Monday, April 14, 2008


A lot has happened since I stopped posting a while back. To summarize - spring happened, and I almost missed it. It began back in March. The first birds back were the waterfowl. While running around on campus, flocks of Canada and Snow Geese passed by overhead on their way to Cayuga Lake and points north. A small flurry of Golden Eagle sightings occurred in the Basin around this time, although I never connected with one on campus. One bird I did connect with (finally) was a Bohemian Waxwing among several hundred Cedars on the campus crabapples. The waxwing flocks were difficult for people this winter. Bohemian(s) were sighted several different times in different locations around Ithaca, and never seemed to stick to one place where people could refind them.

The next wave of birds were the various blackbird species. A particularly nice sighting was a Rusty Blackbird, with rusty fringes still present on its black plumage, feeding around the main feeders at the Lab of O. Many students from my Ornithology Class got to check it out. Since then, more and more migrants have been found. Tree Swallows are back, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Purple Martins are just returning too. Phoebes are back everywhere, and Pine Warblers are being reported. The first shorebirds are moving through this past week. An American Woodcock put on what sounded like an awesome display at Sapsucker Woods, feeding and sleeping in plain view for many for several days. I of course didn't get out to see it. There was a lot of discussion about the Woodcocks rocking behavior during feeding. Check out Paul Hurtado's video and photos here.

I have actually gotten outside since I turned in my Honor's Thesis last week. I've been placing artificial nesting tubes for Northern Rough-winged Swallows, in order to observe their behaviors inside the burrow with nest cameras. This is my third field season with this work and I hope to get some good data this year. I'm putting out three times as many tubes as previous years, so I have good hopes about actually getting nests. I did see some neat spring sightings while placing the tubes on Sunday, including a Belted Kingfisher digging a burrow (there was a pile of fresh dirt underneath) and White Suckers making their spawning runs. These fish aren't very appealing outside of spawning, but right now they sport very bold coloration of dark and light stripes.

One of the most exciting spring things that I have been able to experience is the Ambystoma migration. Every spring on the first rainy night above freezing, many salamanders migrate from the surrounding woods to vernal pools to mate. These include the Jefferson's Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum), which migrate so early they cross snow fields, and the Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) which migrate just a little bit later in the season. Here are some Jefferson's migrating exactly one month ago.

This one made it to shallow water. They are surprisingly well camouflaged in the water.

I wasn't stepping on it, it tried to crawl under me while I was still.

The snow fields they cross. There is a Jeff just left of bottom center.

Dance of the Headlamps

I've been taking a lot of video in addition to pictures this season. I was hoping to put together a nice little movie about the migration, but I missed some of the peak nights and didn't get nearly as much as I wanted. Here are some good ones though. Eric demonstrates how to sex Ambystoma.




A little later in the season, when the weather was more decent, turtles came out to bask on the ponds - I counted an even 50 in one day at Sapsucker Woods. I found my first Garter too. At the vernal pools, the Spotted Salamanders joined the Jefferson's and the frog choruses started up. On their best night, Shawn and Eric's group counted 151 Ambystoma migrating to the pools. On the warmest night yet of the season, last Friday (upper 50's and rain/thunderstorms), the Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) was so powerful I could hear them from over half a mile away as I walked to the ponds. Here are a few pictures from that night and subsequent nights, when I spent some time wading in the ponds themselves.

Jefferson's Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum)
Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

A maculatum with a leech

A maculatum with reduced spotting

Ambystoma egg masses

Taking data on migration direction

Now for some frogs. Here is a Spring Peeper who panicked when I approached and couldn't deflate his vocal sac in time. He was kicking around the surface being held up by a balloon.

Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica)

N. Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens)

The coolest find was this aberrant Green Frog (Rana clamitans) tadpole. It has some kind of pigment problem, I'm not sure what it will look like as an adult.

Hanes' new color-changing socks

It's been a good spring so far (at least what I've seen of it). Hopefully I will be able to get out more now, and be able to report more. I will certainly hope to be in the field a lot more in the coming weeks, attending Rough-winged Swallow nests.