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.

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