Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Voices

What I intended to do was park my fanny in front of the TV with a beer and watch The Voice. Don't judge. I like The Voice. You don't approve of that, find yourself a classier blogger.

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.

23 comments:

  1. It's odd. I'm one of those people who can drive by an accident and think, "Meh... probably was texting and driving", and drive on. But if it is an animal, it depresses me for a day or so. A massacre on the scale you're talking about would undoubtedly send me spiraling down into a full-scale depression. I have been known to see a live animal in the street, come to a stop that blocks traffic in both directions, and move said animal to safety. Sometimes people blow their horns, but surprisingly, most of the time they are patient while I do it. I know it's a drop in the bucket, but it keeps my conscience from bothering me at night. I'm glad to know that there are people willing to help these creatures migrate safely across the highway.

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    1. Oh yeah. Dave once drove by a dead mallard with its mate walking in circles around it and he was undone for a day. Couldn't marry any other kind of person.

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  2. I don't suppose the highway department would consider building a bridge over the area for vehicles so the critters can go whichever direction they want without getting squished.

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  3. "The Voice" is high brow compared to what I watch. Too bad they can't find a way to direct those critters to a bridge or something, in the mean time GOOD JOB!

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    1. Our Frog Captains (one for every day of the week) are awesome. They work hard. I only come out occasionally. We're never sure when the frogs are through for the season--but it runs about three months.

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  4. Aaaaaand ... once again ... all the threads of your story get collected and drawn to a tidy conclusion. I don't know how you do it, but I love it.

    And in the middle, it's just one line after another - "Spring Mixer", "your more charismatic leaves", that x-rated stuff in there, and "kick the bucket" - you have outdone yourself - thank you!

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  5. Frog song trumps The Voice for me. Every time.
    Thank you. And drat your presidential candidate. That third word makes me shudder now. I may have to change my card games.

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  6. Yes, citizen science. I do bird counts for Cornell and we have a team that is putting up and maintaining wood duck boxes. In the later spring we are out helping turtles across the road as they have the same problem as your frogs , but this is daytime and kind of dangerous to stop and move a turtle off the highways.

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    1. Ah! You need to download Julie Zickefoose's band The Rain Crows, singing Little Soldiers. Go have a listen.

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  7. I did Frog Crossings in England.One night a publican was with us and he took us all back to his pub for a "warmer" at the end of a wet night.
    I have frog on my blog whose ID I'm not certain of.Anyone?

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    1. Good for you! Looks like about the right ID to me, if it's a little tree frog guy. We don't have those here. But he's about the same size and shape as our Chorus Frogs.

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  8. Wow! I can only imagine the sound of that swamp right now! I'm sure the frogs appreciate your efforts.

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    1. Not as deafening as a good East Coast Spring Peeper session, but in the same ballpark. I'm not at ALL sure the frogs appreciate our efforts, but they should.

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  9. I like this post rather a lot. I'm a fan of frogs, but don't see any in my part of the world :(
    I'm glad all those little hoppers have you people to see them to safety.

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    1. No! You have them! You must. Are you looking? You should be looking.

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  10. I have seen that happen on Maplelane here in Oregon City! One day as I was slowly driving along the road, I saw movement! As I got closer I realized it was LOTS of frogs hopping from one side to the other. I stopped and waited. Fortunately no one was coming in either direction at the time, and after about 5 minutes I was able to go and felt good that I did not destroy the herd.
    Happy hopping!

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  11. I love The Voice, mostly, and I've already chosen my favorite for this season. If I miss an episode, our cable system lets me catch it later. Having said all that, congrats on your frog-saving activity!

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    1. Thank you! There's a lot of talent there. I haven't narrowed it down yet, but there's time, and they'll do a lot of the narrowing for me.

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