This is probably the worst photo I will ever post. And the best.

Most of my wildlife photos came from one job. That job, in spite of allowing me a lot of time and access to wander around taking pictures, did have a goal: to find and document flatwoods salamanders on two state forests.

It had recently been discovered that the flatwoods salamander is actually two species, so recently that the current Petersen Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians still lists them as one species: Ambystoma cingulatum. A few years before I started the job, the populations west of the Apalachicola River were declared a separate species, the reticulated flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma bishopi). They were already rare as one species; this little offshoot was extremely rare. There were only about 36 known ponds where they had been found, and at many of those, none had been seen in years.

Continue reading This is probably the worst photo I will ever post. And the best.

It really does freeze in Florida sometimes

Frost on turkey oak leaves.
Frost on turkey oak leaves

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “(Extra)ordinary,” here are some leaves from an extremely ordinary tree. Turkey oaks are all over Florida. They’re so common you kind of stop seeing them after a while. They are scrubby, brittle trees that fall over if you look at them wrong. But that’s fine, because a hundred little saplings will sprout from the roots.

I took this on a cold morning a few years ago, when I was helping with a bobwhite quail survey in the Florida panhandle. I arrived at dawn, took up my post on a specific point at the edge of a field. It was a very cold morning for the area, and there was still frost on the leaves and grass as the sun rose. It made even the ordinary, scrubby, weed-like turkey oaks beautiful.

I took a couple of pictures and then stood there, shivering, and listened very hard. After a while, I almost started to hallucinate possible quail calls. Then I heard some real ones that reminded me of what they really sound like. You can hear it, too.

Fireline

No Featured Creature post today. School has taken over my life for the next few weeks. I’ll have some guest posts to fill in the gap. In the meantime, here’s my submission for The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Boundaries.”

It would be hard to think of a situation where boundaries are more important than in prescribed fire! Here’s one of my professors making sure a fire in the North Carolina sandhills doesn’t cross the road and re-ignite all those fallen needles on the other side.

Fireline
Click for bigger.

Ephemeral Ponds

Last week I talked about mole salamanders and the ponds they live in. It’s not just mole salamanders using those ponds, though! Today, I thought the ponds themselves needed a post. Mole salamanders, and many other amphibians, tend to breed in what are known as ephemeral ponds, or vernal pools. Whatever you call them, they are just low spots that fill with water at certain times of year, but their temporary nature is what defines them, and what makes them an essential wildlife habitat.

Even though the rainiest season in most of the South is summer, the ponds usually hold water in winter, after the late fall rains. There may be more rain in summer, but it is promptly sucked up by tree roots or evaporated in the heat. In winter, the trees are dormant and the air is cooler, so water is left to saturate the ground and pool in the hollows.

How long the ponds will hold water is an important factor for wildlife. Some of the shallow pools dry in a matter of days. Others have at least a puddle at the deepest point for most of the year. In drought years, almost none of them will have any water at all. Continue reading Ephemeral Ponds