Before starting the field technician position for the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, I expected to see plenty of turtles with the odd wildlife encounter while out in the field. To my surprise and delight, in the first few weeks alone, we saw more wildlife than I have seen through an entire summer in past work positions. The field site includes a wide range of habitats that see less human activity than most natural spaces I have visited. These conditions have allowed abundant and diverse wildlife populations to flourish. We have had the pleasure of seeing countless species of fishes, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds!
While canoeing through open water, wading in wetlands, and checking our turtle traps, we have come across quite a few species of fish. The schools of smaller Bluegill and Pumpkinseed can be found in any shallow water while larger individuals are often seen swimming in deeper water. Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass can be seen swimming along rocky shores and vegetated areas of lakes. We found a Largemouth Bass nest on a shallow patch of vegetation being defended by both the female and the male. Varying sizes of Northern Pike often swim under our canoe and twice we found them in our turtle traps! In addition to these fishes, we have also encountered a variety of amphibian species in our field site.
Photo 1: Largemouth Bass ( Maureen Jackson, 2021)
All amphibians we have run into have been Frogs or Toads, but we have also found evidence of some Salamanders. Among the Lilies and Water Shield, it is common to see Green and Northern Leopard Frogs poking their heads out of the water. I was pleasantly surprised to see many Bullfrogs large enough to fill the palm of my hand. The beautifully patterned Mink Frogs have been observed sitting on top of large Lily Pads. While walking through vernal pools (seasonal wetlands) and forests we have startled the odd Wood Frog camouflaged in the leaf litter. We were also lucky enough to see an American Toad and a Spring Peeper hopping along the forest floor. The mating calls of many of the frog species can be heard at different times of the day, including the fluty trill of the Gray Tree Frog. Though we have not seen any salamanders or newts yet, while wading in wetland shallows and vernal pools we have had to be careful not to step on egg masses. There are also many reptile species sharing the habitats of these amphibians.
Photo 2: American Bullfrog (Maureen Jackson, 2021)
On top of turtles, we have come across other reptiles such as snakes and even one species of lizard! As you can imagine, we see many turtles; we have mostly seen Blanding’s and Midland Painted Turtles, but we have come across a few Snapping Turtles and Eastern Musk Turtles. Snapping Turtles can be found navigating the shallow waters of a wide variety of wetlands. The Musk Turtles are often seen basking at the water’s surface while hiding in emergent vegetation. We have also come across a few different species of snakes while conducting our turtle tracking. Most days we see at least one Northern Water Snake either swimming or basking on rocks in the sun. It is also common to see Eastern Garter Snakes while walking through the forest or on granite rock shelves. An Eastern Ribbon Snake slithered across our path while wading through a bog and we surprised an Eastern Milksnake while hiking through a forest trail. One of my favourite encounters so far was with the Five-lined Skink. While stepping out of a bog, a Skink scurried out from beneath my feet to freeze on a near-by rock. This gave us a great opportunity to view and snap some pictures of Ontario’s only native lizard species! No matter what species we see, it is always great to see wildlife thriving!
Photo 3: Five-lined Skink (Maureen Jackson, 2021)
These fish, amphibian and reptile encounters make up only a fraction of all the wildlife we see in the field. Being out in nature for upwards of 10 hours a day allows for amazing opportunities to spot wildlife. I feel incredibly lucky to have had these experiences and always look forward to the adventures each week brings. Stay tuned for a post covering some of my favourite wildlife encounters with species of mammals and birds.