Amphibian Walk at Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge a Success

 

Photo From L-R, M. Puma, H. DePriest, K. Pelleteir, T. Plant, I. LaPlant catching peepers at Dudley Swamp. (Photo by Jarod Farn-Guillette).

By Jarod Farn-Guillette

 

After rescheduling due to cold weather and low amphibian counts, local amateur herpetologists joined Fred Gralenski in the popular annual Amphibian Walk at Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge. Despite the long stretch of rainy and cool weather, the group was blessed with a warm Saturday and a steady evening breeze; a perfect combination for catching creepy chirpy things – no bugs and a clear sky. Starting at dusk, an eclectic crowd of enthusiasts of all ages gathered at the old HQ grounds and started the trek into the woods. One perk of accompanying the biologist is being permitted in areas usually off-limits to the everyday visitor. While traipsing through brush along a vernal stream, the area off-piste was filled more with the sounds of excited walking talking tadpoles than amphibians. The future naturalists, each armed with a net and a flashlight and their best waterproof boots, waded into the ephemeral waters in search of anything slimy and icky. 

While the vernal pool, a temporary aquatic habitat usually forming in the spring, are home to many amphibian and insect species that thrive from a lack of competition or predation by fish, this pool was more a froggy cemetery. According to Mr. Gralenski, this was possibly due to colder than normal temperatures or poor oxygen content in the water. Nonetheless, it was an excellent classroom for a hands-on course in wildlife biology and the ecology of Washington County. After sloshing around with some luck (a live one), the group, numbering over 40, then moved on to Dudley Swamp, for a rousing and ear piercing (peeping) time. 

As the group trekked along the road towards the swamp, it was less the sights, as by now it was fully dark, and more the sounds that alerted everyone to an active habitat of peepers. With children, parents, and those once again young at heart enjoying the universal past-time of youth, frog catching; the waters edge were a place of noisy excitement. Peepers, leeches and the painfully named crustacean-like “Toe-Biter” or Lethocerus americanus,were among the common catches found in the nets. It was the elusive salamander that stole the show. Caught by Mrs. Ramos, with the youngest naturalist of the group supervising, the squiggly wiggly little guy was then quickly released. Hopefully none of the giant water-bugs with crab pinchers found his or her hiding spot. 

When the clock neared 9:30, and the winds picked up, the crowd started to fragment into sub-groups. The die-hard types still searching for the ever popular salamander straggling behind, while others walking back towards HQ, stopped to chase peeps. This night, a good sense of hearing proved more valuable that eyesight. By the night's end the general feeling was that of enjoyment and appreciation for having dedicated professionals and volunteers, and a national wildlife refuge a frog's hop from home. Though the park is normally closed at night, daylight hours still offer ample chances to witness the same sounds, smells and sights as the group experienced this night. Visit the refuge, join the Friends of the Moosehorn, or simply take some time to see what ecologic adventure awaits in your backyard. Maybe you'll get a peep at a salamander, hopefully not a toe-biter. 

 

The star of the show a salamander caught at Dudley Swamp. (Photo by Jarod Farn-Guillette).