Monday, March 16, 2015

Beekman Road

It's (almost) spring and so a young (or old) spotted salamander's thoughts, such as they are, turn to love.

And love for a salamander means a big meet up at the local vernal pool.

Thus every spring, give or take a few weeks, on the first "warm" rainy night, the salamanders head down from the woods where they've spent the winter to the nearest vernal pool to meet up, mate, and lay eggs.

And thus for the second year in a row we've made the short journey up the NJ Turnpike to East Brunswick. To Beekman Road. Last year we visited late in the season, and saw only a few salamanders, and but one frog.

This year we arrived early. Both in the season, and in the time (it was still light out). We were the only folks there. We walked the road and saw nothing.

So we went back to the car and waited a bit. And more people started to show up.

Getting to the vernal pool, especially if you are a salamander that lives in the very built up area that is the NJ Turnpike corridor, can be very hazardous. Thus not only are there warning signs like the one pictured above, but the town actually closes a section of Beekman Road on warmish rainy nights.

This was the first night the road was closed this season. The temperature was right, in the fifties Fahrenheit, and it was rainy and humid. But, and this was a big but, this had been a cold winter. And snow was still on the ground. Another worrisome indicator was that the spring peepers, which should be calling by now, were not.

As it got dark the group now at the parking lot decided to walk the road. So we headed over and did another round trip. No salamanders.

It was on the third lap that I spotted the frog shown here. A spring peeper. I've heard many a peeper calling. This is the first I've ever seen. The scientific name, Pseudacris crucifer crucifer, comes from the faint cross (x) on its back. Biggafy the image above to see.

And if you are a spring peeper on ice you probably aren't all that inclined to spend much time calling. Rather you're spending our energy looking for somewhere warm.

Dave Moskowitz, the man behind the road blocks (and one of the team that created National Moth Week) thought that finding the peeper, even though it was not calling, was a good sign. If it was warm enough for peepers to be about it should be warm enough for salamanders.

And it was.

This was the first* salamander of the night, making its way across the road. We would see over a dozen of the creatures.

* Technically it was the second. But it was the first living salamander of the night. The first was one that had tried to cross before the road was blocked. It did not make it. Had the road not been blocked on nights like this there would be very few salamanders to see in this or future years.

While a large salamander, one girl out looking said they are "the size of a sausage", they are still small compared to the road. And the road is just a small part of the distance they travel.

But travel it they do. Although the lights confused them at times, causing them to stop and pose. But almost never long enough to get a good shot. Except for the guy with the video camera. For him they posed and posed and posed. While he knelt on the ground, camera on tripod, waiting for them to move. And they would just sit there.

We wandered up and down the road in a light rain for two and a half hours.

And as I mentioned, we saw over a dozen. Not a spectacular night. But a good one, especially when after the first couple of trips up and back we had seen nothing (and one of us thought the night a bust).

Dave was even more excited about this fellow:

A wood frog. I spotted several. And as a group we saw half a dozen or more. They are new here. Dave's not heard them calling in the area. But it looks like they've found the place. And it shouldn't be long until their call enlivens the night.

I wonder what the frogs and salamanders think of we lumbering giants who light up the road and obstruct their path.

I know that we all found them fascinating. And well worth the time spent to see them. Thanks to the Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission for all the work they do to protect these creatures. And letting the rest of know when to visit.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Admiring these photos (especially the spring peeper on ice with his little eyes closed) and your passion for photography, I think about how I can enjoy it more. I love taking photos, and I sure hope that as an adult, I'll have plenty of time for photo outings.

Also, it's cool to know that there are people (like the EBEC) who are determined enough to convince the police to set up road blocks for the salamanders and frogs on their way to mate. Makes you happy with the world.