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Croaky serenade: It's prime time to tune in for frog songs
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

For people who are into frogs, this is the time of year to get an earful.

Frogs and toads are their noisiest during the first week of May as the breeding season gets into full swing.

Seven of Wisconsin's 12 species are now breeding, and that means a veritable chorus from Wisconsin's woodlands and wetlands.

"This is the peak for the whole year, and if you're listening, you'll typically hear two or three at one time," said Randy M. Korb, a naturalist and author of a new book, "Wisconsin Frogs."

Most of the noise comes from the males, who use their songs to attract females. After they meet up, the pair embrace. After the female lays her eggs, the male fertilizes them, Korb said.

The 80-page book is a guide to all of the state's frogs and toads. In addition to descriptions of each species, the book tells readers in Milwaukee, Madison, the Fox Cities and Green Bay where they have a good chance of hearing them.

"If you live out in the country, you don't need a book," said Korb, who has a master's degree in urban interpretation from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

"Everyone in small towns knows where the frogs are."

He got interested in frogs in the early 1980s when he volunteered to count them for the state Department of Natural Resources' annual frog survey. Volunteers agree to go out three times a year to 10 places and count the frogs by listening to songs.

Korb visits 75 to 100 schools a year, using frogs as a tool to explain nature.

"You can talk and talk, but when you pull out a frog and they start jumping, that's when kids' eyes light up," Korb said. "Then the light goes on."

Korb gathers up frogs every October, waiting for the last humid rainy night when males' testosterone level is high and they are easier to find.

Two years ago, he found a frog, almost dead and bleeding from the eyes, after it was hit by a speeding car.

"It was 3:30 in the morning and this car comes rushing by," Korb said. "I always tell the kids that I thought it was teenagers - the teachers like that - and then I saw this frog coming tumbling down the road."

Korb shows the students a picture of Blinkie the day after the accident. Then, he brings out Blinkie today. While he is blind, the frog is healthy and loves to eat crickets.

"Wisconsin Frogs" was published with financial help from the Northeastern Wisconsin Audubon Society, the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Fund and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The book includes a CD of the songs of Wisconsin's 12 frogs and toads narrated by Bethany Matula, a grade school student from Kimberly.

The CD tells us that spring peepers, a tree frog, often call in trios.

Wood frogs are often mistaken for ducks because of their chuckling calls.

The song of a western chorus frog sounds like a thumb being pulled over a comb, and the northern leopard frog sings like "wet hands rubbing over a balloon."

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