Thursday, April 26, 2018

Plum Island April 25, 2018

Spadefoot toad amplexus (the mating position of frogs and toads, in which the male clasps the female about the back)

After spending a few hours the night of April 22 looking for spadefoot toads without any luck I returned along with a biologist friend John Berkholtz to survey the island a few days later on April 25. The difference this time was steady rain throughout the day/night along with 50 degree temperatures through the night.

After driving for a few minutes down the one and only road around 8:45pm we found a spadefoot toad on the road within a few minutes!
Spadefoot toad

waterproof field notebook with ruler.

We then continued on down the road and found more toads scattered throughout the road so we had to drive very carefully as to not run any over. 

Next we went to another site and heard an individual spadefoot calling from a vernal pool. We searched and eventually saw the toad in the water.

Next we continued on to listen for activity from other pools scattered along the 7 mile stretch of road. Along the way we saw more American toads as well as a Fowler's toad (Anaxyrus fowleri).

American toad
Fowler's toad
 Along the way we found another spadefoot toad sitting in the road.

Next we went to a site along one of the boardwalks to a pool where we heard chorusing spadefoots last year and decided to investigate closer this year. We walked to the end of the boardwalk and heard spadefoot toads chorusing in the distance. From the google maps aerial photo we assumed they were calling from a large open canopy pool near the trail in the direction of the chorusing but when we arrived the chorusing sound was beyond that pool in a shallower closed canopy forested pool in great abundance chorusing like crazy! At this site there were dozens of individuals calling and in about 30 minutes of watching and listening we saw about 5 pair of toads in amplexus getting ready to create the next generation of toads!

It was a bit chaotic but I managed to get a bit of audio/video of toads chorusing as you can see here:

We hit the jackpot visiting this site at this exact time. Next we continued to the end of the island all the was to Sandy Point State Reservation and didn't hear chorusing from any other site. At this point it was almost 11PM with an hour drive home so we called it a night and headed home.

We finished the night with some new data points on spadefoot toad breeding sites as well as a new Fowler's toad record.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Plum Island April 23, 2018

4/23/18 9-11PM  45 degrees F

I went out to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge for the first time this year to look for spadefoot toads hoping that the warm weather throughout the day would have triggered a breeding event since we got a good amount of rain a week earlier that filled some of the interdunal swale vernal pools. I didn't have any luck finding any spadefoot toads but American toads were in the full swing of the breeding season.

Later in the night I visited another pool and observed some fairy shrimp in a pool with chorusing Northern leopard frogs.
Northern leopard frog

Fairy shrimp swimming in vernal pool:

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Dracut vernal pool survey April 12, 2018

I visited a vernal pool in the woods near my parents house that was the first vernal pool I certified for a college project and one that I rode my bike or hiked past countless times as a kid. It has been years since I last surveyed the pool and thought it was time to take another look around and see what I could find during this years' amphibian mating season.

On April 1 of this year I visited this pool during the day and saw only one wood frog egg mass walking along the edge of the pool looking for egg masses attached to branches underwater. I knew that this pool had abundant amphibian breeding activity in the past so I made a plan to visit the site again.  

On April 12, 2018 I hiked out to the pool around 7:30 when there was a light drizzle, by the time I got to the site after a short 5 minute walk the rain had picked up and was coming down pretty strong. When I arrived at the pool there was a loud spring peeper chorus and after 20 minutes of looking around the pool a group of wood frogs began chorusing.
Wood frog

Audio of spring peeper (high pitch) and wood frog (low 'quacking') chorusing in a forested vernal pool.

As I walked around the pool I found a few dozen spotted salamander egg masses as well as a few wood frog egg masses scattered throughout the edge of the pool attached to submerged branches about 1-2 feet below the water surface. 

As I continued to search the pool in the rain wearing a pair of chest waders (where I was knee deep in water in one leg) I was able to locate two adult spotted salamanders swimming in the vernal pool. I managed to catch and photograph one to share here on this blog. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Plum Island, MA 10/21/2016

Spadefoot toads are a state listed Threatened species in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program published this natural history description of the species here: Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus holbrookii).

Earlier this summer I went out with Dr. Bryan Windmiller and a team of volunteers from Grassroots Wildlife Conservation to conduct a Spadefoot toad survey during a warm summer night at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island in Newburyport, MA after getting a research permit from the Wildlife Refuge managers. Our team spent two or three hours searching the sand dune habitat without any success. This past summer most of Massachusetts was experiencing a severe drought which meant the toads were likely burrowed deep under the sand waiting for more ideal conditions to emerge for feeding or breeding.

