Entries tagged with “salamanders”.

USGS Study Confirms U.S. Amphibian Populations Declining at Precipitous Rates

Posted: 22 May 2013 01:59 PM PDT

CORVALLIS, Ore. — The first-ever estimate of how fast frogs, toads and salamanders in the United States are disappearing from their habitats reveals they are vanishing at an alarming and rapid rate.

According to the study released today in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, even the species of amphibians presumed to be relatively stable and widespread are declining. And these declines are occurring in amphibian populations everywhere, from the swamps in Louisiana and Florida to the high mountains of the Sierras and the Rockies.

The study by USGS scientists and collaborators concluded that U.S. amphibian declines may be more widespread and severe than previously realized, and that significant declines are notably occurring even in protected national parks and wildlife refuges.

“Amphibians have been a constant presence in our planet’s ponds, streams, lakes and rivers for 350 million years or so, surviving countless changes that caused many other groups of animals to go extinct,” said USGS Director Suzette Kimball. “This is why the findings of this study are so noteworthy; they demonstrate that the pressures amphibians now face exceed the ability of many of these survivors to cope.”

On average, populations of all amphibians examined vanished from habitats at a rate of 3.7 percent each year. If the rate observed is representative and remains unchanged, these species would disappear from half of the habitats they currently occupy in about 20 years. The more threatened species, considered “Red-Listed” in an assessment by the global organization International Union for Conservation of Nature, disappeared from their studied habitats at a rate of 11.6 percent each year. If the rate observed is representative and remains unchanged, these Red-Listed species would disappear from half of the habitats they currently occupy in about six years.

“Even though these declines seem small on the surface, they are not,” said USGS ecologist Michael Adams, the lead author of the study. “Small numbers build up to dramatic declines with time. We knew there was a big problem with amphibians, but these numbers are both surprising and of significant concern.”

For nine years, researchers looked at the rate of change in the number of ponds, lakes and other habitat features that amphibians occupied. In lay terms, this means that scientists documented how fast clusters of amphibians are disappearing across the landscape.

In all, scientists analyzed nine years of data from 34 sites spanning 48 species. The analysis did not evaluate causes of declines.

The research was done under the auspices of the USGS Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative, which studies amphibian trends and causes of decline. This unique program, known as ARMI, conducts research to address local information needs in a way that can be compared across studies to provide analyses of regional and national trends.

Brian Gratwicke, amphibian conservation biologist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, said, “This is the culmination of an incredible sampling effort and cutting-edge analysis pioneered by the USGS, but it is very bad news for amphibians. Now, more than ever, we need to confront amphibian declines in the U.S. and take actions to conserve our incredible frog and salamander biodiversity.”

The study offered other surprising insights. For example, declines occurred even in lands managed for conservation of natural resources, such as national parks and national wildlife refuges.

“The declines of amphibians in these protected areas are particularly worrisome because they suggest that some stressors – such as diseases, contaminants and drought – transcend landscapes,” Adams said. “The fact that amphibian declines are occurring in our most protected areas adds weight to the hypothesis that this is a global phenomenon with implications for managers of all kinds of landscapes, even protected ones.”

Amphibians seem to be experiencing the worst declines documented among vertebrates, but all major groups of animals associated with freshwater are having problems, according to Adams. While habitat loss is a factor in some areas, other research suggests that things like disease, invasive species, contaminants and perhaps other unknown factors are related to declines in protected areas.

“This study,” said Adams, “gives us a point of reference that will enable us to track what’s happening in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

Read FAQs about this research

The publication, Trends in amphibian occupancy in the United States, is authored by  Adams, M.J., Miller, D.A., Muths, E., Corn, P.S., Campbell Grant, E.H., Bailey, L., Fellers, G.M., Fisher, R.N., Sadinski, W.J., Waddle, H., and Walls, S.C., and is available to the public.

Read a USGS blog, Front-row seats to climate change, about 3 other recent USGS amphibian studies. For more information about USGS amphibian research, visit http://armi.usgs.gov/


A Good News Story
by Nicole Hamilton

It was March 2007 and we had just started our Loudoun Amphibian Monitoring Program. With the excitement of the program launch, people started telling us about special spots where amphibians may live and breed. One of the leads I got was from Liam McGranaghan for an area in Lucketts known for its undulating forest habitat and sink holes.

After asking for permission to visit Gum Farm, Mike Hayslett of the Virginia Vernal Pools Program, John DeMary and I ventured out. It was 10:00pm, 45 degrees, and there was a cold steady rain coming down. This was my first official night foray for amphibian monitoring, and I will never forget it.

