Sketches of a gray treefrog dated September, 1969. I brought it to my room, let it roam around while I made dozens of drawings, and then released it where I found it.
As we spend time outside studying nature, it’s reassuring to observe familiar things year after year. And yet there always remains an element of surprise. Two readers shared their most recent nature surprises with me this past month.
Nancy Pippin, who lives in Shenandoah County (Virginia) near Bryce Mountain, contacted me with a question about an evening birdsong that comes from deep within a bush next to her home. In the past, Nancy had recorded the sound and played it for different people, but nobody could tell her what kind of bird it was. A regular reader of my column, she contacted the editor and asked if I would call her so she could play her recording for me to see if I might be able to tell her what bird made the sound.
I called Nancy and she said she and her husband heard the sound every year. It started up just before dark in the evening, but not until the month of July. After she played her recording on the phone for me, I thought for a minute, laughed out loud and then politely explained why. Nobody could ever recognize that birdsong because the singer wasn’t a bird at all. It was a frog. Nancy laughed too when I told her. She was delighted to learn she had recorded sounds of gray tree frogs. She wanted to learn more about them and asked me if I would be able to write about them.
Gray tree frogs are among the best camouflaged animals on the planet. Not only do they look exactly like tree bark, but they are able to match the shade and even the color of the leaf, tree trunk or limb they happen to rest upon. Like most frogs, they breed during the spring in ponds and sluggish streams. Then as summer progresses, they wander into the woods. Disk-like pads on the ends of their toes allow them to climb high into trees where they spend their days resting on tree trunks or under leaves.
Another nature surprise comes from Ava Reinstein, who looked out one evening and noticed her cat sitting outside looking at something in the grass. She went out to rescue what the cat had found, picked it up, and brought it inside believing it was a baby bird. “Only when I picked it up and it was soft and I saw little teeth did I figure out it was a bat,” Ava said. She brought the bat inside, wrapped in a towel, and got another surprise when she discovered she had not one but two bats. At first, she thought it was a mother with a baby until it became evident that it was a mating pair of Eastern red bats. Ava said, “All ended well with the happy couple flying off.”
Ava was kind enough to share her photo of the pair of bats with me. Red bats mate in the fall but their young, called pups, are born in summer. This happens because the female carries the fertilized eggs inside her, but they don’t implant on the wall of her uterus until spring. In the photo, the male bat’s fur is almost carrot-red while the fur of the female is grizzled reddish-brown. Male and female red bats are beautifully marked with two white spots on their wings and shoulders and a white ruff of fur around their necks.
Nature is full of wonderful sights and sounds and as we look closer, things are sometimes different than they seem to be.
Doug Pifer is an artist, naturalist, and writer. He has a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Penn State and has been an editor and art educator. His illustrations have appeared in various books and magazines and he has been a contributor to The Observer for several years. He lives with his wife and assorted animals on 5.7 acres in a historic farmhouse near Shepherdstown, West Virginia.By Doug Pifer