Night on Froggy Mountain

It was a cold but not stormy night, 2/26/11. KP, MB, and I took a group around Picchetti Ranch. Picchetti had a light dusting of snow the previous evening, which was melted by the time we got there. The forecast ranged from 47F (felt like 43F) at 5 p.m. to 41F (felt like 38F) at 9 p.m., and that seemed correct. We originally had 23 on the reservation list including 8 on the waitlist. There were some last-minute cancellations so we ended up with 7 (including a kid and a teen).

This was the first time we’ve done a frog hike here. On a different hike last year at the same time, it wasn’t as cold, and there were adult toads swimming in the pond and on land on the shore. We saw no toads on our scouting hike or last night.

While waiting in the lot, a coyote cruised through and went into the brush uphill, and someone spotted a rabbit browsing. We started our intro at 4:30 and left the lot around 4:50. At the restroom, three more joined us until the dinner spot, deciding to leave since they hadn’t brought dinner.

The spring in the middle of the trail was bubbling out. We stopped to watch a White-tailed Kite hover, and a California Towhee popped up from a shrub. At the pond, the water level was about the same as it was a week earlier. There were four Mallards at the water’s edge, sifting for food. Close to the edge, a treefrog peered at us from the water. Newts swam. We didn’t see any critters on land.

Continuing to the dinner spot, we saw black cup fungi on the trailbank, and we stopped for liverworts, Hound’s Tongue and Tremella (Witch’s Butter). We got to the dinner spot at 5:50, ten minutes before sunset. After dinner, we refound the turret with the cup fungus, but didn’t see an occupant.

Black cup fungi

KP heard a Great Horned Owl near the second bridge/stream crossing, but when we stopped on the other side of the water, it was quiet. We talked about night vision there since the trail was a little wider.

Past the gate around 6:50, we made another stop to talk about the frogs and newts, wanting it to be a little darker. As we approached the pond, we could hear the frogs. We stopped short of the pond and heard one of the Great Horned Owls that we’d heard the week before.

I checked the shore again to make sure there weren’t too many critters around to get closer easily, but still didn’t see any on land. It was markedly different from the previous week. There were still newt balls in the water, and some frogs calling, but not nearly as many. It seemed like 50 versus hundreds or a thousand. We spotted a couple of them calling from their floating perches on top of the water, and a few were calling from land. Finally someone spotted a newt out of water, a female, moving extremely slowly. It seemed to be having trouble, but whether that was due to the cold or something else, we couldn’t tell. I spotted a frog in a hole with some water in it, a couple of inches from the water’s edge.

We stopped to look at the treehole mosquito larvae again, then proceeded up the loop. There was a budding Zygadene Lily along the trail. There was one Polydesmid millipede in the oak grove, and we stopped to look at it. There were hardly any near the restroom like there usually are. These are blind and it doesn’t seem like Picchetti’s event lights would have bothered them. Maybe the cold affected them too.

We got back to the lot around 8:00.

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Knowing there are frogs in other parts that are adapted to freezing, I went searching. I was curious how our local amphibians would be affected by freezing temperatures. I found this abstract (Hyla regilla is a previous name of our treefrog), but didn’t find anything on newts.