Friday 19 April 2013

Herps at Pelee

A few days ago, a friend from Leamington, Rick, pointed out an Eastern Foxsnake hibernacula along a busy road in the Pelee area. It was an overcast and windy day, yet a single muddy Foxy was resting near the entrance.

I returned the following day and was pleasantly surprised to see a few Eastern Foxsnakes basking in the area. One individual was lying in the short grass, about 50 cm from the asphalt.

Eastern Foxsnake - Hillman Marsh CA

Eastern Foxsnakes have always been a favorite of mine, and I was thrilled to spend parts of two summers directly studying them and radio-tracking them along with my co-workers. The southwestern Ontario populations of this species are directly threatened by a myriad of things. I guess that's what happens when most of their former habitat (including marshes and prairies) is converted for agricultural use. Some of these threats include increased road mortality, direct human persecution, and unsuitable habitat. The direct human persecution aspect is what really bothers me. This is one of the most docile species of snakes out there, they are stunningly beautiful, they eat a lot of "pests" including rodents, and they are absolutely harmless. Unfortunately misconceptions about snakes are often passed down from parents to their children and the cycle continues.

Eastern Foxsnake - Hillman Marsh CA

This beautiful Eastern Foxsnake, still caked in mud, has survived the long, cold winter. Hopefully she will be able to avoid any vehicles and humans with poor intentions for another season.

Blanding's Turtles are another beautiful species with their gaudy, yellow chin. They are quite rare in my part of the province, but much more common in the Point Pelee area. I was able to see a few of them basking on the 17th, the first sighting of the year for me. My photos weren't the greatest, so here is a photo taken at the same location (and possibly of the same turtle).

Blanding's Turtle - Hillman Marsh (April 17, 2013)

Blanding's Turtles are also at risk in Ontario. Nearly every single nest is predated by other animals - usually raccoons, foxes, skunks, or corvids. Fortunately they are long-lived, increasing the chance that each female will have a successful nest at some point in her life. Additionally this species is well known for its long-distance travel at certain parts of the year. Its not unusual for an adult to travel several kilometers to reach a preferred nesting ground! With the vast network of roads in southern Ontario, this often doesn't bode well. However Blanding's Turtles are still a common sight in large wetlands in southwestern Ontario and are holding their own towards the Kawarthas and southern Georgian Bay.

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