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

A long answer to a simple question

Garden pond by Bruce Stambaugh
The little garden pond in our backyard.

By Bruce Stambaugh

During his last visit to Ohio, my Virginian grandson, Davis, asked me a simple yet rather analytical question, befitting the inquisitive four-year-old, left-handed boy.

Davis and I were outside filling birdfeeders near the little garden pond positioned a few feet away from the back porch and just outside our kitchen window. Davis approached the pond’s edge, lined with mostly flat rocks scavenged from the neighbor’s farm fields.

“Poppy,” Davis queried, “Why do you have a pond?”

The bluntness of the simple question gave me pause. I straightened up, and thought long and hard before I answered him. The tone and intensity of his uncomplicated question told me that Davis really wanted to know.

As I contemplated my answer, Davis waited patiently, searching for the resident frogs and trying to count the darting goldfish. His long, strawberry blonde curls bounced with even the slightest move.

I was impressed with his youthful inquisitiveness. His question piqued my own consciousness regarding the purpose of the pond. I gave Davis the long answer.

I told him that when I retired as a principal, the staff and students at one of my schools gave me a gift certificate to build a garden pond. Apparently, I had let it slip that the pond was one thing I wanted to create once my school days were completed.

Of course, all that was probably too much information for Davis to process. Perhaps it mimicked a politician’s answer to a reporter’s intrusive direct question. Davis looked at me with his big blue eyes and repeated, “But why?”

I changed tactics. I gave him the words I figured he knew and that I loved.

Red-bellied Woodpecker by Bruce Stambaugh
A male Red-bellied Woodpecker enjoyed a sip from the little waterfalls on a cold December day.

I told Davis that the pond attracts life. I itemized a quick catalog of what I meant. The birds I enjoy watching, squirrels, rabbits, deer.

“Deer?” Davis quizzed long and slow, head tilted, hands thrown into the air.

I explained that although I had never actually seen deer drink there, I had found their hoof marks in the mud and snow around the oblong pool. We stepped away, and soon a chipping sparrow flitted to the gurgling little waterfall for a refreshing sip.

Grandson by Bruce Stambaugh
Davis, my inquisitive grandson.

I could almost see Davis’ gears churning beneath those flowing locks. I knew the inquisition would continue.

“Why do you have goldfish?” Davis asked next.

I lovingly touched his curly head and simply said, “So you and your brother can feed them.” Davis looked up at me and smiled, as if he sensed the patronization.

“The fish help keep the pond clean,” I continued. “They eat things that float in the water.” I prayed he didn’t ask for their scientific names.

My grandson’s pointed question helped me step back and appreciate my little garden pond all the more. I enjoy its abundant life, the alluring sound, the attractive and useful greenery in and around the pond, along with the attraction of fur and feathered wildlife year-round.

Those intrinsic pleasures more than compensate for the necessary regular maintenance required to keep the pond in a habitable state. Now, whenever I clean the pump filters, watch birds revel in the water and hear the frogs croak late at night, I’ll remember Davis’ clear question, too.

I know why I have a little pond with a miniature waterfall, brilliant orange goldfish and complementary water plants. “Because I like it,” which is what I should have told Davis in the first place.

Spring’s multifaceted green abounds

horses and plowing
Horses frolic while others work.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Green is not my favorite color. But I’ll make an exception, especially now when every plant and animal seems to be greening up in some way.

The most obvious change is in the grasses. They all transitioned from bland dormancy to verve seemingly overnight. Once relieved of their heavy snow burden, then drenched with intermittent rains followed by warm, sunny days, the grasses grew emerald uniformly on natural cue.

Whether front yards or rolling pasture fields, the green on green effect is stunning. It may be the greenest green I have ever seen, or maybe the winter was simply so long and so hard, that I forgot what true green really looks like.

Nevertheless, it’s marvelous to see the countryside covered with such a luscious, vibrant carpet. Only problem is mowing will commence shortly, if it hasn’t already. But it will be nice to inhale that fresh cut fragrance again.

In preparation for that initial trimming of 2010, many of the yards in Amish country have already been rolled and fertilized. That was part out of necessity, and part out of relief that winter was finally over. Yes, we had one nasty, last snow that left the roads the slickest of the winter. But my bones say that ammunition has been spent.

Grass isn’t the only vegetation to go green. My wife’s tulips, daffodils, crocuses and lilies have all displayed their various leaves at different intervals. Of course, the crocuses have bloomed and faded, and the daffodils were primed for Easter.

In the woodlots, colts foot were the first to unfold. The giant hardwoods hovering over them have swelled their buds, anxious to let their leaves unfurl. They’ll wait until it’s safe from certain future frosts, unless coaxed open by an extended warming spell.

The evergreens have no such problem. They have already transformed from the deep, mature green of the hibernation months to a lighter, brighter green that mirrors that of the grasses.

Things are greening up around my little garden pond, too. The moss and lichens, long covered by two feet of snow, now look like splotches of paint and bristle brushes, respectively. Water lilies are shooting their first leaves to the surface.

Both the variegated water plant and the variegated reeds are coming to life, with the former having a huge head start. Its bulbs are pushing their pale green and russet pointy leaves profusely, fighting through some soft, velvety grass that somehow homesteaded over the winter.

I would eliminate the grass altogether, except that the pair of resident bullfrogs prefers its lush softness for their sunbathing and bug collection. The frogs’ color, too, has evolved from the mucky blackness of the bottom of the pond to more their natural camouflage.The male tries to woo his mate with his deep throated croaking both day and night. From nearby wetlands, choruses of spring peepers erupt. It’s all music to my ears.

High on the neighbor’s pasture where Holsteins and draft horses grazed earlier in the day, deer come out of hiding at dusk to nibble at fresh green sprouts. By night, they clean the corncobs at my birdfeeders.

Really, just airing out the house with open windows and doors that invite refreshing breezes brings you closer to mother earth. I also glory in the secondary benefits, the simultaneous serenading of birdsongs and echoes of children playing.

Spring doesn’t get any greener than that.