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Froggy Fun at the Museum’s First FrogWatch USA Volunteer Training Workshop

April 30, 2014

FrogWatch participants doing an icebreaker activityReptiles and amphibians have been popular at the Museum for many years, so it’s only natural that we participate in citizen science projects related to them too. We have been monitoring snake and tree frog populations at Prairie Ridge for several years and encourage people to submit photos and sightings of reptiles and amphibians to the Carolina Herp Atlas and our new Natural North Carolina project. There are lots of ways that reptile and amphibian lovers can get involved in citizen science, and we recently brought another great project to the Museum by becoming an official chapter of FrogWatch USA!

FrogWatch USA is the primary citizen science project of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). It’s aim is to make participants more aware of the decline in frog populations and conservation of frogs while monitoring frog populations in their local wetlands. Unlike some other citizen science projects where the participants must see the animal to report it, FrogWatch USA asks its participants to identify frogs by their sounds. Frog calls are an effective means of documenting activity in an area, so the AZA asks certified FrogWatch volunteers nationwide to go out and listen for calls at night, then report their findings.

FrogWatch volunteers require training in protocols, frog identification, and frog conservation before they can begin submitting data. As a brand new FrogWatch chapter, we recently hosted what we hope will be the first of many volunteer training workshops at the Museum. We want to get as many people involved in this project as possible, so we welcomed a dozen people to Prairie Ridge On Saturday, April 26 for our first FrogWatch-specific training workshop.

FrogWatch classroom

Megan Chesser discusses frogs and other amphibians during the classroom portion of the FrogWatch USA training workshop

We got things started with a fun icebreaker. Everyone was given a film canister filled with a group of items and were asked to find their “partner” by shaking their canister and listening for another that sounded similar. We moved right into the classroom portion of the workshop and went through the information all FrogWatch volunteers are expected to know: a bit of history of the frogs and toads, background about FrogWatch USA and its goals, and a brief overview of how FrogWatch data is collected. FrogWatch volunteers are required to take a written and a listening quiz before they can submit data to the project, so this part of the training covered information on the written quiz.

All FrogWatch volunteers need to be well-versed in the sounds their local frogs make, so we spent time working on frog call identifications. Each participant was given a series of materials that duplicate the sound of certain frogs and toads native to North Carolina’s Piedmont. Clicking two small stones together, for example, gives a good impression of a Northern Cricket Frog while rubbing wet fingers over an inflated balloon sounds a lot like a Southern Leopard Frog. While we made the sounds ourselves, we also listened to several professional recordings of frogs and toads so that everyone would start to associate the sounds they heard with the frogs that make them.

Part of the FrogWatch protocol asks that participants register their monitoring sites with their national and local chapters, so we visited some wetlands on the Prairie Ridge grounds (the stream and the pond) to practice new site registration. The type of frogs and toads you hear can depend heavily on the type of habitat where you monitor, so participants need to record some basic information about the site such as the source of the water, the amount of human influence on the site, the type of wetland it is, and the location. We had everyone do the habitat assessment at two sites so they are well prepared to collect the information they need on their own after their certification.

FrogWatch protocols require that volunteers wait until at least 30 minutes after sunset to begin monitoring, so after dinner we headed out into the field to practice listening. We spread everyone out around the pond, then had everyone cup their hands around the back of their ears and listen. After a two minute acclimation period, everyone listened for frog calls for three minutes, identifying the species present and assessing their level of activity. Then we recorded our data on the FrogWatch data sheet. We only heard three species that night, Bullfrogs, Green Frogs, and Northern Cricket Frogs, but it was still fun to get out into the field and practice listening for frogs. The group seemed pretty excited about it! Considering this exact process is what they’ll do at their own monitoring sites, it was fun to see the level of enthusiasm our upcoming FrogWatch volunteers had for our rather meager chorus of frogs.

FrogWatch frog call survey after darkWe sent everyone home after they completed their written quiz, but they’re not quite done yet! Everyone in the group will need to come back to take the listening quiz to prove that they can distinguish the frog species they’re likely to encounter at their local wetlands. This is no small feat in North Carolina! Our state is home to more species of frogs and toads than most other states, so our FrogWatch volunteers will need to know a lot of calls for their listening quizzes. However, our inaugural group of FrogWatch trainees proved to be enthusiastic, intelligent, and motivated, so I expect most of them will sail right through the listening quiz!

We are looking forward to certifying our recent training workshop participants as FrogWatch USA volunteers and watching their data roll in. We are excited to learn more about the frogs and toads of the Piedmont through the efforts of our citizen scientists and we think FrogWatch will prove to be an excellent addition to the Museum’s line-up of citizen science opportunities. If you’d like to get involved, please check the Museum’s calendar of programs and events for upcoming workshop dates. We hope to host another training session soon!

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