Today’s article comes from Emily Wright, Discovery Program Leader at Grundy Lake Provincial Park.
Spring at Grundy Lake is a quiet time of year. The lake waters are cold from melting snow and ice, birds are just beginning to arrive from their long migrations, and visitors are few and far between.
However, park staff are often busy and hectic as they begin to prepare for another camper season.
Spring slowly melts ice on Clear Lake into cool patterns on Grundy Lake
Adding to the bustle are cooperative students from Cambrian College’s Environmental Technician Program.
International students often brave the spring hordes of mosquitoes and Grundy black flies to spend a few weeks in the park, learning how protected areas are managed while also providing valuable help with resource management projects.
One of the first tasks of our visiting students is vernal pool studies.
Many amphibian species use vernal pools (small temporary bodies of water that form in the spring and dry out in late summer) as spawning grounds. This is because they provide a safe environment for their young to grow. There are no fish in these temporary pools and the fish like to eat tadpoles!
Vernal pools are the perfect nursery for frog tadpoles and salamander larvae
We put on wellies (we had fair enough for the eight of us), and we began to explore the vernal pools that dot the park’s forests.
Healthy frog and salamander populations are a good indicator of a healthy park environment.
Spotted salamander babies develop inside a gelatinous mass
Searching for, identifying and counting gelatinous masses of salamander, frog and toad eggs is a daily activity and allows us to monitor the health and biodiversity of these valuable ecosystems year after year.
One student noticed strange green algae growing on and inside one of the ones we found. Curious (like any good researcher), he took some photographs and communicated them to me.
Lo and behold, after some research we discovered that some species of salamanders (like the spotted salamander) actually have a mutualistic relationship with certain algae!
The algae feed on the excess nutrients provided by the embryo’s waste, and although we don’t know exactly why, salamanders have been shown to grow better with the algae present.
We always learn something new when we have the opportunity to explore the park’s habitats!
Getting ready for the turtles
Turtles are a big problem at Grundy Lake.
The park’s wetlands provide valuable habitat that supports a healthy population of several species. As such, they are the primary focus of our wildlife monitoring programs.
Each year, our turtles are attracted to the large areas of easy-to-dig, sun-warmed gravel shoulders along some of the park roads for nesting (especially the trailer filling station).
Unfortunately, this puts mother turtles (and later hatchlings) at greater risk of being hit and killed by a vehicle, something that has led to severe declines in Ontario’s turtle populations.
Newborn and young turtles face extremely low survival rates with many natural predators, and that’s if they have a chance to hatch in the first place! These turtle eggs are often dug up and eaten by animals such as raccoons, foxes, and skunks.
The survival of the species depends on adult turtles producing many eggs over a very long life, and turtles need between 8 and 25 years before reaching reproductive age.
A vehicle collision can be a devastating blow to the population due to the turtles’ slow recovery rate.
To remedy the situation, we installed turtle exclusion fencing along some of the busiest sections of the park road.
The co-op students got to work digging a shallow trench and driving stakes to surround the path with a black tarp fence. Their sheer determination through rain, shine or clouds of mosquitoes ensured the fence was up in just three days!
It’s not all about working in ponds and hitting with stakes…
The group also had the opportunity to locate and handle turtles as part of the park’s turtle monitoring project!
Ontario Parks ecologists taught students how to “process” turtles by:
- measuring their shells
- marking your location using GPS
- identify individuals by distinctive notches on the shell
- determine whether female turtles were carrying eggs or not (with a gentle tap on the belly under the shell, near the hind legs)
As of 2013, the Grundy Lake Turtle Monitoring Project involves volunteers, Ontario Parks ecologists, and park staff tracking the movements, nesting sites, and characteristics of the park’s turtles. This is all in an effort to learn more about their habitat use and nesting behavior, which helps us better protect these incredible animals.
New appreciation for a common bird
While the students certainly had the opportunity to learn about our local flora and fauna, sometimes having a new set of eyes on a situation can create a new experience for us as well.
One of the students, Rutvik, had researched parrots and the effects of pollution on their populations near cities in India. The avid birder in our group was constantly working to improve his identification of North American birds.
One day, while returning from removing an invasive plant species called Garlic Mustard (another resource management task the students participated in), Rutvik asked about a bird that was singing.
it was the familiar Jay jay of a blue jay.
When I showed him a photo of the bird, his admiration for it made me pause for a moment. Thinking of these common birds as so prized made me rethink my own view of these impressive and intelligent birds.
Partnering with Cambrian College at Grundy Lake not only provides enriching experiences for both students and staff, but also makes valuable contributions to the management and science of the park.