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Song of the Toad

Learn how to identify amphibians by their calls at Houston’s Sheldon Lake.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

As the sun sinks behind the trees, a chorus of raspy songs grows louder around the ponds at Sheldon Lake State Park and Environmental Learning Center near Houston. On a gravel path, Scott Kiester’s ready to emcee the evening litany.

Holding a flashlight in one hand, the Texas master naturalist cocks his head and listens. Ah, he tells the group around him, there goes the staccato trill of a Gulf Coast toad. And - hear that? - it’s the laughing call of a southern leopard frog.

Later, Kiester reaches in a pants pocket, pulls out several marbles and then clinks them together. In the grass along a pond, a cricket frog clinks back, followed by another and then a crescendo of more.

Learning how to decipher frog songs is part of Kiester’s Texas Amphibian Watch Workshop, which he’ll teach this month at the 2,800-acre wildlife haven. During the session, you’ll find out the difference between frogs and toads, common species of the upper Texas coast and their basic biology.

You’ll also learn how to monitor amphibians in your area and report data to the Texas Amphibian Watch, a statewide volunteer program that enlists citizens to track population numbers and trends. Because frogs and toads have permeable skin and live for a time in wetlands, they serve as early-warning indicators of problems in our environment.

If you’re not into frogs, Sheldon Lake State Park has plenty more to do. An abundance of birds and wildlife inhabit the park, so bring your binoculars (beware the alligators, though). You can also fish and canoe at Sheldon Reservoir. Groups may schedule nature and ecology activities at the Environmental Learning Center, a former fish hatchery that’s been renovated into a giant outdoor classroom. The 40-acre complex features 28 ponds, an open-air pavilion, walking trails, aquatic study stations, observation decks and boardwalks.

On weekends, the center hosts free catch-and-release “family” fishing. Bring your own gear or borrow the center’s cane poles.

Sheldon Lake State Park is located on the northeastern side of Houston off the Beaumont Highway (Business 90). For more information, call (281) 456-2800, or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/sheldonlake>.

The Texas Amphibian Watch Workshop will be held Saturday, Sept. 15, at 7 p.m.; $5 fee; reservations required. Bring a flashlight, insect repellent and grungy shoes. Contact Scott Kiester, skiester2@comcast.net, (281) 380-6459.

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