Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring Returns to the Great White North

Mother nature is finally loosening her icy grip on the great white north. Birds are returning, snow is all but gone, and the voices of the forest are once again being heard in Michigan. This is without a doubt my favorite time of the year in Michigan. On March 12th a system of extremely strong thunderstorms moved across the entire lower peninsula, bringing heavy rains and lightning. This was the storm I had been waiting for, and I decided to coordinate a long night of field time with good friends Jason Folt, Chris Boguslawski and his brothers. We were to follow the storms and dart around much of the southern lower peninsula in hopes of catching mass migrations of salamanders. Turns out we were just in time, as I arrived at my first stop the Spotted Salamanders were on the move.

 Spotted Salamander - Ambystoma maculatum
This beautiful adult female was found migrating towards the breeding pool just after 9:00 PM amid light and variable rain and some rolling thunder. The pool was filled with spotted salamanders, probably between 150-200 individuals at best guess. We noticed several large congregating groups of males, sometimes numbering over 20 individuals that were performing the textbook "tail dance" that is characteristic of this species in hopes of impressing a nearby female. Several more females were seen migrating in towards the pool as well.

Spotted Salamander - Ambystoma maculatum

As a heavy thunderstorm moved in, we drove westward through some terrential rain and hail to hit some state land and to meet up with Jason Folt. He had been out for awhile already and had already been seeing plenty of salamanders and frogs out an about. We swung down a road to a vernal pool and decided to check it out, it was good that we did as it was loaded with Eastern Tiger Salamanders and some "Blue-spotted" Salamanders.

We managed to grab a few to try and shoot a few photos in the heavy rain. With some umbrellas for cover, we did our best to keep our camera rigs dry to get some photos of the Tigers, which were extremely uncooperative to nobody's surprise.

Eastern Tiger Salamander - Ambystoma tigrinum

Unisexual Hybrid Salamander - Ambystoma sp.

After spending a good amount of time photographing the gummy lizards, we pressed on and checked a few more pools. No more salamanders were seen in pools, but plenty of blue-spots and tigers were seen crossing roads. Eventually we parted ways with Folt and headed back towards our starting site. However, we did pull off at a small marsh which was alive with the sounds of several frog species.

Wood Frog - Rana sylvatica

Western Chorus Frog - Pseudacris triseriata triseriata

It took a good half an hour to get this photo of a calling Chorus Frog. I've always referred to this species as, "the most common frog you never see." They can be heard in huge numbers in the spring, but can be very difficult to locate an individual frog as they are timid callers and are generally around an inch in length and usually call from cover. It was a great way to kick off the spring amid some wild storms, and it got things rolling for an early spring so far here in the great white north.

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