Ontario, September 2017

For your reports/images, made outside Europe and the "Mediterranean" countries. Not to be too narrow minded and limited to our European/Mediterranean herps.

Ontario, September 2017

Postby Daniel Kane » Mon Sep 25, 2017 5:27 pm

After a nice couple of weeks in Ontario, Canada, I wanted to share some of the herping and other wildlife experiences I was fortunate enough to be a part of. Especially after seeing Neil's incredible success in a similar region it seems this part of the world may be on a few peoples lists!

For most of the trip I was staying around two hours north of Toronto in a region known as the Kawarthas. Think flat to slightly hilly country with a nice mix of deciduous and coniferous forests and plenty of lakes. We stayed in a lakeside cabin for around two weeks before moving on to Toronto to catch up with family for a few days.

Here are some photos from the woods and lake around the cottage along with a bit of description:

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Anaxyrus americanus

The first herp of the holiday, found while walking to the sleeping cabin from our main cottage during some rain. These did not seem overly common in our area; only 3 were seen in two weeks.

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Lithobates calmitans

The smaller and less famous relative of the American bullfrog. These were quite common in the forests and edges of lakes.

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Storeria occipitomaculata

The first snake of this holiday was found during a visit to the Indian River Reptile Zoo (absolutely worth it if you get the chance); a gorgeous little redbelly snake. Fully grown this species is around 35cm and hunts soft-bodied invertebrates.

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Storeria occipitomaculata


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Gavia immer

The common loon (or great northern diver if you're British) are a typical species of lake country in Canada. The calls they make in the evening are amazing to listen to. With some patience they appeared quite curious and would allow a fairly close approach in kayak, which was how I got this shot.

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Lithobates catesbeianus

The classic frog. Bold and common in more wild and vegetated areas of the lake.

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Chrysemys picta marginata

Easily the most common chelonia on the lake were these guys. After seeing them for the first time I don't think I had another trip out in the kayak without seeing them again. By and large they were shy animals however a few allowed a slow approach from water.

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Plethodon cinereus

In the woods surrounding the cottage there was an abundance of these little guys. Fully grown adults are around 10cm and come in two main colour forms - the classic red-backed salamander, and the darker phase known as a leadback.

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Plethodon cinereus

They have territories of a meter or so squared and will defend aggressively and ferociously against others of the same species.

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Ambystoma maculatum

The other common species of salamander in these woods was the spotted salamander. Another classic genus of animals which it was a joy to be able to come across in the wild. This was the largest of this species observed as adults spend much of their time several feet underground in tunnels, whereas juveniles tend to hide beneath logs and rocks.

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Ambystoma maculatum

Whilst photographing this specimen a pair of pileated woodpecker came into the trees above us and spent some time drumming on the trunks. I also became aware that the bark of a nearby tree had been gouged off up to a height of around 2m and with the amount of large droppings in the area I know what the cause of this damage my money was on.

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Plethodon cinereus

Another gorgeous Plethodon with the namesake colouration.

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Plethodon cinereus


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Plethodon cinereus


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Ambystoma maculatum

A largely spotless spotted salamander. Plenty of this and last years young were to be seen in the woods and appeared to avoid anywhere near standing water, preferring the middle ground between the swamps and the drier granite and lichen areas.

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Ambystoma maculatum


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Chrysemys picta marginata

A more confident than usual painted turtle from the channel just around the corner from our cabin seen in the morning light.

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Thamnophis sauritus

A neonate eastern ribbonsnake found at the edge of the woods behind the cabin. Throughout the holiday the two Thamnophis species of this area were often found close to one another and appeared to separate themselves into the more drier and thermophilous sauritus and the more forest-dwelling and cooler microhabitat sirtalis.

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Plethodon cinereus

This darker form of the red-back salamander is known as the 'leadback'. They were less common here than the usual red-backed variety, being outnumbered by around 15:1.

One day we had a trip out to the Petroglyph Provincial Park which wasn't too far from our place. It is a sacred first nations site consisting of rock art and hiking trails around the woods. The animals below are from this area.

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Thamnophis sauritus

Eastern ribbonsnakes were very easy to come across in the more open and drier habitats; seemingly more similar to our European whipsnakes in habitat preference than the closely-related eastern gartersnake which was more like a Natrix. After 5 on this day and around 10 the next I stopped counting.

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Thamnophis sauritus

Curious snakes which were not that inclined to flee so long as you were quiet.

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Thamnophis sirtalis

The garter snakes were probably less frequently encountered here and more likely to be seen in and around the pockets of sunlight on the forest floor. They'd bask at temperatures of 29.0 C which I suspect is on the lower end of what they'd prefer.

The following day I returned to this park for a more focussed herp trip. The following shots are from that day.

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Thamnophis sauritus


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Plestiodon fasciatus

Ontario's only lizard species is known from this park and is a species of special concern in the province. I saw a couple of these on one of the warmer days we had, around 27 C in the shade.

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Thamnophis sirtalis

A beautiful large garter found at the edge of the woods, just crossing a trail.

