watering the potted plants last week when a small frog leaped out of
the Hosta and clung to the inside of my wrist. It was a handsome
little creature, beige with a darker brown mask across its eyes and
trailing down its back. It was Litoria ewingi, I later
discovered: the Southern Brown Tree frog. They eat mosquitoes, moths
and flies, which makes them desirable garden guests.
had been having an unusually prolonged period of dry, warm weather.
Great weather for hanging out the wash; not such good weather for
amphibians. All the usual damp pockets under the ferns and bushes
have dried out, which explains why the tree frog was hiding in the
Hosta. I slid my hand under the leaves and waited for my tiny
passenger to hop off. His cool sticky feet stirred memories long
hearing the spring chorus from a New England swamp as a child. The
singers were tiny froglets which we called 'spring peepers'. We also
heard the occasional bullfrog. One summer my mother introduced me to
a leopard frog she had caught in a beached rowboat at Lake Champlain.
It was she who pointed out what beautiful eyes frogs have. Other
than that, my acquaintance with frogs was rather casual until we
moved to Mundaring, in the hills above Perth, Western Australia.
had prepared me for the frog orchestra in Mundaring. Some of the
night noises were so odd that it was years before I discovered that
they were in fact generated by frogs.
all sorts of noises emanating from the late winter and early spring
puddles at the edge of the state forest. A few of them sounded like
frogly noises, but most of them could have been inventions of the
bloke who wrote the music for Doctor Who.
the noise that sounded like it came from a cigar-box banjo. That was
the Banjo or Pobblebonk Frog, I learned from an artist friend who
specialised in frogs.
the noise which sounded like a dove stuck on endless replay, which
went on at all hours of the day and night. It drove my husband mad:
there was something about the tone or resonance of the long low moans
that irritated him beyond bearing. He used to go about the yard
looking for the broken-record dove, intending to chase it away. When
I mentioned the noise to a neighbour, she said it wasn't a dove, but
a Moaning Frog in its burrow, calling for a mate. The males dig deep
tunnels and lurk at the bottom, waiting for rain to make the
excavation into a suitable nursery for tadpoles. In hot, dry Western
Australia, this can mean a very long wait for the bachelor frogs, but
the slightest hint of humidity sets off their love-lorn calling.
You’d think they’d save their energy until genuine rain
find it I will put a ferret down its burrow," said my distressed
mate. "Or hot tea. Or--"
not, apparently there's a very stiff fine for interfering with
moaning frogs." I said, waving a leaflet from the Ministry for
Critters and Woodsy Things. "Maybe we could relocate it."
hours of searching, we never found the frog, but perhaps it overheard
the threats, because it moved to a neighbour's yard where it wasn't
was the night not long after we moved in that we heard an unearthly
shrieking from the front yard. There's no way to describe it except
to say that it would easily do for part of the sound track for
Dante's Inferno if they ever make a film of it.
piercing shriek got louder and louder. I took the torch and a stout
stick and went out to investigate.
under the box tree sat one of the cats, staring at a frog. The frog
was staring right back and shrieking at the top of its lungs. The
cat patted the frog: the frog shrieked and then jumped at the cat.
The cat backed off and sat down, then hesitantly patted the frog
again. The pat-shriek-jump business went on until I tired of
watching and took the cat indoors.
of pat-the-frog was one of endless fascination for the young cat.
She has never harmed the frogs, but apparently when she gets bored
she seeks out one and pats it until it shrieks, just for fun. The
frogs must not be good to eat, as I've never found a dead or injured
one, and for sure the local magpies would have had a go if the
creatures were tasty. Or perhaps they just don't want to get near
that eardrum-piercing noise.
was the night I was convinced there was a duck in distress in the
woods. For some hours I'd been hearing a quack-quack-quack noise. I
checked our ducks; both were in their pen asleep. Somebody else's
duck was lost or hurt. This was in the days when we still had a
resident fox in the neighbourhood, so I again armed myself with torch
and stick and set off across the road, poking the bushes and calling
for the duck. Of course, as soon as I arrived to rescue it, there
was no sign of the errant waterfowl. I went back up the driveway and
was almost indoors when the quack-quack-quack began again. Another
trip to the roadside, another silence. I retired, baffled.
the dove was really a frog, maybe the duck is a frog also,"
suggested my husband,
be ridiculous, whoever heard of a quacking frog!" I snorted.
Well, just about everybody, it turned out. At the library the next
day I learned more about quacking frogs that I really wanted to know,
and our librarians learned how truly dim I was when it came to local
back to my spouse: “I have now identified all the odd night
noises on our street, bar one--and I'm not game to go back to the
library and ask if they've ever heard of the Broken Air Conditioner
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