Someone reported a new location for the endangered Boreal Toad (Bufo boreas boreas), and Herp Lady and I went off to check it out. True scientist that she is, this outing was to be a bona fide scientific expedition, with a side serving of naturalist adventure. To seek out the elusive Boreal Toad? Naturally I obliged. A short hike, she assured me, not too steep… field trips are always an adventure, we just never know how much adventure!
A nice fall hike through the forest, a scramble up (and then down) a rocky ridge, a bit of bushwhacking: we followed her GPS unit for an hour before arriving at the wetland in question, a beaver pond surrounded by subalpine forest at about 10,500 feet in elevation (3200 m). We hit the creek a bit upstream and made our way back down toward the site.
We soon walked through a lush landscape, compared to the sparse understory of the drier forest we’d been passing through all morning. In this transition area, the presence of trees makes you think you’re still on solid ground. But where the rising waters of the pond meet the lower slopes of the forest, tall wetland growth obscures an uneven surface.
Fallen logs are soon covered with mosses, wildflowers, and sedge, hiding dark pockets that were delightful places for small critters, no doubt, but could trap an unwary human foot.
As we drew closer to the pond, the trees gave way to open meadow; a network of sedge hummocks laced across open mudflats and shallow pools, equally treacherous afoot. Willows were lodged in the hummocks, aerial obstacles to complicate the trek, as we criss-crossed the area with an eye and ear out for the sudden movement or splash of a toad.
I hoped my observation skills were equal to the task, but it was Herp Pal who first called “Toad!” While Herp Pal expertly caught her subject, I hastened, but gingerly, over the hummocks to watch the proceedings.
Oh the indignity of it all!, you could almost hear friend Toad complaining. Snatched up, weighed, measured—a supreme violation of his person and privacy.
But ‘twas all for the cause of science and conservation; proof positive that he (and presumably some of his fellow toads) occupy this little paradise in a remote mountain drainage. The glove, by the way, is to prevent the spread of the chytrid fungus believed to be responsible for the decline in populations of Boreal Toads.
Minutes later, our subject was released unharmed, kicking as he swam away without a backward glance, only too happy to be rid of us.
Mission accomplished, we too headed for home and an overdue lunch!
(More photos follow after this brief pause for information. Download the 97-page Boreal Toad recovery plan: or find more info at the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Boreal Toad page.)
Photos, (click to enlarge): A sapsucker excavated a distinctive pattern in the bark of one small tree. A star gentian nestled in the sedges in the wet forest above the meadow.
The close of another successful adventure left me with a touch of envy for Herp Pal's scenic subalpine "office"—we should all be so lucky! While she searched for toads with great dedication, I was distracted by the excellent beaver dam. So what else did we see that August day in 2006? Ah, that must await another post! Stay tuned.
Looking Through the Fence
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