Salamander Migration

On a rainy spring night with temperatures sufficiently warm and ice melted from the ponds and ground we go to The Pool. We hope we have picked the right night and will be able to meet up with our old friends. We are not disappointed.

DSC01019-spotted salamander
Spotted Salamander

DSC01020-Jefferson Blue Spotted
Jefferson / Blue-Spotted Complex

DSC01023-leopard frog
Leopard Frog

DSC01024-wood frog
Wood Frog (not sure why he appears blue-ish here!)

This was only my second time using this camera (Sony DSC-RX100) at night. (The first time was in a snowy blizzard, and this time in the rain…) I tried using it without the flash, lighting each critter with a new, powerful MagLite flashlight I bought just for the occasion. I need to practice more to get better focus and to get the light just right, but I’m not displeased with the exposures.

DSC01076-Flashlight and Boots

Poor Little Toad!

Took the dogs to Bentley today.  45 degrees.  Snow turning to slush. A little sublimation of snow directly to mist… Very pretty.

Bentley Sanctuary

Then we came upon this poor little muddy-faced guy. Alive. Cold.

American Toad

Toads should be underground or under logs at this time of year!  I found a log to tuck him under and covered him with leaves. Hope he survives!

American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus)

Watts Flats Wildlife Management Area

Watts Flats WMA SignOne of the bird walks for Audubon’s spring birding series will be at the Watts Flats Wildlife Mangement Area. I decided to check it out today. I’m frankly kind of suprised I’ve never run upon it before this. It is so close, and so accessible.

We parked at a lot at the corner of Swede Road and Green Flats Road.

Before getting to the parking lot, we saw a mink bound over Swede Road in front of us. Later we would also see a muskrat, and plenty of evidence of beaver activity:

Beaver Activity

We parked close to Swede Road and walked Green Flats Road to the second parking lot. It looked as Green Flats Road is supposed to continue as a grassy trail.

Path to bridge

But the bridge and much of the trail was under water!

Bridge - flooded

We turned left instead and into the woods. The trail was wet – even covered with water in some places. But I could see it would be a very nice trail when the water goes down a bit. We hiked out until we got to a spot where the trail was covered with two feet of water, then turned around and back out to the car.

Along the way, we saw plenty of wildlife.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Garter Snake
Eastern Garter Snake

Canada Goose
Canada Goose

We also saw robins and crows, a red-tailed hawk, a pair of frisky kingfishers, and a very large bird that we could not identify. I swear it was shaped like a cormorant, but it was a light brown color. I heard red-winged blackbirds, but never saw one. Dozens of frogs jumped into the water before we could see what they were. And we even saw dragonflies – one was definitely a Common Green Darner. I suspect the other one was, too, but I couldn’t get a good look.

Plants were also plentiful, though not many in bloom yet.

Pussy Willows
Pussy Willow

Colt's Foot
Colt’s Foot

Ground Pine
Ground Pine

It was a very pleasant afternoon walk. I look forward to going back early in the morning in a few weeks as part of the birding classes. Hopefully the water will be down and we can hike around that pond.

Green Flats Road
Walking back to the car…

Vernal Pool Pilgrimage

Morning Staff Meeting.  Live Animal Report.  “Everybody’s fine.”

“But hey, speaking of live animals, do you think tonight might be the night?”

“Could be.  Rain.  Temps near sixty.”

“It’s supposed to get cold again, though.  And snow.”

Later in the day, we check the hour by hour forecast.  Temperatures aren’t supposed to drop until 11pm or midnight.  I send an email to the Spontaneous Naturalist list, post a notice on Facebook, and call Wanda.  “Tonight’s the night.  Dig out your rain gear and your strongest flashlight.  I’ll pick you up at 7:30.”


Wanda - dressed for the weather, flashlight ready!

We arrive just as the light is fading.  Peepers are singing.  Rain is steady, but not unpleasant.  We walk out the maintenance road, along the big field, into the woods and find two friends on a bench, clad in rain gear, also waiting for the migration.

We chat a bit, then head for the pond.

