By Rob Lee
The great Harborton Northern red-legged frog roundup is a rousing success. At least the humans have enjoyed it. The frogs aren’t talking. Well, they are, but they’re hard to understand.
Many cheerful and kind volunteers have stood in the cold rain, waiting for another migrational pulse of these secretive, surprisingly beautiful creatures. My neighbor Brian brought us a fat female (full of eggs!), in his lunch pail, and Pat, coming home from work, bailed me out when I showed up late to find our biggest migration in full hop. Frogs were everywhere and Pat caught most of them, four and five at a time. During the last three weeks of January we caught and transported over 130 frogs to their breeding pond.
Our dedicated leader, Sue Beilke, a state wildlife biologist, has informed us now we’ve got to get the frogs back from the pond to the forest. Plus, of course, at some future unknown date the possibly thousands of juveniles will need help getting from the pond to the forest. What we thought would be a couple nights scampering about is looking like months standing in the dark like frog butlers. Sue is keeping careful data, which may contain insights into frog behavior worthy of a scientific paper.
“These frogs have been doing this a long time, they’ll be fine without our help,” you may be thinking. Well, no. The migration is between the breeding ponds on the floodplain, and the upland forest, isolated from each other by St Helens Road. There are very few suitable ponds left for the frogs, and the highway traffic is far more intense now than in the past. One pulse took place in the middle of the night, when no one was there. At 5:30 that morning approximately fifteen were counted dead on St Helens. Given how sparse traffic is at that hour, we think many may have crossed. Usually migration conditions are right at rush hour, which is disastrous.
The numbers we’ve caught are rather pathetic. In healthy habitat these frogs can comprise upwards of 60% of total animal biomass. They are on every predator’s menu; very large numbers are the norm. In one pristine lake in Olympic National Park over 13,000 egg masses were counted, each mass with 1000 eggs. For Forest Park, and surrounding woodlands to be healthy, we need lots of these frogs.
My mother is disgusted she raised a son to run a frog taxi service. Fortunately catching the frogs is only a stop gap measure, the project now evolving toward finding sites for ponds on the west side of St Helens Road. If you have a sunny spot you think the frogs would like, we want to talk to you. It needn’t be large, and the Neighborhood Association may be able to provide expert pond engineering advice. The red-leggeds are quiet, but the tiny chorus frogs are another story, and don’t worry about mosquitoes; the frogs are very fond of them.
For more information, questions and pond site suggestions contact Rob Lee.