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Use Caution! Frogs And Salamanders Are Having A Big Moment

A newt receives a little help crossing the road
Lucas Willard
A newt receives a little help crossing the road

Winter is melting away, and amphibians are on the move. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard was out Tuesday night to learn more the annual migratory event.

A Jefferson salamander crossing the road
Credit Photo courtesy Kent Harlow
A Jefferson salamander crossing the road

It’s after dark and the roads are wet. Kent Harlow is slowly driving his truck along the Helderberg Escarpment in rural Albany County.

“I’m looking for salamanders that are like 6 to 8 inches long, I’m looking for frogs that are hopping across the road…”

Harlow, who is Stewardship Coordinator with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, says this is the best time to see amphibians. It’s the first warm, rainy night of late winter and the semi-aquatic animals are coming out of hibernation to head to their breeding pools.

It’s not long before we notice flashlights along the road.

“Heyo! Y’all looking for amphibians and stuff? What’d you find?”

The guys wearing reflective vests bring a critter to the passenger-side window. It’s a newt, about 3 inches long, and is native to the area.

Matthew Porter is a Fish and Wildlife Technician with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. After assisting the newt, he’s takes out his notepad.

“So I tally the live ones that we help across the road, and the dead ones. So I have the different roads we are on...”

It’s not even mid-March, but this year’s warm weather had some species emerging in late February.

For 12 years now, DEC has helped train volunteers to count migrating amphibians. Observations are submitted as part of DEC’s Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings Project, which is coordinated by the Hudson River Estuary Program and Cornell University.

But some folks are just out here for fun tonight.

Peter Feinberg is just up the road with some friends. They’ve seen plenty of amphibians tonight.

“We saw Jeffersons, we saw spotted…”

A moment later, Harlow sees a gray-blue salamander slowly wriggling its way across the road.

“This is a Jefferson salamander. It’s like as long as my hand. Which is usually what I tell people, but this one is actually as long as my hand, which is so sick,” says Harlow. 

Feinberg and his friends also have an appreciation for the creatures that might need a little help on a big night for them.

“It’s hard to believe these beautiful little creatures exist all around us and we only get to see them this time of year. Otherwise they’re incredibly hard to find. They’re just amazing little animals,” said Feinberg.

You can do your part by keeping an eye out, too. The state is encouraging drivers to proceed with caution or avoid traveling on the first warm, rainy evenings of the season.

To learn more about how you can get trained to safely assist amphibians, visit WAMC.org. And as Harlow says, it’s also a great way to spend the first warm evenings of the year.

“It’s fun, it’s important it gives perspective. And it’s just unique,” says Harlow. “A wonderful part about our area…hold on, I gotta go help this one…”

For more information visit: https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/51925.html

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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