March 17 and 18, 2001

Evan and Erin bid their domestic zoo goodbye and struck out to the wilds of Washington.  Their seldom-used tent and sleeping bags slung into their yuppy TDI Jetta VW.  Their destination?  Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a 6,000 acre basin in the middle of nowhere.  They were answering the call of the US Government (namely the Fish and Wildlife Dept.) for transect-walking, hip-wader-garbed volunteers (most of who arrived in “rigs”… ‘cept us.  Even the well-graded entrance to the refuge gave our chassis a bruisin’).

In this basin, those concerned for the welfare of elk, beaver, deer, sand hill crane, bald eagles and spotted frogs are pitted against the dry-ground loving landowners who live for hay and bovines.  The refuge-proper is composed of a patchwork of holdings interspersed with private farms.  The entire basin is within the disputed (federally recognized, state ignored) tribal territory of the Yakama Native Americans. 
In the shadow of Mt. Adams, WA Evan and Erin hunted the endangered, elusive, slippery, cold blooded (I better say ectothermic or I’ll be laughed out of the field of herpetology), green-eyed beauties that are the spotted frog, Rana prettiosa.  In fact, these critters are so elusive we census their sessile egg masses instead of the mobile adults.  But if you think locating eggs sounds like a walk in the swamp, try locating the egg masses in these pictures….

If Nature had her way and the rains were what they are supposed to be, our job would have been to walk the perimeter of a large lake, scanning for the egg masses in 15cm of water.  Instead, humans have to have their canals and some years have to be drought years, which left us to walk most of the 6,000 acre would-be-lake-floor. Foolishly, naively, egotistically Evan and Erin volunteered for the hard section of Conboy… the part that Joe Engler described as “hip high crap.” “I thought that was just an expression,” Evan later said.  The basics of our task: methodical heads-down probing of puddles, pools, ponds, systematically covering every bit of territory, 9 to 5.  The reality of it: leaping from tuft of grass to tuft of grass because between was wader-flooding depths of water, eyes straining to locate camouflage eggs in murky flooded fields (big big fields), dragging our boot-clad legs through miles of water, luckily avoiding beaver runs but still getting wet for your efforts.  Perks?  The day turned out to be clear with sun and a beautiful view of Mt Adams.

Our lodgings for the night were not as timeless or stoic as the settlers homestead (18something impressive).  We rested our weary bones on the unforgiving hard hard ground, the ground that was so so hard.
But our kitchen was far superior to that of the pioneers. And we had prime access to the latrine!

The second day was easy on the legs but the day was bleak with slate gray sky and omnipresent mist that developed into a full-fledged drizzle at intervals.*  Numb fingers made it difficult to write the gibberish that was scientific data:

HQ2CN 14-3 Stage 2,2,3
18 III 2001

Perks?  Evan located several egg masses and I ended the day by capturing a female previously PIT tagged!  We also witnessed a bald eagle take flight.

Our guides/hosts deserve our highest esteem.  The Fish and Wildlife workers were committed to this, their job for more than just two days.  “Dan” led us through the first day with speed agility and accuracy that left us in awe (and left me thinking of an experiment testing the effects of tobacco juice on the development of amphibian embryos). Bottom line:  we survived, learned much and will be recovered in time for the next year’s census.

*visualize:  you’re standing in a foot of water in constant rain. Your body might be dry thanks to Gortex but can you really ever FEEL dry?