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Wetlands walk shows world of frogs, toads

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Officially, they're called "trills." But Carol Lambert, a senior conservationist at the Clayton County Water Authority's Newman Wetlands Center in Hampton, calls them "songs."

"You can hear them pretty distinctly," she says. "As dusk approaches, it gets louder. When it's night, they make quite the racket. It's primarily a summer thing, when they're singing."

Ten kids and 15 adults are scheduled to walk through the Hampton wetlands on Friday night, as part of the preserve's summer program, listening to the ribbits and the croaks of tiny treefrogs and big, fat toads.

The species singing will be identified by John Jenson, Department of Natural Resources senior wildlife biologist and an amphibian expert. Jenson's co-authored book was just published: "Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia."

At more then 525 pages, the tome of multi-colored photos -- and apparently endless information on the state's lizards, salamanders, turtles, toads, frogs and snakes -- is a massive resource.

Jenson will bring that background and knowledge to the Newman Wetlands on Friday, at about 7 p.m., and lead the group on a half-mile walk around the county preserve, showing the 25 people how to identify and find the local amphibians.

"A lot of people like the idea of being able to take a night walk and having somebody tell them what they're hearing. It's kind of an adventure," Lambert said.

Anybody who goes out around water in the evening, or at night, in the summer in Georgia, can hear the ruckus of frogs singing, Lambert said, but everything changes when you're taught to distinguish one frog sound from another. The croaking and ribbiting sounds less like noise, and more like what it is: An active habitat.

"This program's really for everyone to learn the sounds and to be with someone who hears the calls as well as John," Lambert said.

There are a dozen identified species at the wetlands center: Northern Cricket Frog, American Toad, Fowler's Toad, Eastern Narrowmouth Toad, Cope's Gray Treefrog, Green Treefrog, Spring Peeper, Upland Chorus Frog, Bullfrog, Green Frog, Pickerel Frog, and Southern Leopard Frog.

According to Harold L. Harbert, with the Department of Natural Resources' Environmental Protection Division, Jenson also can see the amphibians in their native wild even in the dark, and will jump over the wetlands fence to catch a calling frog and bring it back to display.

"It just gives you an experience," Harbert said.

The frog-walk is just one of the summer programs at the Hampton wetlands center, all of which are intended to give people an experience of nature.

Lambert said the wetlands often introduces school children, and even adults, to the sort of wildlife that lives all around them in their own home state.

"I guess because we're so urban now, a lot of kids, their experience with nature is from TV and really bad movies, like 'Anaconda,'" Lambert said. "They'll watch the Discovery Channel and see some great nature programs, but they'll know everything about the rain forest and nothing about Georgia."

On a recent morning, as a carload of kids from a summer camp came out to tramp the trail at the Water Authority's Wetlands Center, one child told Lambert he thought there were too many trees.

"There are a lot of trees, here," she said. "Isn't it great?"

"It's kind of weirding me out," the boy said.

"Why is it weirding you out?"

"You can't see what's in there."

"Well," Lambert said to the boy, "let's look at what's in them."

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