The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

Rick Brockway

April 13, 2012

It's easy to tell when spring is in the air

Spring is a special season. It's the time of rebirth.

Normally the snow is melting away and things begin to go from brown to green. Trees start to bud and animals are ready to give birth. But even with the extremely mild winter, things are pretty much on schedule.

One of the first signs of spring is the high-flying, V-shaped flocks of migratory geese that are heading back north to nest and raise their goslings during the warm summer months. If you're outside when they pass, you kind of have to look up as their continual honking fills the sky.

As I stood in my yard this morning, I heard a never-ending chorus of sounds that featured every songbird around. I heard a pair of local geese coming in low on their way to my pond, where they nest and raise their little ones. A cardinal whistled his happy song and a pair of mourning doves cooed just down the driveway. Above me, I could hear the pigeons awakening in the hayloft of our old dairy barn.

Not far away was the deep-bass nicker of our old horse. He wasn't announcing spring or anything like that, though. He just wanted a scoop of grain for his breakfast.

Before long, we'll hear the spring peepers in the evening. The peeper is to the amphibian world what the robin is to the bird world. Their arrival signals the beginning of the new season.

The spring peeper is a unique, little creature. Most people have never seen one and wouldn't know if it was on a branch right in front of them.

The peeper is a frog-like amphibian that's not much bigger than a paperclip. It has large toe pads designed for climbing. This tiny, camouflaged creature is tan or brown and has a pair of dark dissecting lines that form a distinct 'X' on its back. They live in wooded areas, grassy lowlands and swamps. The peeper is a carnivore with a diet consisting of beetles, ants, flies and spiders. In the cold, snowy months of winter, they hibernate under logs or behind the loose bark of trees.

As their name implies, the spring peeper begins emitting their distinct, sleigh-bell-like chorus to announce the new season. Actually, this continual evening chorus is the male's mating song for attracting a female. Like other amphibians, peepers mate and lay their eggs in the water, where the babies hatch and grow before returning to dry ground to live.

The old-timers would always say that the peepers have to freeze three times before it's actually spring. Why three times? Why do we need three heavy frosts once the peepers start to sing before we can have spring? I'm sorry, but I don't have an answer. I guess it's just that mystical number three once again.

There's probably no truth to that old bit of folklore, but the old-timers were usually right. They could tell us more about the weather than anyone with Doppler Radar or other sophisticated equipment. The old-timers often relied on certain signals from animals for their weather forecasts, too.

Much like the animals, they just knew what was coming.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at robrockway@hotmail.com.

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