by Mark Daul
Outdoors in Niagara
Perhaps you have heard choruses of those fascinating little critters of nature, and you never knew what you were listening to. I didn't when I first heard tiny peepers about 30 years ago. Since then there has not been a spring evening that I don't go out on the back porch to hear my yearly serenading of the peepers. In fact, now I even listen to the newborn coyotes yipping for their mother while she is out hunting to bring back their evening meal.
Ed Took, a friend of mine who lived on Cain Road in the Town of Porter, came over to my house one evening and I said to him, "Ed, listen, did you ever hear frogs in the distance that were so loud and harmonious like that?" He said, "Yeah, those are peeper frogs. They are out behind my house every spring too." I asked, "Peepers? What are those?"
He went on to tell me about them, and ever since then I have looked forward to listening to this first sound of spring. He said these peep frogs are only about an inch long and the males are the only ones that can "peep." When they are peeping they are attempting to attract females. These tiny little creatures can make a big noise in the spring, as there are usually hundreds in an army. Took said they feed on ants and spiders among other tiny insects, and can climb trees, but only a couple of feet up. Took was an intelligent man when it came to the outdoors and, again, many years later I fondly remember him. He was always spot-on when telling me these tidbits about these tiny critters and other things.
Many years ago, when I could take long hikes into the woods on a warm spring day, my wife Delma and I took an unplanned hike through small woods at Four Mile State Park. When we got into it so far, we were met with some thick and really nasty brush, and we were not prepared with gloves or anything like that for protection for our hands or face. What a mistake that was; I probably left a blood trail as the back of my hands were cut and scratched up in the first 100 feet.
Instead of turning back, me, the "great Town of Porter woodsman" said, "Let's keep following this trampled down deer trail and see where it goes, you follow me and I'll break the brush along the way for you." When we got in deeper, we came across a couple of deer skeletons that must have laid there for years. The bones were bleached white from the weather. They probably died of old age or from a predator of some kind. Maybe coyotes? We saw a few piles of animal fur and feathers here and there that were probably some kind of predators' meal also. We walked into a small clearing, and it had rows of tiny pine trees that we figured State Parks were growing in there for future plantings elsewhere.
All while we were exploring, we could hear peeping from those frogs way over in a distance, so we changed our direction towards the sounds. As we approached, just like someone turned off a light switch, the sounds stopped when we were only about 25 feet away, all at once. I thought, "Gee, that's strange." We kept walking in that direction, and came across a small pond that was shallow, and only about 15 feet in diameter. We stood and looked in it and didn't see anything, but we both knew that was where all the noise was coming from, and yet not a sign of life. It was getting pretty late, so we decided to head back to the road and go home. Getting turned around in there, we had to guess the direction to go; we emerged at a 90-degree angle from where we went in. Good thing it was small woods or we could have ended up like those deer!
Pat, who lives on Lake Road in Youngstown, loves to walk her two dogs, and one of the areas she likes is a road that leads to a State Park worker's home at Four Mile State Park. In a conversation with her, she wondered what she was hearing, remarking, "I could hear them off at a distance in a small wooded area. I heard them 'peepin' up a storm." It is known that the sound from these little guys can travel as far as 1 mile to 2-1/2 miles, depending on the wind direction. After I told her what the chorus was, she said she'll listen closer on the next walk.
Of the many fascinating things you come in contact with in the great outdoors, a frog, any kind of frog, will not give you warts. That is a myth. So, mothers, don't fret if your child wants to pick one up or bring one home. There is no harm. Warts are caused by certain viruses, and not frogs, nor toads.
Dead fish sightings
Hoards of dead fish have been sighted in the Niagara River, and in lakes Ontario and Erie. This phenomenon happens every year and alarms many people, but it is a natural die off. These fish are gizzard shad of the herring family of fish. They are gray or silver in color, and adults are between 10 and 15 inches long, and can weigh up to one pound. Thousands have been seen dead or half dead with no energy, floating belly up, or struggling to swim on their side along the shorelines of the lakes and the entire river. It is known they die in the winter due to cold stress and when the ice melts, they begin showing up along the shores, and also sudden changes in temperatures, up or down, will cause the same effects on these fish.
Gizzard shad are considered a warm water species, not like salmon or lake trout, which are considered a cold water species of the freshwater fish kingdom. The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources are well aware of this happening and both get inquiries every year.