The much-needed rain

Wild Ways

There are few things better than being inside a cozy home and listening to the rain outside. After all our weeks of drought, this was especially so for me last week. I spent my computer time facing the backyard windows and watching sheets of rain landing on all my parched flowers and the woods beyond. At night, during the heavy rains, we opened our windows to more fully appreciate the sound of raindrops. It’s been a long time!

With the windows open, another sound pervaded our house – the sound of frogs and toads croaking out their mating calls, in high gear now in the wet environment they love. After this mating extravaganza, these amphibians will seek vegetation in ponds, streams and ditches to lay their eggs. Some species are drawn to “ephemeral ponds,” those little wet areas that fill up after heavy rains and only last a few weeks. Although it is not so obvious when the adult frogs and toads individually head to the ponds to lay their eggs, in a few weeks, the results can be conspicuous.

If the temporary ponds have water in them long enough to accommodate the hatching and the tadpole stages, some lucky people will get a chance to see hordes of young frogs and toads crossing roads, yards and paths – a true wonder of nature. Without rain, this cannot happen. But now that it has rained heavily, keep your eyes on any ephemeral ponds still with standing water, and in a few weeks, you might see this natural event occurring there.

The rain itself was wonderful to watch, and the frog and toad chorus afterward was a treat to the ears, but better yet was the aftermath in our once-parched landscape. Take the West Mims Fire in and near the Okefenokee Swamp, for instance. During the weeks since it started with a lightning strike in early April, 235 square miles of land has been on fire. Although just one spell of wet weather is not enough to put out the fire, at least it gave firefighters a break and dampened some of the hot spots. It will take more rain than this, alas, to really extinguish the fire, but at least it helped.

The effects of the rain are very noticeable in Fort Clinch State Park and other places where branches of live oak trees are encrusted with resurrection ferns. For many weeks now, a drive through the park revealed dead-looking brown vegetation on these limbs, dry and forlorn, giving the entire forest a parched look. But now, the park seems green and lush thanks to these limb-encrusting ferns. It only takes a few hours for these dead-looking plants to totally “resurrect” into bright green leaves again. After the rain, the wildlife in the park perks up, too. The deer and gopher tortoises have new green shoots to nibble and are now seen on the road shoulders browsing on fresh greens.

In our own backyard, the effects of the heavy rains are visible, too, albeit a bit more subtly. Although I have been dutifully watering my flowers and shrubs, I could not do as good a job as Mother Nature. These heavy rains have finally permeated the soil, getting to the deep roots of trees and shrubs. The air feels fresh, the plants seem greener and more robust and (dare it say it?)
joyful at last. The rain seems to have stimulated the dragonfly population in the yard as well, and now, unlike before, there are dozens of adult dragonflies hovering in our landscape, perching on any bare shoot they can find.

Around the island, the various retention ponds and streams have also been recharged, with water levels much higher than before, providing more fish and plant habitat. Our backyard pond has also risen a couple of feet and is now spreading up the bank again, where those flowering cannas, pickerel weed and duck potatoes have been shriveling high and dry without the wet roots they need to thrive. But now, the water has reached them again, and all is well.

I’ve taken advantage of the higher water level to finally plant my last plants this season, five swamp milkweeds, native plants that need “wet feet.” I carefully avoided the pepper vines in the area (another plant I am highly allergic to) and accomplished this task, my first real foray into my backyard since my monthlong bout of contact dermatitis from my backyard vines.

So, thanks to the rain, things are rejuvenating around our area. And, as long as I don’t get more contact dermatitis, the rain has rejuvenated me, too!

Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations.

 

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