However, my plans were dashed when the temperature rose and the weather turned drizzly mid-afternoon. That’s not TV weather. That’s frog weather.
For three years now the members of the Harborton Frog Shuttle have been ferrying frogs and salamanders across Highway 30. The amphibians live uphill in Forest Park and the place they have their Spring Mixer and Cotillion is downhill, below the highway. This has resulted in a situation that brings tender-hearted drivers to a screeching halt to sob against the steering wheel. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many of those drivers. It’s a squishfest. Rob Lee, who lives at the junction of Frog Lust and Highway 30, decided to do something about it.
It’s pretty low-tech. Assemble an army of frog wranglers and give them buckets. We pick up the frogs, put them in the buckets, drive them across the highway, and decant them into the swamp. Our chief concern is for the charming Red-Legged Frogs, which, like a lot of other critters, are in some trouble these days. But we’ll scoop up the tiny Chorus Frogs too. They’re not listed as endangered, except in the sense that they’re going to turn into paste on Highway 30, and that’s endangered enough for us.
|Long-Toed Salamander getting a ride|
They’re surprisingly easy to catch. It’s possible that recent generations of frogs have internalized a collective memory of Highway 30 and they’re not all that anxious to cross it. So when they’re on their way and someone stands in front of them with a bucket, it strikes them as being a fine time to take a breather.
There are a lot of things that look like frogs when you’re wandering around in the dark in the rain. Rain splashing off the pavement looks like small hopping frogs. Stranded clumps of lichen look like frogs. Your more charismatic leaves look like frogs. Water droplets on the grass look like frog eyeshine. You know what really looks like a frog? A frog. You get good at it after a while.
Last year our efforts were less effective and more fun. Aerobic, even. On a good warm, wet night, we were dashing all over the place trying to bag them all. This year, our intrepid frog captains have rigged up fencing with landscape cloth. It’s nothing these frogs can’t surmount, really. Half of these guys have been mounting everything in sight for weeks now. But it is a puzzlement at first. They poink up to the fence and sit there and say “Huh.” And we collect them like so many dimes in the sofa cushions.
In the first part of the season, all the frogs are coming downhill. It’s easy to tell the sexes apart. The female red-leggeds are much larger to begin with but they’ve also let themselves go. They’re plump with eggs. They’re gravid; the males are avid. Boy howdy they’re avid. They’re motivated. They’re fast. Of course they don’t have to deal with bloat. On the way back up it’s a little harder. Presumably you can tell the males because they have swollen, let’s say, thumbs, but frankly you can tell the females also because, not to be indelicate about it, they kind of have stretch marks.
Yes, at a certain point many of the frogs start heading back uphill from the swamp. And that means we have to intercept them below the highway. There is a considerable number of weeks that we’ll have frogs going both directions. Sometimes we’re not sure which way they’re going. We have to conduct an interview right there in the street.
The red-leggeds make almost no sound at all. If severely provoked, they sort of mutter “Hey, now.” And there’s a little thumping sound when they, ah, kick the bucket. But that’s about it. Still, the swamp is crazy with frogsong. That would be our chorus frogs. The little buggers are total belters, every one. Right on pitch and no affectations. You’re not going to find that on TV.