The Oregon Spotted Frog at Parsnip Lakes (Rana pretiosa)
The Parsnip Lakes, located within the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, are a series of water bodies formed by natural springs and wetlands, built into ponds and partially maintained by beavers. (Has the Bureau of Land Management considered hiring beavers?) The Parsnip Lakes are home to the Pacific chorus frog, western toad, long-toed salamander, and rough-skinned newt. The perennial streams house larvae of the coastal giant salamander, and the largest ponds sometimes hold western pond turtles. Invertebrate predators include true bugs, beetles, dragonflies and damselflies, and leeches (Parker, 2009).
Parsnip Lakes, March 14, 2013
The Oregon Spotted Frog, a species whose population has been diminished by more than 90% in western Oregon and by 70% throughout its historic range, had apparently disappeared from this local area–last seen near there in 1971–but was sighted there again in April 2003 (Parker). Imagine how exciting it must have been for the college students in Herpetology class at Southern Oregon University who discovered this frog during a field survey trip!
Oregon Spotted Frog at Parsnip Lakes, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, March 20, 2013
Dr. Michael S. Parker, the teacher of this class, has returned each spring since 2003 with students to count egg masses and study the Oregon spotted frog.
On March 14, during a spring thaw, Steven and I met up with our friend John Villella (remember him from Lichenology 101?) to see if we could find one of these rare frogs at the Parsnip Lakes. We were surprised when we drove the three miles from our cabin to find a completely different microclimate than what we had in Lincoln. Instead of a patchwork of bare grass and worn snow, we found, upon getting out of the vehicle, snow up to our calves and knees, ice-covered water bodies, and places where our footsteps sank us down hip-deep in cold whiteness so that we stumbled, laughing at ourselves and at the thought that there could be amphibians in this mess. It was a good day for lichens, for rocks and millipedes, and for birds–Canada geese, ducks, kinglets, and pygmy owl–but not for amphibians.
Moss, Parsnip Lakes, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument
Using the voice recorder, I captured the speech of kinglets, tiny birds that flock in trees and sound to Steven like tinkling bells (mp3 of kinglet song). We observed lichens, including John’s favorite, Ahtiana, and the pair of Canada geese, and heard the call of the pygmy owl. John and I chatted about an essay on lichens and fungus which we plan to co-write. Best of all, we got some vigorous exercise in cold, wet conditions. Steven learned that hiking up steep slopes in chest waders*, carrying 30-40 pounds of camera equipment, is a hard slog.
But no frogs or salamanders.
Steve returned alone to the Parsnip Lakes on Wednesday, March 20, while I worked on some things at home (arranging future interviews, researching lichens, and housekeeping). Only six days after our unsuccessful outing, Steve found much had changed. The ice was retreating, much of the snow had melted, and amphibians were venturing out of their subterranean winter homes where they could be found by carefully checking under logs.
Southern Long-toed Salamander, Parsnip Lakes, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, March 20, 2013
After several hours of hiking and searching, Steve found an Oregon Spotted Frog in a marsh next to one of the ponds. Here’s his small documentary video about finding and photographing Rana pretiosa:
We hope to return several times over the course of this spring to observe breeding and egg-laying.
Gallery: Parsnip Lakes, 2013
* NOTE: I can’t stress enough the importance of thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting your gear if you visit Parsnip Lakes. Waders and rubber boots, along with anything else in direct contact with the water, should be clear of any stray plant matter, seeds, and mud from other locations in order to prevent the transmission of fungus, bacteria, invasive plant seeds, and the like from contaminating this important breeding area for the Oregon Spotted Frog. After carefully cleaning gear with soap and water to remove visible dirt, allow to dry completely, then use Lysol or a bleach solution to kill invisible pathogens.
- “Discovery and Status of Oregon Spotted Frog (Rana pretiosa) Population at the Parsnip Lakes, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.” Michael S. Parker, Department of Biology, Southern Oregon University. Prepared for: USDI Bureau of Land Management, Ashland Resource District, Cascade Siskiyou National Monument, March 2009.
- Personal visits to the Parsnip Lakes
Addendum, May 2013: I had the pleasure recently of meeting Barbara Morris, who works for the BLM, Medford District. She said, “In response to your question, ‘Has the BLM considered hiring beavers?’ the answer is, ‘Yes! We would love to have beavers on the Monument.” The issue, she explained, is that trapping and hunting are still allowed, so if the BLM introduces beavers back into the area, they might not last long.