Amphibian Migration- an early season

An early year for amphibian migration!

Abnormally warm weather triggered an early migration for our amphibians, but we’re glad we were there to help! Learn more about Big Night below and how you can become involved next year.

What is Big Night?amphibian-crossing

It is the most important time of the year on the amphibian calendar! When nighttime temperatures are above 40 degrees and the air is damp with recent or active rainfall, frogs and salamanders embark on a vital mission to produce their offspring.

To mate, frogs and salamanders can travel nearly a mile from their upland homes to the woodland pools where they were born. Unfortunately, roads constructed through their habitat have made the journey dangerous for these relatively slow-moving animals and many never reach their destination. Luckily, you can help! 

How do I help?

Send an email to the Hudson River Estuary Program at with “add to list” as the subject line. Once on the DEC mailing list as an interested Big Night volunteer, you will receive notifications on when a migration is anticipated. Be alert! Big night depends on very specific weather conditions, which often cannot be anticipated more than a day or two ahead of time. Keep checking your email!

While waiting for the call to go out, make sure you have everything you’ll need to take with you. You’ll be on dark, rainy roads. Safety vests, light colors, head lamps/flashlights, and anything reflective will help keep you safe from oncoming traffic. Never go out alone! It is safer and more efficient to work with others. Even in low-traffic areas, use caution.

In addition to bright, reflective, and waterproof clothing, you should have:IMG_0350crop

Tonight is the night! Now what?

If you do not already have a crossing location in mind and you live in the northern Dutchess area, contact Winnakee’s Big Night Volunteer Coordinator, Lisa Camp, at We’ll do our best to point you in the right direction and answer any questions you may have.

Just after sunset, head out! Park your car in a safe area as far off the road as possible. Walk up and down the length of your crossing location and use your flashlight to scan the road. Keep your feet on the road unless passing traffic forces you onto the shoulder: it’s dark out, and amphibians that are hard to see on the road are nearly impossible to see in leaves and grass.  Be sure to check around your feet when changing direction or resuming walking – frogs and salamanders aren’t watching out for you, so you need to watch for them!

I found an amphibian! What do I do?

The DEC is keeping careful track of amphibians using roadways with the hope of making things safer for them in the future. Using the Identification Guide, try to figure out what species you have found.   In many cases this will be easy, but sometimes subtle coloration or, worse, impact with a vehicle, may make it hard to be certain.  If you aren’t entirely confident in your identification, take pictures of the animal from several angles so that they can be used for later identification.  Including an object (pencil, ruler, coin, etc.) in the photo for scale will help in determining the size of the animal. Using the Data Form, record your observation. The species you saw and the direction it was headed are valuable data!

If the anima20140404_211802cropl is alive, move it carefully across the road in the direction it was already traveling.  These amphibians know where they’re going, so don’t second-guess them.  To mate, they return to the woodland pool where they were born, not necessarily the closest or most obvious pool.  Be sure your hands are clean and free of lotion, hand sanitizer and other chemicals before handling amphibians.  They absorb almost everything through their delicate skin, and it’s possible that things on your hands that are harmless to you, can be damaging to them.  If possible, wet your hands before picking up your frog or salamander.  If you prefer, use a clean plastic cup to safely move them across the road.  Some volunteers choose to move frogs and salamanders in a bucket, particularly when there are large numbers of them or traffic is heavy.  If you do this, be sure the bucket is clean and free from potentially harmful residues.

If your frog or salamander is dead, use an old spatula or plastic cup to remove the animal from the road. Be sure to put the body somewhere where you won’t be tempted to consider it a new animal – you don’t want to record the same observation as two separate amphibians.

Remember: at no point should you attempt to stop traffic or move in fBig Night volunterrs 2015ront of a vehicle to save an amphibian.  Your safety is of the utmost importance!  Cars may stop to ask what you’re up to.  Feel free to tell them all about Big Night, and consider carrying cards with Big Night contact information on them to distribute to curious motorists and neighbors.

Monitor your crossing for as long as you are willing – even 15 minutes can save a lot of lives on a crowded stretch of road!  Be sure to record the length of time you spent on your data sheet to give an idea of the crossing rate.  When you’re ready to head inside and dry off, make certain to complete your tallies, taking care to include as much information as possible on your data sheet.  If you visit more than one crossing location, be sure to use a separate data sheet for each location so there’s no confusion about which amphibian belongs where.

Other Ways to Help

Help us find new crossing areas! We do not know of all the roads frogs and salamanders cross on their way back to their home pool, so any place where you spot more than one amphibian in the road has a good chance to be a Big Night crossing location.  Drive around with a friend to do the writing, and keep notes on a paper map of where you see frogs or salamanders during your drive.  Sending your findings in will give us a better idea of where to send next spring’s volunteers.

Together we can learn more about these fascinating creatures and inform new approaches to keeping them safe on their annual journey!


For any questions on Winnakee’s involvement in Big Night, contact Tierney Rosenstock at


One Comment on “Amphibian Migration- an early season

  1. The waters that they choose are called vernal pools because they fill with rainwater, snowmelt, and rising groundwater in early spring but then dry up as summer advances. The pools are thus temporary and cannot support fish, meaning fewer predators for the amphibian eggs and young. But to survive the dry-out themselves, the new generation of amphibians must race to complete metamorphosis and leave the pool before the water does.

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