Monitoring amphibian egg masses in Clark County, Washington

Volunteers training to monitor amphibian egg masses
Volunteers training to monitor amphibian egg masses at Burnt Bridge Creek, Vancouver, Washington, USA. February 22, 2014.

I wrote a little about the Water Resources Education Center in my last post, so I’ll continue on about the actual amphibian monitoring training. We started the day at the Water Resources Education Center with an overview of common amphibian species in the area and how to identify their egg masses, given by Peter Ritson, the environmental scientist who coordinates the Southwest Washington Amphibian Monitoring Project (SWAMP). SWAMP is a volunteer citizen science project that aims to encourage protection of native amphibians and their habitat by collecting data crucial for conservation decisions, as well as engaging citizens in science and wildlife protection and educating people about the importance of wetlands in the region.

Ritson brought a couple Long-toed Salamanders (Ambystoma macrodactylum), a common Pacific Northwest species which can live in a variety of habitats, hibernating during the cold winter months.

Long-toed Salamanders (Ambystoma macrodactylum)

Although it’s not always possible to see in the field, one of the characteristic features of their egg masses is a “double” layer of jelly (actually triple, which you can see better in this photo on Wikipedia).

Long-toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum) egg mass

After the classroom training, we headed out to the field to a small wetlands near Burnt Bridge Creek Trail. Those with waders (or more dedicated than I am) worked their way down a drainage ditch, while the rest of us tried to avoid being stabbed by blackberries or falling in from the banks.

Burnt Bridge Creek

Amphibian monitoring at Burnt Bridge Creek

Most of the egg masses we saw belonged to Long-toed Salamanders or to the Pacific Tree Frog or Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla).

It takes some practice to spot egg masses, especially since healthy egg masses tend to be below the surface of the water. This one—a Long-toed Salamander egg mass—wasn’t doing so well, possibly due to weather damage.

Long-toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum) egg mass

Normally SWAMP discourages handling egg masses or removing them from the water, but this one was probably not viable.

Long-toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum) egg mass

Pacific Tree Frog egg masses look quite different.

Pacific Tree Frog (Pseudacris regilla) egg mass

While we didn’t see any frogs, we could hear them!

More photos from the day on Flickr.

The Vancouver Water Resources Education Center

Coho Salmon alevin
A recently hatched Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) alevin, still carrying the egg yolk, at the Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, Vancouver, Washington, USA. February 22, 2014.

A couple weeks ago I went to an amphibian egg monitoring training at the Water Resources Education Center in Vancouver, Washington. While I won’t be participating in the program, which is centered in Clark County, Washington, I thought it would be nice to learn some more about the amphibians of the Pacific Northwest.

We started the day with a couple slideshows and a look at some captive salamanders, before heading out to a local wetlands to look for egg masses in the wild. The Water Resources Education Center was one of my favorite places as a kid, but I hadn’t been back in years.

Vancouver Water Resources Education Center

It’s an outdoor and informal education organization run by the City of Vancouver, right on the edge of the Columbia River and associated wetlands. The mission, as you might expect, is focused on water resources, particular the abundant wetland and river habitats of the Pacific Northwest. It’s a great place to learn about issues facing water resources in the region, as well as to see some of the native fish and amphibians you might not find in the wild.

Near the entrance is an area with a number of tanks and terraria, including salmon eggs and recently hatched alevins like the one above, as well as a bunch of native amphibians like this Pacific Tree Frog or Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla). We didn’t see any of these in the field, but we certainly heard them!

Pacific Tree Frog (Pseudacris regilla)

I find Western Toads (Anaxyrus boreas) and toads in general strangely charming:

Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas)

Hanging above is a striking yet disturbing Salmon Lifecycle sculpture by local artists Maggie Rudy and Patty Maly, depicting the life cycle of the salmon in trash—such as that which ends up the oceans, negatively affecting salmon and other animals.

Salmon Lifecycle sculpture by Maggie Rudy and Patty Maly

Salmon Lifecycle sculpture by Maggie Rudy and Patty Maly

Moving towards the other exhibits, you pass a large fishtank, which usually has White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) and other fish. Later on, some of the salmon may move to that tank temporarily before release, although they can be aggressive. White sturgeons are the largest freshwater fish in North America, at their largest reaching up to 1,799 pounds (816 kilograms) and 20 feet (6.1 meters) and living over 100 years. In addition to overfishing, dams along the Columbia and Snake Rivers threaten sturgeon populations by reducing spawning habitat and blocking passage to and from the ocean.

White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus)

I didn’t have time to poke around the main exhibit area, but I think it’s more focused on kid-friendly interactive activities and watershed education.

Vancouver Water Resources Education Center