Hopping into spring…again

Explore a local wetland or attend a Wonderful Wetlands workshop in Hugo, Oakdale or Lake Elmo

The snow is melting again, which means that spring is just around the corner…again. Last weekend, I bundled up to walk the dog through 9-inches of fresh, fallen snow and paused with surprise when I encountered warm-ish air and dozens of birds singing from the trees. As the air continues to warm, we’ll hear other familiar sounds return to the chorus of spring – frogs and toads calling from neighborhood ponds and wetlands.

Minnesota is home to 14 species of frogs and toads. During the spring, their trilling, croaking, boinking sounds ring out as males search for females. These bouncing, boisterous amphibians can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, farm fields, and even urban stormwater ponds. (Listen to common frog and toad calls.)

gray treefrog
Minnesota has four species of treefrogs. The Cope’s gray treefrog and gray treefrog can only be distinguished by their calls.

Approximately half of all frogs and one-third of all salamander species in North America lay their eggs in ephemeral wetlands, also known as vernal or seasonal ponds. Seasonal wetlands form in low-lying areas and are usually only wet for a few weeks every year. These areas also provide habitat for migrating birds and insects such as dragonflies.

In addition to singing us gentle lullabies on spring and summer evenings, frogs and toads are also part of the web of life. They become food for great blue herons, egrets and even mink. Tadpoles eat large amounts of algae and plankton, helping to keep the water clear, while adult frogs and toads eat a wide variety of creepy crawlies, including insects, slugs and snails. In fact, one toad can eat 10,000 bugs and slugs in a single summer!

Leopard frogs and American toads remain common across Minnesota, but some species of frogs are on the decline. The northern cricket frog, once found in southern Minnesota, has not been documented anywhere in the state for several years. Spring peepers are disappearing from the Twin Cities metro area, and biologists suspect that loss of forested wetlands is to blame. Frogs are also vulnerable to pollution from fertilizers and pesticides because they have porous skin that can absorb chemicals in water. These chemicals are especially deadly in the spring and early summer when frogs are laying eggs and tadpoles are hatching.

Spring peepers inhabit forested areas and lay their eggs in temporary wetlands that form in the spring.

If you live near a lake or wetland, you’re probably already sharing your yard with frogs and toads. You can help to create a healthier habitat by leaving some of the grass unmowed near the edges of woods and water; using little or no chemicals on your lawn and gardens; and planting native plants along the water’s edge. Good plants for lake and wetland edges include sedges, blue flag iris, swamp milkweed, joe-pye weed, cardinal flower, black-eyed susans, and ferns.

Looking for a wetland to explore and listen to the chorus of spring? Here are a few local suggestions:

  • Tamarack Nature Preserve in Woodbury – the southern-most tamarack swamp in Minnesota and home to many rare plant species. The park features a floating boardwalk.
  • Lake McKusick wetlands in Stillwater – look for birds and rare plant species while traversing the walking trails and boardwalk.
  • William O’Brien State Park – low-lying seeps and springs nourish early spring wildflowers, while pothole wetlands on the ridge provide a welcome rest for traveling birds.
  • Warner Nature Center – a quaking bog contains a miniature fantasy world, complete with carnivorous plants. The nature center is only open to the public during scheduled programs.
  • Trails at the Oakdale Discovery Center, Lake Elmo Park Reserve and Sunfish Lake Park in Lake Elmo also wind past countless wetlands and ponds with opportunities for bird-watching and frog-listening.

    The Tamarack Nature Preserve in Woodbury features a floating boardwalk over the swamp.

Live on or near a wetland? Get advice on how to enhance your wetland yard with native plants and other landscaping features that add beauty, provide habitat, and help to protect water quality at one of three upcoming Wonderful Wetlands workshops offered by Washington Conservation District.  Instructors will talk about what makes wetlands special, unique plants and animals that are found in wetlands, invasive species, and rules that affect what landowners can and can’t do with wetlands on their properties.

  • Thursday, April 25, 6-7:30pm: Hugo City Hall
  • Thursday, May 23, 6-7:30pm: Oakdale Discovery Center
  • Thursday, June 6, 6-7:30pm: Sally Manzara Nature Center, Lake Elmo

Register online at: tinyurl.com/wetgarden2019.