Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cold Rains Bring Brief January Thaw

In an average January eastern Ohio experiences a brief thaw around the third week of the month that in some cases can result in temperatures rising into the 50's and 60's for a few days.  This year the thaw has taken its time arriving as temperatures have been below freezing for the most part since late December.  Cold overnight rains have fragmented the snowpack and, with slightly longer daylight, give a sense that warmer weather is not that far away.  Amphibians are also taking note of these seasonal changes.  Longer photoperiods and warmer rains are cues that trigger mass migrations to seasonal breeding pools for frogs, toads and salamanders.  Those with access to vernal pools should be observant especially if temperatures in the next couple of weeks rise significantly with heavy rains. 

Although not as common in Belmont and Monroe Counties, Jefferson (Ambystoma jeffersonianum) and the four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) are the first to migrate in late winter followed by the more common wood frog (pictured below) and spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) in early March.  In some years migrations will even occur while ice still covers the pools.

A male wood frog perched on the edge of a small vernal pool
at dusk in mid-March.  Wood frogs are the first frogs to arrive
at vernal pools in late winter, sometimes by the hundreds.  They
have a very short breeding window of only a week or two
before disappearing into the forest to forage for the rest of the
growing season.  Often they gounnoticed due to weak
vocalizations and brief poolsideappearance.  Look for
them in pools after a couple of 50+degree days with some
warm rain at the end of February.

Following the wood frog's early March appearance in the
Captina watershed region will be the smaller, more vocal
mountain chorus frog (Pseudacris brachyphona).   The
mountain chorus frog takes residence in small semi-
permanent pools usually no deeper than an inch or two that
are southward facing.  A good place to spot them is in small
pools that form in ruts along logging trails which is where I
caught up with this chorusing male last March.  Hearing
the ear-splitting, raspy call of this frog makes it hard to believe
it is only an inch in length from snout to vent. 

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