Nature Journal: WNC Night sounds, from barks to snores

by Dryridgeinn on July 26, 2014

Screech owls have been vocalizing lately. They don’t screech. Their calls are more of a whinny or, sometimes, a dry clattering.

It’s midsummer now. I often wake up late at night. It usually takes awhile to get back to sleep. I have several options.

Sometimes I review in my mind’s eye the roster of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, the team that finally defeated the Yankees in the World Series: Campanella, Hodges, Gilliam, Reese, Furillo, Snyder, et al.

Sometimes I review in my mind’s eye the college football teams in the five major conferences (ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac 12) and try to remember each team’s head coach.

Sometimes I just lie there, listening to the night sounds as they filter through the window screen.

The creek is a constant. It can be a murmuring reassuring presence. But if there has been a recent thunderstorm, there will be the continuous low-pitched disquieting rumble of stones being transported downstream.

Dogs like to bark whether or not there’s anything to bark about. We have four. Our neighbors up the creek have several. And they rent cabins to people who have dogs. Sometimes — as if at an agreed upon time — they all commence barking at nothing in particular except one another.

This stirs up the pack of coyotes that live on the ridge above the house. The dogs switch from barks to howls just to let the coyotes know what’s what. This contest can go on for hours.

Screech owls have been vocalizing lately. They don’t screech. Their calls are more of a whinny or, sometimes, a dry clattering. I can lure them to within a few feet of my window by whistling their musical whinny.

Now we get to one of the most peculiar night sounds of all. That belongs to the pickerel frog (Rana palustris), a.k.a. the snoring frog. During the summer these handsome frogs disperse widely into grassy or weedy areas in the lower elevations, where they forage for insects.

For some years now we have had a pickerel frog take up residence in midsummer under our back deck about 10 feet from my window. It took me several years to figure out that my guest was a frog.

Every three minutes or so it emits a call lasting 1-3 seconds that sounds exactly like someone snoring. This usually goes on for an hour, by which time I have hopefully gone back to sleep.

George Ellison is a naturalist and writer. His wife, Elizabeth Ellison, is a watercolor artist and paper-maker who has a gallery-studio in Bryson City. Contact them at info@georgeellison.com or info@elizabethellisonwatercolors.com or write to P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, NC 28713.

LEARN MORE

For more about the pickerel frog, including its vocalizations, visit www.herpsofnc.org/herps_of_NC/anurans/anurans.html.

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