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. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 Field work summary

A few weeks ago the field data was submitted to and accepted by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. This agency manages all the rare species records for the entire Commonwealth.

Below is a map showing all the survey site locations for this project. We covered a lot of terrain and I'm proud of what this project was able to accomplish. Overall we visited 40 wetland habitats in search of the Jefferson Salamander, we were successful in locating breeding populations in 15 of these sites.

Project funding.
This turned out to be a successful experiment in crowd sourcing money for a worthwhile field conservation project. Below is a breakdown of the budget, funding, and man hours put into this project.

Project Time sheet  
4/16/201312field survey day
4/17/201312field survey day
4/22/20135field survey day
4/23/20131010field survey day
4/24/201310field survey day
4/25/201311field survey day
4/26/20131010field survey day
Spring-Summer40Data management, report writing, website updating
total hours1101010

Expense report
Gas+ tollsBoston to Berkshires a few times140
Patrick ZephyrPhotographs: seven 8x12 photos + shipping350
Food expenses
Ben Jaffetravel stipend60
car repairwheel bearing replacement (see blog story)250
materialsGPS batteries, etc.30

total expenses1028

Budget: in the final 24 hours it appeared that I wasn't going to make the $3500 goal by the deadline. Kickstarter will not let you donate to your own project so my girlfriend volunteered to loan me the difference in order to make the campaign a success. 
Kickstarter after fees$3181.52
Carolyn loan (to make goal)$1090
KS remainder$2091.52
Total profit after expenses$1063.52
Hourly rate before taxes (Tim's 110 hours) for field work, data management, data reporting$9.67 per hour
*historic reference: Massachusetts, Minimum wage 8.00 USD per hour (January 1, 2012)
I didn't go into this project expecting to make a huge profit but I am grateful to have made enough to cover my expenses and have a small budget to buy some new equipment for next season. Again, thanks to everyone who supported the Kickstarter campaign and a special thanks to George and Iin Cox for providing me with a gorgeous place to live for the week I spent in the Berkshires. This was my first time blogging a field project and found it to be a rewarding experience.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Howley, MA April 26, 2013

Today I went out in the field with my good friend Ben Jaffe. Our goal was to locate and survey six vernal pool sites across a mountainous landscape. Luckily the access roads were in good shape, unlike the previous day. We parked next to a trailhead in a forest clearing a quarter mile from the first site of the day.

The first pool was quickly drying and there were dozens of wood frog eggs that were above the water line and quickly drying. Amphibians walk a fine line between laying their eggs in the shallowest areas of the pond that are prone to drying early and too deep where the water is colder and the eggs develop less quickly.

Drying wood frog eggs.

Our second pool was a little over a mile from the first site except there were no trails connecting the two. When we finally got there we got lucky and found Jefferson salamander eggs right away, and lots of them!

The hike to our third pool turned out to be difficult since we walked along a mountain ridge most of the way there. The landscape and scenery was pretty amazing and worth the detour. Along the way we saw lots of bear and moose droppings.

Our third pool site turned out to be a naturally dammed up stream that had a few spotted salamander and wood frog eggs present in the water. Just downstream of this site is where Ben worked his magic. We found a rapid clear mountain stream with lots of rocks. Within 10 minutes Ben found three species of stream salamander, two of which I had never seen before in the wild!

two lined salamander

dusky salamander

northern spring salamander

the northern two lined salamander keeps its gills for many years before it fully transforms into a full adult

Ben surveying a small vernal pool. 

Our fourth site was successful, we found lots of Jefferson salamander eggs in what looked to be a small shallow pool but turned out to be 3 feet deep in the center.

Our final two pools only had spotted salamander and wood frog eggs. Overall 2 out of 6 pools had Jefferson salamander eggs. These two pools were the farthest away from one another showing the need for more in depth survey work in mapping local salamander populations. The information we gathered gives conservation biologists a course snapshot of Jefferson salamander distribution across western Massachusetts. This type of data can be used to by land managers to make decisions on which areas are most in need of protection.