We pick our way around the edge, shining flashlights into the water.

All our old friends are here, all anticipating spring, as are we.

Wood Frog
Wood Frog

Leopard Frog
Leopard Frog

Spotted Salamanders
Spotted Salamanders

Snapping Turtle
Snapping Turtle

There is also evidence that the reason for coming the pond has already started, if you know what I mean…

Wood Frog and Jefferson/Blue Spotted Salamander Eggs

Salamander Eggs
Jefferson/Blue-spotted Eggs

Spotted Salamander w/ Spermatophore
Spotted Salamander w/ Spermatophores

The amphibians were not as plentiful as I have sometimes seen them, bit it was relatively early when we headed home. We did not hear Wood Frogs singing on the way to the pond, but on the way back to the car, we did. So perhaps it got “busier” at the pool after we left.

I love to visit the vernal pools in spring. It has become a tradition.

Still Waiting

It had been so warm for so many days.  Finally, rain.  But when the rain came, the temperatures dropped… into the 40s…  too cold, according to the experts, for the Spotted Salamanders to migrate to the pools.  I knew there was little hope of finding them, but I ventured out anyway with camera, flashlights, cell phone, and the list of people who are as anxious as me to see them.

The sound of the peepers ws deafening as I passed the ponds along the old farm road.

When I got to the pond, I heard plenty of Wood Frogs… but they stopped singing when I shone my flashlight into the water.  I searched and searched for salamanders, but saw nothing.  Just the eggs that the Jefferson’s had left a week or more ago…  and a few Wood Frog eggs.  The frogs stopped singing when I turned on my flashlight.

After searching, I decided to turn off the flashlight and get quiet so the Wood Frogs would sing some more.  I planned to get out my camera and capture their songs, as I had the Spring Peepers.  But they wouldn’t sing.

Then I heard a rustling in the leaves near the path.  I thought there was an animal visitor… perhaps a deer, or a raccoon.  A strange noise came from that direction – like the noise people make when they are “talking to” red squirrels…  I decided to get my cameral out so I could try to capture this strange sound…

Then it turned into giggling and a flashlight went on.  Pat and Denny!  Together we searched the pond and finally saw a few Spotted Salamanders… probably males that made it to the pond a while back…  Denny captured one so I could photograph it.


Not much activity in the pond on this cold night. On the way back, though, we saw plenty of Glowworms:

Hard to believe this critter will turn into a Firefly, isn’t it?

We Haven’t Missed It!…

Sarah and I walked out to the Vernal Pool today to see if anything has happened yet.  The short story is:  we have not missed the migration of the Spotted Salamanders!

We heard our first Spring Peepers as we walked out.  And when we got to the pool, we did see a couple of of Wood Frogs who jumped in as we approached,the snapping turtle who overwinters in this pool, and quite a few eggs from the Jefferson-Blue-Spotted Salamanders.

Spring Peeper by Sarah Hatfield

Spring Peeper by Sarah Hatfield

Wood Frog by Tom LeBlanc

Wood Frog by Tom LeBlanc

Snapping Turtle in the Vernal Pool

Snapping Turtle in the Vernal Pool

Jefferson-Blue-Spotted Salamander

Jefferson-Blue-Spotted Salamander

We have had warm weather.  And we have had wet weather.  But we have not yet had warm wet weather.  The Spotted Salamander females are said to run when the temperature is 55 and it’s raining…  Maybe this week?

Spotted Salamanders

Spotted Salamanders

Trying to time the migration of spotted salamanders each spring has become an obsession for me.  It just isn’t spring, unless I can (at least try to) go see the salamanders in the vernal pool. Spontaneous Naturalists: be on the ready… It could be this week.

Happy May Day

Enjoy a Flowery Friday… some images from a damp evening walk:

Skunk Cabbage
Skunk Cabbage


Dwarf Ginseng     Goldthread
Dwarf Ginseng, Goldthread

Painted Trillium
Painted Trillium

Common Violet     Violet - White
Violets  (I’m guessing: Common Blue and Northern White??  Violets are too plentiful and hard to identify…)

Red Eft
Oops!  That’s not a Flower!  Red Eft

Wild Oats     Swamp Buttercup
Wild Oats, Swamp Buttercup

(Happy Birthday, Durenka!)

