Frog Counting a Fascinating, Fun, Inexpensive Outing for Families
Cudworth, Chris, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Chris Cudworth Daily Herald Staff Writer
There are no forms to fill out for these census subjects. Just croak or fly by at the right time, and the census takers will dutifully mark your presence.
The census takers are better known as citizen scientists. The low-cost outdoor activity - which involves watching or listening to wildlife and marking down results for scientific use - has attracted quite a few Tri-Cities families.
The program's most important function is to study wildlife populations and gather data that might assist habitat managers such as Drew Ullberg, habitat restoration manager for the Kane County Forest Preserve District.
Information from citizen scientists "is what we rely on to keep track of wildlife populations," Ullberg said. "When populations go up or down, it may be just a natural cycle or it could be because their environment is being affected, often by the activities of people."
This sense of mission is a unique goal to share with a child. Having a purpose to the activity provides motivation as well as an opportunity to work together. Citizen scientists presently monitor amphibian, butterfly and bird populations throughout the Chicago region.
"But Kane County is the star when it comes to frog monitoring," observed Mary Ochsenschlager, a St. Charles Park District naturalist and coordinator of a regional effort to find and monitor wetlands throughout the county.
"But that doesn't mean we can't use more help," she noted.
Sounds like a burp
On a cold morning in February, more than 50 Kane County residents gathered in a meeting room at Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles to learn more about becoming citizen scientists.
The meeting focused on frogs.
There are various frogs that might be found in Kane County. The most common varieties often mix with those that are more rare. One needs to learn to differentiate the calls of frogs so that rarities can be singled out. It isn't always easy.
Volunteer Dae Waterman played CD recordings of each individual frog species and encouraged the audience to affix some sort of mnemonic or word play device by which to remember each calls. The children in the audience were quite willing to play that game:
"Wood frogs sound like someone burping," a small voice chortled.
Laughter rippled through the room, but it was true: The wood frog's voice sounds like a burp or the sound of two balloons being rubbed together.
Chorus frogs, which in April sing up a storm from roadside ditches, make a noise very much like the sound of a finger being pulled across a comb.
But that's if you hear them separately. Quite often chorus frogs are found in populations numbering in the hundreds. The lone voice of any single frog becomes indistinguishable when calling together. In large numbers chorus frogs sound like a choir of sweet-voiced cicadas and can easily obscure the calls of any other frog in the pond.
Most monitors practice their skills by playing the frog songs CD in the car.
"My oldest daughter thinks that's quite a kick," said a chuckling Patty Gawrys of St. Charles. "She thinks my son Danny and I are nuts."
Gawrys recognized the interest in frogs in her son and signed them both up for the monitoring course.
"Danny is one of those kids who's almost always in galoshes, with a net and shorts on," Gawrys says. "So I take a look at the long term and figure that this is a lifelong skill he's practicing even though he's a still a kid. …