Save Your Pacific Tree Frogs!

A couple of pictures showing the way my Pacific tree frogs adapted to the Yellow Flag Iris plant that took over the pond. Before this plant took over, the pond was a very open sight that I loved. But in a couple of years all I saw in there were bullfrogs. Then somehow, the Yellow Flag Iris quickly took over. Now I see Pacific Tree Frogs again. That plant the tree frogs enjoy are, like bullfrogs, considered “invasive.” Coming originally from Ireland they have also invaded Home Depot and Lowes. 

This article is just an opinion, but it is based on what I have closely observed. When I bought the property where I now live I saw numerous native frog and salamander species. As our home was being constructed we dug and built three different types of ponds. One large one in the backyard for koi and goldfish, and two others for native species of any kind. The very small one in front of our home remains great for salamanders. Only about four square feet in width and 6 inches deep it has constantly attracted them. On the other side of our backyard fence, in the extended property, we had a large ditch dug in. About 15 feet wide and 4 to 5 deep it fills up from normal drainage coming down the slope of the Graham, WA territory. Within the last couple of years, however, the native frogs have disappeared. Bullfrogs had taken over the big ponds and I suspect that they had been wiping our native species. But recently I noticed quite a few pacific tree frogs hanging on the limbs of the explosive plant in our big pond outside the fence. For the past two years I was only able to see and hear bullfrogs. Now the Pacific tree frogs have returned! Is it because of that plant called “Yellow flag Iris?” It looks like that to me because this vegetation has taken over the pond as you can see from the above picture, and has provided a significant safe habitat for the tree frogs. I do not even hear bullfrogs now. So if you have a similar bullfrog issue in your pond, maybe the introduction of a Yellow Flag Iris plant will help. Bullfrogs in the northwest, by the way, are referred to as “invasive species.” But they are not invasive. Like the vast majority of so called invasive species they are actually “Introduced species” brought in by humans.  Many years ago bull frogs were introduced for “frog leg” dinners. Those days are over, and now bullfrogs are enjoying a lot of their own preferred meals instead. I like bullfrogs despite the fact that their territorial takeover is still going on, but I love observing other species of amphibians so I am doing what I can to preserve them on my property.

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Black Bobcat!

I photographed the the normal colored bobcat sitting on a tree branch at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. It displays the tree climbing behavior these animals do. The amazing Black Bobcat in the other pictures approached me near a forrest area as I was eating lunch so I was able to get those photos. According to a study done by the Canadian Museum there have only been about 20 sightings of these carnivores in Canada and America. So I consider myself VERY lucky!

I never go to a restaurant for lunch. I bring a homemade sandwich with me and dine in my car in various places close to forests, swamps, and things. Why? Because you never know when some amazing creature will show up. If you love wildlife as much as I do, you keep your camera ready at all times. And this wonderful circumstance occurred to me at Fort Lewis, WA. Over and over there I’ve seen deer, elk, coyotes, rabbits, otters, beavers, all kinds of birds and reptiles. But as I was sitting in my truck munching on my sandwich last week a very unusual looking animal some distance away began approaching me. From the distance as I first saw it, the animal looked like a very small black bear. So of course, I grabbed my camera and began taking shots. Before I even looked at my pictures, however, the thing got close enough for me to realize that it was a bobcat. But I had never seen one so large and distinctly colored. I estimated its weight at 40 pounds or more. Even more astounding was the pure black fur coat it displayed. Something else I’d never seen before. These cats are normally brown or reddish brown and tend to be nocturnal, but day time sightings are not unusual. This black variation, however, also known as the Melanistic Bobcat, is quite rare. Like the “normal” colored bobcat the melanistic variety eats rodents and rabbits, and is also reported to attack deer. Considering the size of this cat I believe this is true.

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Northern Pacific Rattlesnake

Here is an example of the color variations of our Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. The light brown specimen was found in the open part of the Bear Canyon Trailhead Park. It seemed to prefer a fairly open area. The one with the dark spots was sighted off the highway very close to the Yakima Training Center. This snake and several others were seen in an area more densely populated by weeds and brushes.

Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus)

Our overdue warmer weather is bringing out some of my favorite animals near one of my favorite WA cities – Yakima. Off of highway 12 is a state park called the Bear Canyon Trailhead. In addition to hiking along a trail of amazing landscape, you can find a variety of fascinating animals. The two that I usually find are the Western Fence Lizard and the Northwestern Pacific Rattlesnake. Warmer weather, of course, is the primary influence for sightings, but sometimes thing happen that you don’t expect. I was driving back from Oregon the other day and the temperature was 57 degrees with intense wind. But the sun was shining so I decided to stop. After wandering around for a while I did not see anything so I decided to head back to my car. Then, just in case and maybe, maybe, maybe, I wandered a little more. And much to my delight this Northern Pacific Rattlesnake crawled out in front of me. I’ve run into venomous snakes throughout America and other parts of the world, but none of them are as easy to deal with as our Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. They are well known for their non-aggressive behavior and this one followed that reputation. He was less than twelve inches away from my foot and easily could have bitten me, but all he did was crawl quickly away and hide under a big rock. Perhaps the low temperature had something to do with that but the other ones I encountered in much warmer weather reacted in very similar manner. No, that does not mean you should not be careful around them. Keep an eye on the ground when you hike around the dryer parts of this state. Stepping on one might just ruin their day yours. If you do find one expect it to crawl quickly away and begin rattling a warning for you to stay away. If you excessively agitate these reptiles, however, they will react like their cousins and bite you. So don’t do that.

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Alaskan Wood Frog

These photos highlight the distinct characteristics of a wood frog. Their small, 2-3 inch length, pops up in my hand. On their back they have a lateral fold like many other frog species. The most distinctive point for recognition is that black marking on the side their face.

I’ve been in and out of Alaska quite a few times over the last few years but I finally got a picture I’ve been trying to get for those years – the Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvatica). This little guy jumped in front of me as I was meandering in the woods following a moose trail along a place called Cambell Creek outside of Anchorage. With a range extending from beyond the Arctic Circle throughout Alaska, Canada, the Northwest US, and all the way to the northern part of Georgia these small frogs have a huge habitat. But the most exciting thing about their living space is how far north they can go. Wood frogs live further north than any other amphibian or reptile. Why? Because of their famous ability to survive freezing. Even above the arctic circle they do not dig way down in mud during winter hibernation. Nope. All they do is snuggle under a log, heavy leaves, or something similar. Prior to this, however, they fill their body cells with a lot of glucose thus causing ice to form outside of their cells and not destroying them. Their heart stops but when the weather warms these amazing frogs come back to life, and start breeding in early spring. For more details on this amphibian visit the website of the Virginia Herpetological Society.

Turtle Time!

The Western Pond Turtle was photographed at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. I’ve not seen one in the wild yet. Next to it are a pair of sliders, also known as Red Eared Sliders. Looking at the picture it is obviously where that name common comes from. Then you have the very colorful Painted Turtle. That name comes from the brilliant ventral part of its shell. Notice also the much smoother texture of the dorsal part of the Painted Turtle shell compared to the others, and the reddish color that begins on the bottom part of the shell dorsal. Although I have read that snapping turtles have also “invaded” the Northwest, I’ve not yet found one.

Okay! Now that we are finally approaching some warmer weather here in the Northwest keep an eye out for the animal that is just about everyone’s favorite reptile – the turtle. Classified as the order Testudines, there are 12 families of them living in the world, 7 of which extend into Canada and the Unites States. Of these, however, just 2 species are native to our Northwestern states. A couple of others have been introduced; one of which is very likely to be seen. Unfortunately, one of our native species, the Western Pond Turtle, is the least likely to be observed. Reasons for this may be due to the invasive Testudines (Red Eared Slider and Snapping Turtle) and the expanding human population. In my experience this has not had much affect, however, on our native Painted Turtle. This species remain quite common in our ponds and lakes. But the turtle you will probably see the most of is the Slider. Like many other “invasive” species it is a very common pet shop pet. Over and over on Craiglist I see offers for these turtles. Growing up in New York I saw lots of sliders and I was quite surprised at how big they get, sprouting up shells well over one foot in diameter. This is probably the reason so many of them appear as free pets on Craglist. I don’t recommend taking one of these unless you have a very large aquarium or an outdoor pond with the muddy exterior they need for winter hibernation. No matter how common any of these reptiles are there is one thing to keep in mind when trying to observe or photograph them – they are extremely wary and often dive into the water when you are within fifty feet. All of the pictures I have achieved are due to the long range lens on my camera.

