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…

Who’s Blooming Today?

Squeezed in a quick walk yesterday afternoon.

The Woods

I’m sure I missed plenty, but here are a few things I did see:

Spring Beauty
Spring Beauty


Toothwort Buds

Broadleaf Sedge
Broadleaf Sedge


Round-leaved Violet
Round-leaved Violet

Then there was this little cutie, with colors so bright he (or she?) must have just shed:

Garter Snake
Garter Snake

Garter Snake
Can you see just the tiniest tips of the tongue?

After the Rain…

It rained this morning. As the clouds thinned, the light became perfect for photography, so I headed down to Audubon to see if the adorable Yellow Warblers were out by the overlook again (and to practice using my 100-400mm lens). They were… taking inchworm after inchworm to a nest that was hidden from view.

Yellow Warbler

I watched for quite a long time and was also treated to a Swamp Sparrow singing his little heart out.

Swamp Sparrow

The Red-winged Blackbirds who are also nesting in the shrubs would not pose nicely for pictures. Other wildlife along my path did, however…

Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Eastern Garter Snake
Eastern Garter Snake in one of the Woodpecker Holes in the Dead Elm Tree

Tadpoles in the pond along the maintenance road

And, back at the building:

Eastern Chipmunk
An adorable Eastern Chipmunk in the Bird Garden

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.

A Couple of Critters

I took a long walk at Audubon yesterday toting the camera… Couldn’t resist taking a few shots of our latest adoptee – we’re calling her “Angel Wing” because of the condition of her wing.

Angel Wing

She cannot fly and will most likely spend the winter in Audubon’s backyard where we keep a portion of the pond free of ice through the use of a bubbler, and where she will munch on birdseed kicked out of the feeders by other birds.

I also happened on this fellow, soaking up some late afternoon sun:

Painted Turtle

He’ll be fine under the ice of the pond through the winter…

In the meantime, let’s all enjoy autumn together…


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.

Little Fall Snakes

So yesterday, I’m sitting at my desk and the phone rings with that double-ring that means it’s an internal call.  Pat is calling from the front desk.  “Um, Jen?  Could you please come down here for a minute?”

“Sure,” I answer.  “What’s up?”

“There’s a snake in the building.”

“Cool!  I’ll be right there!”

It lay quite still on the carpet.  Apparently, Pat had walked by it several times thinking it was a stick that she would eventually pick up and throw out.  When she approached it, though, it moved!

How to Hold a Snake

As you can see, it was just a bitty little thing.  But a special one!  This is a Short-headed Garter Snake (Thamnophis brachystoma).  What’s so special?  Well, it’s range, mostly.  It has a pretty small one, living in the southern most parts of three western New York counties and parts of Western Pennsylvania.  There is one small isolated population near Horseheads in Chemung County, New York.

Short-headed Garter Range Map - Gibbs Breisch

Amphibians and Reptiles of New York StateThat map is from a pretty awesome, relatively new book called The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State – a collaboration of several scientists including James P. Gibbs, Alvin R. Breisch, Peter K. Ducey, Glenn Johnson, John Behler, and Richard Bothner.  Yeah.  If you are a herp nerd living in New York, put this book on your letter to Santa!

Anyway, Short-headed Garters are just adorable little snakes.  I guess they can get as long as 22 inches or so, but when I find them, they are pretty small.  How this one got into the building, I just don’t know.

Short-headed Garter
Pretty cute, huh?

The other snake that I’ve seen this week – twice in one day, in fact, is another that rarely grows longer than 20 inches or so…  I didn’t have my camera when my Kindergarten group found them, so this picture is from last year:

Little Snake
Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi)

Far more abundant and widely distributed, this snake can be found from southern Canada to northern Mexico east of the Rockies.

In fall, it is not uncommon to see snakes on the move, heading toward their hibernacula – places where several (sometimes hundreds) of snakes gather to spend the winter.

