This Week at Bear Creek: Frogs, Turtles, and Snakes – Oh My!

Look for this feature early each week! Cam Mannino shares her latest observations, photos, and inspirations from Bear Creek Nature Park. Thanks Cam!


April 5-11, 2015

Cam at Bear Creek Nature Park.
Post and photos by Cam Mannino

What a week for amphibians and reptiles! One of the best features of Bear Creek Nature Park is its vernal pools. These temporary pools appear from runoff in the spring and slowly evaporate with warmer weather. Vernal pools are perfect places for spring frogs – plenty of water and no fish to eat their eggs! So the park is now filled with their music.

Those of you who live near Bear Creek no doubt are being serenaded each night by the Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) tiny (1”-1.5”) nocturnal frogs that trill and hunt all night long. This one was sleeping on a leaf but woke when its picture was taken a few years ago.

Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)
Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)

During the day, Chorus Frogs and Wood Frogs carry on the concert. Last Saturday, Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) floated in the pool near Gunn Road. They pulse their sides to emit a duck-like croak and propel themselves forward in the water looking for mates.

Wood frog makes circles in the water.
Wood frog makes circles in the water.

I spent an hour trying to spot a Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata) from the small bridge over the vernal pool just north of the playground. Their piercing, ratchety calls literally made my ears ring as I scanned the web of branches in the dark water. Finally I saw this tiny male’s vocal sack ballooning beneath his bulging eyes as he sang. Quite a thrill!

Chorus frog mid cheep
Chorus frog mid cheep
Chorus frog full cheep
Chorus frog full cheep

As amphibians emerged from the mud at the edge or bottom of vernal ponds, reptiles were seeking spring sunlight. Like amphibians, they are cold-blooded animals which can’t regulate their body temperature. So basking is important. A graceful Eastern Garter Snake slipped off the warm path and under a log as I approached.

Eastern garter snake
Eastern garter snake

And a Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) let its dark shell absorb the heat near the center pond.

Painted turtle
Painted turtle

Near the marsh, a tiny Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) spiraled up a trunk, hunting with its long, curved beak for spiders and insects in the bark. It moves like a nuthatch, but is smaller (4-5”). Here it is from a distance.

Brown creeper at Bear Creek
Brown creeper at Bear Creek

The Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) is often the first butterfly to appear in Bear Creek, having probably overwintered in tree bark. It can survive before the flowers bloom because it feeds on tree sap and decaying material. This Saturday’s Mourning Cloak fluttered off into the bushes, but here’s a slightly tattered one from later in a previous season.

Mourning cloak
Mourning cloak

And a favorite species appeared in the park again this week, a small flock of human volunteers who worked steadily and diligently pulling large patches of sprouting Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata ) just south of the parking lot.

A second-year garlic mustard plant rosette early in the spring.
A second-year garlic mustard plant rosette early in the spring.

By eliminating this leathery-leaved invasive plant near the parking lot and trailhead, Ben hopes to prevent their seeds from being tracked into the park on the unsuspecting feet of park visitors. Many thanks to this cheerful, hard-working crew for a thorough job!

(L to R) Debbie, Ben, Eric, Mackenzie, Colton, and Karla pulled 5 bags of garlic mustard and dame's rocket!
(L to R) Debbie, Ben, Eric, Mackenzie, Colton, Karla, and Cam (not pictured) pulled 5 bags of garlic mustard and dame’s rocket!
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About Ben VanderWeide

I am the Natural Areas Stewardship Manager for Oakland Township Parks and Recreation in southeast Michigan. I have a doctorate in biology (focused on plant ecology) and I am passionate about protecting and managing natural areas.

3 thoughts on “This Week at Bear Creek: Frogs, Turtles, and Snakes – Oh My!

  1. Ah, the Mourning Cloak, that’s what I saw yesterday at Stony Creek Metropark! It flew past me very fast and all I saw was that distinctive whitish edge on dark wings. Thanks for the ID.

  2. You’re welcome! I’ve been meaning to get to Stony Creek to check out the water birds. But today I got a rare sight at Lost Lake (rare, at least, for me) – some ring-necked ducks. I’d never seen them before. Got a shot but not a great one. They insisted on staying on the opposite side of Lost Lake. Ben said he saw a pileated woodpecker there this morning before they started the prescribed burn. I obviously need to spend more time at Lost Lake, too.

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