Thousand Dollar Croaks

photo of Crawfish Frog © Carl GerhardtWhat’s a ribbit, peep, or croak worth? For the sake of my sanity, I wouldn’t dare calculate the amount of money I’ve spent over twenty-five years, chasing after myriad frogs and toads, documenting their calls. But there is one rather unusual frog that I will account for here, a remarkable amphibian that eluded me for years—the timid Crawfish Frog, a chunky, dark-spotted species named for its habit of taking refuge in abandoned crawfish burrows (see range map below). Crawfish Frogs are explosive breeders and can be heard for only a week or so in early spring. Their mating call is a deep gagging snore, a sonorous croak that I absolutely had to snag for my collection.

It was early spring of 2007. I had enlisted the help of John John MacGregor, Kentucky’s state herpetologist. On March 20, John e-mailed me that the weather looked good (rainy and warm) and urged me to meet him in western Kentucky the next afternoon. That evening I threw everything in my car and drove like a mad-man, covering 900 miles from Ithaca, New York, to western Kentucky, so I could rally with John at the appointed hour.

photo of Crawfish Frog © Carl GerhardtShortly after dark, we homed-in on a calling group in a wetland in a grassy prairie that had been reclaimed from surface-mining. To my dismay, Spring Peepers were calling so loudly that it was impossible to record. For the next few hours, we drove all over the place, stopping and listening, but to no avail. Then, just when we were ready to give up, a friend of John’s (zoologist Brainard Palmer-Ball) called and informed us that had located a small calling group in a farm pond not far away. We drove to investigate.

The situation was perfect. Several Crawfish Frogs were clustered along one edge of the pond, calling intermittently. Other species (American Toad, Spring Peeper, Upland Chorus Frog, and Southern Leopard Frog) could be heard calling, but they in no way interfered. I was able to get some pretty decent recordings, though not entirely up to my standard. So I stayed in the area for two more nights, searching for other choruses (this included a foray into southern Illinois in hopes of finding Illinois Chorus Frog, but that didn’t work out). The night before I was to return home, I headed back to the little farm pond, and this time struck gold, capturing my best recording of all:

Crawfish Frogs snoring away in a small farm pond, with aggressive stuttered calls. 1am, 24 March 2007, near Princeton, KY. Recording © Lang Elliott.

Granted, my adventure was a clear success in terms of getting a great recording, but how much did it all cost? My trip lasted five days. I drove over 2000 miles (in my gas-guzzling Isuzu Trooper). I stayed in two motels. I ate lots of junk food. The final tally? Well, if I take into account the wear-and-tear on my car, the whole affair cost me at least a thousand bucks, perhaps considerably more.

So there you have it! Thousand Dollar Croaks! OMG! Such is the business of frog and toad recording! Gas guzzling, money guzzling, and time guzzling. But would I do it all over again? YOU BETCHA! I consider myself one lucky man for having recorded those awesome croaks. I only wish my bank account was in better shape. To remedy this situation, I suggest that all of you send your donations to The Frog Recordist Reclamation Fund, PO Box 1000 Bucks, Herpetoillogica, NY. Thank you in advance for your generosity!

range map for Crawfish FrogCrawfish Frog Range Map


  1. Love this recording! I noticed that this is the recording you used for the CD of the book: The Frogs and Toads of North America. I also have you and Wil’s book: The Songs of Insects. I bought that book while in a huge bookstore in Chicago. At the time, I had never heard of the book, so I bought it. I also noticed that it was by you and Wil, so that’s a double reason why I bought it. I’ve had it for three years now.

  2. You can’t put a price on these recordings. It reminds me of an elaborate expedition to videotape snow geese in the Skagit Valley. There is so much more than the recordings you bring back.

  3. Great recording Lang. Never heard these fellows before. The surrounding chorus is actually quite a nice mix as well.

    Jerry: You needn’t spend alot of money these days to get a superb sounding psuedo-SASS rig built. If you have a little time and tools, you can put together a DIY rig with very nice results using AT4022 mics in place of Sennheisers. The 4022s are about $250/per mic (these mics are quieter than the Sennheisers, though suffer a little in dynamics). So with wood and all you could make a rig for under $550.

    If you are interested, Rob Danielson and others have been experimenting with them here

    Here is my version

  4. Lang. Thanks for sharing that. I used to read Walter’s posts often. I bought a lottery ticket on the way home from church this morning. My church does not believe in gambling, so if I hit, I’ll definitely spend the winnings on equipment instead of salvation. LOL.

  5. Lang, Having listened to this, I feel richer. Speaking of $1,000 or so, would you be willing to divulge, either here or privately, how close you were to those frogs and what you used to record them with. I’d really like to know more about your soundscape recording equipment. I know I’ll never be able to justify spending a lot on good equipment, but I like to know about it anyway.

    • It was done using my SASS setup. The SASS is the Stereo Ambient Sampling System marketed by Crown International. Mine is a special “retrofit” where I modified the unit to accept expensive Sennheiser MKH 20 microphones. I popularized this setup back in the late 1990s by posting pics of it on the nature recordist’s yahoo e-mail group. I believe there are 20-30 units being used, all retrofits. Back then, a guy by the name of Walt Knapp was doing high quality conversions or people (my original conversion was pretty messy, but it worked fine). I have two units converted by Walt.

      There are other ways to get beautiful soundscapes. One popular setup is to use MKH series mikes in a mid-side (M/S) array. Martyn Stewart uses that setup a lot, and so does Bernie Krause. It’s also a favorite of Cornell. I prefer my SASS setup because it’s so heavenly for monitoring in the field.

      Price-wise, the mikes alone are around $1500 each, plus another $1000 for the casing. So it’s a $2500 mic setup. My recorder these days is the Sound Devices 702.

  6. This recording is…priceless! I love the spatial separation. “Professor Toadsong” would definitely be an appropriate name for you!

    • I often go under the pseudonym of “ToadSong.” But I never ever use “Professor” ’cause they have to remember things, while I’m in the business of forgetting.

  7. You don’t hear something like that every day… (the frogs, that is).

    Lang, in lieu of $1000, next time you have to break-neck to Pittsburgh, you’re welcome to all the hot homemade food you can eat. No frog legs, though…

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