Buckeye Herps Blog

A photographic journal of the reptiles and amphibians of Ohio, Michigan and other places interesting wildlife call home.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Spring? The salamanders are trying!

With a few days in the mid 40s and 50s the last couple of weeks, we are finally almost defrosted here in SE Michigan. I spent some time scouting vernal pools for my goal of a Macomb Co tiger salamander. All week, despite the warm temperatures, I was hiking on inches of ice, and a few of the vernal pools were over half frozen and still covered with snow. Unfortunately, it hasn't rained much at night, and when it has, it has still been really cold. Well it rained most of the day on April 4th during the day, with temps in the mid40s. Despite knowing the pools were still frozen, I decided to try them at night anyway.

I met up with another local (hardcore baby, hardcore) herper Chris B. He was thankfully up for being a good sport and trying something new with me. We headed out to the place I had scouted shortly after dark. It was a cold and very windy walk to the woods. I asked him how warm it was - the phone confirmed it was below 40 here. Still hopeful and desperate, we continued on. It had been a very long and cold winter after all.

Some phone pics of the area from scouting this week.

We walked up to the first of four vernals and were greeted with silence. Well the frogs are smarter than we are. I took a few steps out, and looked down in the beam of my flashlight to see my specific target. An eastern tiger salamander from Macomb Co. Well, that was easy.

We made a few jokes about how easy that was. Chris even joked that if he didn't photograph it we wouldn't see any more. I'll save you all the suspense, it was our only tiger of the night. We searched that pool and 3 others extremely hard, fueled by early success. Within a few minutes it started to "precipitate", by which I mean a freezing cold sleet that later turned to snow. Awesome. We searched the four ponds, two of which were more wooded and, oddly were completely clear of snow and ice. The other two were still very frozen. The water temperature couldn't have been much above freezing. We hiked icy trails, and trudged through ice in the ponds, leaving trails like Antarctic sea vessels. We finished with six salamanders. One tiger, four bluespots, and a small newt. All but the last bluespot were found in the icy/frozen ponds. The last bluespot was actually moving through the leaf litter a ways from any water. All that we checked were males, we didn't disturb a couple of them (Edit: I was reminded by Chris that the salamander pictured below was in fact a female, which makes sense, as it looks like a unisexual from the laterale complex, which are typically all females)

I had flipped a spotted salamander at this location last year, so they are likely still smart enough to remain below ground. We saw no spermatophores or egg masses. I bet this place is just awesome under good conditions.

It will remain a night for the memories though. Can't say I enjoyed the cold, it took me a few hours to defrost at home. May the warmer rains come soon. Thanks to Chris for joining me and being a good sport.

These actually were not my first Michigan herps of the spring. More on that when I can get through pictures.