Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Finding Frog Eggs

 A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to help the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) look for frog eggs in the West Desert. Above is a photo of a typical road in the West Desert. Actually, this is an excellent road in the West Desert. Many roads are just two-tracks. Wondering where the pavement is? There's a short section, about 100 m long. That's it. If you travel much in the West Desert, you invest in good tires. And you plan on a new windshield frequently.

I followed Kevin and Vanessa out into the marsh. We all wore hip waders and carried basic supplies in our packs.

We didn't see many frog egg masses at first, but I did like this snail shell.

The marsh alternates from alkaline soils to thick vegetation to springheads and channels. It makes walking a good workout.

While we were in the marsh, we heard aircraft. Dugway Proving Grounds is not too far to the north, and various military planes fly over this area.

Finally, some frog eggs! After frogs mate, the female lays a mass of eggs. Counting egg masses provides an estimate of the frog population. Each egg mass means two frogs. It's always amazing how many frog egg masses we find, because we never see or hear nearly that many adult frogs. Each egg mass has about 100 or so eggs. It takes a few weeks for the eggs to hatch into tadpoles.

We saw a number of these structures out in the marsh. The little white pipe holds a measuring device to measure the depth of water. Utah DWR is concerned about the water levels in this marsh because Southern Nevada plans to pump extensive amounts of groundwater south here.

Here's a view looking south. The highest snow-covered peaks are Jeff Davis and Wheeler Peak, part of Great Basin National Park.

The marsh is fascinating, with winding streams, a variety of vegetation, and quite a few birds. We also saw some fish: least chub, Utah chub, and speckled dace.

At lunch time I wandered over to a nearby spring. The water was an amazing color. Even more intriguing were the shifting sands on the bottom of the spring. The spiral soon changed into another shape. I could have happily sat in a lawn chair, drink in hand, under a sun umbrella, and watched that spring all afternoon.

I had forgotten to pack a lawn chair, so instead we headed to a different marsh to continue looking. Ahead of us was Gandy Salt Marsh Lake. Right now it has water, but by late in summer it's pretty much dry. Along its edge are numerous springs and marshes. It is an extremely hostile place, but even so, a remarkable amount of life can be found there.

We saw numerous northern leopard frogs.

We were mostly interested in Columbia spotted frogs, but we kept count of these guys, too.

I love being out in the West Desert. It is such a remote place, and I feel like I am in the wild. It is freeing, exhilarating, and just a little bit scary.

We had no problem finding frog egg masses in this area. One cluster had over 40 separate egg masses. That must have been one big frog orgy! (Or maybe they just all prefer the same habitat and feel the odds for their progeny to survive are best there. But that sounds a little boring.)

I was absolutely exhausted by the end of the day, but it was well worth it. Hopefully these frogs and their offspring will be able to continue to enjoy the wilds of the West Desert for a very long time to come.


Sparrow said...

Yay, those frogs look very healthy and thriving. ^^ And, that spring is beautiful!

phil said...

did you harvest any of the adults for dinner?

G. Robison said...

You should use some of your abundant free time (lol) one of these days and take a video camera back to that swirling spring and video the water patterns and put it on YouTube.

Take a six-pack and a good book and a tripod!

Pale-winged Trumpeter said...

Thanks for y
our help! We were out again last week, and found a lot more eggs. In fact, There were over 900 egg masses in the south site, over 500 in the north site, and over 300 in your favorite little site. For two of these populations, it is the highest ever documented!

Desert Survivor said...

That's great to hear there were so many eggs this year! Those frogs sure can hide well. I appreciate the opportunity to go visit them.

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