I’d been asked to write an article on the newly expanded town forest in a nearby community. Desk and computer in a messy, stuffy office versus going outside for a story. Easy choice. I arrived early and squandered time on my cell in the air conditioned car, when a man I’d never met tapped at my window with some vicious looking apparatus that I sensed could, with minimal effort, decapitate my arm at the wrist. And yet when he asked me to accompany him into the woods, I said ‘sure’. I assumed the man was the Forest steward volunteer I was scheduled to meet but I slyly got him to utter both my name and his own before opening my car door. He would proceed to prune as we walked and talked.
I’d been to the woods several hours earlier doing a little recon with my husband and daughter before my interview with the volunteer. Our family visit was scheduled to be a short one, but a golden bird flew by that I couldn’t immediately identify so I followed in the opposite direction of the parking lot and the rest of my family. They ambled to the car after emerging from the tree cover into the midday sun. The bird coaxed me deeper into the woods until an enormous black and blue butterfly seemed insistent on leading me out, back toward the long (for a forest) bridge that led to the parking lot.
As I was preparing to cross over the bridge between forest and parking lot, I was startled by a horrible sound. The noise could best be described as similar to a combination of a wailing but hoarse baby and a bleating, annoyed sheep followed by a splash that brought the creature closer to my side of the bridge. Yet I couldn’t see ‘it’.
Crazy ass thoughts ignited as the fight or flight battle raged in my brain. Fact: I heard something vaguely humanesque in the space beneath the bridge. Fantasy: It might be a troll… or a woodland spirit voice, …. a poltergeist….or something else. Fact-ish: It had to be something else, right? I surveyed the muddy pond edge, just looking for what, I was not sure. After a while, I made my way across the bridge to the car and then home. But couldn’t stop thinking of the noise.
I contacted the local Conservation Commission and they did not recognize the animal based on my admittedly bizarre description and chuckled when I asked if their forest held shrieking poltergeist. My new forest steward friend was equally confounded when I recounted the tale. In fact, none of the men I asked had heard the call on any of their trips. A Google search yielded results (thanks, Jon).
I alone heard the sound because a late mating Fowler’s Toad thought I was pretty cute. This might have been a proud human/amphibian moment except that I read the following at wildlifeofct.com: “(Fowler’s Toads typically mate) in May or June. (This was July, so the toad was obviously desperate.) Males head to wet areas with shallow water to sing mating calls and find a mate. They aren’t particular and will latch onto anything that looks toad-like including other male toads and other species.”
Well didn’t that just burst my Lady of the Glen moment (see the Disney movie Thomasina to understand that reference.) And now I gotta wonder whether that butterfly and bird colluded to pimp me out to a sad sack toad. We’ve all read how that works… first separate the target from their support system….
The forest was really beautiful in that enchanted fairytale way, so I would like to return, but as a wiser hiker.
To hear the catcalls of a lovelorn Fowler’s Toad as well as 11 other species check out this website: Music of Nature Frog and Toad Calls by Lang Elliott.
Text and Photos (c)Alison Colby-Campbell