Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Pelee - an amazing way to close out April

Pelee never ceases to amaze. Last night, the radar was lit up with migrant birds streaming north, and I was excited to see what rarities would drop in at the park. Needless to say, the park didn't disappoint, with year-birds coming frequently throughout the day. The reverse migration was also the best I had EVER seen (and I was getting paid to monitor the reverse migration every day, from April 25 to May 20, last year). Dave Bell and I  found several rarities. And we successfully chased others.

When it was all said and done, Dave and I spent 13.5 hours in the park, and minus a brief foray near Pioneer (to see a Worm-eating Warbler), we were south of the Visitor's Centre for the entire time. We ended up seeing 124 species - pretty good for April.

The highlight was obviously the extremely co-operative Henslow's Sparrow that David Bell, Jack Fenton and I found along the west beach footpath. More photos to come later, but here's one! This was my 4th Henslow's ever, and 2nd "self-found". It remained cooperative for most birders who looked for it later in the day, and I photographed it later in the evening with Jeremy H.and Dwayne.

Henslow's Sparrow - April 30, 2013

The second rarity came only 20 minutes after the first. After alerting birders of the Henslow's, Dave and I continued south. Near an opening in the vegetation about 200 m north of the tip, we looked out at the ducks offshore. A large brown duck flew by at very close range and we assumed it would be a scoter. Needless to say I was completely taken aback when I realized it was a female King Eider!! This is a pretty rare bird on Lake Erie, though there are previous April records for Point Pelee. We ran down to the tip (it looked like it was coming in for a landing), but the bird was nowhere in sight. If it turns up again it will probably be with the scaup and scoter flocks on the west side of the Pelee peninsula.

And the final "self found" rarity was a Northern Goshawk that passed overhead, being harassed by blackbirds. Luckily Dave and I each fired off a few photos. This is an extremely scarce spring migrant at Point Pelee, not occurring most springs, I'm sure!

Northern Goshawk - April 30, 2013

We also had a fantastic reverse migration in the AM containing Blue-winged Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Eastern Bluebird, Chimney Swift, all the regular woodpeckers, Clay-colored Sparrow, and American Tree Sparrow.
Hundreds of Nashville Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers comprised the bulk of the reverse migration.

We also successfully chased a Worm-eating Warbler that Matt Timpf found, and a Kentucky Warbler that Brandon and Eric Holden found. What a day!!!

The radar is all lit up again tonight, so I can only assume tomorrow will be great. I am sure lots of "firsts of the year" will be in store.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Painted Bunting at Pelee!!

Today was a great day of birding at Point Pelee. Right from the time we entered the south end of the park it was apparent that a new load of migrants had dropped in, and they kept coming with the morning fog. The numbers were not astounding by any means, but it sure was nice to have birds to look at! I'll mention some of the highlights in another blog post, but I thought that tonight I would post photos of the real star of the day - the Painted Bunting.

David Bell and I were birding the tip area around noon when Jeremy Bensette called (he works at Pelee Wings). Jeremy had news of a female Painted Bunting coming to the bird feeders across the street from Pelee Wings! Maris Apse had found the bird (chatting with him later, it was the first stop he made on his way to Pelee - a quck check of the feeders). Within seconds I had sent out text messages to any birders I knew were in the area and it wasn't long until Jeremy texted that he had seen and photographed the bird.

Eventually the shuttle arrived to pick us up from the tip, and we raced (at the speed limit of course) north out of the park. Without further ado - the bunting!

Painted Bunting - April 29, 2013

My photos at the time weren't very good, but I returned later this evening and had an absolutely amazing half hour, photographing the bird at eye level from only about 10 feet away. It was not too concerned with our presence - it just wanted to feed!

Painted Bunting - April 29, 2013

It appears to be a 2nd year bird based on the contrast between the primary and secondary coverts. It is in female type plumage but it could be a 2nd year male - I don't have any good resources on me at the moment.

Painted Bunting - April 29, 2013

Thanks, Maris for a great bird! As of the end of the 2011 OBRC report, there were 31 accepted records of Painted Bunting in Ontario. There are two previous for the Point Pelee birding area.

Painted Bunting - April 29, 2013

It will be exciting to see what tomorrow brings!!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Rainy times at pelee with a few good birds

Today was a pretty typical late April day at Point Pelee. Warblers and other migrants were extremely few and far between, with the odd mixed species flock being present (and containing mostly Pine, Palm, Black-throated Green and Yellow-rumped Warblers). But generally, I had to really work for the birds today!

