Trip Report


 

Salamanders & Birds Tour
April 2, 2016

 

Red-spotted Newts in amplexus, the female is being “strangled” by the male’s hind limbs. Photo by John Ruhl, Jr.

 

     A beautiful day in Pisgah National Forest, with forecasted winds up to 50mph but because Pink Beds is nestled against the mountains and tucked into the Cradle of Forestry, it was the perfect place to be to listen for birds and get in the water to catch some salamanders! From the parking lot, our first migrant was a Louisiana Waterthrush, singing its mnemonic, “Louie, Louie, Louisiana…garbly goop!” Never got our binocs on either of the 2 birds we heard, but appreciated its loud song over and over again and how it overcompensated for the creek noise. Along our way to the boardwalk, we admired an old pine tree with old Yellow-bellied Sapsucker sap lines, which run horizontally across the tree, all the way up to about 15ft of the trunk.

Once we got to the boardwalk and beaver dammed wetland, we heard a distant Red-eyed Vireo and had a few Blue-headed Vireos singing nearby, but were quickly distracted by looking down into the water to see Red-spotted Newts doing it, floating on the surface and wiggling around amongst the Green Frog tadpoles. Alan Kay was the first to find a mated pair and we all got to witness the hardships of being a female Newt and we coined the term “cloacal interuptus”. No luck finding any surviving Wood frog tadpoles along the boardwalk, but folks, including Chris Coulter, found some in some of the smaller pools further north. All in all, the wetland was significantly drier than observed in the previous 4 years I have visited it, so less to find but still an adventure allowing us to walk into the wetland further than I have ever been able to travel! Alan Kay, again, was our master scouter and explorer and came across 2 egg masses, both from a Spotted Salamander! They were both the cloudy variety this species produces, which seems to be the more common phenotype in western NC and must allow for increased survivability for the species. While in the wetland, we continued hearing the Blue-headed Vireos and an occasional Pileated Woodpecker drumming and laughing through the woods.

Spotted Salamander egg masses found by Alan Kay. Photo by John Ruhl, Jr.

     We then turned around and before leaving the wetland, a few of us got to see 3 Brown Creepers and heard them singing too! Along our way back to the picnic lunch, we flipped some rocks and logs and everyone got into checking every one of them with success! We found several Red-backed Salamanders, one of the most prolific salamanders along the Appalachian range and a few color variants of the Slimy Salamander complex, which were either Gray-cheeked Slimy or Northern Slimy species. One had a white spots from nose to tail and the second was all gray/black, but without genetic testing the identification of these is nearly impossible and hybridizing in this region is also very common.

After a delicious picnic lunch, admiring several feeding Eastern Phoebes and the ever-so-common American Crow, we returned to the creek closest to the parking lot to see what stream salamander species we could catch with nets and plastic baggies. We (mostly Alan Kay and Leigh Ruhl) caught a few species under rocks along the banks and in the riffles, including a Black-bellied Salamander (adolescent, since it didn’t have a completed black belly yet), 2 Blue Ridge Two-lined Salamanders, 3 Shovel-nosed Salamander larvae (with silvery gills), an Ocoee salamander juvenile (without external gills), and a young Seal Salamander (without external gills). Our attempts to find a Spring Salamander and an adult Shovel-nosed Salamander did not prove successful this year, but Alan and Leigh definitely gave it 110%!! You all made me very proud and am excited you have joined the Newt-ist Camp with me! Thinking we need to offer more Salamander Tours in the future, you all ready?!?

 

Beautiful day. Great group. Another Great Venture!
Thanks for a great trip!
Emilie

Newtist Trainer