The First Herps of 2013

With temperatures hitting the mid-60s today, I decided to go outside and take a look around. Though warm, there were still patches of snow on the ground and many areas of standing water were still frozen.

As I hiked, I could hear Spring Peepers calling off in the distance, but there calls were scattered and sporadic. The first herp of 2013 was a much bigger frog than a Spring Peeper – American Bullfrog.

In the same area while looking through the underbrush, I spotted my first reptile of the year – Midland Painted Turtle. I could hear lone Spring Peepers calling off in the distance, but these herps were right in front of me, so I photographed them.

I wasn’t the only one herping today – Red-tailed Hawk.

Here’s male a Midland Painted Turtle courting a female. To express his affections, he scratches her cheeks with his extra-long front fingernails.

She did not seem impressed with his technique.

These Ground Beetles are cool. They have big jaws and “play dead” by freezing in this position when they feel that they’re in danger.

Soon it began getting dark. I decided to track down one of those Spring Peepers that I’d been hearing throughout the day. Finding one can be tricky, they are very small and tend to stop calling as they are approached. But persistence paid off.

Not a bad outing for January 12th in the Greater Cleveland area!

Third Eye Herp

Thanksgiving Day Herping

With sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s in Northeast Ohio, I had no choice but to go do some “holiday herping” today. Here is some habitat that I checked out.

Turtle buddies – Midland Painted Turtles.

American Bullfrog, there were a bunch of these hanging out, though most were in the water. A few Spring Peepers were calling, but finding one would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

I was pleased to see this Northern Water Snake out basking.

I decided to get a shot of it from another angle, because snakes are cool.

Red-eared Slider and its reflection.

Redback Salamander.

What I saw the most of were Midland Painteds – it sure was a nice day to be out.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Third Eye Herp

A Hike on the Erie Canal Towpath

Like so many parts of the United States, Northeast Ohio has had very warm Summer temperatures and little rain for quite some time. There’s been a change in past three days; there’s been a fair amount of rain and somewhat cooler weather. I decided to take a hike on the Erie Canal Towpath and see what was up.

I noticed this Black Rat Snake’s shed skin up in a tree. It’s the second shed that I’ve found in this spot. I have yet to see this serpent. Black Rat Snakes are my favorite snakes.

Then I saw this female Bullfrog too – there were lots of frogs out.

Here’s a Sulphur Butterfly on a Cup Plant. Why is it called a Cup Plant?

 Answer: Because its leaves hold water!

There were many Painted Turtles out.

How can a baby Muskrat be both cute AND be a rodent at the same time?

Little Turtle/Big Turtle.

Young Wood Ducks that hatched earlier this year hanging out with their mother (in front).

This Painted Turtle isn’t going to catch many rays while covered in Duckweed.

A Green Heron that kept staring intently at the water, waiting for a small fish to swim by.

I like turtles and there were more turtles than you can shake a stick at!

 It was a good day for hiking the towpath.

Third Eye Herp

Herping with High School Students

Last night I accompanied a group of high school students into the floodplains of the Cuyahoga River to see what we could turn up. Usually we go later in the year, but it’s been warm and the frogs have been calling. Often we catch the tail end of Spring Peeper season and the beginning of American Toad and Leopard Frog season. There do not appear to be any salamanders breeding in the pools. We started out at a small pond getting some practice in listening to and locating Spring Peepers.

There’s a bit of a contest between the students as to who can locate the first one (it’s not as easy as you might think). This year Andy found the first one. He had a bunch of good finds last night.

After the students got an understanding of the challenge and were given the basic overview of why frogs call, satellite males, breeding competition, etc., it was time to head into the valley.

We could hear the long trills of American Toads as well as the occasional “snores” of Leopard Frogs through the constant calling of Spring Peepers. This wasn’t a herp, but it is one of my favorite invertebrates – an Eastern Toebiter – we also saw a few Water Scorpions.

We’ve never found reptiles on previous trips to this location this early in the year, but last night was different.

Northern Brown Snake

Then Andy started catching turtles; a few turned up in the floodplains yesterday.