The highlight of the day was when Kory texted me about a Sedge Wren he found - on the Woodland Nature Trail, no less. I walked to the site, and joined up with Marianne Reid-Balkwill and Jeremy Hatt. After staking out the area for a good 20 minutes, Jeremy and Marianne continued on their way. About 30 seconds later I nearly stepped on the wren as it flushed up into a brush pile! I called Jeremy, and he and Marianne arrived momentarily to enjoy the bird.

Sedge Wren - April 28, 2013

This was a new Point Pelee bird for me - my first new Pelee bird  in three weeks. At one point it hopped up onto a branch, allowing me an attempt at a clear photo. Unfortunately I was slow to the draw and just missed the opportunity!

Sedge Wren - April 28, 2013

After waiting out the rain for a bit, I grew restless and so bundled up to brave the elements. Parking at Sleepy Hollow, I walked all the way to Northwest Beach and back, looking for sparrows in the dunes and scrubby areas near the beach. This was actually a fair bit of fun and I found a few roving flocks. One flock held 15 Field Sparrows and a lone American Tree Sparrow, my first in a few days and likely my last until next winter.

Near the south end of Northwest Beach I flushed an Ammodramus sparrow - another Grasshopper Sparrow! This was my second in two days. I owed Kory Renaud for the Sedge Wren earlier - he managed to catch up with the Grasshopper Sparrow later in the afternoon.

From here I met up with David Bell at Hillman Marsh (he was looking at a flock of Willets), and after a bit of shorebirding we were about to call it quits when we received word from Jeremy Hatt about a Worm-eating Warbler at nearby Kopegaron Woods. Needless to say this was a great bird, so we drove up there and found it with Jeremy relatively quickly. Only my 4th ever.

Worm-eating Warbler - April 28, 2013

Worm-eating Warbler - April 28, 2013

While it was another slow day, the few quality birds made up for the weather and general lack of Passerines. Tonight looks like interesting weather and it will probably be better tomorrow in the park. It certainly can't get any slower!

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Pelee update

I have been at Point Pelee for a few days now, and the migrants have slowly been trickling in. The birding has been relatively slow, but it is spring and new year birds are being seen daily!

In the last few days, some of the highlights include:

-13 species of shorebirds (including 2 Long-billed Dowitchers, a Willet that flew into the shorebird cell this evening as we were watching, and an early Semipalmated Plover)

roof vulture

-8 species of warblers including great comparisons between Louisiana and Northern Waterthrushes

-12 species of sparrows (13 if you include the Lark Sparrow from April 24)

-Eastern Whip-poor-will: 1 bird sitting on the main park road at 9:00 PM on April 24

-year birds in Blue-headed Vireo, House Wren, Eastern Kingbird and Wood Thrush

Today was pretty slow for songbirds, however while walking the west beach footpath with Steve Pike, Jeremy Bensette, and Jeremy's friend Chris, we flushed a streaky sparrow. It ended up being a nice Grasshopper Sparrow, perching out in the open for several minutes. My earliest I've had in Ontario! Jeremy took some half decent pics.

Later on in the day, I was at De Laurier parking lot with Jeremy and Blake Mann, when a small sparrow flew by calling. The call sounded off for it to be a Chipping Sparrow - it was a Clay-colored Sparrow! One had been found there that morning by Ross and Sandy Mackintosh.

Clay-colored Sparrow - Point Pelee National Park

Clay-colored Sparrow - Point Pelee National Park

I'm excited for what the next few days will bring. Ken Burrell had 10 species of warblers (including a nice Prothonotary) and 100 total species on Pelee Island today,  so I think it is only a matter of time until new migrants flood in. We're hoping for some overnight rain to ground migrants at Point Pelee.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Lark Sparrow!!

I'll make a post with the rest of the day's sightings sometime tomorrow, but I thought I would get the Lark Sparrow photos up now.

After checking the pier and then the harbour at Erieau, I was walking back to my car, cursing the cold weather, strong north winds, and rain. My first day of birding after taking care of a bunch of errands and job/house stuff, and this is what I was being greeted with!

Suddenly I noticed a sparrow with white edges to its tail flush, with a strange call as it flew up in the air and landed. That immediately snagged my interest, and a quick look in the bins revealed my suspicions - a Lark Sparrow!!

Lark Sparrow - Erieau, Ontario

Lark Sparrows usually occur about 5 or 6 times a year in Ontario and they have occasionally bred in the province. However they are a tough one to get and most years I don't see any. This was my second "self found" Lark Sparrow, after a bird I had on the Bruce Peninsula a few autumns ago.

