Well, having completed my first week of the 2014 field season, I can say that it’s started out in a very unexpected way. First, I swiftly came down with a pretty severe head cold about a week ago, which has seemingly reinvigorated itself today. I think it was a combination of the dust in the air and the musty-ness of the dorm messing with my allergies and then the extreme temperature change throwing my body into a complete tailspin. I went from very warm temps in New York and all the way out here to snow. Yup, snow. That’s not at all unheard of in June but my body did not get the memo. Second, our field refresher sessions have been in the absolute worst weather. I’m talking 20 to 30º with a mix of rain, sleet, hail and snow. We had to completely bail out of Gibbon Meadows one day but not before getting completely drenched and near hypothermic. Luckily, before I ventured out into the field I bought a really awesome coat from the gift shop for super cheap. It completely saved my arse because although I brought enough warm clothes to get by, I failed to bring anything resembling a coat. Yikes!
We were actually supposed to begin surveying Crystal Bench with the other field crew on Wednesday but the weather report looked so miserable (snow, sleet, hail…) that we didn’t do it. We figured that the visibility and the conditions in the wetlands would make it hard to find anything. However, the other field crew managed to hike out there during the storm to install data loggers (they measure wetland temperature and water depth) in a few of the Crystal Bench wetlands with a bunch of helpers from USGS. While they were out there they realized that the sites were teaming with boreal toad tadpoles. They were finding them by the thousands! Compare this to last year when we saw about four toad tadpoles in that wetland complex. Now, before you freak, boreal toad tadpoles prefer thermal waters so they were fine despite the snow. Needless to say, they completed our surveys of Crystal Bench for us and me and my partner were able to scratch that site off our list without ever having to go there. It’s kind of a bummer though because it’s one of my favorite places to survey.
Speaking of boreal toads. I’m convinced they’re hitting it big this year which is fantastic news. They’ve always been found in a few thermal pockets throughout the Park, however, on a larger scale they’re being hit hard by disease. Throughout their normal range, most populations are in decline. And although an estimated 80% of Yellowstone’s frogs have the same disease responsible for mass extinctions elsewhere, the elevation and climate conditions seem to have made it so the toads can either shed or suppress it (researchers are still trying to figure out how they’re doing it). Yup, it all comes down to location, location, location. From our visit to Indian Pond on Monday, and then our brief and unpleasant trip to Gibbon Meadows on Tuesday and then the news from Crystal Bench on Wednesday, we’re seeing them in massive numbers this year. Just in Indian Pond, I’d estimate that we saw a few hundred tadpoles last year whereas we’re talking in the thousands now. The only difference I can think of is that this is a wet year compared to last years drought year but I’m not sure this is the driving force. No matter what the reason, it’s good to see them thriving somewhere.