Salamander Crossing Brigade Updates for 2021

February 10, 2021
A spotted salamander makes its way across North Lincoln Street in Keene. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

What’s New in 2021….

We’ve made a few changes to the Salamander Crossing Brigades for 2021. Here’s what you need to know.

Volunteer Training

NEW! In light of the ongoing pandemic, volunteer training will take place entirely online this year. We encourage new volunteers to attend our Zoom workshop on March 18, where you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and quiz yourself on your newfound amphibian knowledge. We’ve also created a series of shorter training videos for folks who were unable to attend the Zoom training. They don’t have the same level of detail or interactivity offered by our live event, but they do cover the basics. You can find links to them on our Volunteer Materials page.

Site-Specific Email Lists

NEW! Everyone who attends a volunteer training is automatically added to our Salamander Crossing Brigade email list, which we use to we share amphibian migration forecasts, as well as field reports from Big Nights and other salamander-related news. This year, in addition to the big list for the entire program, we’re experimenting with creating optional, separate email lists for each crossing site. We envision these as free-form “talk amongst yourselves” threads, where folks can chime in when they’re planning to head out and are hoping for company on the road, and also get the info they need to head to a different site — in the interest of keeping things small and socially distant — if a given crossing seems like it’ll be especially well-staffed. Sign up for a site-specific email list here.

Online Data Submission

NEW! We’ve got snazzy new online forms for submitting your Big Night data. Submit your counts and photos here.

Liability Waivers

NEW! You’ll be thrilled to learn that we must now ask all our Salamander Crossing Brigade volunteers to sign a liability waiver. We need a separate form for each volunteer — including one for each child in a family of Crossing Brigadiers, signed by a parent or guardian — and for each year of participation. It’s an online form, and should only take a few minutes. Fill out your 2021 liability waiver here.

Spot Pattern Photos

UPDATE: The spots on adult spotted salamanders are like fingerprints on humans: each salamander has its own unique constellation of markings, which can be used to tell that individual apart from all the others. We maintain a photo database of individual spotted salamanders at well-established amphibian road crossings associated with our Crossing Brigades, which we hope will ultimately provide valuable information on year-to-year survival in spotted salamander populations that must cross roads to reach their breeding pools. Although we’ve accepted photos from many sites in the past, for ease of data management we are now concentrating our efforts on a few long-established sites that have a consistent salamander and volunteer presence year after year. Moving forward, please only submit spot pattern photos from the following crossings: North Lincoln Street (Keene), Jordan Road (Keene), Matthews Road (Swanzey), Swanzey Lake Road (Swanzey), and Nelson Road (Nelson). Learn more about our spot pattern project here.


Traffic safety has always been of the utmost concern for our Salamander Crossing Brigade program. Now, COVID-19 safety is too. Here are the precautions we expect all our Crossing Brigade volunteers to follow to help keep one another healthy.

Know when to stay home.

If you or anyone in your household has recently been exposed to COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms, please stay home.

Wear a mask.

Whenever you’re at a crossing with people who are not members of your own household or pandemic pod, wear a face covering over your mouth and nose.

Keep your distance.

If you’re at a crossing site with people who are outside of your pod, keep at least six feet away from them at all times. (This means no gathering together to admire salamanders!) If there are ten or more people at a crossing site when you arrive, head home or go to a different site.

Do not use hand sanitizer before handling amphibians.

Hand sanitizer can be harmful to amphibians, who readily absorb toxins through their skin. Instead, wash your hands with soap and water before you head out and as soon as you get home after a night on the road — and do your best not to touch your face in between. (COVID aside, it’s best not to touch your face after handling amphibians anyway, as spotted salamanders, American toads, and some other species can secrete a defensive “goo” that may cause eye irritation.)

Amphibian Road Closures

North Lincoln Street

As in 2018 and 2019, Harris Center staff will be working closely with the City of Keene to implement migration-night road closures at the North Lincoln Street amphibian crossing site. However, unlike prior years, human presence at the North Lincoln Street crossing in 2021 will be limited to a small number of Harris Center staff and trained volunteers. In past springs, we’ve had up to 50 people a night visit North Lincoln Street to witness the spectacle of the amphibian migration. While we celebrate (and share!) this herpetological enthusiasm, crowds of that size — even outdoors — are simply not safe during a pandemic. We care about protecting salamanders, but we care about protecting people, too. If all goes well, the family-friendly frog fest vibe will return to North Lincoln Street in 2022.

Jordan Road

Last spring, the Harris Center received permission from the Keene City Council to work with City staff to close the Jordan Road amphibian crossing site to vehicle traffic on a limited number of Big Nights, but this pilot project was ultimately postponed due to the pandemic. The Jordan Road crossing requires more complicated detours and traffic planning than the North Lincoln Street site, and the City of Keene staff who would need to be involved in this planning still have their hands full with pandemic-related emergency management, so we will be holding off on Jordan Road closures again this year. We hope to move forward with pilot Jordan Road closures in 2022.

Contact Us

For more information about the Salamander Crossing Brigades, please contact Brett Amy Thelen by email.