After some quick looks at the bird, I carefully made my way back to the car without flushing it again. After texting some people and posting to Ontbirds, I grabbed my camera and took my first photos. The rain made it tricky and the bird was a bit skittish, but eventually I was able to hide behind a concrete block with a red boat resting on it. I snuck around the corner and rested my camera on the concrete (to prevent shake due to the strong winds) and took some better photos.

Lark Sparrow - Erieau, Ontario

Lark Sparrow - Erieau, Ontario

Steve Charbonneau, a Rondeau area birder came by to take a look at it. I called James Helmer, who is doing a big year and was in the area, and he saw it too. Perhaps half of southern Ontario's Lark Sparrows seem to hang around for a few days so there is a good bet it will be there in the morning.

Lark Sparrow - Erieau, Ontario
A great start to my Pelee trip!

Monday, 22 April 2013

I'm moving to Newmarket.

It is official as of today - I have a place to live near Schomberg, ON for the next while. Not too long ago I accepted a full time, permanent job as a Biologist for a consulting firm and I will be based out of their Newmarket office.

While Newmarket isn't the best location for a birder to live, I'm looking forward to the new job. The birding possibilities near my new place will be something different - I haven't really birded York Region before, so check the Ebird Top 100 for York later this year and I might be near the top. ;) I will also be visiting Dufferin and Simcoe Counties more thoroughly, as well as the northern end of Durham Region. While these counties are not particularly noted for their huge rarity potential, they do have some fun breeding birds, I guess. And I will be in a more central location for all of southern Ontario with a similar distance to both Ottawa and Point Pelee. Additionally, I am within an hour from some fantastic herping areas! Today I scoped out the area around my house. Within a few kilometers are the Schomberg "sewage lagoons" (basically a couple of storm water ponds) which has been host to Red-necked Grebes and a Ross's Goose the last few days. No luck with the goose today for me though! Red-necked Grebe was a tough one to get for the "patch", so I was happy. And I have a good patch bird from last year - a Hudsonian Godwit from the spring which was year bird #299 on my Big Year!

Hudsonian Godwit - Schomberg, ON (May 18, 2012)

However, I do not start work until May 6th, meaning that you can probably guess where I will spend the majority of the next 13 days! That's right, either tomorrow night or early Wednesday morning I will drive down to the Pelee area and plan to bird until I drop!

Hudsonian Godwit - Schomberg, ON (May 18, 2012)

Mike Burrell wrote a great blog post today about some of the rarities that have shown up already early in the season. Normally April 25 to May 25 is the big peak rarity time for Ontario, though we have already had such notables as Swallow-tailed Kite, Chuck-wills-widow, Say's Phoebe (which I unsuccessfully chased on the weekend), and some rare herons and warblers. Check out Mike's blog for the full recap, with links to photos or Ebird/blog reports of the notable species. 

Hudsonian Godwit - Schomberg, ON (May 18, 2012)

Anyways, I am off to Pelee soon! Visions of White-tailed Kites will be in my head....

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Welcome to winter

The snow is falling as I type this. It is April 20 in southwestern Ontario and it is SNOWING. It is during weather like this that I reminisce about a different time - back when it was hot and sunny, with a gentle south breeze blowing spring migrants north to us. A time when Eastern Comma and Mourning Cloak butterflies flitted through the woodlands. And a time when reptiles and amphibians awoke from their months-long slumber to bask in the rays of a spring sun. I will take you all the way to April 18, 2013.

It was a beautiful spring day with the thermometer reaching the low 20s, so after my four day trip in the Point Pelee area I made a stop at a local herpetofauna goldmine near Cambridge. I have talked about this site many times in the past and have seen 25 species of reptiles of amphibians that call this place home. However there was one species that makes its home here that I had not yet seen - the Blanding's Turtle. Despite visiting the site several hundred times in the past, this was the one species that eluded me. So despite the promise of a hot shower and warm meal not in the too distant future, I first made a stop at this site to search for ol' yellow-chin.

Long story short, I wasn't successful despite checking some sizable wetlands in the area. However it was not in vain as I observed several reptiles out for a bask.

This Midland Painted Turtle was out for a cruise and was partially across the road when I rescued it. Turtles move around a lot early in the spring as they navigate to favorite ponds for feeding and basking. Since I saved her life, I figured that I could bother her for a few moments to take some photos before releasing her in the nearby wetland.

