Coqui Retrospect

photo-collage showing transition from Puerto Rican tropical rainforest to snowy scene in Ithaca, NY

What a shocking change … in a matter of just six hours we transition from a humid tropical rainforest biome with temperatures in the high 80s (F) to a late winter north temperate snow-covered landscape with temperatures in the 30s. This seems almost incongrous, with coquis still sounding off in my head as a frigid breeze blows against my face. How can this be?

This morning I finally did some homework related to coqui frogs of the genus Eleutherodactylus. I thought there were only eight or nine species in Puerto Rico, but a quick online search came up with a list of sixteen species, several of which may be extinct. My goodness, I had no idea there were that many of them!

My next move will be to get in touch with Alberto López-Torres, a biologist who is doing field work on the coquis of Puerto Rico and who happens to live in Ithaca right now. No doubt he will help me identify the species in my recordings. Once that happens, I plan to do a final post with Alberto that will include a summary of the conservation status of species in Puerto Rico.

Bamboo Scene from El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico

You may wonder why I didn’t perform an in-depth exploration the biology of coquis before I went on my trip. My reasons are twofold. First, I simply didn’t have the time, working non-stop on other projects until the day of our departure. But another and perhaps more important reason is that I wanted to encounter the Puerto Rican soundscape with an open, unencumbered mind and with a concentration on the subjective quality of the sounds that I heard.

Exploring with only a general notion of “coqui” in my mind, I believe, kept me more open to experiencing the soundscapes purely from the standpoint of aesthetics. And this in turn effected the quality of my recordings. If I went at it with an inner mandate to document as many species as possible, that goal would likely have dominated the process and produced a noticeably different result.

Do you understand what I’m saying?

I took the same approach during my trip to Australia last autumn. Though I ended up getting many of my recordings identified in terms of species, that was not my reason-to-be, not my inner mandate. I approached it as an artist might, homing-in on textures of sound that I found compelling, interesting, immersive, and often relaxing. That is the way I like to work these days, attempting to empty my mind so that I can fully experience the magic and beauty when it comes my way.

Clearly, I am more interested in embracing the quality of sounds that I perceive than I am in identifying the species making the sounds or attempting to understand the evolutionary forces that brought the sounds into being. The former approach has to do with surrendering to the senses, while the latter involves a lot of thinking and explaining.

How to end this post? How about an extremely pleasing dawn chorus from El Yunque National Forest, featuring frogs and birds?:

El Yunque mountain scene

El Yunque at dawn with coquis, Scaly-naped Pigeons, Bananaquit, etc. March 2013. Copyright Lang Elliott.


  1. You shouldn’t have to justify the way you approached the project. Your pages have been pretty flawless and I am pained to see that you feel the need to justify your approach. Have been there in a different field, but want to let you know that i hope that most of us aren’t judging you or criticising your approach and methodology. LOVE YOUR SITE!

    • Actually, I don’t feel an inner need to justify my approach, but rather thought that my readers might be interested in such things, in how a “work” is created. I truly consider soundscape recording to be an art, so why not offer a glimpse into the mind-state that lies behind the result?

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