Do you like slimy, cold, and adorable? I do! Frogs and salamanders abound in many of our State Parks, and late winter and early spring is one of the best times to find them. Amphibians are excellent indicators of ecosystem health, and tracking trends in their populations or productivity can help showcase changes in the environment before other species do.
Besides, who can resist these eyes?
Photo Credit: Sara Viernum
This past February OPRD’s wildlife program hosted surveys for lentic breeding amphibians at four of our parks. A “lentic breeding amphibian” is one that spends its adult life on the earth but lays its eggs in ponds or other still water places, like red-legged frogs (Rana aurora) and northwestern salamanders (Ambystoma gracile). With the help of interns from Oregon State University, we donned waders, datasheets, and the mighty Swamp Stick to set out in the wetlands, marsh, and ponds at Beaver Creek Natural Area, Bower’s Rock State Park, Champoeg State Park, and Wapato Access.
What, you might ask, is a Swamp Stick? Here I am with OPRD Natural Resource Specialist Katie Duzik, modeling the latest in amphibian tracking gear. The stick was craftily pieced together from PVC pipe, zipties, and a big spoon. It serves three functions: giving a nice white background to show what is in that dark water, a way to manipulate delicate amphibian egg masses without needing to touch them, and probably most important for staying dry, as a ground prodding stick to make sure there really is something solid in front of you!
Here you can see the bottom of the Swamp Stick, the nice big spoon, showing off some red-legged frog eggs. Handling egg masses could detach them from their anchoring vegetation, but sometimes you need to move them a bit to see what they are: Swamp Stick. The young frogs are in the “tailed” stage, where you can see them starting to develop a tadpole-like form.
Photo credit: Vanessa Blackstone
Here are some more fantastic pictures!
Pacific chorus frog egg mass. Photo Credit: Vanessa Blackstone
Long-toed salamander egg mass. Photo Credit: Vanessa Blackstone
Northwestern salamander egg mass. Photo Credit: Vanessa Blackstone
Now all the data is in a pile on my desk, waiting for analysis. Wait, I think I have a bird survey to go on… paperwork will have to wait for a rainy day!
When the weather outside is frightful, why not learn about some wildlife? OPRD is hosting a Western Snowy Plover Workshop on February 13, 2013. The workshop is from 8 am until noon at the Skamania Lodge (1113 SW Skamania Lodge Way, Stevenson, WA) in conjunction with annual meeting for the Oregon and Washington chapters of the Wildlife Society. Anyone can attend!
The goal of the workshop is to provide all the current information on the plover’s population, recovery and management goals, changing recreation on Oregon beaches to aid the plover, and survey methodology. Attending this workshop will count as the needed “classroom” style information required to survey for the birds during the breeding season (Note: You need a USFWS recovery permit, or to be listed under a permitted biologist’s permit, to survey for plovers during breeding season).
Guest speakers include Laura Todd (USFWS), Theresa Bolch (BLM), Eleanor Gaines with the Oregon Biodiversity Information Center (ORBIC), and me!
Registration is $20 for adults and $10 for students. Morning snacks and coffee/tea are provided.
I hope you’ll join me there!
The spring of 2006 brought exciting times to the Western pond turtle nursery at Elijah Bristow State Park southeast of Eugene. Last year, biologist Lisa Riley, whose reputation as a turtle tracker has grown along with the park’s identity as a prime breeding ground, discovered 12 nests in the park.
her findings resulted from two years of trapping adult turtles and monitoring their movement in a study conducted for OPRD and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Between late April and mid-May, Lisa and park staff members enjoyed the rare pleasure of seeing and photographing baby turtles emerging from several of those nests. Their appearances marked the first time Western pond turtles have been observed emerging from a nest on park property. Lisa first discovered the baby turtles, the first ones she has ever seen emerging, on April 27 while removing covers used to protect the nests from predators. “The first one I saw appeared to be lifeless, so I was worried at first,” she says. “It was alive, though, then I started seeing others emerging from other nests.” Since a baby Western pond turtle is about the size of a quarter, Lisa says they are very hard to see. “It’s easy to miss them, so there may have been others that dug their way out before we saw any,” she admits.
As a bonus to seeing turtles leaving known nests, more nests were found in the well-protected open fields that serve as the park’s nurseries. The park’s backwater slough and pond system serve as the turtle’s primary habitat, but in the summer, females move from that sheltered environment to lay eggs in sparsely vegetated, sunny locations. Incubated by solar heat, the eggs hatch, but the young remain in the nests through the winter before emerging the next spring. Lisa’s two-year study of Western pond turtle populations, which have been declining in Oregon, was prompted by a need to identify nests and protect them in managing the park’s trails. Fences and signs now warn people to keep out of identified breeding areas and to stay on established trails. In her early work, Lisa used fingernail polish to draw designs on the shells of turtles she trapped, and glued radio transmitters to some as aids in searching for nests. She also has been monitoring their travels between the slough and lazily flowing Lost Creek. Lisa, who estimates that 50-65 turtles live at Elijah Bristow, is now expanding her search for nests upstream along the Middle Fork of Willamette River in adjacent Dexter State Recreation Site. Revenue from OPRD’s agricultural leases is supporting the expanded research.
Check out the turtle slideshow from 2006!
For more information on Western Pond Turtles visit Herpetology Northwest.