Hyla squirella, photographed in Volusia county, Florida (03 July 2014).
One of my favorite features of the southern summer –especially here in Volusia county, Florida– is the cacophony of nightsong performed by a variety and abundance of frogs and toads, not to mention the incalculable array of arthropods that live throughout the region. In fact, when we were living in Alaska from 2007 through 2011, the quietness of the near-Arctic north was damn near jarring. I deeply missed the static, fuzz, and noise of the American south’s nightsong… All that delicious noise pouring through and around the live oaks and spanish moss, sound thick like molasses, almost as thick as the humidity even, especially after the departure of an early evening thunderstorm.
Another beloved benefit of life in Volusia county –for me– is what we call the “Ormond Loop” — a series of roads that wrap through Tomoka, Bulow Creek, and North Peninsula State Parks around both the mainland and coastal sides of the Halifax River / Intracoastal Waterway. It’s a heavily-canopied stretch of road surrounded in parts by thick wetlands, brackish marshes, and oak/palm forest. The area is lush and seething with life. And at night? Oh my, forget about it… At night there simply isn’t anything better than the nightsong serenading all your senses from all sides as you cruise the Ormond Loop.
Featured on this post is one of the Ormond Loop’s most noticeable and recognized nighttime performers: the Squirrel treefrog, Hyla squirella, a small species of treefrog often confused with the larger, locally less common American green treefrog (Hyla cinerea). Primarily active at night, Squirrel treefrogs spend much of their time carefully hidden atop palm fronds and in other types of foliage. At night, however, it’s a different story. A more active story. A louder story. A slightly more musical story.
I spent some time along the Ormond Loop in late June and early July 2014, trolling about the nocturnal-side of Bulow Creek State Park, searching for its amphibian brethren. More than anything else, it was the Squirrel treefrog that greeted me in both sight and in sound. Seriously, these little frogs can dominate a nightsong, as we’ll soon hear.
Featured below is a soundcloud audio file recorded shortly after midnight on 04 July 2014. the clip is composed of three separate recordings, each subsequent recording made as I approached closer and closer to a rather rowdy and rambunctious little pond absolutely bubbling with nightsong. Here, then, is the sound I’m talking about. This is the sound of Ormond Beach’s nightsong:
The third part is, of course, the most dynamic and loudest. By the third recording, I was standing on the edge of the hidden pond, my feet sunk in about a foot of muck, holding my iPhone out into the thick foliage. Soon after, I started visually tracking down the Squirrel treefrogs (which don’t just call from atop the water, but also from surrounding trees and bushes).
I walked around for a bit, my sandals sloshing with muck, my head soaking in the humid nightsong, entirely alone, and utterly entrenched by the weight of this thriving community of active organisms.
An interesting thing about Squirrel treefrogs in particular: When you first start to look for them, they can be somewhat difficult to find. Pretty soon, however, your eyes will coordinate better with your ears, and you’ll know what to look for. Soon enough, all you will see (and hear) are these Squirrel treefrogs leading the sonic march through the midnight hours. As if by magic, they will suddenly seem to be everywhere…
Not quite finished, I found another nearby pond along the Ormond Loop. It was a larger, slightly more stable pond that had a much, much larger Squirrel treefrog population. Again, I conducted a couple of field recordings (represented below). I can’t quite describe how loud these frogs were in real time. They were nearly deafening, as hinted at in the second half of this recording:
It was amazing. So many Squirrel treefrogs singing together with such intensity, it was all I could do to focus enough to photograph them. It was sheer spectacle of the audio kind.
In Florida, sometimes there’s as much to hear as there is to see, especially at night.
Next on Dust Tracks: Some more Ormond Beach action from Bulow Creek State Park, only of the sunset variety!