Midland Painted Turtle - April 18, 2013

Midland Painted Turtle - April 18, 2013

A wary grackle or two kept an eye on me as I released the turtle.

Common Grackle - April 18, 2013

One of my favorite things about this site is the huge population of Northern Ribbon Snakes - a species designated "Special Concern" in Ontario. This is the lowest designation of a Species at Risk. Northern Ribbonsnakes can be common in some areas of the province though they are absent in most of southwestern Ontario away from some large wetlands. This population here is holding strong, and it was not long until I encountered the first Northern Ribbonsnake basking alongside a wetland.

Northern Ribbonsnake - April 18, 2013

At this site, Eastern Gartersnakes and Northern Ribbonsnakes (both in the genus Thamnophis) coexist, though they occupy slightly different niches. I find that I encounter both species about equally here, though perhaps with a slight edge being given to the generalist - the Eastern Gartersnake.

Several of the garters were basking along the hillsides, or crawling along, smelling the air. I followed a male for some time as it appeared he was on the scent of a female. In the past this has led me right to a large female, often with several smaller males in the vicinity, vying for a chance to mate with the female.

Eastern Gartersnake - April 18, 2013

Several more individuals of each species were seen, with the final tally being 5 Northern Ribbonsnakes and 9 Eastern Gartersnakes. 6 other species of snake occupy the site, listed here from most abundant to least abundant (and with the total number I've found here in brackets). Northern Brownsnake (~40), Northern Redbelly Snake (~30), Northern Watersnake (8), Eastern Milksnake (2), Smooth Greensnake (1), and Northern Ringneck Snake (1).

Northern Ribbonsnake - April 18, 2013

Most snakes have relatively poor eyesight. If one moves slowly without any sudden movements it is possible to get quite close to these snakes without disturbing them. All of the snakes in this post were photographed "in situ", translated to "as is" or "in position" (meaning I did not disturb them prior to the photograph).

Northern Ribbonsnake - April 18, 2013

And of course, some Mourning Cloaks were flying around. These butterflies will overwinter and appear on the first warm days of the spring.

Mourning Cloak - April 18, 2013

Friday, 19 April 2013

Herps at Pelee

A few days ago, a friend from Leamington, Rick, pointed out an Eastern Foxsnake hibernacula along a busy road in the Pelee area. It was an overcast and windy day, yet a single muddy Foxy was resting near the entrance.

I returned the following day and was pleasantly surprised to see a few Eastern Foxsnakes basking in the area. One individual was lying in the short grass, about 50 cm from the asphalt.

Eastern Foxsnake - Hillman Marsh CA

Eastern Foxsnakes have always been a favorite of mine, and I was thrilled to spend parts of two summers directly studying them and radio-tracking them along with my co-workers. The southwestern Ontario populations of this species are directly threatened by a myriad of things. I guess that's what happens when most of their former habitat (including marshes and prairies) is converted for agricultural use. Some of these threats include increased road mortality, direct human persecution, and unsuitable habitat. The direct human persecution aspect is what really bothers me. This is one of the most docile species of snakes out there, they are stunningly beautiful, they eat a lot of "pests" including rodents, and they are absolutely harmless. Unfortunately misconceptions about snakes are often passed down from parents to their children and the cycle continues.

Eastern Foxsnake - Hillman Marsh CA

This beautiful Eastern Foxsnake, still caked in mud, has survived the long, cold winter. Hopefully she will be able to avoid any vehicles and humans with poor intentions for another season.

Blanding's Turtles are another beautiful species with their gaudy, yellow chin. They are quite rare in my part of the province, but much more common in the Point Pelee area. I was able to see a few of them basking on the 17th, the first sighting of the year for me. My photos weren't the greatest, so here is a photo taken at the same location (and possibly of the same turtle).

Blanding's Turtle - Hillman Marsh (April 17, 2013)

Blanding's Turtles are also at risk in Ontario. Nearly every single nest is predated by other animals - usually raccoons, foxes, skunks, or corvids. Fortunately they are long-lived, increasing the chance that each female will have a successful nest at some point in her life. Additionally this species is well known for its long-distance travel at certain parts of the year. Its not unusual for an adult to travel several kilometers to reach a preferred nesting ground! With the vast network of roads in southern Ontario, this often doesn't bode well. However Blanding's Turtles are still a common sight in large wetlands in southwestern Ontario and are holding their own towards the Kawarthas and southern Georgian Bay.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Conclusion of the Pelee trip

After my post a few days ago, things really slowed down at Point Pelee. Highlights were few and far between, and included:

-1 Cackling Goose with some Canada Geese on April 17 at Hillman Marsh
-1 Common Tern at the tip, April 17 (first of the year!!)


