Monday, February 3, 2014

Frog Love is in the Air (and on Video): The Winter Breeders of Louisiana ---Guest Post---

    Hello! My name is Philip Vanbergen, and I am a first-year college student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as well as an aspiring biologist. For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by the beauty of the natural world. As a child, I recall when I would be so amazed by the sound of frogs and toads calling in my grandfather’s backyard pond in Baton Rouge. Once my family and I moved from Alabama to Louisiana in 2008, I was overwhelmed with the excitement of exploring a new environment. I was immediately captivated by the great variety of wildlife in Southern Louisiana, particularly the reptiles and amphibians. As my interest in nature grew, so did my desire to share my findings with others. This desire lead me to pursue wildlife photography and videography. I tried my best to capture the beauty of the specimen in its environment in my photos and videos. However, over the years, I have found that nothing beats the quality of experiencing the beauty of nature first-hand. It is my hope that my photos and videos will inspire others to go out and appreciate the beautiful creation that is always at hand. 

    As time went on, I acquired a particular interest in the sounds of nature. The way that the forest echoed with the choruses of countless frogs and insects left me awestruck. Because of this, I have recently made it a personal project of mine to get high quality footage of every species of frog that calls in Southern Louisiana. I feel that videography combines the sights and sounds of nature in a way that gives the viewer the closest thing to a first-hand experience. So, without further ado, I would like to introduce the first two species of frogs that are heard in the year.

Cajun Chorus Frog Pseudacris fouquettei 
    Perhaps my favorite frog in the area, the small and strikingly beautiful Cajun Chorus Frog is one of the first frog species to be heard during the year in Southern Louisiana. In fact, due to Southern Louisiana’s rather mild winter, the Cajun Chorus Frog can be heard calling as early as October. Though this is very common frog in many areas, I myself have only encountered this frog a handful of times after having lived in Louisiana for over five years. This is likely due to the lack of suitable habitat in and around the city of Lafayette. The Cajun Chorus Frog can be heard calling from temporary bodies of water, especially in swamps and old-growth forests throughout the state. Though primarily a winter breeder, the Cajun Chorus Frog has been heard as late as July in Southern Louisiana, and breeding activity is enhanced after periods of heavy rainfall. Being a winter-breeder, the Cajun Chorus Frog has exceptional tolerance of the cold, and has been heard calling in temperatures as low as 44 degrees Fahrenheit. 

    To get footage of this species calling, I had to leave the city of Lafayette and venture east to the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest wetland and swamp in the United States. After speaking with local naturalists, as well as through my own experience, I was aware that a healthy population of the species existed there. So, on January 13, 2014, after a period of heavy rainfall in the morning, I departed for the Basin. Only a few seconds after exiting I-10, I heard a full-scale chorus of frogs. Filled with excitement, I drove a few miles north to find a good area for filming. Once I found a remote area where the species was breeding along the road, I brought my camera equipment down to the water and began to film. First, I wanted to get a shot of the breeding pond with the chorus of frogs calling in the background. Then, after much patience and perseverance, I was finally able to locate a calling individual in some partially-submerged vegetation. I was fortunate enough to get footage of this cooperative individual from many different angles. As I was standing in the pool filming this frog, I was able to locate other calling individuals in the area that I had not noticed before. It was exhilarating to be alone in the woods surrounded by beautiful sounds of calling Cajun Chorus Frogs.

Spring Peeper Pseudacris crucifer 
    Another small and beautiful species, the Spring Peeper is also one of the first frogs to be heard in the year in Southern Louisiana. Perhaps a more appropriate name for the frog in Louisiana would be the “Winter Peeper”, as the frog is mostly heard calling in the winter months. The call of the Spring Peeper is a beautiful, pure “peep” that, when heard among many other individuals from a distance, has been compared to the sound of sleigh bells. It truly is a celestial experience to hear a chorus of this species rising from the swamp after sunset on cool, still evening. The Spring Peeper is common throughout the state of Louisiana, but prefers old-growth forests. The species has been heard as early as November in Louisiana and has incredible cold tolerance, calling as long as it is above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit). 

    Unlike for the Chorus Frogs, I didn’t have to travel very far out of the city to find a good place for filming Spring Peepers. In fact, there are many areas in and around the city of Lafayette where the Spring Peeper exists. However, for this video, I wanted to recreate a moment that I had experienced a few winters ago, when I heard the chorus of countless Spring Peepers echo through the forest as I saw the sun set over beautiful Lake Martin. It was a very memorable moment for me, as it was one of the first choruses of Spring Peepers I had ever heard. So, after filming the Chorus Frogs in the Atchafalaya Basin, I drove over to Lake Martin to make it in time to film the sunset. As I hoped, the Spring Peepers were calling in full-force. I couldn’t describe in words the wondrous scene of the sun setting over the lake with the continuous ring of Spring Peepers in the distance; it was just as I remembered. After getting shots of the sun setting over the lake as well as the moon rising, I headed over to the south end of the lake to film the frogs. I was fortunate enough to find several individuals within a short distance singing the night away.

    I really hope that you enjoyed, and I hope to post more frog call videos to this blog as the year goes on. In addition to frogs, I also plan to make videos of local singing insects as well. Until then, keep your ears open for the beautiful and endless love song of nature!

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