Sunday, July 31, 2011

Northern Leopard Frog: Grasslands National Park

Grasslands National Park, Val Marie, Saskatchewan, Canada: I probably surprised this Northern Leopard Frog as much as he surprised me. I was walking through grass on the shoulder of Grassland National Park’s Ecotour Road, trying to frame a shot of a Burrowing Owls sign, when something leaped out at my feet.

This is rattlesnake country. Yes, this frog is only a few inches long, but any movement by any unseen creature is alarming.

Northern Leopard Frog
Northern Leopard Frog camouflaged in grass,
as well as water weeds. Grasslands National Park. © SB
Close-up, this Northern Leopard Frog was beautiful — green, black and golden tan, its damp skin gleaming.

There was at least one other frog in these mown roadside grasses — when G got out of the car to see what I was taking pictures of, one hopped away from him, too. More cautious, that second frog hopped back under the grass and stayed hidden.

In the West Block of Grasslands National Park, Northern Leopard Frogs are most likely to be seen in sloughs, puddles, marshes and the brackish water along the edges of the Frenchman River. We were in the valley, very near a bend in the river and close to a muddy ditch, when this one appeared.

Later,  we saw several more in the muddy wetlands between the old 76 Ranch corral and the Frenchman River.

Northern Leopard Frog
Brilliant green frog, half-submerged in brackish water with reeds,
at the old 76 Ranch in Grasslands National Park © SB 
If these frogs look familiar, that’s because they may, in fact, be the archetypal Canadian frog:
Ask someone to illustrate a frog, and they’ll almost certainly draw a Northern Leopard Frog. The combination of green body and black spots seems to be engrained in most people’s minds when they visualize a frog, which seems pretty fair because the Leopard Frog, next to the Wood Frog, is the most widespread, easily encountered species in Canada. (from Reptiles and Amphibians of Canada: Fisher, Joynt, Brooks, Lone Pine Press.) 
However, Northern Leopard Frog numbers began to decline in Western Canada during the mid to late 70s , and in the Prairies, they are now considered a species “of special concern” (Reptiles and Amphibians).

In Grasslands, the numbers of Northern Leopard Frogs (and frog sightings) vary significantly from year to year.

Here’s some advice for visitors who want to see them:  
The best way to find them is to walk slowly along the edge of the water with your eyes on the ground. The frogs will be aware of you long before you are of them, and at first all you will see is the long, sudden leaps (of up to one metre), and the splashes, accompanied by squawks of alarm. Practice will allow you to make them out, little crouched shapes in the grass, or half-submerged beneath the bending waterside reeds. (from Guide to Herptiles of Grasslands National Park: Larry Powell.)  
Or, you could just stumble over them, like I did.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Picture of the Day: Grasslands

Grasslands National Park, Canada: Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs are amazingly agile creatures. I love watching them stand up and balance on their tails to see what’s going on. This little guy was playing on the road, then ran back to the closest burrow when our car approached. There he stopped, turned and stood up to watch us for a minute before skittering out of sight. 

Blacik-tailed Prairie Dog - July standing
Black-Tailed Prairie Dog, Grasslands National Park.  c SB 

What are these? Black-tailed Prairie Dogs  

Location: Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan  
Photo dates: Late June and late July, 2011. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs at Grasslands: Late July

Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan, Canada: The Black-tailed Prairie Dog colonies are even more active than they were in early summer. Young prairie dogs play on the mounds and run across the grass and roads.

The purple milk vetch has finished blooming, and their meadows now extend green and brown to the edges of the hill and coulees.

Prairie Dog late July Grasslands
Black-Tailed Prairie Dog at Grasslands © SB 
This prairie dog below looks familiar to me... I think I caught him last month, too. (Or maybe all black-tailed prairie dogs look the same...) 

Black-tailed Prairie dog late July
Black-tailed prairie dog warily watching me... © SB 

What are these? 
Black-tailed Prairie Dogs  
Location: Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan  
Photo dates: Late June and late July, 2011. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs: Grasslands Park

Black-tailed prairie dog, with purple milk vetch. © SB 

Grasslands National Park: Above the rush of wind, high chirping across grass. The Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs warn of intruders to the tune of anxious birds or creaking rail fences. Like gophers*, they stand on hind legs for a better view, but prairie dogs are taller, plumper than Richardson's Ground Squirrels — perhaps three times the size.  

Prairie dog colony © SB 

From a distance, the prairie dog colony may look destructive — especially in a province which has often offered bounties for their smaller cousin's tails. But here, Parks information says, they are a key part of the grasslands ecosystem.

Up close with purple milk vetch © SB 

And they are cute! Chirping, running, playing, peering at intruders while standing on hind legs. And in early summer, what a picture in milk vetches.

The Ecotour drive through the West Block of the park goes through two large prairie dog colonies. The first is near the north gate, the second, near the south gate, near the signs for the burrowing owls. (The sign, I saw, but not the owls.)

Another park sign, this one about prairie dogs and other park creatures 

Car wheels on a gravel road, the wind and the cheeping of prairie dogs form the soundscape of the video below, taken while driving through Grasslands:

* Yes, we call Richardson's Ground Squirrels "gophers". Perhaps the early settlers in Saskatchewan were confused, or missed their gophers back in England, so gave that name to the tiny skipping prairie creatures, with their flickering tails.  

What are these? Black-tailed Prairie Dogs  
Location: Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan  
Photo dates: Late June and late July, 2011. 

Song of the Western Meadowlark: Grasslands

Grasslands: The Western Meadowlark perched high on top of a power pole at the edge of the park, and sang its downward trill above the buffeting winds. I couldn't see the meadowlark until it swooped down and away across the waving grasses.


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