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Summer frogs singing at the lake

A green frog at the lake's edge; note the green head. Their plucking calls are often heard at lakes in July. (Photo by Larry Weber)1 / 2
A mink frog, one of the summer frogs now making knock-knock calls at lakes. Note the mottled back coloration. (Photo by Larry Weber)2 / 2

The morning is calm and cool as I walk to the lake for an early paddle. I quickly note that the lake level is up, thanks to recent July rainstorms. The floating circular leaves of white water lilies and the elliptical ones of yellow pond lilies remain on the surface. At this morning hour, the large white flowers of the former are not yet open, but those of the latter are.

The shoreline has a whole new set of flowering flora that bloom in midsummer. Near the large pointed leaves emerging from the water are the spikes of three-petaled white flowers of the arrowheads, just recently opened. A few lingering water arum and irises still reveal flowers that proliferated last month. Though these are fading, others on the shore take their place. White blossoms of bonesets and pearly everlastings are here with the taller light purple flowers of Joe-Pye weed above.

Purple also is in the water smartweeds, related to some of the weeds of the garden that we may not appreciate, but this native plant is a delight at the water's edge. Blue shows from the marsh skullcaps and harebells, both in bloom here. Further upland are the new blossoms of the fireweeds. Next to the fireweeds, I observe a growth of evening primroses with their nocturnal four-petaled florets still open.

Standing about a foot above the water is another yellow-flowered plant, the swamp loosestrife, holding its stalk of petals. Yellow flowers of the bladderworts stick up from the submerged leaves. Unnoticed by many of us, the plants add nutrients by feeding on tiny insects at the surface or subsurface. This is not the only insect-eating plant that I see here this morning. I also find a sundew with its sticky leaves. This one has a stalk of white flowers that open later in the day.

Further up on the shore, the open spaces are taken over by a thick plant growth of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. While the first two help contribute to my breakfast with ripe berries, the blackberries will ripen in a couple of weeks.

All these bushes as well as alders, willows and birches are now holding a plethora of circular spider webs. These orb webs, left from last night's hunting, are covered with morning dew drops. They have become more common each day lately.

As we move into midsummer, much is growing and happening at the lake, but I notice as I paddle in the bay that fewer birds are now singing in the nearby woods. With songbirds, most of the young have fledged from the nest and with the family raised, there is less of a reason to sing. I do hear a few persistent ones: red-eyed vireo, indigo bunting, yellowthroat, redstart, song sparrow, veery, wood thrush, scarlet tanager and wood peewee.

Out in the lake, the local loon parents scold me for disturbing their morning swim with the fluffy young.

Though the bird songs have lessened, I'm never without hearing calls and songs this summer morning at the lake. The territorial and mating sounds of the summer frogs continue for the whole time that I am on the water.

Of the seven species of frogs and one toad (collectively called anurans) in the Northland, only two kinds breed in summer. And though we have so many lakes, most choose other wetlands for their breeding. Only the green frog and its cousin, the mink frog, are out here on this July morning emanating amorous songs. They both are highly aquatic, living nearly all of their lives in large bodies of water. Green frogs, despite the name, are often other colors with brown or gray bodies and green heads. Mink frogs have mottled markings on the back and yellow-green lips. While green frogs now call with a sound often compared to the noise of plucking a loose banjo string, the mink frog simply makes a knock-knock sound.

Most of the Northland anurans breed in spring. They begin with spring peepers and wood, chorus and leopard frogs in April, followed by toads and gray treefrogs in May. Eggs deposited in the ponds and swamps in spring hatch and develop in the following weeks of June and early July to emerge as tiny replicas of the adults in this summer month. It is not uncommon during a woods walk or maybe right in the yard to see these little hoppers at this time.

But the pair of summer frogs that I hear in July lead another life cycle. Breeding in summer, the young will survive winter in the lake, under the ice, entering adulthood next summer. At about 4 inches, the green and mink frogs are some of our larger frogs. They also overwinter in the lake, unlike most other anurans. Slow to wake in spring, they do their calling and egg laying in summer. Anyone at a lake at this time is likely to hear them. They are still calling as I leave the lake this morning.

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

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