Great Egret

Great Egret

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Salamander Saturday....well that was the intention......

Today started off looking for salamanders! A former co-worker of mine had set some traps out in sloughs late Friday and we met at 0700h to start checking them. Salamanders normally emerge from their underground sites even when there is still ice on the sloughs, and scamper to the water to meet others of their kind. They have a complicated reproduction strategy which I won't go into here. But our intent was to sample some of the salamanders to see if the rare Jefferson's Salamander could be found among them.

It was cold and windy, and some salamanders had been out recently, as we could see some eggs in the water. One salamander even laid some eggs on the outside of one of the traps. I guess now we now know what they think of the traps!

Our traps were empty, at least of salamanders. However we did catch some water boatmen, a very large type of aquatic beetle, and at least a dozen tadpoles.

I'm not sure exactly what kind of frog this will become, but the most abundant frogs in these sloughs where we caught the 'poles are Wood Frog and Spring Peeper. I'm going with Wood Frog here, but I can't be totally certain. (Update: this is more likely a Green Frog. Green Frogs aren't as common in this particular site at Rondeau as the other two species I've mentioned, but the fact that it is a tadpole that has overwintered makes Green Frog more likely than Wood. The latter species typically transforms in the season the eggs were laid. Thanks, Erin for the link: Although the images in this link do not conclusively match the photo of the tadpoles we found, the stage of growth is more of an indicator. A useful book reference is Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region, by J. H. Harding)

We did see a couple of Eastern Phoebe along the trails where we were sampling. But when the salamander trapping part of the expedition was over, we went our separate ways, and I ended up going to the South Point Trail. It was fairly quiet, with hearing birds more difficult due to the windy conditions. I did hear a Fox Sparrow singing, and a bit later I met Blake Mann and Jim Burk and discovered that Blake had spotted two adult Little Gulls....not all that surprising given the time of year, but certainly noteworthy nonetheless.

A bit later I went up to the north end of Harrison Trail and found more Eastern Phoebes. Golden-crowned Kinglets are becoming more abundant. They are such busy little creatures, and are most often in shrubbery so that photographing them is quite a challenge. But if you take enough shots, some may turn out, as in the next photo.

Their golden crowns aren't always so obvious, but this one certainly can even detect the bit of orange in the very centre of the golden part. This little fellow was either so hungry he couldn't care, or just was a very bold critter. I kept taking photos, but in short order he came much closer than the camera would focus. At one point he was about an arm's length away, so it was fun to just stand there and enjoy such an amazing close-up.

I noted a Brown Creeper along this stretch as well, but it wasn't as cooperative as the kinglet. But I was entertained by several Downy Woodpeckers who were going through some kind of territorial dispute. Here a male struts his stuff with beak straight up and tail feathers spread, to tell a nearby male that this area is off limits.

And just at the top of this same grape vine, the intruding male takes note.....perhaps.

In some of the sloughs just south of the maintenance compound were several Wood Ducks. Woodies are one of the few duck species that nest in holes in trees, such as where a large branch has broken off creating a suitable cavity. They are one of the most striking species of waterfowl, almost gaudy in some respects.

They can be nervous ducks, and do not allow a close approach. I didn't take these photos today, but quite awhile ago. The photo above was taken using a blind.

A trip to the campground is often worthwhile. I saw at least a couple of Fox Sparrows, and numerous Dark-eyed Juncos. Juncos are winter birds to some extent, as there are always a few that stay for the winter especially if there is a well-stocked feeder to take advantage of. But in the last few days, their numbers have increased tremendously.....I must have seen well over 100 today. This photo wasn't taken today, but a few days ago at a feeder.

And there is a new activity in the campground....well new for the season.....the campground opened this weekend, and someone decided to be the first ones. It looks pretty cozy, so I'm sure it isn't too much of a challenge for them.

After leaving the park, I stopped briefly at Shrewsbury, and there is lots of open water, and a good smattering of ducks. Small groups of Ruddy Ducks were here and there, including the two males shown below.

They are smallish ducks, and generally are more abundant in the mid-western pothole and wetland regions, but in recent decades have shown up at sewage lagoons in southern Ontario which, to a duck, look more or less like the pothole features they like. They are sometimes called stiff-tailed ducks, as shown in the next photo. This feature helps one identify them if the light is poor or they are a long distance away.

I did make it to Erieau. There is ice out in the lake, but virtually no ice in the bay, at least not within close viewing distance of the pier. Bonaparte's Gulls are becoming quite numerous. I was hoping to find something a little more unusual with them, but was not successful.

 Bonies in their winter plumage will have a bit of black on their head, but not much. Most of them are now beginning to get some dark colouring on their head which eventually will become a full black hood. The distinctive wing pattern doesn't change from one season to the next. The photo below shows a group of Bonies loafing on a floating ice floe. Some of them are getting quite a dark head now. The breeding birds will be around for a few weeks, but are heading a long way north into the boreal forest where they often nest in spruce trees!

In some of the flooded fields just outside of Erieau were various puddle ducks, including Green-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler.

Green-winged Teal (male)
Northern Shoveler (male) on the right

In the field just east of McGeachy Pond were two Sandhill Cranes. They were a long way off, and with the bright sun and associated heat haze, decent photos were impossible. But fortunately they got up after awhile and took a flight out towards the lake, which although was not great light, at least resulted in a better shot.


  1. I would say the tadpole you photographed is a green frog. Their tadpoles overwinter in water before becoming adults. Wood frogs on the other hand are still quite tiny when they grow legs (about two months after emerging from the egg). The key produced by Trent is helpful:

    Let me know if you would like some more help with salamander surveys. I would like to tag along.

    1. Hey Erin....thanks for the link. We considered Green Frog, but it wasn't from an area where they are normally found. I'll check out the link.