Notes From the Field- Spring 2023

In 1 - Spring, Community Science, Featured, Wildlife on Roads by couchiching

May 12, 2023- Snake Monitoring at the Frantzke Williamson Conservation Easement

Summer Staff Carsten and Quinlan, Field Biologist Toby, and volunteers Courtney and Stella (9yo) visited the Frantzke Williamson conservation easement for some Friday night snake monitoring.

They were rewarded with three beautiful juvenile snakes!

Left: Toby, Stella, Quinlan, and Carsten begin looking for snakes. Right: Toby checks for snakes under a snake board as Carsten lifts the board.

The group lifted plywood snake boards to inspect the ground beneath for these stealthy characters. When snakes were present, they were gently lifted into a pillowcase while the team searched for more individuals. Once staff/volunteers accounted for all individuals, the snakes were measured, sexed, and carefully placed back on the ground to slither away under their board.

*Note that many precautions are taken during Couchiching Conservancy Snake monitoring to protect the snakes and staff who are handling. Staff have permits for this activity. We discourage anyone from handling snakes without proper training and permits, both for human safety and safety of the snakes.

Left: Toby places a small snake into a gridded bin for photos and measurements. Right: A young garter snake slithers through Toby’s fingers.

April 21, 2023- Unexpected Wildlife Encounters

Our community science volunteers follow monitoring protocols to search for specific species. Often, while doing their monitoring, volunteers come across wildlife that they weren’t searching for. These incidental observations are valuable and help us learn more about the species present at Nature Reserves in the region.

During their April 11 daytime Frog Monitoring visit, Morris and John came across a moose, a fisher, and Eastern bluebird at Bluebird Ranch.

Chance wildlife encounters at Bluebird Ranch; Left: A fisher scurrying away from observers. Middle: an Eastern bluebird perched on fencing;
Right: A moose posing for the camera. Photo credit John F. Wright.

On April 21, Sam and Aiesha were monitoring for frogs at a forest vernal pool. When they looked into the pool, they observed spotted salamanders swimming! Be on the lookout for surprise species observations on your next trip out to a Couchiching Conservancy Nature Reserve!

April 2, 2023 – A strong start to amphibian monitoring

Amphibian monitoring is an important part of our data collection at The Couchiching Conservancy. Many frogs, toads, and salamanders are in decline. Consistent observation helps us understand which areas are valuable high quality amphibian habitat, and which areas could benefit from habitat improvements.

Left: An Eastern red-backed salamander in its common red back phase. Right: Erin Wall searching for salamanders under a salamander board. Photo credit: Toby Rowland & Erin Wall.

On April 2, Erin Wall, a new Salamander Monitor, was oriented to her monitoring site by Toby Rowland on a nice warm sunny day with no bugs (always appreciated). They found six Eastern red-backed salamanders, two of which were the more unusual leadback phase of the species. The leadback phase can sometimes be confused with the more uncommon blue-spotted Salamander, but can be differentiated by its more slender body. The head is only slightly wider than the body and it has tiny spindly legs that look like they are not quite up to the job of locomotion! The clear and opaque egg masses you can see in the photo are both from spotted salamanders, it is not clear why these differences occur, but each individual female will lay the same colour egg masses throughout her life.

Left: Spotted salamander egg masses in a vernal pool. Right: An adult in the leadback phase of the Eastern red-backed salamander.
Photo credit: Toby Rowland and Erin Wall.

Erin and Toby also found three different species of turtle, a porcupine, and a variety of birds including the melodic hermit thrush. The turtles were quite exciting with three Midland painted Turtles, two snapping turtles, and ten Blanding’s turtles. This is a record for most Blanding’s Turtles seen on a Couchiching Nature Reserve during a single monitoring visit!

April 11, 2023 – How should a beaver cross the road?

Left: A beaver swimming in Whitney Wetland. Right: Monck Road’s latest traffic victim.

Alysha went out to the Whitney & McIsaac Wetlands to install driveway markers, and to determine if chorus frogs were out calling. She was welcomed by the trill of chorus frogs coming from some flooded brush. Alysha also runs the Wildlife on Roads monitoring program, and routinely monitors for roadkill near Couchiching Conservancy properties, including on Whitney & McIsaac Wetlands. While she was there, she decided to complete a Wildlife on Roads monitoring visit.

Sadly, she found Monck Road’s most recent traffic victim, a beaver, about 25 feet from the asphalt on the North side of the road. It chose to brave the road instead of using a culvert installed in 2021 for habitat connectivity on either side of the road.

Left: Monck Road as it crosses over the culvert, shown in summer.
Right: Monk Road culvert dividing the wetlands on the North & South sides of the road.

As the weather warms, this beaver will not be the last road fatality on Monck Road. We hope to gain a better understanding of wildlife-road interactions through the hard work of our volunteers in the Wildlife on Roads monitoring program. Soon, we also aim to build fencing along the road in this location to protect wildlife by encouraging them to use the culvert instead of the road.

The Wildlife on Roads monitoring program is funded by the Angela Rehhorn Community Science Fund, Transport Canada, and our generous donors.