Winter Salamandering

Ravine in winter

Stones in the streambed

Twolined Salamander

Cricket Frog

Redback Salamander

I'm out cleaning the garage on the second of January, when I get a  telephone call from Rick.

"Have you been outside? Let's go look for salamanders!"
"Okay, where? Middle Fork?"
"Sounds good! I'll be right over!"

Clean the garage or go out for a hike and see a few herps?  It's a no-brainer decision.  In no time at all we're heading east to the Middle Fork Preserve to the east of Champaign.  The weather is unseasonably warm - a strong wind out of the south has temperatures up into the mid fifties, and there's no snow on the ground at present.  It is a half mile walk from the parking lot to a little spot we know, a wooded ravine surrounded by open fields. It feels great to be out in January without a coat and wearing sweatshirts instead.

A thick carpet of leaves from last autumn covers the ground as we make our way down to the small trickle of water at the bottom. The streambed itself, wet with pools of water here and there, is also covered with leaves.  The bottom of the ravine is sheltered from the brisk winds - smoke from my pipe floats slowly away without dissipating.  It seems even warmer down here, out of the wind.  We carefully watch our step as we go - there could be salamanders under any clump of leaves down here.

Rick finds our first salamander under a stone in the streambed - a Two-Lined Salamander (Eurycea bislineata cirrigera), an adult about four inches long.  In cold weather, we tend to find the Two-Lined Salamanders in or near the streambed, and other species up further away in the leaf litter.

"This pushes our First-Herp-of-the-Year date WAY back."

Sharing quarters under the rock with the salamander is a Blanchard's Cricket Frog, Acris crepitans blanchardi.  This little frog is a rather nondescript creature, even as Cricket frogs go, and a bit wartier than most we've seen.  It seems to be fairly alert and active, considering the time of year.  I wonder where the little frog spends the winter - buried in the soft mulch along the banks perhaps?  We get pictures of both frog and salamander before restoring them to their hiding place.

Moving up away from the streambed a bit, we worked the downside of an old fallen tree.  I spotted our second salamander, crawling out in the open - a Redback, Plethodon cinereus.  It was headed up the slope towards the tree's underside.

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