Wing-ed bullfrogs and fish that can’t fly

Published 3:24 pm Friday, February 9, 2007

A young friend sent me a couple of pictures recently. She had taken them during a little warm spell when she had wandered around outside — she’s a country girl — and happened upon a rare sight: a winged bullfrog! In Biblical enunciations that would be pronounced: “wing-ed bullfrog.” She even sent me pictures (camera pictures, I’d better say, since Amber Carraway of Utica is a very talented artist and could have easily painted the scene). The frog had obviously caught a bird — can’t tell what kind, but it’s bigger than a sparrow yet smaller than a sparrowhawk. Maybe a starling, or cowbird? The wings stick out on either side of the frog’s mouth, making it look from the rear like the bullfrog is fixing to fly away.

Perhaps the first sport I was actively introduced to was frog hunting, and I did the same with my kids. Perched on the fender of a pickup truck with a 22 rifle, Big Robert would drive me around the sloughs and ponds of the plantation, and I’d collect enough big bullfrogs for supper at least once a week. Sometimes we’d make an afternoon of it, visiting Frank’s Pond and the Mammy Grudge banks, shooting enough frogs for a Frogleg Supper for the Dead Duck Club that got together seems like weekly. Oftimes Little Dave or Sammy Shaifer or Little John or Jimmy Moore – other progeny of the DDC – would stand in the back of the truck, taking turns shooting with me.

Dressing out those frogs was always an adventure, just by checking to see what their last meal had been: crawdads, small snakes (once the little moccasin was still alive!), small fish, once even a small turtle. Never found a bird, though.

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Sammy and I would wade Frank’s Pond with fly rods, fishing for bream, and often would see a bullfrog at the edge of the water. We’d cast close to him, and many times the frog would jump at the popping bug, and we’d reel him in when he hooked himself.

No, I’ve never seen a winged bullfrog — except in Amber’s picture — but I have twice seen winged bass, and once a winged grinnel. Beau and I were fishing up the camp lake once, and as we neared a log that stuck out into the lake ten feet or so, a blackbird lit on the end of the log that was almost submerged. Seconds later a huge bass we knew as “Ole Bucketmouth” erupted from one side of the log, chomped down on the grackle as it tried to fly, and splashed back into the water on the other side of the log, black wings sticking out of his mouth. For years, I’d tie on a black Shannon Spinner when we’d scull into that area, to try my Little-Black-Bird-Falling-Off-The-Tree trick. Never worked for me, but it wasn’t too far from where Jody Stovall lured an eight-pound bass to hit his Christmas Tree Dive Bomber that had flipped once over a green sycamore limb and was twitching about ten inches above the lake’s surface. The limb was stout enough to suspend that big bass completely out of the water, when Jody put the McElwee Hoist on it!

Jim Brown and I portaged our boat over a beaver dam on Lake Whittington once and flushed out a water moccasin that defied identifying for a moment. The snake swam away holding its head nearly a foot out of the water, with I bet a two pound bream sticking out several inches on either side of its jaws. We had a successful fly-fishing trip ourownselves, but when we approached that dam at almost dark on the way out, I made a lot of noise banging the paddle against the boat to warn the snake that we were coming through! I’ve watched a highland moccasin “charm” a dove in the dirt road before, and have no doubt that if I had not chunked a stick at them, that snake would have crawled away looking winged. The dove sat completely still in the road, seemingly focused on the snake, which held its head at the dove’s eye level as it slowly approached. I swear I could not see the snake wiggle, but it got two feet closer to the hypnotized bird without ever seeming to move atall.

Wing-ed creatures that can’t fly: get outside and see what nature has for you to see this spring!