06 Jul Alpine Amphibians
One of my favorite aspects about my internship this summer is the flexibility to learn from other teams in natural resources outside of my daily work with vegetation. For example, I had a great time last Friday volunteering with the aquatics crew. We visited two ponds at distinct elevations, since the elevation difference causes stark variation in weather this time of year.
In the morning, our group of ten or so volunteers ventured to a warm secluded pond to participate in dragonfly larvae collection. Testing the larvae serves as an indicator for mercury levels in the pond, and this sampling happens in National Parks across the country as part of the Dragonfly Mercury Project (DMP). Mentored by a biologist, our group of volunteers learned to identify the larvae and distinguish them from similar fly species. At a lower elevation, the pond was in full spring and bustling with life. I waded across the muddy floor with my net, careful not to trample vulnerable vegetation and wildlife. Pacific chorus frogs were boisterous and audible from the banks, like a workout playlist as volunteers began the job of scooping and sifting the mud below. Dragonfly larvae are unbelievable looking, seemingly extraterrestrial creatures abundant amongst the tadpoles and organic matter. While we were scooping and sifting, the biologists leading the group pointed out various species present in the pond. Wading around for a few minutes, they were able to find red legged frogs, rough-skinned newts, an expired northwestern salamander egg mass, and more. It was incredible to experience the biodiversity in such an unassuming, murky pond.
After amassing a respectably sized hoard of dragonfly larvae, our group proceeded to the second pond. This one was sub-alpine, cold, and nearby a parking lot. Snow surrounded the pond on all sides, still a few feet tall in some spots. Our group walked to the edge of the water, careful not to fall into snow holes, and observed the abundance of cascade frogs. At any given time, I felt like I had thirty little frog eyes skeptically monitoring me. The biologists explained how this pond functions as habitat for not only the common cascade frog, but also the Western toad. Western toad is of critical interest to the aquatics team because despite not being listed as threatened, biologists have observed concerning population decline in the last few years. Monitoring Western toad populations could provide important information to influence policy and hopefully protect the species in the park. We learned how to identify the faint cascade frog chuckle and how to safely catch common amphibians. The day ended with a slow trudge around the perimeter of the pond, asking questions and just chatting with the aquatics team. The ability to volunteer on days like this is super informative to me, and an awesome benefit of working at Mount Rainier!