In early April of 2001, I visited Lost Maples State Natural Area in central Texas in search of Barking Frogs (Craugastor augusti), a unusual subtropical, land-breeding species found in dry, rocky regions from Texas to Arizona.
My adventure began not long after dark, as I hiked a trail that led up a valley next to a stream. I was thrilled to hear Barking Frogs calling from high on limestone bluffs above the trail, but the stream was too loud and the frogs too far away to get a pleasing recording. I tried climbing up to them, but the slope was much too steep and dangerous. So I continued up the valley. The night was magical. It was dead calm. The moon was full (or nearly so) and I was able to walk safely without using my headlamp. The temperature was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21C) and the humidity was fairly high—perfect conditions for the Barking Frogs. If only I can get closer . . .
I discovered a second trail that led up the side of the valley. I followed it up to a flat ridge and sauntered along under bright moonlight. I remember scaring up two small herds of wild pigs, the pitter-patter of their small hooves fading into thick brush. At long last the trail began descending into the next valley, switch-backing down a limestone bluff above another stream course. It was here that I encountered several Barking Frogs and discovered that they were giving their gagging croaks from under large boulders or else from crevices in the limestone. No wonder their calls sounded muffled and resonant. I was pleased to get a nice recording of several males calling back-and-forth, punctuated by the soft chirps and trills of Cliff Chirping Frogs:
Several Barking Frogs calling from a limestone bluff, 1 am, 5 April 2001, Lost Maples State Natural Area near Vanderpool, Texas. Recorded by Lang Elliott.
After gathering a number of closeup recordings, I made several attempts to get a nice soundscape. My efforts generally failed until I droped down to the stream. At 3 am I captured my favorite portrait, a true “moonlight serenade” featuring a single Barking Frog sounding off from the bluff above the stream, with distant cricket frogs and cliff chirping frogs coming and going against the gurgling backdrop:
A single Barking Frog calling from a limestone bluff above a gurgling brook. 3 am, 5 April 2001, Lost Maples State Natural Area near Vanderpool, Texas. Recorded by Lang Elliott.
These recordings bring back my fond memory of walking the trail alone under soft moonlight, enveloped in a unique and extraordinary soundscape so different from what I’m used to back home. I remember enjoying the beauty and solitude, yet I wanted to share the magic with at least one other person. Returning to the campground just before dawn, I phoned a close friend who I thought would understand, and left a hurried description of my experience on her answering machine. The sun rose and the magic evaporated from view, yet a lasting and poignant impression had been made on my mind.