The three of us met at the Lucketts Community Center – it felt like we were on a mission – and indeed we were. With headlamps donned and winter coats zipped, we carpooled to the site and headed into the woods. As we approached the vernal pools, what we encountered was simply magical.

1,000+ eyes reflected back at us through the darkness of the pool. The calls of Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers filled the night. Salamanders swam through the water. The woods and the ephemeral wetlands kept secret in their midst, were alive, and a rhythm of life that has gone on for thousands of years in this forest was playing out before us.

In days that followed, we determined that these woods and pools were home to Wood Frogs, Spring Peepers, Jefferson Salamanders, Spotted Salamanders, Marbled Salamanders and Fairy Shrimp. It was magnificent both in species diversity and the sheer number of individuals thriving here. We also discovered that this property was in the midst of being developed. The pink tape that ringed the trees around the pools told the story.

Mike Hayslett and I stood at the edge of one of the pools. Knowing that these amphibians spend 360 days of the year living in the forest habitat, I asked him, “How much of the forest needs to be saved to save these amphibians?” He gazed at the habitat and said, “All of it.” My heart sunk. I had seen other special places developed and knew the likelihood of this property being preserved was slim.

Nonetheless, we looked at options, offered ideas, and even looked at ways to purchase at least the forested wetlands. We worked with David McCarthy, Mike Kane of Piedmont Environmental Council and others and helped keep the dialogue going.

I share this story because today, 5 ½ years later, something amazing happened. Susan Lee and her son Jeremy Lee who own Gum Farm, engaged the Land Trust of Virginia to discuss conservation. Working with John Magistro of the Land Trust, the family not only put the 42 acres of wooded wetlands (identified as a Globally Rare Wetland Habitat) under conservation easement but their entire 239 acres! These additional acres are rich with bird life that includes Savannah Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Barn Swallows, Scarlet Tanagers, vireos, Wood Thrush, Wild Turkeys, Red-tailed Hawks, flycatchers, orioles, and more. The milkweeds in the field support Monarch butterflies and the grasses are rich with insects.

The property is also rich with cultural significance. Being situated on James Monroe Highway (Route 15), it is part of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area and protects one of Loudoun County’s oldest known cemeteries, the Oxley family cemetery, which has been cared for by the family since Isaac Dyer and Gertrude Yeager Gum purchased the property more than 100 years ago.  Indeed, this is one of Loudoun’s Great Places.

The Land Trust of Virginia, with input from Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and the Piedmont Environmental Council and widespread support from the community, filed the conservation easement just before Thanksgiving. This easement marks a historic move by the Lee Family that needs to be applauded and celebrated by all of Loudoun. It is a gift to the future generations of Loudoun that we are thankful for and is a model for conservation and historic preservation that I hope other families and developers will follow.

Please read the Press Release from the Land Trust of Virginia here: http://www.loudounwildlife.org/PDF_Files/Gum_Farm_Easement_PR.pdf and if you know of great places in Loudoun that should be protected, refer landowners to this example as a model to follow. And, join us in our monitoring programs (http://www.loudounwildlife.org/Environmental_Monitoring.htm) as we identify more special habitats. The beauty and richness of nature surrounds us, and through efforts like this, it will into the future.

Thank you, John Magistro, for leading the negotiations and process for establishing the easement.

Thank you, Jeremy and Susan Lee, for this great gift.


We had our last of three amphibian monitoring program kickoffs this past Saturday.  This one was held at Algonkian Regional Park and it held some really great sightings!

To start the morning, Casey Pittrizzi, the naturalist at Algonkian Regional Park, let everyone have up close looks at a Wood Frog, Spotted Salamander, American Toad and Gray Tree Frog, that NVRPA has temporarily for education purposes. This was a great way to start off the program and start learning about our amphibians!

After our classroom session, where I basically gave everyone the run down on the different habitats amphibians use (forests and wetlands) and talked through the 25 different species we have here in Loudoun, we headed out into the field. [check out the photo album]

Our first stop was the little man-made pools at the mini-golf course.  To our excitement, we spotted numerous strings of American Toad eggs. 

That was special since we haven’t really heard the toads calling yet but they have obviously had an opportunity to get to the pools for breeding.

We also saw spotted salamander egg masses and hundreds of wood frog tadpoles, already hatched from their eggs.  We also spotted a newt in one of the pools, possibly eating frog or toad eggs.

From there, we headed out along the trails to look at the different wetland habitats – both vernal pools and swamp areas.

