By Claire Morgan, Volunteer Coordinator & Administrative Assistant
It’s early spring, just around sunset, and the conditions are just right—55 degrees and humid. A high-pitched trilling rings out in the distance. The shallow water of the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve stirs with excitement. The toads of Roxborough are ready to run—and ready to attract a mate.
On some evenings, as many as two hundred toads can be seen heading from the Schuylkill Center’s forest to the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve in a period of just two hours. The steady stream of traffic at the intersection of Hagy’s Mill Road and Port Royal Avenue (that separates the forest from the preserve) presents a huge obstacle to the toads as they cross the road in preparation for their springtime mating ritual.
This spring marks the tenth season of Toad Detour, during which toads will emerge from our forest at dusk to be met by volunteers waiting to shepherd them safely across the road. As toads did not evolve with an understanding of cars, when toad meets car, the toad tends to lose. With barricades, volunteers divert evening traffic around the reservoir so toads are not in their path, from 7 to 9 pm, March to June.Without this human intervention, the toad population in our area might have declined dramatically over the years.
The migration period lasts for about two to three weeks, beginning at sunset when the conditions are just right. Toads awaken from hibernation deep under the Schuylkill Center’s forest leaf litter. They move at night across Port Royal Avenue, hoping to get to the standing water they smell in the Upper
Roxborough Reservoir Park—a perfect spot for toads to settle down. Given that they need to keep their sensitive skins moist, they move on the first warm rainy nights of spring.
Once the toads have migrated to the reservoir and the eggs are laid, it takes about six to eight weeks for the tadpoles to develop into “toadlets,” fully formed toads smaller than the size of a dime. Weather affects how quickly the toadlets mature, with warmer temperatures speeding up the process. Not yet sexually mature, they soon leave the reservoir and to go back to the Schuylkill Center forest. A second migration occurs with these toadlets crossing back over Port Royal to get to the forest, where they take up residence, eating small insects and worms. Toad Detour has helped countless numbers of these toadlets cross, as well.
Thanks to the many volunteers who have made a commitment to the toads over the last ten years, the good news is that the toad population has remained strong. To our Roxborough neighbors, we thank you for dealing with the road closings, invite you to reel in your toad rage and participate in this unique Roxborough phenomenon. Citizen scientists come in all ages! Young volunteers are great at spotting and counting these American Toads in the leaf litter, despite their natural camouflage. Last year, we had about 400 people sign up to help the toads, many from local school, synagogue, and scout groups.
Communication about the Toad Detour program happens in many ways. We have a Signup.com link on our website if you’d like to sign up for a particular shift. Our Facebook page, “Toad Detour at the Schuylkill Center,” allows volunteers to see what the latest toad activity has been, and if weather conditions are favorable for a crossing. For additional information, you can call or email the Center’s Volunteer Coordinator, Claire Morgan, at 215-482-7300 ext. 120 or email email@example.com.
This Saturday, February 17th, we’re hosting a Toad Detour volunteer orientation, where you can come out to learn the history of how this program started, and how important these toads are to our local ecosystem. Learn how you can directly make an impact on the health of the environment. Bring your family, friends, scout troop, or schoolmates to learn how you can directly impact the health of the environment.
About the author
Claire Morgan has worked at the Schuylkill Center for 16 years as an educator, volunteer coordinator and administrative assistant. Her love of nature includes birds, butterflies, and especially toads. According to Claire, seeing joy in the eyes of volunteers help save toads during this spring ritual is truly amazing!