No Frogs

December 15 - 26, 2015

The 15th was colder still, 38 at 5 pm, and dry for a moment, the parade of storms pausing, cold rain returning on the 16th. The temperature remained below 45 at dusk until the 26th, but there was an interesting spike on the 17th, 39 degrees and hard rain at 5 pm, with the temperature climbing suddenly to 52 at 9:30 that night. I ran into Jeff (team leader that evening) and Kellyn (night owl leader) down by the falls at dusk (I was testing a new thermometer Shawn had gotten). While we stood chatting in a hard rain they told me about the unusual forecast for higher temps later that night, and I walked back up to my place. I woke up at 1:30, an annoying habit of mine, and, curious about the temp spike Jeff and Kellyn had told me about, looked at the thermometer outside the kitchen window, which read 50, threw clothes on and walked down in a light rain to see if the frogs reacted to the sudden warmth. Nope, the glistening pavement was empty of movement save the bounce of rain drops. Perhaps the frogs stayed put under their forest ferns as long as it was cold, so they weren’t at forest edge ready to take advantage of the sudden warmth. These eleven days saw another 7.6 inches of rain, for a total of almost 19 inches in three weeks, with frogs venturing out only on those first three very warm nights.

Mud Slides & Traffic

December 9-14, 2015

After the flurry of migration in the warm rain on the 6th, 7th and 8th (we received 5 1/2 inches of rain on those three days, 3.3 on the 7th alone -- rain totals provided by Kevin O’Connell, a nearby neighbor), the temperature on subsequent rainy nightfalls dropped and hovered around 43 - 44 degrees, with not a frog to be seen. On the other hand the heavy rains continued, another 5 1/2 inches falling over these six days, causing major slides and traffic havoc, our little highway suddenly the only route to Seattle when I-5 was closed by a big slide. 

Quiet Day 3

December 9, 2015

A clear evening fell between storms blowing in from the Gulf of Alaska, too cool and dry for the frogs. Jane has been working feverishly to put together the volunteer schedule, and on this third day of the frog season, after endless e-mails and phone calls, she has us more organized than ever before! Practically the Amalgamated Frog Corporation.  The frogs look impassively on.

Day 2 of the Migration

December 8, 2015

The day’s steady rain persisted as the sun set, the air a very warm 60 F.   With the conditions perfect we were expecting a big frog night. It also happened to be the night of our volunteer training up the highway at the community center, since when we scheduled the training we weren’t expecting frog movement till much later in the month.  Until the meeting was over after 8 PM, it was just Panos Stratis and I, and it wasn’t clear Panos could make it, as the weather had made traffic chaotic.  I got down to the frog crossing struggling with a tall stack of buckets and the box with traffic vests and head lamps, nervous I’d be overwhelmed, overrun and tied down by hordes of hopping Lilliputians.  Then Panos arrived, Jeff Booth showing up unexpectedly, and then Sue as well, as the volunteer training had been canceled: a landslide on the other side of the St Johns Bridge, about two miles south of us, had choked off the highway and cut power, but rerouted around the slide, the rush hour traffic going by us on the highway was as tenacious as ever.


We started catching frogs.  Then Shawn arrived as well.  Panos patrolled the cliff along the highway, Jeff was up Harborton past the falls, and Shawn and I roamed the road between them, where we generally caught the vast majority of frogs coming down the Harborton Creek ravine.  We’re experimenting with fabric hung from the guard rail on Harborton to see if it stops the frogs, making them easier to catch.  (It definitely helps, but the frogs climb over it, given time.)  Sue started ferrying frogs to the pond, as she likes to count and sex the frogs as she releases them.  She mentioned to me that several miles to the north another population of frogs was getting slaughtered on the highway, and that we’d have to start thinking about that. Panos and Jeff were catching double what Shawn and I were getting.  We’d never caught so many so far up the road before.  It looked suspiciously like the frogs were attempting to avoid us, trying to slip by to the south and north by coming down sheer cliffs.  

North Cliff, Harborton Drive

North Cliff, Harborton Drive

South Cliff, St. Helens Rd. 

South Cliff, St. Helens Rd. 

