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.

Savoy Mountain April 25

My day was off to a good start. I mapped out the 5 pools I wanted to visit in the morning and the six pools I wanted to visit in the afternoon. On the map I could see that all the pools I needed to visit in the morning were really close to the road so I figured I could get through the site in a few hours which was a huge miscalculation on my part. Apparently the road that I needed to go down was unmaintained and as I got farther and farther down the road I realized more and more that I made a great miscalculation in thinking I could drive down this road in a front wheel drive chevy cavalier. The road ended up being steep, muddy and rocky so eventually I got my car stuck in the mud just when the road looked like it was about to improve just around the next bend. Now I had a dilemma, I was stuck on a mountain pass road with no cell phone service in the middle of nowhere. I spent the next 20 minutes trying to jam rocks and sticks under the front tires to get traction under the wheels to no avail. A few hundred feet behind me was a fork in the road. I happened to look behind me and see a truck drive down the other road where it forked so I kept working at freeing my car. 5 minutes later the truck returns and parks 100 feet behind and the two guys come and ask if I had been stuck there all night. Turns out I was found by the DCR seasonal wildfire fighter crew in charge of the entire Berkshire county park system (covering hundreds of miles of access roads). They had shovels in their truck so we tried digging out some of the front end of the car and then I floored it with the two guys pushing the back of the car. No luck. Next I ended up jacking up my car with a small car jack enough to put rocks under the front wheels of the car. Two hours later my car is free. The fire crew guys helped me get my car turned around and back to a safe spot to park. I attempted to give them $20 bucks for beer money but they declined saying they are not allowed to accept donations from the public. (At the end of the day I texted one of the guys saying I survived the day and made it out of the woods alive.)

Now that it is almost noon I am ready to start walking to my first vernal pool site and walked back down the road past where I got stuck and down to the first pool. I found the first pool within minutes and was done surveying it in 5 minutes. The next four pools took almost an hour to walk between each one up and down some steep terrain mostly off trail so it turned out to be a full day of hiking with 10-15 minutes surveying and note taking at each pool. All five pools turned out to be a bust for Jefferson salamanders. They were however pools filled with lots of amphibian activity. 

Once I got back to Lenox I took a shower and relaxed until I had to pick up my friend Ben at the bus station who came up from Brooklyn to get some field experience while applying to grad schools in biology.

Later that night we were hungry and drove to Pittsfield to and found only a pizza joint was open. We parked and across the street we heard some live music coming from a bar and veered straight for the door. We walked in and found an entire bar full of people smiling, singing and dancing along to a cover of 'Friend of the Devil' by the Grateful Dead. We got to the bar, ordered some burgers and beers and I had the perfect end to a crazy day. 
the evening before this happened I decided to get an oil change and car wash. in doing this I also ended up wrecking one of the front end wheel bearings which cost $250 to fix (It caused the steering wheel to shake like crazy over 60mph). 

newts mating in a sea of wood frog eggs

spotted salamander eggs
wood frog eggs

vernal pool 

wood frog eggs partially eaten by newts

giant raft of wood frog eggs 

another giant raft of wood frog eggs 

Lanesborough/Savoy April 24, 2013

Today I visited conservation land behind a farm in Lanesborough, MA. While hiking into the forest behind the fields I came across an industrial scale maple syruping operation where there were acres of trees along a hillside that were all tied together by tubing where gravity passively let the sugar water flow downhill to a large storage tank. Fun fact, it takes 40 gallons of sap to to produce one gallon of maple syrup. My mission was to look at two vernal pools where the forest met the fields. 

I thought it would be weird to walk across the field with farmers working and have to explain what I was doing so I hiked in from the power lines. The hike in was about a mile up and around a small mountain. 

Sugar maple sap collection operation 

Sugar maple sap collection operation and vernal pool
It turns out that the pools were old farm ponds. The first pool I checked out was filled with Jefferson salamander eggs. The second pool was much deeper and filled with a lot of fish with were only four Jefferson salamander egg masses that were mostly predated. This property is managed by the Berkshire Natural Resources council. Our report will include a recommendation that the larger, fish filled pond be periodically drained to remove the presence of fish and give the Jefferson salamanders a chance for greater reproductive success on the property.

Jefferson salamander eggs

Jefferson salamander eggs
I spent the afternoon surveying a wildlife management area in Savoy, MA. This property was at higher elevation and much cooler than the other sites I had previously visited and it even had patches of snow still on the ground in shaded areas. There were many wood frogs still chorusing and mating while other lower elevation sites were done with breeding activity weeks earlier. On this property I had four vernal pools to survey. The first two ended up being slow flowing creeks with small beaver impoundments making them look like it might be suitable breeding habitat from aerial photos. I wasn't able to find any salamander eggs at these sites.

The third pool I checked out in Savoy was an old pond that looked like it was created by beavers 100 years ago. This pond was filled with the common spotted salamander eggs as well as wood frog eggs. I found an old minnow trap at the bottom of the pond and found a few crayfish inside.

The last pool of the day was full of spotted salamander and wood frog eggs. This was a small isolated pool far from any other wetland.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Monterey, MA April 23, 2013

This morning I woke up and drove 30 minutes to our survey site and met with Patrick Zephyr who helped out for the day. We did a ton of hiking and visited 10 targeted vernal pool sites that were suspected Jefferson salamander breeding sites. Alas, all 10 pools were absent of Jefferson salamander eggs. These pools were however abundant in wood frog and spotted salamander eggs. We did a lot of hiking up and down some pretty tough terrain and saw some amazing scenery. Here are the highlights in photos.

Custom made walking sticks, courtesy of the north american beaver.

Tim writing field notes.

Patrick and his Gandalf walking stick.