Frog Camp 2008
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March 18, 2008: It’s Easter Vacation time, and while every day is vacation for me, it’s a special time for kids. Each year since 2003, my grandson Mikie and I have gone camping at Kirch Flat Campground, just above the upper end of Pine Flat Reservoir on the Kings River.

This year we’re joined by his best buddy from the Junior Falcons hockey team, Griffin Flores. My daughter told me with two friends to entertain each other, they would leave me alone and I could get lots of reading done. Ha!

Both boys are crazy for hockey, so we brought along a net, sticks, roller hockey balls, and roller blades. Since they are both big scorers on the team, they need a goalie to shoot against. Guess who gets drafted? Of course, I limit the amount of time I play, since arthritis in my lower back results in pain after a short time. But I’ve put in at least an hour total in two days, while they have probably played a total of five hours or more.

The reason it says Frog Pond at the top is that right next to our favorite camp site there is a slow-moving branch of the river that is favored by frogs. Mikie has caught several each year, and is allowed to take one home. Unfortunately, Easter is early this year, and it is apparently too early for the huge mass of frogs we usually hear (they don’t care that it’s Easter; it’s still winter to them). The boys did see one frog up by the camp, which they caught, then released, assuming there would be plenty more later.

Luck is with us however – the boys discovered a new animal to collect, salamanders. Crossing the main road that goes along the lake is a small creek that my older grandson and I named Salamander Creek, because we once saw at least 15 of the small orange creatures in the water and up on the nearby hillside. Mikie and I have walked in there in previous years, but he doesn’t remember seeing salamanders.

On our way up we parked at a wide spot just before the creek, and walked up the short trail, then down to the creek. We immediately saw a salamander, which Mikie caught. He had firm instructions that salamanders were “catch and release” only, so we left it there and continued on our way. However, when we learned last night that we were probably not going to catch frogs, he immediately began lobbying to take home a salamander.

We don’t have cell phone coverage, so we could not call and get approval, but we decided that he could catch one, call when we get to the top of the hill where there is coverage, and if the answer is a firm “no,” the creature would be released in Salamander Creek, which is on our way home.

Yesterday afternoon we drove to another nearby creek, and discovered that it was the true Salamander Creek. We immediately saw three or four, and eventually Mikie and Griffin caught and released six, and saw another six or more. We decided that this was Big Salamander Creek, and the original was now Little Salamander Creek.

Today, after breakfast, chores and an hour or so of hockey were done, we drove up the road to the east. A short way from the camp the road crosses the river, then a mile or so farther it crosses back and continues on to Balch Camp, a PG & E outpost. At the second crossing, dirt roads go up both sides of the river. We drove up the south side to Mill Flat Creek Campground, but this large stream had no visible salamanders.

We then went back to the pavement and up to the north side, until we came to a small creek. This turned out to be Baby Salamander Creek, and Mikie immediately caught a small one. Griffin soon followed with a larger one. We put them in a plastic ice cream bucket with air holes that we had prepared for the frogs, but the bigger salamander began showing obvious signs of stress, moving all around the bucket and trying the get out. We released him, but kept the other one, who seemed a lot mellower. Now it will be up to Mikie and his mom to find out what salamanders eat and how to take care of them. They are experienced reptile and amphibian keepers, and have an expert on call at the Reptile House, so we will see what happens.

After this project was completed, we drove further up the north side road, to a nice walking spot I had found last year. We made a loop hike up a hill, around and down an old road. The boys began turning over rocks looking for bugs, and their first discovery was a centipede. Most rocks proved disappointing, until Griffin turned over one that had an unexpected creature under it – a small gopher snake. After making sure it was not a rattler, we caught it and looked at it for a minute, then let it go. Further rocks proved to be uninhabited. However, during this trip the boys saw and got to touch a salamander, a frog, a snake, a caterpillar, a ladybug, and some worms. If this doesn’t sound like fun to you, you are probably not a 10-year-old boy.

Now they are down at the pond, looking under rocks in the water, finding worms, and no doubt getting their pants wet. Thankfully they don’t need my help with that, and I can read, relax, and start this report.

For me one of the great things about this area is the early spring greenery and flowers. There are lots of flowers out, and sections of some of the hills are so thick with poppies, it looks like someone dumped orange paint there. Many of the trees are leafing out, although not as much as usual due to the early date of Easter. We also see lots of birds, mostly small ones, but also quite a few red tail hawks.

March 20: Tuesday night’s pond excursion provide a little more productive than the first night – the boys caught one frog, which they released because the deal was frog or salamander, your choice. They also caught another salamander in the pond, where we’ve never seen them before. This one will be Griffin’s, pending parental approval.

We left camp around noon yesterday, and made a stop at Sycamore Creek, a fairly large creek that runs into the lake several miles downstream from where we camped. Here we saw, caught, and released one final salamander.

We had already made the phone call to my daughter and obtained approval to bring home a salamander, with a further agreement to take both of them if Griffin’s parents balked.

Once home, the boys continued their hockey activities until the arrival of my daughter, Teri, and Griffin’s mother, Leslie and sister, Hannah. Leslie was a bit squeamish about taking in the creature, stating that she liked “normal” furry pets, but Hannah went to bat on her brother’s behalf, and both boys each left with a salamander in a bucket, and an assignment to research their care and feeding on the Internet.

April 16 Update: Both salamanders are doing well, happily dining on crickets, the same food Mikie has been buying for years for his lizards, toads, frogs, and tarantulas.

--Dick Estel, March 2008


(Pictures open in a new window)

California poppies turn the hillsides orange
Poppies close up Shooting Star Bush Lupine
Griffin Flores & Mikie Liddle Searching for salamanders A successful catch!
Ready for a trip to Fresno Roller hockey at camp Wading in the Frog Pond

Related Links

Pine Flat Reservoir Kirch Flat Campground Street Hockey Rules
All About Frogs Salamanders Foothill Wild Flowers

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