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Meeting Mr. Toad on Wizard Island

CRATER LAKE — "Well, hello there," Greg Walter bellowed.

Huh? There was no one on the trail, at least no one I could see. It was dark, so we were wearing headlamps as we threaded our way down the trail from the crater atop Wizard Island back to the boat dock and boat house, where we and others were spending the night.

Greg kept chattering as he flashed his light on who or whatever it was he was talking to. He bent over, reached out then stood up, proudly showing off a cute little frog. Oops, wrong. Toad. A western toad to be more specific.

Mr. Toad seemed content in Greg's hands.

"He feels cold," Greg said by way of explanation. "My hands are probably warming him, or her, up."

Greg, whose day job is selling insurance with his wife, Mary, from their home near Cave Junction, is a forever student of all things outdoors and is also a historian who focuses on public lands. We're both members of the Crater Lake Natural History Association's board of directors, an organization that helps fund projects that couldn't otherwise be funded by Crater Lake National Park. The association operates the year-round bookstore at the visitor contact station at Rim Headquarters and the seasonal bookstore at Rim Village. Profits provide money for projects and programs at Crater Lake and Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve.

We were part of a small group spending the night on Wizard Island, tagging along with park researchers involved with ongoing projects like the proliferation of crawfish, which are threatening the Crater Lake newt, and water-quality studies.

Researchers are not, however, studying western toads, also known in Latin as Anaxyrus horeas or Bufo boreas. Because they're plentiful, they're listed as "least concerned" on conservation status lists. Greg spieled out factoids about Mr. Toad's family, which are native to North America and commonly found near water. They grow to about 2¼ to 5 inches long and gobble any type of insect it can catch. With all the spiders, ants, beetles and other tiny night creatures, Greg said the island offers a smorgasbord variety of snacks for western toads. Toads are nocturnal, which helps reduce predation by birds, reptiles and amphibians.

Crater Lake is just a tiny portion of an extensive range that extends from western British Columbia and southern Alaska through the Pacific Northwest to northern Baja California, east to Montana, Wyoming, Nevada and Utah.

While Greg held Mr. Toad in his hand, my headlamp revealed a dusky greenish body with a cream-colored dorsal stripe and body covered with dark blotches. And two bulging eyes that were examining me as intently as I was studying him.

"Want to hold it?" Greg asked.

Mr. Toad felt squiggly, something like a big glob of wiggly jelly.

We returned Mr. Toad to the ground, where he patiently stood before slowly hopping away. Minutes later Greg's light flashed on another toad, which he picked up and held to show others following us down the trail.

I've been fortunate to spend several nights on Wizard Island, once in a snow cave during the first winter overnight on the island, another time in a rainy deluge, others times from a sleeping bag on the boat dock under a dizzying canopy of stars. Some of those stories have been told, others remain untold. But this is first time this story has been toad.

Lee Juillerat has been writing about outdoor adventures in Southern Oregon and elsewhere for more than 30 years. He is also a regular contributor to the outdoor-travel website High On Adventure at www.highonadventure.com. He can be contacted at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

The skeletons of old trees stand at the edge of the crater on Wizard Island. Photo by Lee Juillerat
Greg Walter holds one of the many western toads that inhabit Wizard Island at Crater Lake National Park. Photo by Lee Juillerat