Saturday, August 15, 2015

Of Toads and Mountains

Mount Baker from Boulder Creek
     Last week Glen and I went camping at Baker Lake, just southeast of Mt. Baker in northern Washington state.  Over the years we’ve been on a mission to camp near each of the major peaks in the Cascade Range.  This year, Mt. Baker was our goal.

     We camped at Panorama Point campground, which is along southeastern border of the impounded Baker river.  This river/lake is eight miles long and sits right at the feet of Mt Baker, so there is a lot of snow and rain draining into this lake.  Our campsite was sitting near/on a wetland that adjoins the lake, so  it shouldn’t have been a surprise to find (and hear) amphibians.  

Western Toad Bufo Boreas  (photo L. Halleck)
     One night after a thunderstorm and soaking rain, we were walking over to the Sani-can facility to do our evening ablutions, prior to turning in for the night.  I had my flashlight trained on the ground, watching for trip hazards.  Suddenly, along a path that I had come to know well, we saw a weird lump sitting right smack in front of us.  I trained my flashlight on it and found:  my first ever Western Toad Anaxyrus (Bufo) boreas.

     It was dry skinned and warty, light gray, with dark blotches near the warts.  The most distinctive field mark was a thin creamy-white line running down its spine from neck to vent.  It was about 3 inches in length, which is an average size;  apparently they can get up to five inches in length, with females being bigger.  

    It sat in our path;  it blended very well with the gravel that surrounded the Sani-can.  It remained very still, doing its best to blend in like a rock.  Finally it blinked and revealed itself to be a living animal.

     Over the evening and next morning we saw it several times, always near dusk or dark, always near the Sani-can.  We speculated that it might be territorial:  the smell of the Sani-can definitely attracted insects and so for the insect-eating toad, this is prime habitat.  Also the nearby wetlands and Baker Lake itself are excellent feeding and breeding habitat sites.  

    I was charmed.  As a birdwatcher, we always are on the look out for “life birds”.  This was a life amphibian for me, and as such, a real treat.  

•  Washington Herp Atlas
•  Toad photo by L. Halleck from The Herp Atlas
•  Mount Baker photo by Glen

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