Here, we found an adult American Toad, obviously very cold and still in hibernation.  We also did a little dip netting and found lots of FAIRY SHRIMP! This is an obligate species for vernal pools and is only the second documented occurrence here in Loudoun.

Many thanks to all the participants for being a part of the day and to all the new volunteers for jumping in to the amphibian monitoring program this year!

Algonkian Regional Park is definitely one of our great places here in Loudoun.  Casey has some fun nature hikes and other programs lined up through the spring and summer, and we look forward to partnering on more events together!


We had our first amphibian class and field trip yesterday and we had lots of great encounters! 

We spent the day at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship, which is great any time of year but especially fanstastic for amphibians this time of year.

First we had our indoor talk about the Amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders and newts) of Loudoun and their habitats. We enjoyed looking at an adult male Jefferson Salamander, an adult gravid female Spotted Salamander, and 4 Red-spotted newts (at least one was a female).

Then we went out into the field and checked the vernal pools and permanent ponds for activity.

Wood frogs were calling along the mill race along the stream and Spring Peepers were in full chorus in the flooded field. We saw the Skunk cabbage in bloom and tiny buds on spicebush starting the show.

In the pools, there were a good number of wood frog egg masses although not quite as many as i past years. In one location though, there were over 100 egg masses, indicating that at least 800 wood frogs had been present!

We saw a couple of Spotted Salamander egg masses and a decent (although not high) number of Jefferson egg masses.  Don’t despair though…….I think the ladies are still needing to migrate to the pools or perhaps just arrived, because we saw a lot of spermatophore.  I think in an other week or so we’ll see lots of salamander egg masses.

The pools were all full, the flooded field was nicely flooded. So, that big rain we had last wednesday was a great start to the amphibian season.  I hope the pools stay wet through the next few months so the frog and salamander young can develop and get back to the woods.

The stream was pretty high and running fast. We managed to cross it just fine, but boots were a must.

Photos from the day are in our facebook gallery.

I had a great day! I hope everyone who came out enjoyed it too!


Be a Citizen Scientist – it’s really fun

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy offers many opportunities to participate in programs that promote the collection of important environmental data. Training and 2011 kickoffs for many of these programs start up in February – check the Programs Calendar for information.

Stream Monitoring
Interested in what you might find in a stream near you?  Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy monitors our local streams for all types of bacterial and invertebrate life to assess and track water quality.

Sign up on our Stream Monitoring page to join a team in the search and identification of species that tell the tale of the quality of Loudoun’s streams and habitat.

Monitoring occurs three times a year between April and November and takes about 4 hours each time. It’s a great way to learn about water quality in our local streams.

Bluebird Nestbox Monitoring
Bluebirds, some of our most beloved songbirds for their beautiful colors and cheerful songs, need our help to thrive.  2010 was a very hard year for Bluebirds as significant numbers perished in the winter storms we had. Through monitoring last summer, we saw the effects of the hard winter. In 2011 we look forward to seeing their numbers rebound.

Join Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Nestbox Monitoring program and observe the nesting behavior of this magnificent species as well as other beautiful songbirds that use the boxes like the Tree Swallow and House Wren.

As a nestbox monitor, you provide valuable census information on the local population of bluebirds. Visit our Bluebird Nestbox Monitoring page to become a part of this rewarding experience. Monitoring takes place from mid-March through August. The season kickoff is taking place in February and you can sign up now.

Amphibian Monitoring
Frogs, toads, salamanders and newts – They are all important natural indicators of the health of our habitat and they have fascinating lifecycles.

In order to gauge just how well these fascinating creatures thrive in Loudoun County, we launched the Loudoun Amphibian Monitoring Program (LAMP).

Help monitor the health of our amphibious population through call surveys, site surveys, and migration mapping.

You’ll learn to identify frog and toad calls, know when and where to look for egg masses and how to identify different species in different cycles of their lives. To volunteer for any of these subsets of our amphibian monitoring program, or for more information, visit our amphibian monitoring program page. Monitoring takes place from March through about July although you can monitor into the fall as well if you want to. Our season kickoff is happening in March if you’d like to sign up.

Bird Atlas
Participate in Loudoun County’s unique bird atlas program, in which volunteers track and record the species and numbers of birds found in Loudoun. We have a number of blocks throughout the county where no one is collecting data — we really need your help.

The county is divided into 75 blocks, and each of these 10 square-mile blocks is assigned to a different individual or group to ensure countywide coverage. The atlas has been an ongoing project since 2009, and is set for publication in 2014.

We need your help across Loudoun to document our bird species!  It’s easy and fun. For more information, please visit our Bird Atlas page.

