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FrogWatch: Local Volunteer-Based Citizen Science Program

Green Tree Frog. Credit: Lucy Daigle

If you have a pond near your home or live along a stream, then you’re probably very familiar with the songs of our amphibious neighbors that strike up a chorus throughout the spring and summer. Although they’re not always easy to spot, frog species can be identified by these unique calls.

FrogWatch USA is a citizen science program that was established in 1998 to train individuals on how to identify frog calls and help monitor frog populations by adding local data to a national database. The data is used to track rare and invasive species in addition to shifts in species diversity, range and seasonal timing. All of this information then helps to inform the development of environmental protection and amphibian conservation strategies.

This year the Athens chapter, run by the Sandy Creek Nature Center under the Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services Department, celebrates 10 years of joining the national conservation efforts. The monitoring season runs February through August, with a formal in-person training session taking place in January each year. The training session covers the basic procedures for monitoring and guides participants in how to identify the various frog calls.

Joey Weiser

However, volunteers can begin monitoring at any point during the season. Sandy Creek Nature Center naturalist Kate Mowbray says that a virtual training is available, then volunteers are encouraged to join one of the weekly monitoring group outings on site at the nature center. Volunteers are asked to monitor at least once a month to contribute to the pool of local data. Individuals can monitor independently at their own sites, like a pond or somewhere with water access, but the group setting helps to reinforce the training. It also provides a social opportunity within the community.

“I think for our group, what has made a big difference in the people that have stuck around is that it’s being able to hang out with a like-minded set of people that enjoy being out in nature and enjoy being able to obviously go and look for the frogs. But we talk about other topics, environmental or just points of interest that we have. So there’s become a social aspect as well as actually being able to do something that contributes to science and helping out things here,” says Mowbray.

Rob Tiffin American Toad. Credit: Rob Tiffin

Over the last 10 years of collecting data within Athens-Clarke County, Mowbray says that they’ve been able to track the arrival of new frog species. It has yet to be a concern, but there are invasive species from outside of Georgia that could be cause for alarm. Monitoring on a regular basis throughout the whole season helps to identify threats early.

As both prey and predator, frogs and toads are an important part of the wetland ecosystem. Their presence is often considered an indicator of environmental health, and the FrogWatch community states that over 2,000 amphibian species are currently facing extinction. This species decline may also be an alarm for deteriorating wetland health, and data like that collected in the FrogWatch program can help scientists better understand what is happening environmentally around the U.S.

Lucy Daigle Green frog. Credit: Lucy Daigle

Outside of the FrogWatch program, the Sandy Creek Nature Center offers other activities and programs for adults. The Adopt-a-Stream workshop is a similar citizen science program that involves training and group or individual monitoring. Other workshops are available geared towards people who may lead educational programs like scout leaders or teachers. 

The nature center’s Sky Center has an active planetarium program open to all ages. Mowbray says the center has hosted an adult-oriented “mindfulness” planetarium event that they hope to continue. The next “Journey Through the Stars” event explores the spring skies on Apr. 20 at 10 a.m. Mowbray says one of the more popular events is Snake Day, which will be coming soon in May. Overall there are a variety of activities, programs and workshops available that span ages and interests in the natural world.

To learn more about FrogWatch USA, visit The Akron Zoo in Ohio was appointed in 2022 as the managing organization of the overall program. To learn more about the local chapter or volunteer, email or call the Sandy Creek Nature Center and ask to speak with Kate.