Frogs or birds? The choice was easy

Garden pond by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

Well it happened. I finally had to remove the giant green frogs from my little garden pond. The reason? I found another dead songbird by the pond. The perpetrator left the evidence in plain sight and never bothered to leave the scene.

After what had happened this summer, I had no choice in the matter.

In July amid the hottest, driest weather of the summer, the grandchildren were here visiting from Virginia. They always ask to feed the goldfish in our garden pond.

Girl on grindstone by Bruce Stambaugh

As we approached the pond with fish food in hand, I spotted something rather suspicious. The largest of the green frogs that inhabit our pond was resting atop a balled up, wet and obviously dead House Finch on the rock pile near the little waterfalls.

The frog must have felt guilty because it jumped into the pond as soon as it spotted us. I let the kids feed the always-hungry fish while I investigated the crime scene. Of course, Davis, the inquisitive six-year old, wanted to see what I was looking at, too.

Cooling off by Bruce StambaughOnce I realized we had a killer frog on our hands, I diverted the kids’ attention by playing ball in the side yard. When I went to get the dead bird, it was gone. Had the frog come back for its dinner?

A few weeks later, I found a second House Finch floating in the pond. I contacted a naturalist friend about my discovery. She had heard of bullfrogs catching birds, but not green frogs. Either way, her conclusion was the same as mine. The big green frog was trouble.

Since the grandkids loved looking for the frogs as much as they did feeding the fish, I hated to transplant the amphibian. I decided to keep a close eye out for more evidence. I found it on September 25.

Bird and frog by Bruce Stambaugh
The dead American Goldfinch told me I needed to remove the largest frogs from the pond.

This time I discovered an American Goldfinch left on the sandstone grindstone where the grandkids stand to feed the fish. Just like the others, the Goldfinch had clearly been drowned with evidence of attempts to swallow it. Just inches away, minding its own business, the green frog sat unsympathetically on a soft patch of grass. At least I thought it was a green frog.

That was the last straw. I watched for an opportunity to catch the two largest green frogs and relocate them to a neighbor’s farm pond. I caught the docile female right away. The bigger male was a bit trickier. You know how men are.

Finally, I saw my opportunity. The wily frog was hiding beneath the floppy leaves of one of the hosta plants that border the pond. In a sneak attack, I captured the frog and quickly placed it in the minnow bucket with the other frog.

Mute Swan by Bruce Stambaugh

As I prepared to release the pair of frogs at my neighbor’s pond, a rather large Mute Swan swam straight for me, hissing all the way. The larger of the two frogs was more than happy to hide in shallow water. The female was content to enjoy the grassy shoreline.

I didn’t bother to say my farewells. I was patient catching the frogs. The agitated swan was another story. I didn’t want to painfully pay for my efforts with a nip by the aggressive and territorial waterfowl.

If this greedy green frog attempts to swallow one of these big birds, I think it will be in for an enormous surprise. And I think I’ll write a book.

Upon further investigation, others more knowledgable on frogs than me identified the culprit that I had photographed as a bullfrog, not a green frog. My mystery was solved, and my frog facts greatly improved. The book’s plot just took a turn.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Trouble in a peaceable pond

Feeding fish by Bruce Stambaugh
The grandchildren love to feed the goldfish in the little garden pond.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I have greatly enjoyed the little garden pond that students and staff gave me when I retired as their elementary principal 13 years ago. It was fun building the pond and the little waterfall that gurgles night and day.

The pond, visible from all rear windows and our open back porch, has multiple benefits. The mini falls’ mesmerizing tinkling of water on water lulls me to sleep on pleasant nights. An assortment of wildlife has ventured to the pond, including deer and a Great Blue Heron.

Goldfish, snails and aqua plants help keep the pond’s water in proper equilibrium. A family of green frogs just showed up on their own. They have been a welcome addition, until recently that is.

Frog and flower by Bruce StambaughSummer, of course, is when the pond is most popular. Songbirds drink the cool water and bathe in shallow pools. The green frogs station themselves at the pond’s perimeters waiting for insects. Blooming white lily blossoms enhance their chances.

The pond also attracts the grandkids when they visit. It’s one of the first places they explore. They particularly enjoy feeding the goldfish and hunting for the frogs.

Davis, the middle grandchild, is especially inquisitive. Last time here, he wanted to know where the frog nests were. Davis bent over visually surveying the pond, intently looking for the frogs.

Lucky frog by Bruce Stambaugh
Perhaps this green frog was hoping for a little Irish luck in finding lunch.
It was during his investigation that we discovered something very unusual. The largest of the green frogs was resting atop something dark, wet and balled up. I recognized the clump as a dead bird.

As I approached the crime scene, the murder suspect made a quick getaway with one giant plop into the water and hid under the lily pad leaves. From what I could discern, the poor bird was a female House Finch.

I could hardly believe it. I knew that bullfrogs ate birds. But green frogs? I wondered if it wasn’t just a coincidence that the frog came to rest upon the dead bird.

Still, the lifeless bird showed every indication that a frog had tried to swallow it. I distracted the grandkids by playing ball. When I went back later to retrieve the victim, it was gone.

A few days later, while cleaning the pond and feeding the fish, I discovered yet another dead bird. Curious, I contacted Julie Zickefoose, a noted author, artist, and lover of all things nature. She had never heard of a green frog snatching birds either. Julie suggested that I had a troublemaker in my peaceful pond, and that the perpetrator be removed to a farm pond if for no other reason than the safety and welfare of the birds that come to enjoy our pond’s refreshing water.

Fall pond by Bruce Stambaugh
The pond in the fall.
As long as those frogs had been there, I really hated to pin the fowl play on one of the green gang. I decided I needed conclusive rather than circumstantial evidence before I removed the big guy.

I decided to be vigilant, and watch and wait to see if the frog really did go after birds. On sunny days, it usually claims an easily visible grassy pad at water’s edge waiting for a free lunch.

Either the frog has had a change of heart, or perhaps diet, or I’m not a very good detective. So far, I haven’t found anymore carcasses.

I’ll keep watching, and if I catch the frog green-handed, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, let’s hope peace and tranquility reign in our little pond of paradise.

Bird bath by Bruce Stambaugh
A juvenile American Robin enjoyed a refreshing bath in the little waterfalls.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012