Friday, September 13, 2013

Stampeded


I don’t quite know how to describe this next adventure, but I’ll try. I was hiking the riverside trail at Perrot (pronounced Pear-oh) State Park. I seemed to be alone on the easy, beautiful trail when I came upon a particularly low section. It was soft and squishy and mere inches from the edge of a backwater passage, the path just few inches wide. Not a breath of wind was blowing and the water’s surface was thickly coated with tiny, bright green beads of algae.

My mind was on the plentiful strands of poison ivy that reached out to my ankles. It was everywhere, as I reached down to pull my socks higher—no need to bring that painful, little reminder home. As I started to straighten, something moved in the ground hugging plants. I admit, I snapped upright, and scanned the ground for what I thought was a snake, but nothing slithery appeared on the path. Good, I thought, like most snakes, it was more afraid of me than I was of it. I chuckled and took another step.

Rustle, ground cover shakes then nothing … what the … I couldn’t see anything. I must have kicked a stone, I thought, even though I had not seen one.

Step. Aaahhh. Three somethings lurched from the ground, but this time I get a half-second glimpse of the culprit. Frogs, dozens of them dotted the next several yards of trail, and not your average frog. These were perfectly camouflaged. I got only glances at them as I slowly moved along. They were the same deep brown of the rich river mud, with bright green stripes—the combination blended perfectly into the close ground cover and mud. Step after step, one or more delicate frog leaped off the path into the vibrant green low ground cover. I’ve never seen so many frogs in one place. I’m still not sure what was happening. It would seem to be too late for mating. I've done some research and I think they were northern cricket frogs, but what were they doing amassing along the river. It was all too fast for a photo, and frankly, the camera would have destroyed the intimacy of the moment. However, if I'm right about the species, this is what they look like.
 
I can't be sure, but because they all moved so quickly and blended so perfectly, but they looked something like this.

Wikipedia says this:
"The northern cricket frog is one of North America's two smallest vertebrates, ranging from 19–38 mm (0.75–1.5 in) long.Cricket frogs prefer the edges of slow-moving, permanent bodies of water. Large groups of them can often be found together along the muddy banks of shallow streams, especially during premigratory clustering."

Apparently, they used to be common, but like many frogs there numbers have declined mysteriously in the past few decades. At this time, they can be found only in pockets in Wisconsin.
 More than a week later, I’m moved by the experience—my own personal frog stampede.
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