We explored a new trail system on Easter Sunday, the Oak Hill Trails in Concord, NH.
It’s seven miles of looping and intersecting paths through the woods, with moderate ascents and descents (my Fitbit recorded 51 “flights,” i.e., uphills), punctuated by wetlands — vernal pools, swampy areas, small ponds — and some long views.
Due to time constraints, we didn’t go the terminus, the fire tower, but walked most of the Tower Trail, with side trips down the Dancing Bear Trail and the Krupa Loop, where we came upon the wood frogs!
Wood frogs (Rana sylvatica or Lithobates sylvatica), once you have heard them, are easy to detect: they sound like quacking ducks. They and the smaller spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer), both widespread in New Hampshire, are the earliest frogs to vocalise here (mating calls of the male), right after they rise from their hibernation and right before the females lay thousands of eggs in globular masses in the vernal pools. In winter, wood frogs hibernate on the forest floor under logs or leaf litter. They stop breathing and their hearts stop pumping. Mary Holland (Naturally Curious) wrote about them today (her posts are often keenly synced with local phenological events): “Prior to hibernation they convert glycogen in their bodies into glucose, a form of antifreeze that helps prevent the water within their cells from freezing, which would kill them. However, the water outside their cells does freeze. Amazingly, wood frogs can survive having up to 65% of this water frozen, yet when warm weather arrives, they thaw and move about in a matter of hours.” And so they did on Sunday, amphibians resurrected from their long, dark winter.
Two years ago, we unwittingly stumbled on some wood frogs along a rail trail, but in our eagerness to see what was making that quacking sound, we made so much noise that they abruptly stopped, as though a conductor had slashed a baton through the air. Though we stood stock still and waited quietly for 15 minutes, we never heard another quack from that pool. This Sunday, we knew immediately when we heard the faint quacking that it was the frogs and we crept quietly toward their mating calls. This two-minute video records their chorus, as well as the sounds of our walking in leaves (turn up the sound, as there is not much to see).
There were other surprises along the trail, like the sight of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens), almost ready to bloom.
And some lovely lichens on a boulder, interesting tree formations, rocky rooted trails … and perched on a signpost, a plastic football egg, with jellybeans inside.