there, I think he must have drawn the attention of a predator.  We have many raccoons and an opossum or two roaming about each night.   This was our one and only toad experience until now.

Two medium bullfrogs sit together at the edge of the pond.

Two medium bullfrogs sit together at the edge of the pond.

We are a bit concerned about the status of the frogs in the Ponderosa.  We have been consistently counting at least one large and two medium bullfrogs.  We also have one froglet.  Since the night heron appeared, we have only been able to spot one frog and the froglet.  We are hopeful that the others are hiding.  This is a picture of the two missing frogs.

Thankfully, there appears to be no change in the large pond.  The frog count there remains at two large bullfrogs and one, possibly two,  small green frogs.

The night heron had a good meal at Dragonwyck Sanctuary yesterday morning, so we are expecting that he may return.  We checked periodically throughout the night, but we didn’t see him.  We don’t have enough fish and frogs to sustain that big boy for long!

A Morning Surprise

July 12, 2009

Black-Crowned Night Heron

black-crowned night heron hunting for goldfish

This morning we awoke to find this guy hunting in the Ponderosa.  He had just caught a fish and flew up to a nearby tree branch.  We stayed inside watching from the window, and he stayed on his branch watching us.  He finally came back down and slowly made his way over to the edge of the pond.  Even though we knew he was hunting our fish, we couldn’t bring ourselves to chase him away.   He stood at the edge for a few minutes, motionless.  Then in two quick strides, he walked into the pond and plucked out our largest goldfish!  At that point we ran outside, hoping that we could startle him into dropping it.  He just flew off, screaming at us with the fish in his mouth.  He landed on the roof of the house across the street and watched us as he choked down the fish.

We were able to identify the bird as a black-crowned night heron.  Apparently, they prefer to hunt at night.  Hopefully he wasn’t hunting in the Ponderosa all night long!