A Froggy Day at Lopez Lake

There are many aquatics in the shallow lake and lots of sedges and other graminoids along the edges.

Taking a break from our usual obsession with the Calapooya Mountains, on July 30, John Koenig and I headed to Lopez Lake. We went straight to the lake, rather to the other interesting spots along Road 5884, and spent most of the day there, exploring it more thoroughly than we had in the past. Neither of us had been back to the lake since a trip we took with Sabine Dutoit in 2014 (see A Glorious Day Near Lopez Lake).

We enjoyed watching this chubby toad hop into the lake and eventually swim away.

A police car moth (Gnophaela vermiculata) on tongue-leaf luina.

There were lots of flowers still in bloom in the meadow on the way down to the lake. Columbines (Aquilegia formosa), lovage (Ligusticum grayi?), lupines (Lupinus latifolius), arrowleaf groundsel (Senecio triangularis), and Cascade asters (Eucephalus ledophylllus) were in full bloom, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much tongue-leaf luina (Rainiera stricta). Butterflies and moths were enjoying the abundance of nectar. Down in the wetlands by the lake, it was quite different. There had obviously been a splendid show of spring wildflowers including mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala), and elephant head (Pedicularis groenlandica), but aside from hairy arnica (Arnica mollis) and a nice spread of lupines along the edges, few herbaceous plants were still in flower. There were many areas of shrubs and lots of blooming subalpine spiraea (S. splendens) as well as the hybrid Spiraea x hitchcockii that I have been looking at of late. Oddly, we only found one shrub that might have been the other parent, Douglas’ spiraea (S. douglasii).

We found this unusually pale-flowered hybrid spiraea (Spiraea x hitchcockii).

After seeing an open area near the lake on Google Earth, we bushwhacked up to this rock outcrop with a great view north to (Left to right) Fuji Mountain, Mount Ray, and Maiden Peak.

There are many pools and channels of water in this wetland. We were happy to see tadpoles (I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know one tadpole from another) swimming around in a lot of them. Some had started to develop legs, but most were still too young for that. Most of the pools had a sufficient amount of water for the tadpoles. The relatively cool temperatures we’ve had this July (more like the “normal” summer temperatures we’ve had since I moved to Oregon in the early 90s than the last three hot summers) have been good for amphibians. We were wandering around checking out all the pools when suddenly the awful sight I was hoping NOT to see—a bunch of tadpoles in a nearly dried out area of mud. Several times over the last two summers, I’d come across dried out pools with a gruesome collection of dead tadpoles in the lowest spot. They’d undoubtedly died a slow death, drying out and overheating in the ever-shrinking wet spot that had once been a small pond their parents had thought was the perfect place to lay eggs. In fact, I’ve taken to calling the vernal pond we often stop to eat by along Coal Creek Road “Dead Toad Pond” after seeing dried bodies there more than once over the last few summers.

John checking out on of the pools in the wetland by Lopez Lake.

This time, however, it appeared I’d gotten there in the nick of time. Many of the tadpoles were upside-down, their golden bellies reflecting the light—that’s what had caught my eye to begin with. I thought those ones were probably dead, but the others were still wriggling. I keep at least one ziplock bag in my pack for collecting plant specimens, and I ran over to one of the deep pools and returned after filling the bag with water. Then I took my large spoon (also handy for collecting specimens) and scooped every last tadpole out of the mud into the bag, taking quite a bit of mud along with the tadpoles. It took quite a while. What a relief to see the tadpoles respond immediately to the life-giving water. It appeared that even most if not all of the upside-down tadpoles were still alive!

I hadn’t realized at the time that there must have been over 100 tadpoles stranded in the mud of this drying pool. I sure hope most of them survived their ordeal! Photo courtesy of John Koenig.

I took them back to one of the big pools that wasn’t already occupied by lots of tadpoles but appeared to be similar enough to be good habitat—hopefully, my choice was better than that of the mom who laid her eggs in that too-shallow pool. Perhaps I’m attributing them with human traits, but they seemed to be relieved and happy. We watched them swim around and come to the surface briefly for air before diving back down. They seemed to have a lot of energy. I was so glad the rescue seemed to be successful, and hopefully, they’ll now have enough time to complete their metamorphosis. I can’t imagine they had much more time—if we’d arrived later in the week, there probably would have been another pile of tadpole carcasses.

For some reason, when I saw this species of pondweed on a previous trip, I didn’t recognize it as alpine pondweed (Potamogeton alpinus), which has a very prominent veining pattern. You can also (sort of) see some little tangles of leafless stems floating on the surface. These are the equally uncommon carnivorous lesser bladderwort (Utricularia minor).

Tadpoles resting on an underwater log in one of the pools at Zen Meadow.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only tadpole rescue I had to make that day. After exploring the lake, we went a little farther up the road to the lovely area we named “Zen Meadow.” The beautiful little ponds were filled with pond lilies (Nuphar polysepala) and more tadpoles. But one of the side channels was drying out. The remaining water was only about 2″ deep and less than 2′ wide. There were far fewer tadpoles—maybe 7 or 8—trapped in this puddle, but it was actually harder to get them out because it was at the bottom of a channel with at least foot-high walls, and there was enough water left that the tadpoles tried to swim away from the scary spoon. I scooped them out one at a time, put them in my bag (from which I had to temporarily remove my hybrid Spiraea specimens), and brought them over to one of the other pools that had plenty of water in it. My knees were not happy about the up and down, but I couldn’t bear to leave anyone behind. I finally got the hang of it, chasing them out to the edge of the water where they couldn’t escape and then pushing the bag down until the water poured into the bag, taking the little ones with it. Then I had to wait for the mud to settle so I could see if there were any more mud brown tadpoles left. They are well camouflaged when they want to be.

Along with the tadpoles, the toad, and a chorus frog, we saw a few adult frogs, most likely Cascade frogs, but I still have a lot to learn about our amphibian friends.

I fear climate change will lead to warmer and drier summers that will desiccate even more of these amphibian breeding grounds before the tadpoles are mature enough to leave the water. They have enough problems already with pollution and habitat loss. Wetlands without frogs, toads, and salamanders would be a real tragedy, something I hope never to see.

4 Responses to “A Froggy Day at Lopez Lake”

  • Ingrid Ford:

    Tadpoles are thanking a kind human being for rescuing them! I would have done the same. Thank you dear heart. I can just picture you doing it out there in that beautiful landscape. Thank you!

  • Sue:

    Thank you for saving the tadpoles. We had a similar experience in Alton Baker Park. It was a job, a joy and a rewarding thing to do. Beautiful pictures!

  • Hi Sue,

    I’m glad you were able to rescue some tadpoles, too. It’s heartbreaking to be too late.

  • Blanche Douma:

    Hello Tanya – Many Blessings to you for saving all those tadpoles. I hope your kindness and effort will be richly rewarded in many ways.

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