Archive for the ‘Amphibians’ Category


I spent the 4th of July weekend camping with my family at one of my favorite spots. Domingo Spring in Lassen National Forest. I first visited this site during my graduate school work where I was recording the calls of Evening Grosbeaks, and I have returned regularly ever since. The campground, set among jumbled piles of volcanic rocks and large conifer trees, is immediately beside a wet meadow that Domingo Creek runs through. Near the entrance of the campground is the source of Domingo Creek, and the campground’s namesake, Domingo Spring. This spring is one of the few places I know of where one can drink right out of the land. In my mind, that makes this a very special spot, indeed. We also drove to Willow Lake for part of one day which was lovely. Willow Lake has a floating sphagnum bog where a couple of native species of carnivorous plants grow wild.


My brother birding Domingo Spring

The days we spent camping were filled with birds, a lake visit, walks throughout the surrounding meadows, lots of cooking over the fire, singing, talking politics, reading the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July, drawing, and so much more! One bird encounter that was really wonderful was our neighbors in the campground. A pair of Cassin’s Vireos had a nest about 25 feet up a ponderosa pine tree at the edge of our campsite where four nestlings eagerly gobbled down each of the insects their parents delivered. Many Western Tanagers, including a lot of newly fledged birds, were also around this year.

The full species list for birds included: Mallard, Common Nighthawk, Anna’s Hummingbird, Turkey Vulture, Great Horned Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, White-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Stellar’s Jay, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, House Wren, American Robin, Cassin’s Vireo, Evening Grosbeak, Purple Finch, Cassin’s Finch, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, MacGillivray’s Warbler, and Western Tanager.


My daughter holding a Pacific Tree Frog

We also had some nice herpetological encounters. I caught a small Mountain Gartersnake, and my wife and daughter caught a Pacific Tree Frog. Oddly, we did not see any gartersnakes are Willow Lake. In the past we have often seen them swimming in the lake as they hunt for minnows in the water, sometimes around our feet. This year, the water was much more turbid that it usually is (a result of the fairly recent snow melt?), and maybe this made the water less appealing as hunting grounds for the snakes that are pretty visual predators.

Mountain Gartersnake - Domingo Spring - 20190705

Mountain Gartersnake

Mammals we saw included Mule Deer, California Groundsquirrel, Golden-mantled Groundsquirrel, Douglas Squirrel, and Allen’s Chipmunk.

I very much look forward to the next time I return to Domingo Spring to enjoy the mountains and drink from the rocks.




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Information is important. With information each of us as individuals, and our society as a whole, can learn about the world. With information, we can all make decisions that make sense. With information, we can all discuss ideas.

Without information none of that is possible. Without information, we are, at best, at the mercy of our current, limited knowledge, and our base instincts. Without information we are, at worst, at the mercy of the limited knowledge and instincts of someone else.

This is why the gag order, and insistence that all reports and data be pre-screened before release to the public, issued by the President to the EPA are so concerning to me, and I think should be so concerning everyone else. This is exactly the kind of action that limits access to, and spread of, information. It will only hamper all of our abilities to operate as rational, critically thinking individuals. It is the kind of action that is put in place to control what we, as citizens, know and when we know it. This is censorship and it has no place in science or a free society.



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That the earth’s climate is changing has become a well established fact, but determining exactly how these changes will effect ecosystems is still an area of active research.  Within this scope of research, how climate change will effect animal behavior is a particularly understudied topic.  But, a recent presentation at the 2013 Animal Behavior Society conference gave an interesting example of just that.  The information presented was on where the Pantless Tree Frog (Dendropsophus ebraccatus) decides to lay its eggs.  This species, which is found throughout Central America, sometimes lays its eggs on the underside of leaves and at other times lays them in the water.  Each location has advantages and disadvantages.  Laying eggs in water mean that they are pretty much guaranteed to sty moist, but there are predators in the water that eat frogs eggs, so more clutches fail due to predation.  Laying eggs on leaves exposes the eggs to much lower rates of predation, but if the eggs dry out they die.  Generally, conditions in the range of the Pantless Tree Frog are quite rainy and so the frogs choose the option of avoiding predation and they lay their eggs on leaves.

However, as the climate has changed rain storms have become more and more sporadic over the last 4 decades, and are likely to become even more so in the future.  This has meant that Pantless Tree Frogs are having to lay their eggs in water to prevent them from drying out.  However, this leaves them open to the greater predation rates.  When predation rates go up on a species, the population level of that species usually finds a new equilibrium level that is lower than before the predation rates rose.  And smaller populations are classically more vulnerable to be reduced further by natural disasters like floods or droughts, and experience higher likelihoods of extinction.

In this way, the Pantless Tree Frog is an excellent example of how changes in an animals’ behavior, in this case in response to climate change, can have important conservation implications.

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