Saturday, June 16, 2012

Gray Tree Frogs (watercolour 4 x 6 in.)

13 June finds us driving very slowly in the dark around the red shale hill of North Russell, Ontario, surveying frog movements after this rainy day. There are adult Leopard Frogs, adult and newly transformed Green Frogs, a few Toads (two yearlings and one adult) - and we were pleased and surprised to find many yearling and small adult Gray Tree Frogs! Adults have been calling from the trees, having left their breeding ponds to begin their summer insect hunting. They forage
mostly in trees, but sometimes on buildings, or, as Fred found a few days ago, old tent trailers parked in the woods!  Rainy nights make it easy for frogs to travel under cover of darkness, across ground that would otherwise dry out their skins.

As I creep the van along the wet road, stopping at every light spot on the pavement. Where we begin to stop often Fred gets out and walks ahead with his headlamp. He picks the live frogs up and walks back to check their identity by one of the bright van headlights, tosses them gently into the grassy ditch, and then makes a GPS waypoint and a note in his journal. The dead frogs go into a bag to be identified, measured, and preserved.

One of our big concerns is road ecology. We worry about the effects of road-caused habitat fragmentation and mortality have on populations, and we using movements across roads to detect times and direction of movements, in much the way a physicist uses a particle detector. The problem is that it's only when there's enough traffic to produce roadkill, that we're not like a particle on the landscape ourselves. We can only sample one place at a time, so we'll often miss successful movements across roads in other places, which may only take a few tens of minutes to complete. This night we set out after rain had ended (I'd been at a meeting in Ottawa and Fred had been working the paths south of Rte 100), with the resolve to record the position of every creature on the road in the block around the quarry: Rte 100, Eadie Rd, Rte 200, North Russell Rd, and back on Rte 100. The pavement was wet when we set out at 23h43, and only 40% wet at 24h45 on our return.

We've brought back two of the live tree frogs for me to sketch. I have set the tip of an Apple branch in a cruet of water, inside their terrarium, but they prefer the smooth glass for sitting on, and climb about on the walls after the flies I provide for snacks. I love sketching frogs!

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