As March approaches and the temperatures begin to steadily increase above freezing, each facet of the natural world begins, once again, to come back to life in their own ways. Among them, the song birds commence their morning serenade, snow drops bloom, trees bud and American toads make their way to the surface of the earth.
For those who take the time to enjoy spring’s awakening, it is glorious. You don’t need a country landscape to appreciate the new beginnings of spring; you just need to step outside your front door. Even in the densest urban neighborhoods, nature exists- a greening patch of grass, song birds on a wire, a budding street tree or kids returning to the playground.
In Philadelphia, nature revitalizes each neighborhood, park, forest, arboretum and farm. Yes, you read that right, all within the boundaries of the city. It is inspiring the way nature brings a city alive with color, music, and fragrance, all intertwined with the hustle and bustle of its everyday. However, there are incidents the city’s need to get to its destination as quick as possible will interfere with nature’s need to get to its destination as quick as possible. Unfortunately, nature cannot slow down and take a detour, but we can.
Take that emerging American toad for example. Just as the Monarch butterflies instinctively make their way back to Philadelphia from as far away as Mexico, the American toad can travel for months to a suitable water source where they can mate.
Although this migration happens anywhere you find a toad, in Northwest Philly, there is a mass migration that happens every spring for the toads, and again six weeks later for their toadlets, between the Roxborough Reservoir and the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. But like many greenspaces in the city, it is segmented, and the toads must cross busy side streets to get to their destination. This challenge often turns the toads’ mass migration into a mass killing of toads.
Luckily for the toads, there is a group of toad-loving people at the Schuylkill Center who also emerge in the spring to spend their evenings from March through June, ensuring the toads and toadlets are able to safely cross the road. This is known as the Toad Detour. These volunteers patrol for the first signs of migration, which often occurs on the first warm, rainy evening. When the toad begin crossing, they set up road blocks, catch toads outside the blocked areas, redirect traffic, and educate neighbors on the importance of toads in their neighborhood.
Sounds crazy right? Well, I often think of the toads and those volunteers in the spring and summer when gardening or front porch sitting.
While humans may negatively impact the life and habitat of the toad, toads are nothing but beneficial to humans. For gardeners and farmers, toads are a natural pest control. They eat what eats our gardens and crops, keeping insect and invertebrate pests under control, including those mosquitoes that invade our evenings outside.
That being said, the more toads saved, the more there are a benefit to us.
So, saving the toads isn’t as crazy as it may seem.
Joining a Toad Walk or volunteering for the Toad Detour is a unique experience. To watch and help hundreds of toads (and thousands of toadlets) cross the road and continue to negotiate barriers that separate them from the reservoir’s safe waters, is inspiring. And if you can’t imagine what hundreds of toads looks like, I invite you to stop by and witness it for yourself. It is also really quite peaceful to visit the reservoir during the mating time and listen to the trill of the toads as the sun sets. You can even see Center City from one special spot through the trees.
Nature never ceases to amaze me. Every day, provided I slow down and take a second to look around, I witness some natural wonder, even in the dead of winter. But spring’s awakening is special in and of itself as life returns to every facet of the natural world.
For you readers who are not in the Philadelphia area, I would love to hear your favorite signs of spring or if there are any groups or events similar to the Toad Detour that support the wildlife in your area.
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