A Night For Frogs

I saved a frog’s life but I didn’t have time to think about it. As soon as I delivered it to a white bucket to await transport to the wetlands, I was off in search of another frog hopping on wet pavement towards a certain demise that awaited if she found her way to Highway 30.

Frog in hand (1)

Proper frog handling technique.

An initial orientation meeting at the Linnton Community Center about volunteering to rescue frogs was an eye opener. I was introduced to the plight of the Northern red-legged frogs who need to get to the wetlands from the hills past Linnton, specifically in the area of Harborton Road. The barrier is four lanes of treacherous highway. Years ago after discovering that frogs were unable to reach the wetlands safely, a group organized volunteer crews to help save them. They now meet seven days a week in the evening during the migration season which generally runs from December to March. The conditions for frog migration have to be just right. Frogs head to the wetlands for mating and egg laying on rainy nights when the temperature is above 45 degrees. My wife, Ronna and I signed on to volunteer for the Friday night shift. We waited seven weeks until conditions were right. On a rainy night in February we headed to Harborton Road which runs up a hill off the highway on the outskirts of Portland.

Frog in a spot light (1)

A red-legged frog in the spotlight.

That night I spent a couple of hours getting rained on and scanning the asphalt with a head lamp looking for frogs. Proper rain gear kept me reasonably dry as I spotted these amphibians out of the corner of my eye moving towards the highway. Others resembled stones when they sat motionless. This was usually the smaller Chorus frogs who got in on the free rides to the wetlands by having to cross the same road around the same times as the red-legged frogs.

Frogs in a bucket (1)

Awaiting wetlands transfer.

Catching frogs wasn’t too hard. I figured out how to scoop them up and quickly became a kind of biologist short stop. It was a matter of getting in front of them, getting a hand under their heads and grabbing them as they hopped into my hands. Other frogs would freeze if they were blinded by the light which made them easy pickings. The tricky part was holding on to them while transferring them to the white transport buckets. They had a powerful kick and would get squirmy.

Frog escape (1)

Busting out of the bucket into the wetlands.

Volunteers installed silt fencing running up the road along the guard rails to keep frogs from heading toward the highway. Frogs spilled into the base of Harborton road, a wider section at the bottom of the hill. There they had open access to Highway 30. Through rain splashed glasses a few frogs got close to having to contend with screaming automobiles barreling down 30, but they never got far enough where they couldn’t be rescued. One frog slipped by me and ended up well into the road. I resigned myself to sheer fate hoping nothing would happen until the road was clear enough and I could get to this imperiled frog. I faced an existential-zen conundrum of sorts, considering whether a frog’s life was more valuable than that of a human. I didn’t consider this for long realizing that an attempted frog rescue during oncoming traffic would have killed us both. Besides it’s not like frog volunteers are given training like the secret soldiers of Benghazi. I held my breath and waited for the coast to clear. The intensity ramped up when a  pick up truck drove down Harborton Road and was about to turn into the lane where the now immobile frog sat. As soon as the truck turned traffic died down and I dashed into the road to get the frog who emerged from the misadventure unscathed.

Frog Release

Frog Release.  (Photo by David Craig)

After egg laying and mating is finished in the wetlands, frogs need support getting back to their homes in the hills. Silt fencing helps corral them in that area too allowing volunteers to find and deliver them for release back into the hills. At the end of the night 48 red-legged frogs, along with hundreds of Chorus frogs, gained a new lease on life, avoiding vehicular calamity. Having no understanding of the behind the scenes efforts involving the many volunteers, the frogs seemed content to accept their  bucket ride and be chauffeured across the highway to Marina Way and their wetlands drop off spot. We felt a sense of having made a difference in the lives of these frogs that night. Feeling a kinship in our rain-soaked sogginess, we headed home knowing we had done our part to rescue a few frogs who will in turn create more frogs that are bound to need saving in the future.

Entering Portland (1)

The outskirts.

For more information see http://www.linntonfrogs.org

All photos, except where noted by Ronna Craig.

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