Other monitoring activities
In addition to the programs listed above, we also do one-day events that are a lot of fun.  There’s the Annual Butterfly Count (August), the Christmas Bird Count (December) and the International Migratory Bird Day Count (May)

Join us for some monitoring fun!


Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy offers many opportunities for citizens to participate in nature programs that promote the collection of important environmental data across the county.

Stream Monitoring

Interested in what you might find in a stream near you?  Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy works alongside the Loudoun Watershed Watch in monitoring our local streams for all types of bacterial and invertebrate life. Sign up on our Stream Monitoring page to join a stream team in the search and identification of species integral to monitoring the quality of Loudoun’s streams. Requires a commitment of 3-4 hours at each of three monitoring sessions between the months of April and November.

Bluebird Nestbox Monitoring

Bluebirds, some of our most beloved songbirds for their beautiful colors and cheerful songs, need our help to thrive.  Join LWC’s Nestbox Monitoring program and observe the nesting behavior of this magnificent species, while at the same time providing valuable census information on the local population of bluebirds. We have trails across the county – from Leesburg to Ashburn and Sterling to Neersville, Purcellville and Waterford. Requires about 2 hours per month from April through August on a public trail or you can register your home nestboxes with us and report your data. Visit our Bluebird Nestbox Monitoring page to become a part of this rewarding experience.

Amphibian Monitoring

Amphibians are wonderful natural indicators of the health of wetlands and forests. In order to gauge just how well these fascinating creatures thrive in Loudoun County, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy launched the Loudoun Amphibian Monitoring Program (LAMP). Help monitor the health of our amphibious population through frog and toad call surveys, amphibian site surveys, and migration mapping. Time commitment can be as little as a few hours in each of the four monitoring windows from February through July or more if you really get into it. To volunteer for any of these subsets of LAMP, or for more information, visit our Amphibian Monitoring page.

Bird Atlas

Participate in Loudoun County’s unique bird atlas program, in which volunteers track and record the species and numbers of birds found in Loudoun. The county is divided into 75 blocks, and each of these 10 square-mile blocks is assigned to a different individual or group to ensure countywide coverage. The atlas has been an ongoing project since 2009, and is set for publication in 2014. Volunteer while you can – more eyes on the ground mean better data for the atlas!  You can sign up as a helper for a block or a block owner, or just sign up to report incidental sightings. All birds count so this is a great activity for people of all experience levels. Time commitment can be as much as you like.  For more information, please visit our Bird Atlas page.


This past Sunday we had our first amphibian foray of the year and headed over to Algonkian Park to explore the amazing network of seasonal waters and swampland that is over there.

The good news about all that snow that we had this year is that the swamp area and the vernal pools that run through Algonkian were full! We compared photos from last year at some of the same points along the trail and the comparison was dramatic. A vernal pool last year that was no bigger than a bathtub spanned over 100′ this year. It was great to see the water levels back up and the ground properly saturated.

Along our walk, Mike Hayslett, our field trip leader and director of The Virginia Vernal Pools Program, talked about soils, seasonal wetland habitats, lifecycles of the amphibian life found in these habitats, and other cool nature facts.

We did a bit of netting to try to find evidence of Marbled Salamanders as well.  Marbled salamanders lay their eggs in the fall in the dry leaf litter. The female then waits and protects the eggs until the fall rain comes and fills the pools. The eggs then hatch and develop through the winter. At one of the pools we did find a Marbled salamander tadpole. It was not alive but we could still make out the markings to identify it. Salamander tadpoles are easier to find at night because they are nighttime predators….moving through the water column in search of tasty insects.

Other critters that showed up in our netting were various freshwater insects – isopods, coepods – as well as clams. It was really fun to explore these swampy waters and learn about the lifecycles of the animals that use them. 

As soon as we have our first “Big Night” rainfall of the spring, the swamp will be crazy with activity from Wood Frogs, peepers, and other salamanders. Looking forward to that rain, hopefully this week!

I posted a few photos from our walk on our Facebook page – feel free to check them out.


For those interested in Amphibians this will be an exciting week!  I was just checking the weather and there’s a chance of rain Wednesday through Friday and the temps are supposed to be around 50 degrees!!  PERFECT!!

We still have room in our Amphibians Afoot Class and Field Trip so if anyone is interested please sign up soon. If it rains those nights we’ll definitely be doing a night excursion and perhaps a road crossing assist.

So what’s the big deal about the first spring rains in March? Man, if the typed word could only show my excitement! I’m about to jump out of my seat on this and can barely catch all my typos!

