Get your green on

The Pacific Chorus Frogs are in full voice, the males calling to the silent females.  If you live near a wetland that has even a little bit of open water, you hear them.

Their voices remind me of my amphibian-monitoring days with my cousin Andy*.  We volunteered with King County in the late 1990s to basically help count amphibian eggs, a good way to gauge the health of certain amphibian populations and to get a picture of the general health of the ecosystem.  After undergoing training, we and dozens of other newly-hatched citizen scientists were turned loose on our assigned local lake or wetland.  In our case we were assigned to the small lake on our family property, adjacent to the plant nursery.

Our assignment: go forth 3-4 times February to April, identify and record the location and condition of amphibian eggs, and make notes of other amphibian sightings.

February is a killer time to be out in a canoe in awkward raingear, moving too slowly to keep warm, trying to write legibly on our “Rite-in-the-Rain” recording sheets.  We earned our pay!  …wait a minute, what pay? We did that for nothing?

Well, not for nothing. We got an unexpected payoff.  Andy was a salesman, and he would take the afternoon off for amphibian monitoring.  He came hyped-up in his Brooks Brothers cuffed slacks and tasseled loafers, spouting enthusiastic “Absolutely!”s while tugging on the hip boots and raingear.  As we pulled the canoe out of the boathouse, waded into the water by the dock to look for salamander egg masses, paddled together and began systematically surveying the shoreline, peering into the water to find the egg masses, Andy’s energy level shifted.

Andy changed from pumping out high-frequency self-generated energy to a receptive mode.  He’d gently reach into the freezing water with his bare hand and cradle a clutch of frog or salamander eggs so we could identify the species and estimate the percentage of live eggs.  Before we got half-way around the lake, we both settled into a rhythm more natural than that of our harried daily lives.  In February, that rhythm included shivering, but we agreed that we always felt more grounded and relaxed.  Turns out that as we studied frog habitat, that habitat asserted itself as our own natural habitat, reclaiming our psyches. A wonderful side effect was the deepening of our friendship.

We were keenly aware that amphibians depended on quality habitat for their health: clean water, appropriate native plants to lay their egg clutches on, adjacent forest cover and minimal predation and disease.  But our own need for a healthy natural habitat only asserted itself as we immersed ourselves in amphibian habitat.

So get outside!  Join the frogs and get your green on! 

*Andy McDonald, April 1955-March 2013