These frogs are great climbers, with their strong hands and opposable thumbs.  But the possibility they’re anticipating us, changing their route coming out of the forest, is intriguing.  I imagine them like Indian scouts up in the ferns and grasses, looking down on our wandering head lamps, then creeping down the cliffs looking for safe passage.  The notion that they’re instinct-driven knuckle draggers with a hop in their step, is, I think, off the mark.  Twice this night when I bent over to pick up a frog frozen in my head lamp, the hood of my raincoat fell over the light, and the frogs, only three feet away, had disappeared when I pushed the hood back.  I quickly swept the pavement with light, amazed they escaped so quickly and completely.  Other frogs this night evaded me (they seemed to be quicker and more lively in the 60 degree air), sweeping by in water flowing down the gutters, leaping between my feet, making a hell bent dash to get off the pavement and into the leaves.  Their tactics struck me as creative; they made split second decisions that made excellent use of the limited options open to them.    
Plunging into four lanes of rush hour traffic seems suicidal, or stupid, but they’ve no choice as we’ve relentlessly reduced their habitat and introduced all kinds of daunting obstacles.  The frogs were waiting in the vegetation for Cyclops with the searchlight eye to go away, so they could make a break for it, and Jeff and Panos were both great at spotting them and plucking them from the grass, the ivy.  We caught 360 frogs, 255 males, 105 females, one of the biggest nights of the three year effort. 

2015-16 Frog Migration Began

12/7/2015, after over 3 inches of rain.

12/7/2015, after over 3 inches of rain.

December 7, 2015

Well, the little devils fooled us again.  On January 6, 2013 we discovered the migration (see History); began catching frogs in 2014 on January 7; last year they took us by surprise by beginning to migrate December 20 of 2014. Last night we got 3.06 inches of rain, the streams of the Tualatin Ridge exploding down the steep slopes, roads awash, flooding along the highway at the ridge’s foot. Where I live a culvert carrying a tiny stream under the property blew out, the road below it a sudden creek, taking a little slice of the slope down with it. I was watching the water erupt out of the hillside with Pat, my neighbor, when he mentioned he’d seen frogs on our road the night before.

That would mean the first frogs migrated December 6 this year, two weeks ahead of expectations, just as they had last year! The weather was very wet and warm, so I sent a message out to our core group -- frogs! -- and that I’d be at the usual place at dusk checking. I called Shawn with the bad news that the frogs may have taken over our nights earlier still, and she said to call if I needed help. 

  • Got down to the Harborton falls a little before 5 PM, just as it got dark. 

  • Caught a male immediately.

  • Checked along the highway, caught another male. 

  • Called Shawn. 

A car pulled in, its headlights raking the road.  It was Sue, our biologist and technical leader, on her way home from work. She was a touch surprised I had two frogs, but then said, “Well, we know they move in December.”  Then Shawn arrived, then Jeff, then Jane, who got right to installing fabric on the guardrail, excited to see if it would make frog catching easier.

Large female frog   Photo credit Panos Stratis

Large female frog

Photo credit Panos Stratis

Quite a few frogs were dead on the highway, so they’d tried to cross the moment it was dark, as I arrived just a few minutes later. (They perhaps migrate during the day up in the forest, as well as night, massing at the forest edge waiting for darkness?) Later Sue and I were chatting about the frogs when she said, “I hate doing this!” -- meaning that catching frogs was unnatural; what if the juveniles were helped from the pond to the forest, where they would stay for a couple years, and then didn’t know how to get down to the pond, because they’d not made the trip up to the forest on their own?  Unnatural and problematic perhaps, but what is the alternative?

A new storm was to arrive at 3 AM, so when I awoke at 4:30 I went down to see what was happening. The storm hadn’t arrived yet; still well above 50 degrees though. The traffic was heavier on the highway than I expected at that hour, especially semis, coming in long, noisy spurts. No respite for the frogs! Our little neighborhood road was seemingly quiet, with no little hops arching from the dark pavement. But then I caught three beautiful females, each looking quite patient sitting at the edge of the road, and each full of eggs. Walked them across to the far side of the highway. So the night’s totals -- the first of the 2015-16 winter -- came to 29 males and 8 females, with somewhere between 15 and 30 killed on the highway (impossible to tell, the bodies so smashed). 

-posted by Rob