Saturday, 15 April 2017

Salamander Monitoring at SpruceHaven

12 April 2017

     As we expand our efforts to investigate and catalogue the biodiversity at SpruceHaven we are constantly turning our attention to different taxa and seeking to implement programmes to identify their habitats, lifestyles, breeding strategies and so on.
     Last fall we laid out salamander boards in an area of the woodlot where a vernal pool is present after the snow melt of winter, so that we would be ready to commence monitoring in the spring. In the meantime, ongoing discussions have been taking place with the Ecology Lab at the University of Waterloo to explore ways to have undergraduate students involved in these activities. We have now arrived at the point where salamander monitoring can be taken over by the Ecology Lab, providing students with valuable field experience.
     A regimen of salamander monitoring has been operational at the rare Charitable Research Reserve in Cambridge for several years and we owe a debt of appreciation to Jenna Quinn, a research scientist there, for her unstinting co-operation in helping us to get our monitoring activity underway. She has been generous indeed with her time, including making two visits to Sprucehaven. Thanks to Jenna's guidance in navigating us through the various protocols involved, we will be able to amass data to submit to the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas in a manner which will furnish significant information about the salamander population at SpruceHaven.
     I would be remiss if I did not express my personal appreciation to Anne Grant, Ecology Lab Manager and Bev Raimbault, Ecology Lab Coordinator for the way in which they have embraced this opportunity (and others still to come). It has been an absolute joy to work with them and we have become a team to be reckoned with! 
     The first visit of the spring saw Anne and Bev visit SpruceHaven with students Taylor Larking, Callie Stirling and Kale Meyer.
     Here is Bev lifting the first board to see what awaits us underneath.

       We measured the temperature, humidity and wind speed at the most North, South, East and West boards, and at each board we measured light, soil moisture, soil temperature, the number of salamanders found, size, type, and noted any disturbances that were observed.

Taylor Larking, Anne Grant, Kale Meyer, Callie Stirling, Bev Raimbault
     Once we had fully dealt with Board No. 1 we moved on to Board No. 2.......and so on.

      Here we are measuring an Eastern Red-backed Salamander Plethodon cinereus, not always  a straighforward thing to do, for they are tiny creatures and seem to be permanently coiled to one degree or another. It is important not to handle these Plethodontid salamanders which are lungless, and conduct respiration through their skin and the tissues lining their mouth. Handling them could easily close off the respiratory openings in the skin, restricting their ability to take up oxygen, causing death.

     Here is a little better view of one of them.

     In addition to monitoring the boards installed last year, we began to install new boards around another vernal pond which holds high promise for a robust salamander population. Franc Gorenc made many of our boards last year and has already begun to supply more. He has researched the boards well and has come up with a stellar design. The boards are made of rough cut pine with two boards glued together with grain opposite. They are then both screwed and nailed together to prevent splitting, and Franc has crafted a handle with a smooth finger grip so that the board can be easily lifted. He is continuing to work on a method to mount a flag on top of the board for rapid identification. Franc came out to bring his new boards and to see where they will be located. It really is quite wonderful to have a corps of people like Franc willing to lend their skills to our project.

Franc Gorenc

     The woodlot is starting to come alive as warm temperatures encourage growth. Eyelash Fungus Scutellina scutellata seemed to be everywhere one turned over a few leaves.

     And before long Bloodroot Sanguinaria canadensis will carpet the forest floor.

     This has been a great start to an exciting new venture. So far we have found only Eastern Red-backed Salamanders, but we are looking forward to new discoveries. I'll be sure to let you know what we find.
     As always a huge vote of thanks is owed to Dave, Sandy and Jamie who continue to  encourage us in every way possible in the environmental stewardship of their property. Long may it continue!


  1. What an interesting post. I only had a vague idea what a salamander looked like so I had to look them up for more info. Thank for this and I will be sure to follow your next post on them. Cheers Diane

  2. This was very interesting to us, David! Environmental stewardship extending to a species we see but (are ashamed to admit) have given little thought to. Light note: our granddaughter ( now a 30+mom) once brought home a pair from a family camping trip to an Oregon mountain lake. She named them Sal and Mandy and they lived quite a while happily she n their backyard pond. (As with many other things back then, nobody knew any better.)

  3. I am extremely impressed, David, by the diversity and depth of the environmental activities of your group of friends and associates. I have to confess, however, that I cannot spot the salamanders in your images, unless it is the pink 's'-shaped object that looks a bit like a worm at that distance!

    Do you have Slow Worms over there?

    Keep up the good work. Love to you both - - Richard

    1. These are tiny little critters, Richard, and yes it is the little "S" shaped object that resembles a worm. If you saw it up close you would readily identify it as a salamander. We do not have slow worms here.

  4. Hi David,
    this is very interesting to see, what you do for nature and animals. This is great !
    Have a Happy Easter, my friend.
    Warm regards, Synnöve

  5. Thanks for the info you given to us David, it was interesting.

  6. Hi David and another fascinating pots, you seem to get involved with everything, they certainly are a small salamander in comparison to the Chinese version that can weigh in at 50 lbs plus . All the best to you both. John

  7. Interesting informations. I read this post with curiosity. Greetings!

  8. Hi David,
    This is very interesting to see, what you do for nature and animals.
    Best regards, Irma

  9. Hello David,
    A very interesting research with these salamanders.
    Great that you do everything to keep this kind alive.
    The red calves that started to grow there are very special and very beautiful too.
    Thank you for your good fortune :-)
    A big kiss for you

  10. Another very interesting post, many thanks for all the information and great photo's.

    All the best Jan

  11. Very interesting David. I do miss seeing any lizard species here in the UK, very, very rare here in Lancashire, so I enjoy seeing them in the Med (2 weeks to go).

    Good luck with your project. I note the lack of greenery in your pictures - good luck with some warmer weather too. Still northerlies here and not very conducive to lots of migration.