Comments, corrections, or recommendations? Please send to reganjm@northwestwildlifeonline.com

Thank You

Bald Eagle Feast

 

I had to share this picture of a pair of bald eagles. It’s the best one I have ever taken of this species, and it appears to display a unique behavior. Is this dad showing his child what to eat? The bird tearing into what appears to be the carcass of a rabbit is obviously a big male bald eagle. Staring at him in amazement is what appears to be a young bald eagle. How could this be? Because bald eagles mate for life and work together to raise their young ones. Even after they learn to fly the kids stay around the parents for a month or longer afterward. Perhaps that is what’s going on here. I noticed these birds while my wife and I took a nice walk along the Puyallup River near Orting, WA. We see bald eagles there quite often, but not like this.

Oak Creek Wildlife Area Elk

Each herd is led by a dominant mail, most of whom have retained their enormous antlers well into March.  Yet despite the enormous number of these animals more and more continue to stroll down from the huge hill behind the feeding ground. What a thing to see!

Have you ever seen an elk herd of close to one thousand animal? Well if you visit the winter feeding event at Oak Creek Wildlife Area in Naches you will! For both adults and children it is truly an amazing, highly entertaining, and educational sight. Located in Naches on Highway 12 in Yakima county this practice has been going on for many years. I was surprised, however, at how many of my friends were unaware of this yearly occurrence. The past year was adversely affected by COVID disease restrictions but that is now over. I am sorry for not putting this out earlier but getting through snowy White Pass this winter prevented my visit more than once. The winter feeding season usually begins about January and goes on through March. For more details about the time to visit and information about the wildlife are I recommend this website:

Upper Valley Bulletin Board

And even if you miss the elk feed there is still a lot more to see and do in the wildlife park. That area is a wildlife wonder and geological observation experience. It is my favorite place in Washington state.

Pigeons

One of the main differences between these species is the longer tail of the Band-tail, the white mark on its neck. The beak of the Rock Pigeon displays a white mark. Rock Pigeons, however, are know for their color variations, while the Band-tails are very consistent.

Yes, they are a common avian, but like all animals they have a couple of interesting facts about their life. Here in the Northwest we often see two species – the Rock Pigeon, also commonly called a Rock Dove, and the Band-tailed Pigeon. The Rock Pigeon, like hundreds of other animals in our country, was introduced from Europe a couple of hundred years ago. The Band-tailed Pigeon is our native breed and regular inhabitant of western Washington. From my experience the Rock Pigeons seem to love life near the coast; in fact, the pictures above were taken on the building of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center during my visit there this weekend. The Band-tailed Pigeon was photographed in my backyard, where they pop up quite often. Both of these birds possess a unique talent – they “milk” their babies! Mom and dad both do this using a secretion from their esophagus called crop milk. Not many other bird species do this but it is more common among the doves.

Northwest Salamander

Also commonly known as the Northwest Brown Salamander, this fairly large member of the order Caudata is a species of the Ambystomatidae family. This family of amphibians are called mole salamanders due to their preference to burrow underground. Although they range from sea level up to 10,00 feet and are common here in the northwest, these big guys are not often seen, thanks, of course, to their underground, under everything preference. Although I’ve seen them on our property before, this particular specimen was a surprise. Doing some yard work right after our rare December snow season, and yet still in the middle of freezing temperatures, my wife discovered this one under a stack of leaves in our front yard. Somehow this animal had toughed it out and survived despite not being way underground. I have other photographs of a Northwest Salamander in my book “Let’s See What’s Under There.” That one is almost 10 inches long, so this one probably has some more growing to do. And I’ll do my best to make sure it gets there!

Great Tiger Moth

When the weather begins to warm up you are likely to see a common and colorful variation of moths on your outdoor wall known commonly as a Tiger Moth.  According to Merrill Peterson’s “Pacific Northwest Insects” ( a wonderful book) there are 9 different species of Tiger Moths. Each of them have noticeable color variations but one in particular is quite distinctive. Some time ago I caught photos of that one – the Great Tiger Moth. Of all the Tiger Moth family members the Great Tiger Moth boasts the most resemblance to the big cat, and looking at one head on easily demonstrates where that common name came from.