It was Sunday, 2/20/11, a cold, dry day after 6 days of showers/rain preceded by an extended dry period. By the afternoon, it was cloudy. It turned out a pretty interesting scouting night. The number of cars in the lot surprised us. A California Thrasher sang from up in a tree.
MB and I left the lot at 4:50. Just past the restrooms, a man watched two rabbits browse. At 5:04, we turned left to go around the pond, stopping first to watch two more rabbits play ahead of us. A flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows foraged.
We could hear people with kids. There was shallow water in the middle of the basin, with a large dry area surrounding it, where the kids were playing in a pile of wood. American Robins gathered at the tops of a tree. We carefully walked down to the water’s edge to see what was there. Pieces of dry grass from the basin covered the surface. Underneath, newts swam, and we saw a newt ball. At the top of the pond area near the trail, a banana slug stretched out.
After we left the pond at 5:20, we crossed paths with a gravid female newt. Then, another. We saw more than a few that all appeared female, on the trail between the time we left the pond and on the way back while it was dark.
We reached the gate at 5:30, got to the first bridge at 5:35, the second bridge at 5:40, and the third and final bridge, our dinner spot, at 5:50. Along the way, we noted a patch of liverworts with umbrella-like fruiting bodies, as well as blooming Hounds Tongue. The water was rushing loudly at our stop.
Sunset was at 5:53, but it was dusky in the woods. It was chilly, and after dinner, I finally put on my gloves. It was probably around 45F-47F; last year on the same date it was around five degrees warmer.
At 6:15, it wasn’t quite dark, but dark enough in the woods to use a flashlight. We slowly made our way back, taking our time to let the dark settle. Our first find was a spider turret at the base of the trailbank, with a cup fungus attached at the base. Nobody was home (or at least willing to come to the door). At 6:45, we heard a soft Western Screech-owl trill from the oaks. Coyotes yipped from somewhere ahead.
We arrived back at the gate at 6:54. We could hear the treefrogs already. Past the gate, a Great Horned Owl hooted, then a female called from the other side of the trail. As we approached the pond, the frogs got louder and louder. When we got close enough for them to detect us, they quieted. We stopped, and waited for the chorusmaster to start. Unfortunately, there was a lot of air traffic that disturbed the quiet.
The chorusmaster started up, then another, and another, and soon any air traffic that was passing over was drowned out. We carefully made our way to the water, with good cause, as we found our first little brown frog sitting on land. In fact, quite a few of them were chorusing from land. With all that noise, you’d think it would be pretty easy to spot them in the water, but I couldn’t see any eyeshine. Newts slid through the water, and it was easier to see the light color of the males. We found a frog close to shore, vocal sac inflated, not caring that we were nearby. He did call, but he also sat there with the sac inflated for a while, long enough for me to get a photo.
Here is the recording; you can hear the Great Horned Owl in the beginning. If you listen with headphones, turn down the volume because the treefrogs start up about halfway through, and they are deafening!
We picked our way around several other frogs on land, some larger, and after seeing a few pairs in amplexus on land (what’s up with that?), I figured that the larger, fatter, quiet ones were females.
Then, something totally unexpected appeared in our lights: a female newt waddled up the basin, a treefrog on her back! We watched, transfixed by the sight.
I thought I’d heard something earlier, so I wanted to check out the other side. I made my way over there, avoiding more little brown frogs which were difficult to see. Another female newt paused with a treefrog on her back! Maybe she figured if she didn’t move, he’d leave. Or she tired of hauling around eggs and a frog.
Since it was only 7:45, we decided to go around through the oak grove and headed up the Vista Trail. The grove seemed a good place to hear owls, but we didn’t. It was a good place to find Polydesmid millipedes though. [Added] While figuring out which trail to take, we noticed a cavity at the base of a tree, in it a pool of water filled with wriggling mosquito larvae–maybe Ochlerotatus sierrensis, Western Treehole Mosquito. That’s a new one for me.
We heard another Great Horned Owl once back on the straight trail leading back to the winery. More millipedes twinkled like stars on the ground under UV light near the bathrooms around 8:00.
See more photos here.
This is last year’s post for the same date.
See CR’s post of another frog-and-newt encounter.