The other night I went out to re-survey the same site. The weather was unusually warm for the end of October with heavy rains most of the day and into the night. I had a feeling the warm rain event would trigger activity and sure enough I was correct! Over the course of a 3 hour survey I found 25 Eastern Spadefoot toads.

There happened to be one car leaving the Refuge late at night and unfortunately I found three squished toads that were not there at the beginning of my survey. Luckily the Refuge is closed to traffic entering the Preserve after dark which greatly limits the risk for road mortality.

I was caught in a heavy rain/wind/lightning storm during most of the survey. Thankfully I was wearing full chest waders and a rain jacket. My camera (Samsung Galaxy S6 phone) got a bit wet and after the battery died decided not to charge until the next day after storing it in our rice container overnight. Luckily it worked the next morning and I was able to save and share these photos.

Update: My friend Don Lyman wrote this story up for the Boston Globe North print edition on 11/27/2016.

Road cruising survey vehicle, 1979 Honda Hobbit moped.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lynnfield, MA March, 17, 2016

2016 saw it's 'Big Night' amphibian migration on March 10 with warm weather and heavy rains. The following week had more of the same weather that provided ideal amphibian migration weather. This amphibian migration event happened a few weeks earlier than what we typically see in New England.

On March 16 I received a phone call from my friend Patrick Zephyr who is an accomplished nature photographer:

Patrick asked if I could take him to a site where he could find blue spotted salamanders so he could add a portrait to his wildlife portfolio. Blue spotted salamanders, Ambystoma laterale, are a 'Species of Special Concern' in Massachusetts and can be very difficult to encounter in the wild if you don't know where to look.

The following evening we went for a drive to a secret location in Lynnfield, hiked into the forest, and searched a few vernal pools until we found a pool that had exactly what we were looking for! That night we observed six blue spotted salamanders and had a great time photographing a few of them. These pictures were taken with my new camera phone (Samsung Galaxy S6), I was pleasantly surprised by how incredibly good the camera feature is in this model phone.

That night we also encountered wood frogs, green frogs, red spotted newts, and countless aquatic invertebrate species.

Patrick Zephyr surveying a vernal pool

Blue spotted salamander
Blue spotted salamander (uncropped photo)
Ambystoma laterale posing on leaf litter.
Patrick Zephyr with blue spotted salamander portrait

that's me with a blue spotted salamander

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Milton/Canton, MA 3/29/2014

Tonights' weather was heavy rain, and a cold 45 degrees. Perfect amphibian weather, terrible weather for keeping warm and dry. 

I decided to look for salamanders near the Neponset River Reservation. My goal was to find some blue spotted salamanders since there were rumored observations in the nearby area. I started the survey by walking along the edge of the wetland which was a tangled mess of vines and plants, after 15 minutes of this I intersected a paved road and decided to follow it. After a few minutes of walking up the road I bumped into a couple with a flashlight and umbrella walking in the rain in my direction, as it turns out they were also looking for salamanders! We decided to join forces and ended up finding three blue spotted salamanders, many spring peepers, a red backed salamander, and a dead four toed salamander that was most likely run over by a car.

The blue spotted salamanders at this site were extra small and difficult to see when they were crossing the road since they blend right in with the background. 

Photography became increasingly difficult with foggy camera lenses and numb freezing cold hands.  

All in all a success, one of the neighbors even gave me a ride back to my car. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Needham, MA 3/28/2014

Tonight was my first amphibian migration survey of 2014. I was hired to survey some properties owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. Today the temperature approached 60 degrees, it rained on and off all day and stayed warm at night. I went out in the woods from 8:30-11:30PM with a high power mountain biking flashlight and observed a steady migration of salamanders walking towards the surrounding wetlands and vernal pools. Here are the highlights in photos. I saw 14 spotted salamanders, 3 blue spotted salamanders, a spring peeper, and a red-backed salamander. 

Sure enough someone called the police when they saw my car parked in an unusual spot. I left my contact information on the dashboard of my car on ACOE letterhead. The police saw my phone number and called me while I was in the woods. The officer realized I was on official business and was just calling to ask what I was up to, after explaining he wished me luck. Moral of the story, always leave a note.