When the new owners of a northern Harford County property moved into their home, they quickly realized they had a problem with some unwelcome guests. The interlopers were making a ruckus in their backyard, lounging on the patio, and even using their swimming pool at all hours of the day and night.
In the interest of keeping harmony in the neighborhood, the family allowed the trespassers to remain, but, a year later, they decided their visitors had overstayed their welcome and it was finally time to kick the cold-blooded bums out.
Overwhelmed with the prospect of evicting the invaders on their own, the family contacted volunteers at Eden Mill Nature Center and the Susquehannock Wildlife Society, who properly equipped themselves and quickly descended upon the scene to take care of business – one toad at a time.
In the six or so years that the backyard in-ground swimming pool had gone unused, the water stagnated, the concrete structure filled with leaves and debris, and the conditions ripened until they became irresistible to hundreds of the slimy denizens of the nearby forest and wetlands.
In a half-dozen years, the family’s swimming pool became an unlikely vernal pool and the local watering hole for seemingly every frog, toad, and salamander living in that section of the Deer Creek valley.
On a drizzling gray March morning, a trio of volunteers from the Susquehannock Wildlife Society visited the family to assess the situation and help rescue the amphibians trapped within the slick concrete walls of the backyard pool. The sight was unforgettable. The beautifully-shaped swimming pool was filled with leaf-stained water – and the water was alive. The surface was broken by the hapless splashing of American toads, one pair who refused to let the circumstances prevent their springtime mating ritual, while the depths of the pool churned with spotted salamanders, untold swarms of tadpoles, and other mysteries.
The team, including family members, children, friends, and a pair of tireless Labrador retrievers, immediately got to work. Through a variety of scooping, dredging, skimming, plucking, and picking, the amphibians were systematically removed from the concrete pool and placed within designated buckets. Surprises abounded. A pickerel frog joined the ranks of American toads and green frogs. Goldfish began appearing in nets beside tadpoles and oak leaves. Even a long-dead snake, believed to be a milksnake, came out from a deep scoop in the pool. Along the way, the Susquehannock Wildlife Society volunteers identified the species and educated the family about their habits, life cycle, and place in the natural world.
In total, the team dredged about three dozen spotted salamanders, five American toads, five green frogs, a bullfrog, a pickerel frog, countless green frog and wood frog tadpoles, and several spotted salamander egg masses from the backyard pool.
As morning turned into late afternoon and the rains picked up, the team decided to call off the salvage. With dozens of amphibians undoubtedly left within the pool, the group worked to create a system of ramps, which would allow the stranded animals to escape the pool under their own power.
After thanking the family and loading up the nets and buckets, the Susquehannock Wildlife Society volunteers headed to Eden Mill Nature Center to relocate the amphibians in suitable habitat. The frogs, toads, and tadpoles were released into Deer Creek, the spotted salamanders were taken into a forested area and let go under cover of debris, and the spotted salamander eggs were carefully placed in a pond, where they have the protection necessary to develop.
Later that night, the family once again contacted Susquehannock Wildlife Society with both encouraging and startling news. A quick flashlight scan of the swimming pool revealed many more spotted salamanders swimming to the surface in the heavy rain. And another amphibian species, spring peepers, had made an appearance. The family even found, and turned around, a spotted salamander which was making its way out of the woods and into the pool.
The team is currently working with the family to return for a nighttime rescue effort and also to be on-hand during the full draining of the swimming pool in late April.
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 email@example.com, visit our website at http://www.susquehannockwildlife.org/ and Facebook page, or call our wildlife hotline 443-333-WILD.
Found a reptile or amphibian in Harford County? Tell us about it and submit a simple digital photo to help us with the Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas Project.
Editor’s Note: The author is vice president of the Susquehannock Wildlife Society and personally participated in the rescue mission.
Photography by Scott McDaniel