The early July heat wave sent temperatures soaring into triple digits and drove both man and beast into a Forest Hill swimming pool – though none of them were there to cool off and it was the last place any of them wanted to be.
This swimming pool had sat unused for years in the backyard of an unassuming Forest Hill home and was being prepared for demolition and removal. While the chlorinated water had long since been pumped out, a nasty puddle of rancid rainwater and runoff had collected at the deepest end of the pool. Over time, the structure supporting the semi-in-ground pool had started to give way, tearing the vinyl liner and exposing wooden beams and dirt below.
The home backs up to a wooded section of Bynum Run and the amphibian inhabitants of the watershed had found the fetid water of the swimming pool a more suitable location to congregate and breed than that of the meandering creek.
As is so often the case, frogs were able to make their way into the swimming pool, mate, lay eggs, and then exit back to the cool shade of the wooded creek, but their offspring were not so fortunate. Upon hatching, hundreds of tadpoles were immediately trapped within the confines of the artificial breeding pool. In this instance, the trapped amphibians were all gray treefrogs – a thumb-sized frog that comes in hues of gray/green/brown, can be found clinging to leaves, branches, and siding with their unusual padded toes, and often “sing” at night next to a bubbling backyard fountain or just prior to a rain storm.
The concerned property owner contacted the Susquehannock Wildlife Society and a salvage plan was quickly organized. With a weekend visit to the backyard swimming pool scheduled, volunteers were surprised to get a call from the property owner several days in advance with word of a new wildlife emergency at the same site.
Perhaps lured in by the prospect of an easy tadpole meal, a juvenile raccoon had slipped into the Forest Hill swimming pool and was unable to get out under its own power. With its mother watching nearby, the raccoon cub struggled to stay out of the water and could not drag itself up the slippery folds of the vinyl pool liner.
A trio of Susquehannock Wildlife Society volunteers quickly responded and, with the help of a few nets and some teamwork, were able to fish the raccoon cub, who was wet and tired, out of the pool. The waterlogged critter took a few seconds to reorient itself with dry land and then scampered off into a nearby bush where its mother was last seen.
With the emergency mammal rescue out of the way and the raccoon cub reunited with its family, the volunteers packed up and agreed to return a few days later to remove the remaining wildlife from the confines of the pool.
By the time volunteers arrived back to the Forest Hill home on Saturday morning, temperatures were already climbing above 90 degrees. The extra-thick, impermeable hip waders they wore, protected them from the foul water, but added to the misery of the conditions.
Though only a few feet deep, the water left in the swimming pool was thick with new life – tiny tadpoles, petite pollywogs, and fragile froglets. The tadpoles sucked at the surface, gasping for breath as their water hole diminished, while nearby, on the barren wasteland that was the hot, slick vinyl pool liner, unfortunate frogs in varying degrees of metamorphosis had succumbed to the hot temperatures while trying to escape. The pool was both breeding ground and burial ground for the amphibians.
A submersible pump helped accelerate drainage of the pool and allowed volunteers to begin to wade in among the tadpoles. Armed with a rake and snow shovel (to remove leaves and mud) and nets and buckets (to remove frogs and tadpoles), the volunteers went to work.
Fistful after fistful of tadpoles were lifted from the pool and quickly filled a bucket. Along with the tadpoles (limbless pre-frogs in their aquatic stage of life) were pollywogs and froglets in all stages of transformation. Three large bullfrogs, who were also likely feasting on the tadpoles, and a variety of water bugs, including dragonfly larvae and diving beetles, were also removed from the swimming pool.
With heat taking its toll on both the volunteers and the victims, the buckets were quickly hauled through the woods and down to the edge of Bynum Run, where the bullfrogs and gray treefrog tadpoles were released to resume their lives in a much more natural habitat.
Before leaving, the volunteers cut and removed a large portion of the pool liner, to ensure water would no longer collect there and that if an animal wandered into the pool it would have an easier time crawling out on the dirt than on the slippery vinyl.
The goal of the Susquehannock Wildlife Society remains to rescue wildlife whenever possible, conserve the habitats needed to keep the wildlife prosperous, and to educate the public about wildlife with the intent that a better understanding will lead to a better coexistence.
If you have a wildlife emergency or are interested in volunteering with the rescue/rehab, conservation, or education efforts of the Susquehannock Wildlife Society, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit our website at http://www.susquehannockwildlife.org/ and Facebook page, or call our wildlife hotline 443-333-WILD.
Editor’s Note: The author is vice president of the Susquehannock Wildlife Society and personally participated in the rescue mission.
Photography by Scott McDaniel