MOUNTAIN LIFE - Blue Mountains | Fall 2019

57 Dinner is a distant memory when the rain finally stops. Immediately, a platoon heads toward a rack of canoes for an evening paddle. It’s the golden hour in Ontario’s lake country—when the wind has blown itself out, the water gone still and numinous, the forest lain quiet. A pause that awaits the night world. When darkness descends, I join Algonquin Wildlife Research Station (AWRS) biologist Patrick Moldowan and several student assistants on a hike to nearby Bat Lake to see what a day’s rain has stirred from the forest floor. Sure enough, following an urge to return to water to breed that dates to their emergence some 395 million years ago, amphibians are on the move. Yellow-spotted salamanders, seemingly painted, and their blue-spotted cousins, speckled like old enamelware, are joined by more familiar hopping forms— wood and green frogs, American toads, and even a tiny spring peeper whose sticky toe-pads allow it to clamber over a low fence encircling the lake that stops the rest in their tracks. Patrick is conducting a long-term population study of the yellow-spotted contingent—the number of males versus females, their respective rates of return, where females deposit eggs, and how many of these result in larval salamanders successfully metamorphosing at summer’s end. This logistical feat requires marking every new individual headed for the water, as well as identifying returnees from past years, each night and morning over the course of a month-long spring breeding period. With the bottom of the knee-high fence dug into the forest floor, migrating animals encountering either side must alter their trajectory to walk alongside it until they stumble into moss-filled boxes where they can be counted. Though “drift fences”—named for the catch-all drift nets employed in open-ocean fishing—are typically made of black construction plastic, Patrick’s long-haul version features more durable sheet metal. That doesn’t, however, make it problem free. “You find out how many trees actually fall in a forest when you put up a drift fence,” notes Patrick. It’s late in the breeding season, so outbound amphibian traffic is heavier than the stragglers heading in. Celina Yang, a University of Toronto undergraduate excited to experience a few days of fieldwork, sweeps ahead of us on the inside of the fence with headlamp and bucket, an eagle-eyed scanner quick to pick out cryptic forms on the forest’s variegated floor. In half an hour she plucks up over 100 salamanders—more than the average person would see in several lifetimes. “You’re pretty calm about all of this,” says Patrick after she returns from the dark with yet another bucketful of the colourful creatures. “I’m actually screaming inside,” she smiles. Wild Life Celebrating 75 years of boreal insight at the AlgonquinWildlife Research Station Celina Yang sweeps ahead of us on the inside of the fence with headlamp and bucket, an eagle-eyed scanner quick to pick out cryptic forms on the forest’s variegated floor. In half an hour she plucks up over 100 salamanders— more than the average person would see in several lifetimes. CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT Moose brainworm was first discovered at AWRS. PATRICK MOLDOWAN. Patrick Moldowan dips a paddle in Lake Sasajewun. LESLIE ANTHONY.A handsome Blanding’s turtle named Buttercup: a member of the long-term AWRS turtle study. PATRICK MOLDOWAN. Chris Angell, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Ottawa, presiding over a collection of moose antlers and the flies that call them home. LESLIE ANTHONY. Recently metamorphosed gray treefrog. PATRICK MOLDOWAN.A captured yellow-spotted salamander, one of thousands captured at Moldowan’s drift fence. LESLIE ANTHONY words :: Leslie Anthony

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