Last night was incredible. It was our first warm and rainy night of the year, the time when many salamanders and other amphibians emerge from their subterranean hiding spots to head to a place to breed. Warm and soggy and dark: basically the best conditions for a creature who lives in burrows and under logs to make a trek across land.
I've read about such early spring amphibian movement, but this is the first year we've lived in a place where I can actually wander around the yard at night without worrying about neighbors thinking I'm crazy. So when the rain paused last night, I grabbed a flashlight and my iPhone for a camera (I didn't want to risk getting my actual camera wet) and went to see if anyone was out and about.
After only a few minutes of careful walking -- there were earthworms moving all over the ground -- I did indeed find an amphibian! Yes!! A hefty Jefferson Salamander (or possibly a member of the complex involving genes from this and other related species) was making its way across the yard:
It's just so amazing to see this creature out and active. The only other times I've encountered salamanders (besides newts) has been when they're resting under logs or rocks, and I always feel a little guilty for disturbing them in their hiding places. How cool to meet this creature instead when it's wide awake and walking around. Is this not just the cutest and friendliest face?? :)
And this was just the first creature I met. Other amphibians were also taking advantage of the warm and wet night. A medium-sized American Toad was hopping across the driveway and it paused long enough to let me take its (rather dramatic) portrait:
Spring Peepers were calling loudly not too far away on our neighbor's property, and even though I couldn't go look for them en masse, I did meet this tiny individual who was probably heading off to join the raucous breeding party:
Paul came out to enjoy the night, too, and with the extra pair of eyes and extra flashlight, we started finding even more creatures. We saw this much smaller Jefferson Salamander with its beautiful blue speckles:
And maybe most exciting of all, a big Spotted Salamander was trekking across the grass!
I haven't seen a Spotted Salamander since I was little, and I've been hoping for years to come across one. I mean, what an amazing creature! Those yellow spots are just unreal. Here's a video of this salamander as it made its way through the yard:
At this point, it didn't seem like it was going to start raining again, so I went and got my actual camera. I still haven't quite figured out the best way to take pictures in dark conditions, but I couldn't not try with so many wonderful creatures around! Spotted Salamanders are especially photogenic, even without the best photographer:
I was just wondering aloud how many Spotted Salamanders might be living in this area, when we turned around and saw a second one just a few yards away! Ahh, so cool:
Then we ended up in an area of the yard where there were salamanders practically everywhere we looked. Two Red-backed Salamanders passed each other without seeming to notice (see the head on the left and the tail on the right?):
And this strange salamander that I can't quite identify came practically running by:
Something must've happened to this salamander's tail at some point, but the salamander certainly seemed healthy otherwise. This creature was a bit bigger than the other Red-backed Salamanders we saw, but I suppose it could have been a dark morph of that species; or perhaps it was a similar-looking Ravine Salamander (a species that would fit perfectly with this habitat).
I'm so happy that I got to see so many of these usually hidden creatures! Here's hoping they all made it safely to their destinations, so future generations of amphibians can keep invading yards around here every year on warm and rainy spring nights. :)