-lots of sparrows arrived in the park on April 16. I spent quite a bit of time unsuccessfully searching for a Henslow's or Le Conte's! All the expected species were present, however.

Red-winged Blackbird

-ducks: I spent quite a bit of time one morning combing through the massive scoter/scaup flock along the west side of the park. Mixed in with the scaup were about 200 Surf Scoters and several dozen each of White-winged Scoter and Black Scoter. A highlight was picking out a sleeping male Long-tailed Duck, a fairly rare bird on western Lake Erie. It called a few times as well. Unfortunately I couldn't pick out an eider of Tufted Duck in the group!

mostly scaups

-Louisiana Waterthrushes: at least 3 birds on April 16!! and that was just on the Woodland Nature Trail. Probably quite a few were in the whole park. The only other migrant warblers seen in the last two days included some Yellow-rumped.

first gnatcatcher of the year - April 15, 2013

-yesterday, a minor hawk flight took place, mainly including Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, and Sharp-shinned Hawk. I also saw singles of Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, and a surprise dark-morph Rough-legged Hawk. My first Bank Swallow of the year whipped by overhead, as did several Purple Martins.

male Purple Martin

Today I birded Elgin County for a few hours before heading home. I did some herping in the afternoon, and I'll put up some photos from that soon. As well, with this minor 2 day heatwave we are in the midst of, tomorrow could be very good for migrants!! I am going to spend the day birding the Hamilton area - something I've never done before in the middle of spring migration.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Update from the Banana Belt!

This blog update is brought to you by Tim Hortons.

(thanks for the wifi!)

The last day and a half has been pretty good for birds here in the sunny south. I haven't found any mega rarities, but I've seen a good variety of new spring migrants.

Yesterday I was not able to leave until late morning and made my way through Chatham-Kent before arriving at Pelee around 6:00 PM. The only highlight was a single "blue" morph Snow Goose at the Blenheim lagoons. I took some poor digiscoped photos while the big camera was in the car, but I'll spare you. Forster's Terns were at Erieau, providing the first year bird of the trip.

Arriving in the Pelee area I birded thoroughly around Hillman Marsh. The major highlight for me was finding a Least Sandpiper along the Mersea Road 19 bridge. It was the worst looks ever - directly into the sun! Yeah, yeah, LESAs are common...but this was the 3rd earliest Point Pelee record so I was happy.

This morning dawned cold, with a southeast wind. Eventually the sun came out and warmed the air as I walked down the West Beach footpath towards the tip. The highlight for me was a very tolerant Merlin that allowed my close approach. This was the first time that I took Merlin photos I was really happy with! Here is one frame from the photo shoot.

Merlin - Point Pelee National Park

I birded mostly in the park all day - a few hours near the tip with Alan Wormington, and the rest of the time by myself. Alan and I had our first Spotted Sandpiper of the year at the tip, plus Eastern Comma and Mourning Cloak butterflies. A bright Pine Warbler was near the tip (woo!!! migrant warbler!!!), and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow blazed over us going about Mach 10 - three new year birds.

The big surprise was when we noticed a "cigar with wings" (a.k.a. a Chimney Swift) overhead. Definitely a sight for weary eyes after a winter that was much too long! This was four days away from being record early at Point Pelee.

After splitting ways with Alan, I birded Tilden's Woods and the Woodland Nature Trail - the latter which held a very vocal Louisiana Waterthrush. It's chip note could be heard from way down the trail. This was the first time I hadever photographed this species!

Louie, Louie....

Alan and I had been talking about how it is weird that gnatcatchers had not yet arrived....well my last new bird before leaving the park was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Northwest Beach! One of my favorite birds for some reason.

Out in the onion fields, I was happy to spot a pair of American Golden-Plovers in a flooded field. As I was watching them, a flock of shorebirds wheeled past in the distance that seemed a little long-winged for Dunlins...eventually they swooped in for a landing, and the 2 AMGPs had become 26!

American Golden-Plovers

This evening I met up with Kory Renaud and Alan and we thoroughly checked most of Hillman Marsh, minus the shorebird cell. The Least Sandpiper was still there, but unfortunately nothing rarer materialized.

Surf Scoter - one of 3 scoter species at Pelee now

The forecast still looks excellent for tonight and some new migrants should be in the park tomorrow morning. Alan predicted White-eyed Vireo and Summer Tanager - I'm going to go with more kinglets, Eastern Phoebes, and Hermit Thrushes.

