Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Watch for salamanders, frogs on roads


MassWildlife warns us that spotted salamanders, wood frogs, blue-spotted salamanders, Jefferson salamanders, American toads, spring peepers, four-toed salamanders, northern leopard frogs and eastern red-backed salamanders are all species that we may encounter on roads at night during the early spring rains.

Marion E. Larson, chief of Information and Education with MassWildlife, passed along this news release in response to my letting her know I'd be writing a watch for springtime amphibians on roads, especially on rainy nights.

In part:

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) are reminding motorists to be cautious and alert for wildlife crossing or alongside roadways during this time of year. Motorists are advised to slow down and avoid swerving if they encounter wildlife in the vicinity of roadways.

Springtime is breeding and nesting season for many kinds of wildlife, which means they are more active as they search for mates and disperse across the landscape. Common species seen near roadsides include beaver, muskrat and turkeys. In addition, on the first warm, rainy evenings of April, frogs, salamanders and toads will cross roadways as they head toward wetlands to breed. In some popular crossing areas, the amphibian migration numbers are in the hundreds.

Consider the following advice in order to help ensure the safety of travelers and help wildlife:

- Be alert for wildlife near and in the road. Travel at slower speeds than usual.

- Find a local conservation group in your area that is assisting amphibians across the road at known locations. Join them on a warm rainy night when these fascinating creatures are on the move.

- If you are driving and see wildlife up ahead, slow down gradually so vehicles behind you have time to brake, slow down and observe how the creature is reacting.

- Have increased awareness of abrupt actions if you see a moose or deer on the side of the road or crossing the road. "Brake, Don't Swerve!"

- As temperatures warm in May and June, turtles will be crossing roadways. If it's safe to assist — move the turtle in the direction it's going. Turtles are hard-wired to travel to the same location year after year.

- Consider contributing wildlife observations or roadkill to a statewide Citizen Science Projects. Linking Landscapes with Massachusetts Wildlife is a long-term and multi-faceted volunteer-based monitoring program. The objectives are to: Reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve public safety; enhance, protect and restore habitats impacted by roads; incorporate conservation priorities into transportation planning; and implement wildlife transportation and research.

- Report animals seen on or near roadways. Anyone seeing roadkill, or a turtle or amphibian crossing roads, should consider visiting to submit information.

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Q We have always had a nice and varied group of birds at our feeder. Last year, the numbers dwindled and I wonder if it is because every spring for three years a hawk family (either Cooper's or sharp-shinned, not sure which) nests from early spring to mid-July not far from where the feeders are.

— Valerie, Williamstown

A Both species are far too rare nesters for me to casually answer, perhaps a North Berkshire birder might comment. As for where to place feeders, we usually suggest placing them far enough away that squirrels cannot jump from tree or roof to feeder, but close enough to shrubs or trees for safety if pursued. When it comes to the two species you mention, that helps little as both species have long tails and short wings, allowing them to maneuver through bushes and tree branches with ease.

Q I have one male downy woodpecker that is eating the mealworms and then flies off with one in his mouth. I didn't know they would eat mealworms. Three bluebirds are still coming to the feeder on my deck, but they are not staying in my bluebird house. (And in another note from Nancy we read: I have a male bluebird landing on my deck next to the feeder and hasn't touched the sunflower seeds, but is eating the suet. I didn't realize they liked suet.)

— Nancy

A I wouldn't think bluebirds would eat suet as they are fruit- and insect-eaters. Woodpeckers are both insect, suet and seed-eaters and sometimes visit sugar-water feeders. And we could continue with Baltimore orioles, which are both insect- and fruit-eaters seeming to favor halved oranges. And many of our winter feeder birds fly from suet to seed, to peanuts. While on the subject of bird feeders, I have taken my winter feeders down for the season.

Q A female bluebird just went after a dove and drove him away, love the courage!

— Nancy

A Yes, it is amazing how much courage songbirds have when it comes from protecting their home, even when the intruder is not interested in the least. When that intruder is an English sparrow, they are crippled, and the sparrow (which isn't even a sparrow), will chase the female out of its nest box and puncture the eggs, thus ending incubation, and even sometimes killing the female on the nest. That happened at one of our feeders a few years ago, and it grew so bad that I removed the nest boxes.


I regularly enjoy your "Naturewatch" column in The Berkshire Eagle, thank you!

Noting your "Black squirrel survey results ...", including Becket and West Becket, I want to add our five black squirrels, who have been here all winter in South Becket and eating well below our birdfeeders. We also had one snowy owl, barred owl sightings and a fine red fox (a vixen, I think) often here, a bobcat and a fine variety of small birds.

— David, Becket


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