Easter Reptiles and Amphibians

Mating Wood Frogs

Mating Wood Frogs

The last day of my four-day Easter weekend dawned cool and overcast. Deb and I headed out to the east end together to check out a couple of trails near the Mer Bleue Bog. We started off at the boardwalk where we were greeted by the songs of at least two Fox Sparrows in the dense vegetation beyond the parking lot. Two Eastern Phoebes were attempting to catch flies in the open area between the parking lot and the picnic shelter, while a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was tapping nearby. We didn’t see a lot on the boardwalk; only the usual early marsh birds were present, as well as a pair of Wilson’s Snipes which we heard calling from the marsh. The most interesting birds were three Common Ravens flying over together while being chased by a couple of crows. One of the ravens did a barrel-roll trying to evade the crow, reminding me what magnificent fliers they are.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird on another overcast day

We had better luck in the small clearing beyond the woods. We saw three Hermit Thrushes foraging together, darting from open tree branches to thick brush piles as we slowly walked along the trail toward them. Three or four more Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were active in the same area, noisily chasing each other from tree to tree. Then a flock of 8 Rusty Blackbirds flew over – although similar to grackles in appearance and sound, their call is more musical than a grackle’s raspy squeak and they lack the keel-shaped tail.

At the edge of the woods I was delighted to hear a pond full of Wood Frogs quacking. A friend of mine described the sound as a distant room full of people talking at once; to me it sounded like a distant room full of ducks calling at once! We followed the sound to a large wet puddle at the bottom of a steep incline. The water was full of branches from small shrubs, and I wasn’t able to get close enough to see a single frog.

We decided to go to the Dewberry Trail next as my friend had mentioned the Wood Frogs were present there, and I was hoping to see one. I had never been there before, and wasn’t expecting to see the feeder right next to the parking lot standing in a tangle of shrubs. A couple of White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos were scrounging for food on the ground, and in the dense vegetation I saw an American Tree Sparrow and a Fox Sparrow. From there we followed the trail through the woods, coming across a single Pileated Woodpecker working on a tree.

Not long after we passed the Pileated I heard it: the sound of a whole bunch of Wood Frogs calling! I followed my ears to a large, deep vernal pool in the woods. This time Deb and I were able to walk right up to the water, and we could see several small Wood Frogs swimming around. Deb also spotted a pair of frogs mating right at the edge of the puddle.

Mating Wood Frogs

Mating Wood Frogs

On closer inspection, however, we realized that a third frog had attached himself to the other two! I am not sure what all the insects are, but they were everywhere – on the water, on the frogs, and on the leaf litter at the edge of the pond. They might be springtails (aka Snow Fleas) but I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at them.

Mating Wood Frogs

Mating Wood Frogs

Wood Frogs can be identified by the dark mask under and behind the eyes and the dark blotch on the chest near each front leg (not shown here). Up to eight centimetres in length, Wood Frogs are one of the earliest frogs to emerge in the spring and are remarkably cold-tolerant for such a tiny creature. They can survive sustained temperatures of -6°C and the freezing of 60-70% of the water in their body. Because of this ability they begin to call in early spring when ice still covers the ponds.

Wood Frogs migrate to small ponds that are free from predatory fish where they breed. After mating occurs, the female may lay up to 2,000 eggs in a mass that is attached to submerged vegetation.

Wood Frog

Wood Frog

We both enjoyed watching and photographing the frogs in the pond and spent a long time in the area. When at last we moved on, we found a couple of Hermit Thrushes and a Winter Wren in the woods and a small Garter Snake in an open area. This was my first snake of the year.

Garter Snake

Garter Snake

From there we headed over to Milton and Frank Kenny Roads to look for geese, but the large flooded areas had disappeared and we didn’t see any large flocks close enough to the road to warrant a stop. We drove over to the large ponds on Giroux Road and found a pair of Ring-necked Ducks and a pair of Common Mergansers in with the Canada Geese. Then I spotted a large raptor soaring above the trees. It was dark, but the white on its underside didn’t match the white patches of a Rough-legged or Red-tailed Hawk. Then I noticed the heavy bill and realized it was a juvenile Bald Eagle – my first of the year!

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Juvenile Bald Eagle

After such a great day at Mer Bleue I wasn’t expecting to see a Bald Eagle at Giroux. It was a fantastic end to the day.

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4 thoughts on “Easter Reptiles and Amphibians

  1. Still love the wood frog pix. If you’re there next spring and see the mystery insects again, take some on your hand and see what they do. If they’re springtails they’ll give it away by hopping like fleas 🙂

  2. I adore the Wood frogs. That was my one and only local amphibian when I lived in Alaska. Their active season was short, but man… they were fun! Hardy, robust, and tough little frogs, aren’t they?

    • They sure are! No wonder they are the northern-most occurring frog species. I happened upon another one before my trip to Florida, which I was really thrilled about – I rarely see any small frogs unless they are calling!

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