BIG NIGHT: Amphibians are on the move!

Greetings! I hope everyone is staying safe and well in these crazy times. I wanted to reach out, because we may finally be coming into amphibian movement time!

Looking out the window as well as at the forecast for both the Falmouth area and the Holden area, we have a stretch of “warm” rain today through tomorrow. The forecast for the Portland area and for Holden is for lows of 40 degrees–just warm enough to get some amphibians moving! North central Massachusetts and New Hampshire have started to see salamanders moving in recent days and we have had some sporadic frog calling and movements here in Maine. Monday I had the good luck to hear Wood Frogs calling while I was out on a run and, following the sound, I came upon three male Wood Frogs trying to mate with one poor female in the detention basin of our local landfill. This is a great reminder that even places that aren’t pristine and that don’t meet the criteria for Significant Vernal Pools can still be important pieces of habitat. Also remember Peepers and Wood Frogs get moving before the salamanders do, so we may still have plenty to see in the coming days and weeks!

So, what should folks do? Well, when we originally held our Big Night info session about a month ago, we had hoped to be able to notify folks of potential Big Night activity and coordinate groups of interested parties to check out a couple of potential sites where we might see activity together. So much has changed since then! For one, the governor has issued a Stay Healthy at Home Mandate to protect public health–please pay attention to this important mandate! Even before the mandate, Maine Audubon had canceled group activities and we’ve all been working remotely to practice appropriate social distancing for the last few weeks.

That doesn’t mean you can’t check out some pools on your own or with your immediate household. If you have safe access to vernal pools, you may be able to experience Big Night activity on your own, or you can check out areas with potential vernal pools for egg masses or salamanders and/or frogs still hanging out near the edges of vernal pools after mating has taken place. Don’t know of a vernal pool in your area? Look up your town in the Beginning with Habitat Viewer (make sure you turn on Significant Vernal Pools in the Layers tab on the left) and check out these areas. Is there conservation land in your town with wetlands or isolated pockets of water? Go check them out! When you drive into town for groceries, keep your windows open and listen for Peepers and Wood Frogs, then follow the sounds (please don’t trespass!) to potential vernal pools.

So here are my suggestions, and please only undertake any of these within the guidelines of the governor’s mandate and our Three Steps for Mainers guidelines for safe outdoor activity:

–          For those of you with vernal pools or potential vernal pools on your own properties, bundle up, put on rain gear and boots, gather headlamps and flashlights, and check out your pools!

–          If you can’t safely access vernal pools at night, go out early in the morning. You may still see evidence of breeding activity or find animals hanging out at the edges of the pool. Some of the places I plan to check out are on public lands which are only open dawn to dusk, so I can’t access them at night anyway.

–          If you can’t get out tonight or early tomorrow, find a pool and listen for Wood Frogs and look for egg masses going forward. Remember frogs may be calling for a while yet and the egg masses will stick around, so you can still find evidence of breeding for weeks to come. You may even decide to make tracking the progress of the eggs into a fun project–go for daily walks by “your” pool and note any changes you see. If you have a school age child at home who’s looking for a science project–or just an excuse to leave the house–bring them along!

If you do find amphibians, especially breeding ones, please document them (preferably with photos!) in iNaturalist if you can. You can add them to the Maine Amphibian and Reptile Atlas Project (MARAP) directly or just add them to iNaturalist and the folks at MARAP will pull the data in. If you can’t figure it out, send them to me with the info and I’ll try to get it all documented. Greg Leclair is also still looking for folks looking for Big Night road crossings. Please see his Big Night Facebook Page for more information (note his comment about social distancing as well). One potential silver lining of the stay at home mandate is that there will be significantly fewer cars on the roads, so hopefully significantly less mortality of moving amphibians. But you can still document animals moving, and have the added pleasure of seeing them be successful!

And remember, there isn’t really one “Big Night.” It’s really more like a Big Night window of activity. So tonight might not show much movement where you are, but maybe tomorrow, or next week, or in two weeks, it will be better. And maybe you’ll “miss it” but you can still look for egg masses and track the development of the critters in your local pools.

In closing, I just want to wish everyone well and remind you that we’re all in this together. Even as we hunker down in our homes, spring arrives, animals move, and life goes on. Please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay sane.