You can volunteer to help guide the great Roxborough toad trek of ’13

Nowadays, even if you live under a rock, social media can be your friend.

And that’s a lucky thing for the thousands of toads in the woods of Roxborough.

Facebook might just help keep them alive this spring as their make their annual migration to breed, a journey that takes them across the busy roads of this section of northwest Philadelphia.

Claire Morgan, volunteer coordinator at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, is recruiting folks for the annual Toad Detour, which helps usher the toads safely across the roadways during theirmovements on springtime evenings.

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Morgan hopes that the toads (soon to awaken from their winter slumber in the woods surrounding the Center) will get even more of a helping hand this year thanks to a Facebook page dedicated to keeping concerned humans up-to-date on the amphibians’ movements.

Each year, from the beginning of March through mid-April, the toads awake from hibernation and make their way to water to breed – in this case the old Roxborough reservoir. From mid-May to the end of June, the tiny toadlets make their own migration, heading from the reservoir to their natural home in the woods near the environmental center.

The Toad Detour, now in its fifth year, was founded by animal activist Lisa Levinson, who realized that thousands of native toads were being crushed by cars each year. Working with the local police department and a team of volunteers, she received permission to temporarily barricade the affected streets (Port Royal Avenue and Hagys Mill Road among them) so the toads – an important part of the local ecosystem – could make their way safely across.

Last year, the Schuylkill Center took over the Detour, helmed by Morgan. With the adult toads’ annual trip coming up in March, the Center is hosting a free orientation session for past and prospective volunteers from 1 to 3 p.m. this Saturday, Feb. 16.

Volunteers of all ages, as well as nightly shift managers, are needed for the 7-9 p.m. detours, which run every night from March 1-April 15 for the adult toads’ march, and then from May 15th-June 30th for the toadlets’ journey.

Attendance at the orientation session is not required to volunteer, though Morgan recommends it for shift managers. All participants can easily sign up online through the VolunteerSpot website’s Toad Detour page.

“We really do need people to make a commitment – even if it’s once a week or once every two weeks,” Morgan said.

Toads, by the thousands

Last year, her “citizen scientists” counted about 1,500 migrating adult toads, 700 of those in a single night. The toadlets – tinier than a dime when they emerge from the reservoir – are impossible to count, but with each female laying up to 20,000 eggs, it all adds up to a lot of toads (a statistic that should comfort anyone who dislikes mosquitoes, one of the amphibians’ favorite snacks).

Participating volunteers don bright traffic vests, erect the temporary barriers, help direct passing motorists, track estimated toad counts, and carefully assist toads who find themselves outside the barriers.

But within the barriers, “we don’t need to escort them,” Morgan said. In fact, due to the toads’ sensitive, semi-permeable skin, it’s better to keep human hands away.

While a few volunteers are needed for every night of the Detour, it’s impossible to predict exactly when the toads will move. But eager helpers can keep an eye on the weather for a good guess.

“If people look at the temperature and start to see nights where it’s still 60 degrees at 7 o’clock at night, and we have some warm rains earlier in the day … that’s a good bet that [the toads] are probably going to be out,” Morgan said.

Prospective volunteers should visit the Center’s website, and join “Toad Detour at the Schuylkill Center” on Facebook. 

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