The first warm rain in March is when Wood Frogs, Spring Peepers, toads, Jefferson Salamanders and others make their move! Imagine them in their forest homes, under logs, in burrows, nestled in the cushion of fallen leaves….the winter slumber is over and it’s time to breed!  They can’t leave their havens without some rain because their skin will dry out and they can’t move during a daytime rain because predators are out. So they wait……then it happens! Nighttime falls, the rains come and they migrate in force! 

They’ll migrate from as far away as 1/4 mile to get to the vernal pools and other wetlands where they were born in order to meet up with their fellow species to mate, stay a few days and then return to the forest. Wow – it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it! Here’s an interview I did with Mike Hayslett when he was here with us last year: Spring Wetlands Interview

This special spring rain sets the season off and is also why we get our amphibian monitoring program going this time of year.  We have these big events and the amphibians are most visible from March through about June/July. Oh it is just so much fun!

So, watch the weather and if you’re out at night when it’s raining, watch the road – what you may think are leaves blowing across the road may actually be frogs, toads and salamanders trying to cross!  Let us know what you encounter!

And please do check out the Amphibians Afoot Class mentioned above – there’s a small fee for this one to help cover some of our costs but it’s well worth it!


Mary Ann Good and Laura Weidner led our bird walk this morning.  Here’s their report brown-thrasher-apr-1-2007-2of cool birds and other sightings:

Seven people enjoyed birding the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship, but due to the occasional misting rain, found ourselves looking down as much as up.  We managed to find 35 species of birds, including our first spring Louisiana Waterthrush singing loudly, Brown Creeper, and Fox Sparrow.  Just as fascinating on a non-birdy morning were the many egg masses of Spotted Salamander and Wood Frog, pointed out by biologist extraordinaire Liam McGranaghan, as well as an unusual variety of fungi helped along by the rains, including tiny Bird’s Nest, Witch’s Butter, and large numbers of a most interesting one most of us had never seen before: Lattice Puffball.  We also spotted a Raccoon curled up in a tree hole keeping warm and dry.

The list of birds follows:
Canada Goose, Turkey Vulture, Mallard, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker – 2, No. Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, E. Phoebe – 5, Blue Jay, Am. Crow, Fish Crow, Tree Swallow, C. Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, E. Bluebird, Am. Robin, No. Mockingbird, E. Starling, Louisiana Waterthrush, Field Sparrow, Fox Sparrow – 2, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, No. Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Am. Goldfinch, House Sparrow


For those who have heard me talk about “Big Night” – Thursday night (March 19) is likely to be one. The temperatures will be perfect (around 50 degrees) and it’s supposed to rain.

woodfrogmigration-3_16_09“Big Nights” are the very special rainy nights in spring when amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders) by the hundreds and thousands across our county migrate from the upland forests where they spend the majority of their lives to the wetlands (vernal pools, flooded fields, ponds, swamps) where they breed. 

Different species make these migrations at different times during the spring and summer.  Our Wood Frogs and Jefferson salamanders had a “Big Night” on Monday night when we had that slow but drenching rain. Tonight, on my way home from work, I saw numerous American Toads crossing the roads through Waterford and Spring Peepers are heading to their breeding pools too. This Thursday, I expect we will see a huge number of American Toads and Spring Peepers headed to pools as well as Wood Frogs and various salamanders leaving the pools.

Amphibians need the rains to migrate so that their skin doesn’t dry out and similarly that’s also why night time is their choice time of the day for movement. If you have any interest in Amphibians, I urge you to go out in the rain on Thursday night near areas where you hear the spring peepers.  Identify forest areas vs. wetland areas and see if you can find these migration corridors.  Often, the migration corridors are transected by roads and the frogs, toads and salamanders risk their lives to cross them – and they have to do so twice a year…once to get to their breeding ponds and once to return to their forest homes.

While you’re driving, listen with the windows cracked a bit for the call of the spring peepers, but also watch the roads. What you think are leaves rustling or laying on the pavement could very likely be a frog or toad trying to cross.

If you see a place where road crossing migrations are happening please identify it by the cross streets and let me know (nhamilton@loudounwildlife.org). If the road is not busy and you can safely pull over, you can also help these little friends cross – just pick them up and carry them across the road to safety. You can learn more about our Loudoun Amphibian Monitoring Program and the Migration Mapping/Road Crossing Assists on our website.

Our LAMP Kickoff for this Saturday is currently full but if there is enough interest, I will plan a second session. Just send me an email and let me know that you’d be interested in participating in the second session.

Hope you all enjoy the Big Night and Loudoun’s wild nature!