June 04, 2014
Up by West Creek in Dyea, there is a little clearing though the brush and bush beside the road. A few small ponds and an offshoot of the creek run through the glade. This inconspicuous area is home to some of the only Boreal Toads found in Klondike National Historic Park.
West Creek is in the very northern area of Dyea , west of the Taiya River. Despite the hustle and bustle in Skagway, or even the Tidal Flats in Dyea, West Creek remains relatively untouched by the visitation that summer brings to the upper Lynn Canal. As the only road created for cars twists itself gradually northwest following the curves of the mountain, stunning vistas unfold of West Creek Glacier and the surrounding area.
This area is one breeding site for Boreal Toad (Bufo boreas boreas), a subspecies of the Western Toad (Bufo boreas). These toads are found along the Rocky Mountains from the Southwest and Mexico to Canada and Alaska. Along with many other amphibian species, these toads have been in decline in recent years. As a result, many environmental agencies and research institutions, including Klondike Gold Rush NHP, have established monitoring programs to track toad populations. This map of the population range of Boreal Toads was provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which tracks threatened species.
Set back from the road, this little marsh area shows evidence of minimal direct human contact. The moss is soft, springy, and water soaked. Cooler air and water temperatures due to tree cover suggest that it might not be the best site for tadpoles, which prefer warm, shallow waters.
Our suspicions were confirmed when no tadpoles or egg masses were found, despite searching the area thoroughly. A bit disappointed, we began to ready our thermometers and other environment measurement tools to collect data. Just then, we spotted a tiny amount of movement in the space where muddy water intersects with moss and grass. Close inspection revealed the grey-green object to be a toad! This was this years first spotting of an actual toad out of the transition from tadpole to juvenile toad, so we were very excited.
This little specimen was too small for us to decipher gender. At sixteen millimeters long from snout to hindquarters, the toad was still developing. Adult Boreal Toads of either sex typically reach at least six centimeters in length, with females generally being larger. As the summer season progresses, this one will grow, though it will not reach maturity until it is approximately four years old.
In late July, the current tadpoles will begin to leave their watery home and venture onto land, joining this little toad. Hopefully, they will continue to grow, thrive and become adult Boreal Toads.