Learn more:

Intergenerational Elderhostel

This is Jamestown Audubon’s first experience offering an intergenerational Elderhostel program.  The theme is insects, but participants will also take general nature walks and birding walks.  They will kayak in two different locations and take a ride on Chautauqua Lake on the Summer Wind.

I got to spend Sunday evening and a good chunk of Monday with our small but pleasant group.  Here are some highlights:

Sarah came along and calmed a Water Snake for a Close Encounter and some snake education:

Water Snakes have keeled scales which makes for a rough texture on top:

The belly is as smooth as can be:
The belly of the Water Snake is smooth as can be

We also saw a Garter Snake, Leopard Frogs, and Grasshoppers along the way, along with lots of funky fungi and strange parasitic wildflowers.

In the afternoon, the group proved to be rather adept at catching dragonflies. Here’s a Halloween Pennant:

And check out this mating pair of Eastern Forktails, caught in midflight:

So, welcome Elderhostel participants.  I hope you have a great week.  More pictures from the Elderhostel experience can be found here and will be updated throughout the week: FLICKR PIX

It’s Baby Animal Time

It’s baby animal time at Audubon!  And we’ve been finding many.  Last weekend, our first batch of goslings hatched during 60-80 degree weather.  Today, with temperatures back down in the 40s, they must be wondering what they were thinking hatching out this early!  Lucky for them, mom’s wings and warm body will provide protection.

Goose Family - there are six goslings!
Canada Goose Family


That really IS a baby turtle in Sarah's hand...

And what about those Painted Turtles?  How do they manage to stay underground all winter long, then find water once they hatch out of holes that are often rather far from the ponds?  They’ve been making a mad dash for the backyard pond over the last few days.

Baby Painted Turtle

They’re just so perfectly round when they first hatch out, aren’t they?

Two Baby Turtles

What Is Awesome?

ChipmunkSome of the children who come to Audubon live in rural settings not unlike what they will see on their field trip.  In addition, some come with their school classes every year.  It can be challenging to try to find something new and different, to elicit a “Wow!”

Yesterday I had a group that just made me smile.  It was the ESL (English as a Second Language) class from a local public school.  A couple of the students came last year.  Most had not been in the US for even a year yet.  One girl had just arrived from Puerto Rico earlier this week.

To these kids, everything was new.  Things that other kids consider common place were absolutely fascinating to them and elicited plenty of giggles and squeals and exclamations of “Wow!”

Before we even left the building we had already seen many of the usual backyard critters:  chipmunks, rabbits, and Canada Goose families.  The local kids nearly yawn at these…  Not so with this group:  pure delight at each discovery.

BullfrogThe herps at the pond were the biggest draw.  This poor frog was eventually caught and treated to high-pitched human screams.  After the students made several failed attempts to remove the frog from the net and hold him in their hands, the rather large fellow managed to escape back into the pond.

One of the boys was determined to catch and hold a snake.  At the spillway of Spatterdock Pond, we found several Northern Water Snakes.  Carlos asked if he could pick one up.  I explained that he could if he wanted, but…  Northern Water Snakes almost always bite when handled, and they have an anticoagulant in their saliva.  If one bites, you are likely to make quite a mess bleeding all over the place.  Northern Water SnakeHe decided to take his chances…  The female sat quite still, sunning herself on the branch throughout the entire effort.  She was very large and apparently intimidating because Carlos ignored her and tried for one of the smaller, though more active males.  Fortunately (for  the snakes) he was not successful in catching one.

Everyone loves to check the bird boxes.  One of the Tree Swallow boxes had 3 cold eggs.  The kids were astounded that I allowed them to hold one in their hands.  “They look like jelly beans,” I was told.

A good chunk of my job involves writing reports, keeping statistics, assisting with grants, recruiting and training volunteers, setting up programs, cleaning up programs…  The most satisfying part by far is taking the kids outside and showing them cool stuff.  The ones who find it familar aren’t quite as fun as the ones who find everything new, New, NEW…  but sharing nature with children…  it can’t be beat.
Checking the Tree Swallow Box