Hermit Thrush

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Pelee time

I'll be leaving for Point Pelee shortly, to spend about 3 days in the area. After a long cold spring, the thermometer is supposed to reach close to 20 degrees tomorrow, and combined with south winds there will be a lot of new migrants in the park.

Species like Forster's Tern, Spotted Sandpiper, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Pine Warbler, and maybe even Louisiana Waterthrush will make their first appearances of the year.

Sparrows should be around in numbers, and Brown Thrashers will probably be in the park. I should be able to find 4 species of swallows in the upcoming days.

This time of year is not yet prime rarity season, but its getting close. Rarities that occasionally arrive this time of year include Eared Grebe, American Avocet, Willet, Black Vulture, etc. Two avocets were in Ontario yesterday, so I wouldn't be surprised if more arrive. With all the Blue-winged Teal around, it is possible that a Cinnamon Teal or Garganey shows up. Rare gulls can appear this time of year with some likely candidates being Laughing, Franklin's, Black-headed, and California.

Of course I probably won't find any of those rarities, but it is just a small selection of the possibilities this time of year. At the very least it will be fun seeing new year birds and enjoying the warm weather.

Friday, 12 April 2013

More amphibians (and a reptile!) on April 9

The following day had even better conditions to do some herping. This time a group of friends from Guelph drove down to meet up with me. We met around dusk and were greeted with occasional downpours and warm temperatures. The ideal situation to find amphibians!

We were discussing what would be the first herp of the night as we scaled a hillside, searching for Redback Salamanders and whatever else likes to take refuge under some of the flat rocks. Right before a Redback Salamander was found by Chris, someone else (I think it was Alex) mentioned a snake! Turns out it was a Redbellied Snake - definitely NOT what I was expecting to see on this night.

This was my first reptile of the year, and the earliest date I have seen a Redbellied Snake. It was probably out earlier in the day with the warm temperatures and planned to spend the night under that particular rock.

Northern Redbellied Snake

The great night continued. We found quite a few Red-backed Salamanders, then soon after Spotted Salamanders appeared on the hillsides. While walking beside Reuven looking for salamanders, his beam shined the bumpy dorsum of a Gray Treefrog sitting quietly in the leaves. Another species that normally we don't see until a few weeks after the first Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers make an appearance (though I have seen them as early as March 19). However with the really late spring compared to the previous number of years, the treefrogs are right on schedule - everything else is just late.

Gray Treefrog

Blue-spotted Salamanders again were moving across the trails en masse, but we couldn't pick out any Jefferson Salamanders with them.

Blue-spotted Salamander

Here is a Jefferson Salamander from a previous year. Compared to a Blue-spotted Salamander, note the overall gray body colour, the long snout and limbs, and the faint blueish flecking on its sides. Jefferson Salamanders often average much large in size.

male Jefferson Salamander - March 23, 2012

The most abundant species seen on the night were Green Frogs. Many were out in the open enjoying the warm(ish) rains.

Green Frog

As we walked a trail I happened to notice a tiny salamander curled up on the side of the trail. I was happy to pick it up and realize that it was a Four-toed Salamander! This dimunitive species, the only one in its genus Hemidactylium, is a specialist of spaghnum bogs and seeps. Because of its small size, wet boggy habitat, and secretive nature, it is relatively unknown compared to more abundant species like Redback Salamanders. This happens to be a good area to find Four-toed Salamanders and I have come across close to 50 over the years here.

Four-toed Salamander

We reached a road and decided to walk along it to find additional amphibians. The carnage here was everywhere - mostly newts however, and not Ambystomatid salamanders or frogs. Eastern Newts often migrate during rainy days, so what we were seeing was a full days worth of tire carnage. Fortunately many other species were spared because of the short window each night in which they travel.

Spotted Salamander

Spotted Salamander

And some Spring Peepers to finish off the post. Spring Peepers are often quite variable in colour and pattern, but they almost always have the dark X on their back - one way to distinguish them from the similar Western Chorus Frog.

Spring Peeper

Spring Peeper

In the future I plan on making a post showing some of the variation in this species.

Tonight the weather looks OK after this part of Ontario was hammered by an ice storm. My old high school actually had two snow days in a row! Just another run of the mill, mid-April ice storm. I am hoping to head out to the ponds again tonight. My goal will be to find a Jefferson Salamander, as unlikely as that often is.