Community volunteers throughout the Hudson Valley are getting out their flashlights, reflective vests, and raingear in anticipation of annual breeding migrations of salamanders and frogs, which typically begin in mid-March.
Volunteers in the Hudson Valley will record their observations as part of DEC’s Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings Project, coordinated by the Hudson River Estuary Program and Cornell University.
The timing of this migration is weather-dependent. In the Hudson Valley, activity typically starts on the first warm, rainy nights in mid-March to mid-April, after the ground has thawed and night air temperatures remain above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The suitability of migration conditions varies locally throughout the Hudson River Estuary watershed, but when just right, can result in explosive “big night” migrations with hundreds of amphibians on the move.
In the coming weeks, as temperatures rise and snow melts, forest species like wood frog, spotted salamander, and Jefferson blue-spotted salamander complex will emerge from underground winter shelters and walk to woodland pools for breeding. Woodland pools are small, temporary wetlands in the forest that are critical breeding habitat for this group of amphibians. The pools hold water until summer, so the adult amphibians gather, breed, and deposit eggs early to ensure their aquatic young can hatch, grow, and leave the pools before they dry up. On the journeys between upland forest habitat and breeding pools, the amphibians often need to cross roads, where mortality can be high even when traffic is low.
Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings Project volunteers document Hudson Valley road locations where they observe migrations, record weather and traffic conditions, and identify and count the amphibians on the move. Volunteers also carefully help the amphibians to safely cross roads. Due to COVID-19, DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program held virtual training programs in February and March for 115 participants. New volunteers can also train themselves by using materials on the project website.
Safety is critical, and volunteers are expected to take all necessary precautions. Volunteers should wear reflective safety vests and headlamps to increase their visibility on dark roads, and should not interfere with passing vehicles. By participating with members of the same household or COVID-19 “pod,” or by wearing a mask and maintaining a six-foot distance from others, volunteering can be a safe, socially distanced activity. Amphibian safety is also important, and frogs and salamanders should only be handled with clean hands free of hand sanitizer, lotion, and other substances that can be toxic to amphibians’ skin.
Now in its 13th year, DEC’s Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings Project’s 552 volunteers have counted 20 species of amphibians and helped more than 17,000 amphibians cross roads. Species reported most frequently during migration nights include spotted salamander, spring peeper, and wood frog. To a lesser degree, volunteers have also observed Jefferson blue-spotted salamander complex and four-toed salamander, species of greatest conservation need in New York, as well as more common species like American toad and redback salamander.
DEC supports programs like the Amphibian Migration and Road Crossings Project to educate New Yorkers about the importance of wetlands and healthy, connected forests, and encourage proactive conservation planning. These habitats are carbon storage and sequestration powerhouses, making them an invaluable tool in New York’s nation-leading fight against climate change. These habitats are also critical for maintaining the state’s rich diversity of plants and animals, and especially the woodland-pool breeding amphibians that are of conservation concern throughout their range.
Since the project started in 2009, volunteers have counted more than 21,000 live amphibians and 9,500 migrating amphibians killed by passing vehicles. For more information, including a short video about amphibian migrations, visit DEC’s website.
Project volunteers are encouraged to use the hashtag #amphibianmigrationhv in their photos and posts on social media.
Photo of spotted salamander courtesy L. Heady.