Finally, after a long dry summer, we’ve had a significant soaking of rain! With rain comes many good things. My favorite of those is amphibian season. Amphibians thrive in moist environments, making winter in California prime time to catch these guys out on the prowl as they head to their breeding grounds.
A ribbiting chorus
In fact, the first rains brings the beginnings of the frog choirs. Frogs call for several reasons, but most of the time it’s to find a mate. December begins the breeding migrations for Sierran chorus frogs to ponds and it is easiest to look for them near the banks of still-water. Did you know that the calls from their sister species, which are identical to those of our local Sierran chorus frogs, are the most commonly used frog calls in movies? It is very possible that our frogs here could have been recorded and used in movies as well!
It’s all newt to me
If frogs aren’t your jam (although you probably wouldn’t be reading this if they weren’t), salamanders are also becoming active this time of year. If you’re hanging out by the river or one of its many tributaries, keep an eye out for Sierra newts! Their breeding migrations begin near January, and if you’re lucky, you might catch a breeding ball in an area of slow-moving water come March! Careful not to pick one up though, they carry a powerful neurotoxin on their skin that will make you very sick if ingested. If you’re staying away from the riverbanks but maybe hiking in forests nearby, Ensatina salamanders will be on the prowl. On rainy nights they’ll be cruising around, but at other times gently flipping logs will reveal the hiding spaces of these cuties.
Looking for the best chances of amphibian viewing?
Head out on a rainy night excursion. Because the hot sun isn’t beating down and causing evaporation, nighttime is the most humid time of day here in California. Going out while it’s raining just ups your chances even more, as the critters are more able to traverse the landscape without fear of desiccation.
If you do decide to brave the elements in search of frogs and sallies, make sure to stay safe. Bring a headlamp or high-powered flashlight with extra batteries and rain gear if appropriate. Never go without a buddy, and make sure to let someone else know where you are going ahead of time. With a little bit of luck, you’ll see one of these amazing creatures in action! Who knows, maybe you’ll become a herper like me.
Protect the water, save the frogs
Amphibian populations are in decline across the world. While not mentioned here, populations of the foothill yellow-legged frog have recently been listed as endangered, with our local population receiving a threatened status. Habitat loss and degradation is one of the many threats that these frogs face today. Protecting our Yuba watershed not only helps us have clean water, but provides critical habitat for these animals.