Reports of amphibian migration are pouring in from across the state, including those parts of the state that had been taking a long time to thaw out.  When Warren King, Barry King, and I arrived at Morgan Road in Salisbury at 8 PM to get set up for a public crossing event last night, the roads were barely damp, and we feared we had just invited 65 people to a non-crossing event.  Otter Creek Audubon and the Salisbury Conservation Commission do our best to introduce people to a flood of migrating amphibians of many species, but the amphibians do not always show up for the party.  Our first party had been well attended by people (44) but not all that well attended by amphibians.  As the night wore on however, and despite only very light rains, we realized that this party had roughly 100 times as many amphibians as humans.  In fact we had many more amphibians than the 17 people present could keep up with.  Many amphibians crossed without being counted.  Those that we counted totaled 1,203 amphibians and impressive total of 9 amphibian species and one dead on road (DOR) reptile.

We could hear the Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers chorusing from the swamp, so we knew that many of the early-migrating species had already arrived in the swamp.  So it is was not surprising that at this site, which is one of the warmest, south-facing sites in the Lake Champlain Basin, we were moving into mid- to late spring migration.  Indeed most of the Wood Frogs, Spring Peepers, Blue-spotted Salamanders, and even Spotted Salamanders had already crossed.  What provided the numbers last night at Morgan Road were the 875 Eastern Red-backed Salamanders.  This species is not an early breeder, nor does it lay its eggs in water.  They apparently move uphill for overwintering at this site, and move down into the swamp edges for the moist soils that provide for foraging now and egg-laying later in the spring.  Second most abundant were the 167 Four-toed Salamanders.  Four-toeds are a rarity in most of the state and we still have much to learn about their distribution, but they are common at Morgan Road.  Even though most of the Blue-spotteds had already moved, they still were our third most abundant species, with 79 caught and moved.  Next in abundance were the 24 Spotted Salamanders, 14 Wood Frogs, and 10 Eastern Newts in their Red Eft stage.  The heat-loving, late-spring moving species were represented by 8 American Toads and 7 Gray Treefrogs.  The Gray Treefrogs are always a crowd pleasing favorite with their adhesive toe pads, bright yellow flash colors, mobile neck joints, and beautifully camouflaging body pattern and texture.  Our one reptile was a DOR Common Gartersnake that had most likely been run over during the afternoon before we arrived.

We hold public events at this crossing site because it is small, rural, and has very little traffic.  As a result, it is safer for humans and critters.  In the two hours we were there, only 6 cars came through the crossing area, killing only seven amphibians.  Mortality is of course much higher at crossing sites with more traffic and it is important for the persistence of those populations that we find those locations, gather data at them, and pass that information along to Vermont Fish and Wildlife and the Vermont Agency of Transportation for consideration for possible future underpasses.

This was the final public event at Morgan Road this year, though amphibians will continue crossing there when conditions are appropriate.  And of course, at many other colder and higher-elevation sites, they are just beginning to move.

– James Andrews

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