In addition to those pictured, I also saw the following:

  • Jewelweed – new little round leaves only
  • False Hellabore – leaves
  • Canada Mayflower – leaves and buds
  • Horsetail – lots of leaves and some flower buds
  • Marsh Marigold – full bloom and gorgeous
  • a yellow Violet
  • Foam Flowers – new leaves and tight little buds
  • Dutchman Breeches or Squirrel Corn leaves
  • Colt’s Foot – going to seed, some small leaves up
  • Running Strawberry Bush – buds
  • Yellow Mandarin (a.k.a. Fairy Bells) – leaves and buds
  • Spring Cress (tall plants with tight buds)
  • Trout Lily (most gone to seed)
  • Spring Beauties (Caroliniana)
  • Soloman Seal – buds
  • Red Trillium
  • Blue Cohosh
  • Toothwort – just the leaves
  • Cut-leaved Toothwort – blooming
  • Myrtle
  • Partridge Berry – fruit

Where?  Jamestown Community College – College Park – south side of the creek.  Hope to visit the north side today!

Vernal Pool

I’m 52 years old, and I still like to go mucking around in the ponds.  I guess all those years of singing I Won’t Grow Up at Girl Scout Camp, then later in the show Peter Pan caused a self-fulfilling prophecy…  Anyway, I just can’t resist going to the ponds in spring…

A bunch of us went out with Dr. Tom Erlandson to visit several ponds at the Erlandson Overlook Park (named in his honor).  Seems none of us can grow up, eh?

Tom Erlandson and Group

At the first pond, we came across huge egg masses that were hatching.  From the edge of the pond, the masses looked like Wood Frog eggs.  We scooped some into a pan to observe.

Salamander (?) Larvae and Caddisfly Larvae

The amphibian larvae were only about the size of a hemlock needle.  (Do you also see the Caddisfly Larvae in the middle of the egg mass?)  So, we went on blithely telling people that these are Wood Frog Eggs and the little guys are Wood Frog tadpoles…

But then, we looked more closely…

Mystery Larva

The gills are on the outside of the little guy’s head… But are they feathery enough to make it a salamander larva, rather than a tadpole?  Still not sure…  Here’s a little 30-second video in which my friend Mike encourages the little critters to swim for us:

So, what do you think?  Wood Frogs?  Or Salamanders?

A New Toy

I decided that it would be nice to have a little point and shoot camera that would fit in my pocket or purse… for hiking, backpacking, the classroom, etc.  I didn’t want to spend a lot of money.  Just something for snapshots.

After a moderate amount of looking around and reading reviews, I decided on the Canon PowerShot A1000 IS.  I have a lot of learning to do…  But this morning (4:30 am) I got up and took it out to the vernal pool to see how it would do in low light…

The path around the backyard ponds sparkled with glowworms.  I picked one up in my left hand, held the flashlight between my knees, and used my right hand to snap this photo:


Out at the pool, I got these:

Spotted Salamander Encounter


And just for fun, I recorded this Spring Peeper Chorus…

Hmm… I can’t figure out how to embed it here.  Guess I’ll have to figure that out!  You can go to flickr to hear it:

OK, I figured it out.  (Thanks TGAW – though I had figured it out for my Gorge-ous post.)

I’m looking forward to giving this little camera a workout this spring…


Sarah and I walked yesterday afternoon 4:30ish.  Warm, sunny, breezy… glorious.  Bluebird pair investigating boxes on the Big Field.  And herps…

Goose and Turtles - by Jeff TomeSpring Peepers going crazy in the ponds.  And a lone Leopard Frog calling.  A big fat Bullfrog.  Lots of Painted Turtles.

We walked out to the Vernal Pool to see if we had missed the salamander run.  There were Jefferson eggs, some spermataphore… but no sign of Spotted Salamanders yet, nor even of Wood Frogs.  Yay!  We haven’t missed it.