The initial email was sent by Mary Jewett of Lakes Environmental Association in Bridgton, Maine, on Tuesday:
Many amphibians have already crossed and laid eggs but there are still some waiting in the woods. Tomorrow evening looks like it will be perfect conditions for an amphibian migration and I would like to get a group together to go out with me. My plan would be to meet at the office at 8pm. With sunset being at 7:40 I really wouldn’t want to start any earlier since the frogs and sallies won’t move when it’s light out.
I want to get an idea of who would be able to come out with me. I have a reporter and videographer coming out from the Bangor Daily News and they would like to get shots of actual people (not just me) and possibly get some quotes from participants. I know that it’s tough to get out with kids since it starts so late but I hope that we can get a diverse group. We also may have the opportunity to check out egg masses that are already in the water!
And then this afternoon, Mary sent this follow-up message:
I have heard from a handful of people who are able to come out tonight so I’m going for it. Here are some details:
Meet at the LEA office building (230 Main Street) at 8pm
We will caravan up to the Masonic Hall and walk to Dugway Road from there.
Bring high powered flashlights/headlamps
Wear warm clothes and rain gear. It looks like the rain may be pretty heavy when we are out there. Good for amphibians but not so great for people trying to stay dry.
Wear reflective clothing if you have some. I have vests available if you don’t have your own.
Do not wash your hands with soap or put on hand lotion or hand sanitizer.
I have spoken to the police and they are going to try and send someone out. They have a training program this evening so we might not see them. This makes it extra important that kids stay with their parents at all times!
And so we did just that–met at the LEA office first, and then moved on to the Masonic Hall to park before beginning our journey into the wet and wild world of the amphibians.
Right away, we noticed worms. And even better, a red-backed salamander. Red backs don’t use vernal pools to mate, but they sure do love rainy nights that offer great opportunities to roam about seeking food.
We crossed the field from the Hall to Memory Land, our eyes ever looking for more red backs, but instead we noted a kazillion worms, each the size of a young snake. And then, after only a few minutes on the road another red backed graced us with its presence.
Finally, we reached Dugway Road, our destination, and Mary took a few minutes to remind folks of safety rules. Some years the Bridgton police are able to join us and either shut the road down or at least slow traffic. Such was not the case tonight and so it was important that our crowd of at least twenty ranging in age from four years old to 70+ be cautious.
And then the real fun began. We spread out across the road with flashlights and headlamps, walking with care as we tried to notice the little things in life who chose this night to return to their natal pools in order to mate.
Right away, the good times got rolling as we began to spot spring peepers. Really, it was those with eagle eyes who spotted the most, which wasn’t easy given the asphalt conditions. Though we knew better, we did have to wonder if the amphibians chose this road because it provided good camouflage.
Being the first of the night, Mary demonstrated the fine art of capturing the peeper, explaining first that her hands were damp and had no soap or cream upon them.
Outstretched hands of one of the younger set awaited a transfer.
The mission was to help the peeper get to the other side of the road. Typically, once captured, we transport them to the side in which they were headed.
The release was made into the youngster’s hands and then onward child holding frog went. Lucky for the frog, there was a culvert at the side and that seemed like the safest place to release it.
Further down the road, the songs of the wood frogs and peepers were almost deafening. As we looked into the vernal pool that was still half covered in ice, there was some movement, but the frogs all continued to sing despite our presence, unlike what happens when we approach a pool during the day and they dive under the leaf cover for a few minutes.
We found enough peepers, but the stars of the night were the spotted salamanders.
The youngest among us picked up one of the ubiquitous worms that marked the night and laid it down beside a sallie.
Sallie didn’t care. It was on a mission and just wanted to move on without our interference. There was only one thing on its mind and we suddenly stood between it and that goal.
It had a dance to perform before the sun rose and we had a heck of a nerve for getting in the way. I’m always in awe of these creatures who spend at least 11.5 months under the leaf litter and maybe a week or two in the pool. Our rare chance to catch a glimpse of them is on such a rainy night as tonight.
Our intentions were in their favor. We only wanted to help save them from the vehicles that passed by.
In the end, though, I had to wonder–is this what the salamander’s world looked like as we scooped it up and helped it across.
Possibly, but still, it’s always a thrill for tots, tweens, teens, and all the rest of us to celebrate Big Night with the Lakes Environmental Association. We are the Sallie Savers.