Monday, March 24, 2014

Episode 206 (3-24-14): A Spring Serenade

Click to listen to episode (3:13)


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of March 24, 2014.

This week, we feature a spring serenade of mystery sounds.  Have a listen for about 30 seconds, and see if you know what kinds of animals are making these sounds.  And here’s a hint: wet skin, wings, and wood-cutting teeth.


If you guessed amphibians, birds, and a beaver, you’re right!  The first three sounds were mating calls of the Wood Frog, Spring Peeper, and American Toad; fourth was a Red-Winged Blackbird; fifth was a pelican chick; and last was an American Beaver, giving a tail-slap warning of an intruder near the animal’s streamside lodge.  These and thousands of other species of animals and plants found either seasonally or year-round in Virginia respond to spring’s increasing daylight, temperature, and availability of water and food to increase their activity, particularly in reproduction.  Spring’s a noisy symphony of changing weather and of animals seeking mates, raising young, and defending territory.  Somewhat by accident, that season of dynamic changes in the Appalachian Mountains has become popularly considered the subject of composer Aaron Copland’s 1944 work, “Appalachian Spring.”  So let’s go out with a well-known melody from that composition, based on the Shaker tune “Simple Gifts” and played here by the Virginia group, Simple Gifts of the Blue Ridge.  Thanks to that group for permission to use this excerpt.


For other water sounds and music, and for more Virginia water information, visit our Web site at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  From the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


[All Internet addresses mentioned were functional as of 3/24/14]

Wood Frog eggs in a temporary pond near Brush Mountain in Blacksburg, Va., March 27, 2010.

American Toad at Cowbane Prairie Preserve in Augusta County, Va., April 1, 2008.

American Beaver in Toms Creek, Blacksburg, Va., June 2, 2012.

The sounds of a pelican chick were taken from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s “Sound Clips” Web site (public domain sounds) at

The other sounds were recorded by Virginia Water Radio, as follows:
Wood Frogs, near Christiansburg, Va. (Montgomery County), March 8, 2014;
Spring Peepers, Blacksburg, Va. (Montgomery County), March 13, 2011;
American Toad, Blacksburg, Va., March 29, 2010;
Red-winged Blackbird, along Toms Creek, Blacksburg, Va., June 2, 2012;
American Beaver, along Toms Creek, Blacksburg, Va., June 2, 2012.

The version of “Simple Gifts” used was by the group Simple Gifts of the Blue Ridge, from their 1996 CD “
Mountain Mists,” used with permission.  More information about the group is available from their Web site,

Sources and More Information

Information on Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and the role of the traditional tune “Simple Gifts” in the work, was taken from “’Appalachian Spring’ by Aaron Copland,” National Public Radio’s “Performance Today” (1999), online at; and from “Copland and the American Sound,” San Francisco Symphony’s “Keeping Score” (2009), accessed online at

Information on amphibians in Virginia is available from the following sources:
*A Guide to the Frogs and Toad of Virginia, by John D. Kleopfer and Chris S. Hobson, Special Publication Number 3, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries/Richmond (2011);

*Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) “Fish and Wildlife Information Service” Web page at;

*Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia, by B.S. Martof et. al., University of North Carolina Press/Chapel Hill (1980);

*Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Virginia, J.C. Mitchell and K.K. Reay, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries/Richmond (1999);

*The Virginia Herpetological Society, online at

Information on birds in Virginia is available from the following sources:
*VDGIF “Fish and Wildlife Information Service” Web page at;

*Cornell University Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds” Web site at, and the “Birds of North America Online” Web site from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists’ Union, online at (subscription required for the latter Web site).  Both Cornell sites include photos, distribution maps, recordings of calls, and ecological information on birds throughout the Western Hemisphere; a subscription is required to use the “Birds of North America Online” site.

*Any of the many field guides in print or online, such as A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, by Chandler S. Robbins et al. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001);

*Life in the Chesapeake Bay, by Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

*The Virginia Society of Ornithology, online at

Information on the American Beaver was taken from the
VDGIF “Fish and Wildlife Information Service” Web page at; and from Virginia Water Central, April 2005 (pp. 14-15), available online at

For other Virginia Water Radio episodes on the animals mentioned, please click on the following links.
*American Beaver: Episode 113, 6-4-12.

*American Toad, Spring Peeper, and Wood Frog (plus other amphibians): Episode 148, 2-11-13 (A Frog Medley); Episode 105, 4-2-12 (Spring Peepers); Episode 69, 6-20-11 (Herp Blitz).

*Pelicans: Episode 95, 1-17-12.

*Red-winged Blackbird and other birds that breed in Virginia: Episode 118, 7-9-12.

Another sign of spring in Virginia is the migration upstream of American Shad and river herring (that term refers to several species), fish that were vital to survival of native peoples and early European settlers in Virginia (see the VDGIF’s “On the Road to Recover: American Shad Restoration,” online at  That history is celebrated every spring by the Wakefield, Va. (Sussex County) Ruritan Club’s Shad Planking Festival, taking place this year on April 16.  For more information about that event, visit  Movement of shad and other fish upstream in the James River near Richmond is visible on the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) Shad Cam at Boshers Dam.  The camera is viewable online at

Virginia Water News and Other Information
            For news, events, and resources relevant to Virginia's water resources, grouped into categories, please visit the Virginia Water Central News Grouper, available online at