Underwater frog symphony a highlight at Ramsey Canyon

<i>Photo by Stan Bindell/NHO</i><br>
This sign shows just some of the many hummingbird species that can be found at Ramsey Canyon.

<i>Photo by Stan Bindell/NHO</i><br> This sign shows just some of the many hummingbird species that can be found at Ramsey Canyon.

RAMSEY CANYON, Ariz. - Ramsey Canyon Preserve calls to me but it's from an underwater symphony I haven't had the pleasure to hear.

Some naturalists are drawn by the howl of the wolf or the bugle of the elk. Both are equally inspiring. Most of those drawn to Ramsey Canyon are enchanted by the chirping and colors of hummingbirds as more than 15 species can be found here during their busy season.

About 15 years ago, a Ramsey Canyon volunteer explained to me the uniqueness of the Ramsey Canyon leopard frog. They noticed the frog in a pond on the grounds of the preserve but they also noticed that there was no croaking, ribbiting or other sounds that frogs usually make. There were no sounds at all; again extremely unusual for frogs.

Thus, they called in the Navy. Literally. The Navy placed an underwater device in the pond that picks up sounds. As soon as they turned it on it sounded like an underwater symphony with the frogs singing. Ramsey Canyon literature bills it as the only frog in the world that sings underwater.

The Ramsey Canyon Leopard Frog may also be the most romantic frog. The frog's singing occurs during courtship and all the adult males gather in the center of the pond for their serenade. Thus, the scientific name for the frog is Rana subaquavocalis which means "frogs that sing underwater."

The preserve is owned by the Nature Conservancy and continues to have an artificial pond with the intent of saving the Ramsey Canyon leopard frog. This unique frog was discovered in the late 1980s and described as a new species to science in 1993.

The Ramsey Canyon Leopard Frog has had its challenges surviving. The frog disappeared from Ramsey Canyon in 2002 due to a fungus. But hundreds of the frogs survived at nearby sites due to the steps taken by the Nature Conservancy and its partners.

In September of 2005, the Ramsey Canyon Leopard Frog tadpoles were reintroduced into the pond at Ramsey Canyon. Many have turned into adults and reproduced. In 2007, the Nature Conservancy and friends reintroduced this unique frog into other nearby places. The frogs are out from March to November.

The frog is found only in Ramsey Canyon and a few other sites in the Huachua Mountains. The frog's tadpoles are vegetarians and feed off algae that keeps the water chemistry in balance. The frogs hibernate in the mud and leaf litter at the bottom of the pond during the winter.

Interpretive information found at the pond tells visitors that based on DNA evidence that scientists have agreed that this is the Chiricahua Leopard Frog that is now listed as federally threatened.

This leopard frog eats insects, but also has predators. The leopard frog tadpoles are eaten by insects, dragonfly larvae and Black-necked garter snakes.

Frogs live in both land and water so their survival can depend on the land and water ecosystems - just like humans. So, many scientists believe the health of amphibians can be an indicator of the health of freshwater ecosystems.

Some of the eggs travel to the Phoenix Zoo where they hatch into tadpoles and then get returned to the waters of the Huachua Mountains. Those working on the frog conservation team believe road building, construction of rock walls and the introduction of a non-indigenous plant led to the loss of ponds where the leopard frog thrived and that is why the need for the artificial pond arose.

The conservation team includes U.S. Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Defense, Arizona Game and Fish, Phoenix Zoo, private landowners and Nature Conservancy.

Ramsey Canyon is known for so much more. Birders from throughout the world come here to see hummingbirds and other birds such as the Elegant Trogon. Bats have been spotted eating out of hummingbird feeders.

I've been fortunate to have a ring-tailed cats and a white tailed deer come within five feet on two different visits.

Flowers and butterflies can also be abundant here. The elevation at Ramsey Canyon starts at about 5,200 feet and goes up to about 6,200 feet. The large Bigtooth Maples and Arizona Sycamores are magnificent so this can be a wonderful get away during the summer. Ponderosa Pine and several types of oak trees also grow here.

There are several hiking trails. Grandview Loop and Bledsoe Loop are each less than a mile. Hamburg Trail going up the mountain can be difficult as it climbs 800 feet, but there are many benches along the way to stop.

Since I was a youngster, frogs called to me. First in the form of bullfrogs from my native New Jersey. At one point, my pastime was bringing them home, keeping them in the garage for two or three days and then letting them go back to the pond. My poor mom: the time she came home and opened the garage door to find 24 bullfrogs hopping all over.

Ramsey Canyon calls to people in many forms from the hummingbirds to the frogs to the huge trees. Once visitors go there it will be hard for them not to hear some type of calling.

For more information, telephone (520) 378-2785.

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