A Scream in the Pond

I have a small lined pond in my front yard, created by my daughter and I a good five years ago or so.  It is a pond gone native, for the most part, and I like it that way.  The mysteries of what lives in those three feet of murky algae-laden water give me a shiver and excite my naturalist sense of curiosity (See post The Monster in the Pond of March 2nd).  Sometime earlier this year as I was walking past the stretch of green that was partially covered with newly unfolding waterlily pads, I was startled from my reverie (I’m always in reverie it seems, especially now that I’m wrestling with mid-life crisis!) by what sounded like a small scream and a splash.  I saw nothing.  Hmm.

Young Pacific Chorus Frog

During the most frigid, god-forsaken unpopular months of January and February, it seems as if every Pacific Chorus frog migrates from a forty-mile radius to mate in my small three-hundred gallon pond.  Every night the males attempt to out-sing each other with such buzzes and chirps that even I’m impressed and tempted to follow their siren song, if only it weren’t so cold out there! (Wimpy San Diegan, I know!)  Let their large ladies deal with them, I say.  Sometimes their song is so loud that it becomes one giant noise.  Often it drowns out whatever movie we might happen to be watching and we have to shine a flashlight out the window to startle them, catching them in flagranti as it were and quieting them for a short reprieve.

Pacific Chorus Frogs Taking a Break from Singing

However, none of them scream.  They sing.

When walking past the pond a few weeks later it happened again.  A much louder scream and a splash.  At least I knew that whatever it was hadn’t been so frightened by my passage that it committed suicide the first time.   Then soon after my son came in from the front yard with a puzzled expression and said, “Something in the pond just screamed at me.”

There is a lot of algae in the pond which blooms about the time the frogs are mating, so I leave the frothy green bunches in place to protect the clear jelly sacks of spawn that cushion the frog eggs.  Therefore, not much visibility at any time in my pond.  Nope.

Finally I saw the screaming thing as it flung itself from the flagstones into the water.  It was a large frog, much larger than the Pacific Chorus Frogs.  Uh-oh.

When at breakfast I saw it sitting on the flagstone walkway around the pond through my bay window, my heart sank.  It was a bullfrog.  The glistening, beautiful green gigantic (for around here) frog sat there for awhile, then leaped into the undergrowth of my columbines.

Bullfrog about to go hunting through columbines

American bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) are what you think of when and if you ever think of frogs.  They can become huge.  People farm them to eat their legs and back meat (oh ick!).  Little American boys are supposed to spend their idle childhood summers wading through creeks  (pro: criks) catching them and tickling their stomachs.  I think they are a gorgeous and wonderful creature.

Except.  Except that bullfrogs are not native to the Western states and they eat anything that they can shove into their mouths, including snakes, birds, rodents, other bullfrogs….  They are partially responsible, along with the red-eared slider turtles (America’s favorite pet turtle which was dumped wholesale into lakes and streams after the salmonella scare some twenty-five years ago and took over the waterways) and polluted water for endangering our native cute little Western pond turtles.  So having this great screaming mouth eating down my mosquito fish, my Pacific Chorus frogs and their young, and everything else in the yard, is not good news in my book.  Then my son noticed a second, smaller one.  A male.  Oh no!

Uh-oh. There's a male bullfrog, too!

How to catch a bullfrog?  I brought out an old cat litter bucket and a fish net and left them handy.  We’d see the frog’s nose clearing the water, but by the time we’d go out there he would be long gone.  Being very busy I didn’t have the opportunity to sit, net in hand, for hours waiting for my screaming frog to appear.  (Hey, wait, shouldn’t that be ‘handsome prince’ instead of screaming frog? I get everything wrong!).

A few days ago on a sunny afternoon I was surveying the weeds in my garden, trying to burn them into cinders with my eyes without success.  I walked along the pathway by the pond that was now almost completely overrun with peppermint, lazy stalks of columbine, the all-too vigorous Mexican primrose and the definately healthy weeds.  I surveyed the back half of my garden making plans about weeding that had to be carefully done since many of the nasty little beggers were coming up in my heirloom bulb beds and their stalks looked almost identical.

Big Mama

Wandering back I stepped through the overgrown columbine that hid the path when suddenly something big and shiny and screaming came flying up towards my knees from right under my foot.  I also screamed and jumped.  A second scream and leap to my left alerted me to the very large, very green bullfrog panting and staring at me with much the same expression that I must have been wearing as I stood staring and panting back. Even in my surprised state I realized that this might be my chance.  Of course, the bucket was all the way over by the gate.  I made a lunge for the frog but she evaded me.  I managed to keep her from jumping into the pond and she disappeared under some weeds and mint by the bird bath.  I squatted down and held down the grass hoping to contain her.  I yelled for my son, but he was out of earshot.  I started laughing, which I do so often in my life when I find myself in unusual circumstances. Come to think of it, I laugh pretty regularly.  Maybe too regularly.  Regaining control of the slight hysteria and my breathing, I slowly lifted up the grass… but she was gone.  I knew she hadn’t jumped into the pond.  She must have made her way along the sides of the flagstones.  I made a plan.  Quietly I stood and tip-toed around the back of the pond and around the end, making my way back toward the gate and the bucket with the fish net.  Everything was still and I made no noise as I crept along.  Just as I made it halfway past the pond, there were two almightly screams in close succession, two jumps and a splash.  Fortunately it was the bullfrog who landed in the pond, not me.  Shaking slightly with a trace of that hysterical laughter, I went inside to have a calming cuppa tea, and to give the lady frog time to settle her nerves as well.  All that screaming had been a very girlie experience for both of us.

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