Can I get a closer picture of that Midland Painted Turtle, Andy?

Spring Peepers were what the students were finding the most of, but bigger frogs were caught as well.

Northern Leopard Frog

Megan caught the second snake of the night.

Eastern Garter Snake

Although they are rather loud, Spring Peepers are very small. It can be a frustrating experience to locate one, even if it’s only a couple of feet away and calling. This photo gives an idea of how tiny they are.

There’s no time like Toad Time, and a fair number of American Toads were found, though they were not calling in full force yet.

Most of the twenty-something students found and/or caught an amphibian.

My 10 year old nephew Max and I were bent on catching a Western Chorus Frog. We heard a few calling, but they eluded us. We had a pretty good time anyway.

Third Eye

Alison Holds Amphibians

I never thought I’d see the day, but today it happened. Don’t believe me? Then read on.

Alison and I took a boy named Evan out to see some signs of spring (which officially is only a week away). We heard frogs calling from woodland pools, so we stopped to check it out.

All those ripples and swirls are from Wood Frogs swimming around, looking for mates.

There were a few Wood Frogs on land too, heading for the water. This one was pretty colorful.

So we caught it, to check it out more closely. These amphibians can be easily identified by their “robber’s mask.”

Evan decided that further investigations were in order.

A bit of log turning revealed a Spotted Salamander.

They spend most of their life underground, but head to the pools in March to lay eggs. Then they return back to the woods.

Of course Evan would hold it, but the big question was would Alison hold it?

She did!

Third Eye Herp

Herping with Lance, Lauren, Luke and Logan

The “4 Ls” caught word of spring and the annual amphibian migration. “We want to go on a salamander hunt,” they said.

“OK,” I replied. So off we went.

We soon found out that finding wild herps isn’t as easy as looking at pictures of them on the internet. We could hear the “clucking” of Wood Frogs and the chirps of Spring Peepers, but where were they? Logan thought that lifting logs was a good strategy.

Then we found that if we were quiet, still and patient, our quarry would soon reveal itself.

Hey, what’s inside this log?

Not everyone is stoked about finding their first Spotted Salamander.

But Lance is.

And so is Lauren – we found four in total.

A non-migrating Redback Salamander.

Salamanders are sweet, but we won’t be happy until we catch a frog.

Lauren taking the “Wood Frog Challenge,” those frogs simply did not want to get caught.

 It was a great way to spend the afternoon.

Third Eye Herp


Tonight’s Amphibian Migration

How do you know that spring has arrived? Some would say it’s when they see their first Red-winged Blackbird. Some would say that it’s when a particular flower starts to bloom. But that’s all nonsense. Spring is officially here when Spring Peepers start calling. But before they do that, they must wake up from hibernation and migrate to woodland pools, where they lay their eggs. In these parts, Wood Frogs, Spotted Salamanders and Jefferson’s Salamanders often join them.
It rained pretty heavily until early afternoon, but then it stopped. But it still turned out to be a very good night for seeing amphibians. Wood Frogs were everywhere. I’ve never seen so many in one night (we only stayed for an hour).

Here’s a female heavy with eggs. Unfortunately they didn’t close the road like they usually do, so there were quite a few casualties. We called a ranger and he stopped by shortly thereafter to close it.

Although the Wood Frogs were calling in full force, there weren’t many Spring Peepers calling yet. Only two were seen on the road.

Salamanders tend to start crossing a bit later at night, but eventually they made their presence known. Here’s the first of many Spotted Salamanders.
One with relatively few spots.

But the Wood Frogs kept coming too. Sometimes I’d be photographing one and two or three would hop right on by.
A few were orange and a few were pink.

A hybrid/intergrade salamander that no one can quite figure out.

This spotted was just chillin’ in a roadside puddle after making it across the street.

And this one successfully crossed the “finish line” too.

Hey, that’s a spotted salamander, but it’s not a Spotted Salamander. This newt was probably looking to cash in on some tasty amphibian eggs.

Gray is my favorite color, and this Jefferson’s Salamander certainly was a fine sight to see.

It was quite a night!

Third Eye Herp