Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ June 2005

Clueless in Frogland

By Robin Loube

I’ve loved Northwest Branch Park for the 15 years we’ve lived here, but since October I’ve walked in there much more often than I ever have before.  A major reward this spring was the chance to observe the life cycle of the frog in our very own “vernal pool” near the river.  The thing is, I know next to nothing about frogs.  So, to me, it was all one big adventure.

It began March 19, the date of a scheduled nature walk on the other side of the branch.  I was returning up our side of Northwest Branch Trail from the dam when I heard quacking as I neared the spot where the Lockridge tributary meets the river.  “Quack!  Quack!”  Ducks?  I didn’t see ducks.  I walked down the hill toward the small pool that parallels the river.  And there they were — frogs!  Perhaps 100 frogs, swimming around and quacking.  Later I talked to Carole Barth, our resident ecologist, and she told me it was mating time.  “Watch for the eggs soon,” she said.

Later that afternoon, I brought my husband Bob and our son Adam, our nephew Charlie, and three little grandnephews to see and hear the frogs.  On the trail, in the neighborhood, over the next several days, I asked people, “Have you seen the frogs?  Have you heard them?”  I didn’t want anyone to miss this.  I stood next to the pool late one afternoon and held out my cell phone so my niece Lindsay, a harpist, could hear the frog music.

Then, one day, I went to see “my frogs” ...and they were gone!  Zero.  Zip.  Not one frog.  I scanned the pool and didn’t see anything — no frogs, and no eggs, either.  Baffled, I started back up the trail toward Lockridge Drive.  On the way, I encountered two county naturalists surveying water quality in the tributary.  I told them about the frogs that had disappeared.  “But there are eggs,” they said, “at the downstream end of the pool!”

I went right back to the pool.  Then I saw what I had missed:  a gelatinous mass of round white eggs, each with a tiny black dot.  I had not looked closely enough.

For a few days, I went to see the eggs.  When would the tadpoles hatch?  Then there was a big rain.  Then — nothing!  No eggs.  No tadpoles.  Did someone (ducks?) eat the eggs?  Had they been washed away?  Carole said don’t worry.

Sure enough, my friend Jean and I walked to the pond.  We thought we saw nothing.  Then Jean said, “Look how the water is moving kind of funny.  Like it’s raining.” We stood there, holding out our hands, palms up.  It wasn’t raining.

We crouched closer to the water and looked down.  And there they were, tiny black tadpoles, thousands of them!  They were swimming together, black streams along the edge of the pool.

For the next several days, on the trail and in the neighborhood, I’d say, “Have you seen the tadpoles?”  After the neighborhood creek cleanup on April 16, Carole and her husband Jim and a few others of us went to see the tadpoles.  When would the tadpoles become frogs?

Then, one afternoon, Jean and I went to the pool.  Nothing.  The tadpoles were gone.  No frogs either, it seemed.  Then, a sudden sound:  “Plop!”  We looked around, but we saw nothing.  “Plop!” Then, “Plop!”  We never did see frogs, but clearly some frogs (or toads) saw us.  I don’t know what frogs or toads those were, whether or not they were related to the tadpoles we had been watching.  But Liz Sequiera, who walks her dog along Northwest Branch every day, says the trail is literally jumping with frogs on summer evenings.

You may wonder what is a “vernal pool,” anyway?  It is a pond that catches spring run-off but may dry up each year in the August heat.  It offers a perfect place for frogs to breed because there are no fish to eat the eggs.  At Carole’s suggestion, the Army Corps of Engineers and the county created our vernal pool a few years ago when they did some environmental work in our park.  I’m so grateful, and just a little less clueless about frogs now.   ■

   © 2005 NFCCA  [Source:]