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Thamnophis sirtalis

A wider view, using the Canon 17-40mm lens.

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Lithobates pipiens

A leopard frog found in the forest, seemingly quite far from any permanent water. Probably great garter snake food.

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Lithobates septentrionalis?

Now this from I am not 100% sure about and would be interested in hearing your thoughts on. It was seen sat on a mossy rock in the centre of a small, cool stream (water around 12 C). I did not get a decent look at the ventral colour or the hind foot webbing so am torn between Lithobates septentrionalis and Lithobates calmitans in a different area and habitat from where I had seen others.

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Lithobates septentrionalis?


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Ambystoma laterale

This species I am particularly pleased I got to encounter. I had been wandering the woods around our cottage finding Plethodon and plenty of A. maculatum, but never a laterale. In quite an open and dry area of the forest where I'd expect to see Thamnophis sirtalis I happened across this stunning little blue-spotted salamander. They're a great lakes endemic species, and otherwise similar to the regular spotted salamander - but blue!

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Ambystoma laterale defensive warning

This is the defensive warning displayed by the species, likely to direct any attract towards the tail and away from the head which stayed pushed toward the ground during such displays.

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Ambystoma laterale

One more of this beauty

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Heterodon platirhinos egg clutch

These eggs are more than likely a clutch of the eastern hognose snake, Heterodon platirhinos. In this area of Ontario there are only two species of snake capable of laying eggs this size - the eastern hognose and the eastern milk snake. The hognoses are known for laying quite late in the year, into July. With an incubation period of around two months this means that right through into September there may be eggs incubating. The milk snake tends to lay earlier in the year. Too bad I did not find the mother, only the impression in the soil where she had rested beside the eggs! The habitat was perfect for Heterodon, with plenty of cover and nice soft friable soils at the edge of the woods.

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Thamnophis sauritus

Another ribbonsnake found late on in the afternoon

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Lithobates palustris

A lovely pickerel frog found hopping around in the vegetation at the edge of the forest.

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Ambystoma laterale

A second little blue-spotted salamander seen late on in the afternoon.

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Storeria dekayi

Walking back to the car I came across this little Dekay's snake on the track. Very sure of itself, it didn't try to move once. This is North America's only snake who's scientific name is a double-honorific. That is, both the genus and species name honour American zoologists.

Good day out and aside from all the cool species the best part was that I only saw one other guy the entire time out.

Back at the lake and a final few finds to round off the nature element of this trip.

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Graptemys geographica


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Pandion haliaetus

Ospreys were easy enough to see, but rarely did they come close. While BBQing one night one came in really close to the cottage. I put the food on hold and went out in the kayak to get a better view. Such a privilege to float around on the lake with all this amazing wildlife surrounding you.

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Thamnophis sirtalis

This day was our final one at the lake and before I set off I was hoping for at least one more snake. Just before lunch I came across a pair of garter snakes mating. A third, a small male, was watching from the sidelines. The smaller snake did not seem inclined to try his luck and after seemingly getting what she wanted the female shot off into the boulders, leaving both males searching the surrounding woodland.

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Thamnophis sauritus

The same pair; you can clearly see the difference between adult sizes of each sex.

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Likely Chrysemys picta nest


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Lithobates calmitans


The next animal I'd been really hoping to see. The surrounding habitat had great potential, too. Lots of surface bedrock and shallow soils and beds of moss and lichen. I found a couple of sloughed skins in a different part of the lake earlier in the week but thought I might be a bit late in the year to see the owners. Just before the sun disappeared behind the trees I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.

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Diadophis punctatus

The underside was incredibly orange, with a neat row of black spots running down each side. A really placid snake but not too intent on sitting still for more than a second or two.

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Diadophis punctatus


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Anaxyrus americanus

A nice big toad which I presume spent much of its daytime hiding from the abundance of garter snakes (and presumably Nerodia) on this particular island.

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Anaxyrus americanus


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The herping habitat and transport for the lake adventures


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Sunrise on the final day


Overall a far greater result than I was expecting, considering how the season was said to be coming to a close. My partner's family have been coming here each year for a couple of decades now and weren't aware of the amazing animals right on the doorstep. Looking forward to the next time :)

We stopped over at Toronto Zoo on the way back to the city and had a bit of an insight into some of the herp conservation programmes the zoo runs, notably with Ontario native species. Acres and acres of space here and worth a visit if you're in the area.

Species list:

Ambystoma laterale
Ambystoma maculatum
Plethodon cinereus

Anaxyrus americanus
Lithobates calmitans
Lithobates catsbeianus
Lithobates palustris
Lithobates pipiens
Lithobates septentrionalis?

Chrysemys picta
Graptemys geographica

Plestiodon fasciatus

Diadophis punctatus
Thamnophis sauritus
Thamnophis sirtalis
Storeria dekayi
Storeria occipitomaculata
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Re: Ontario, September 2017

Postby Bobby Bok » Mon Sep 25, 2017 8:46 pm

Always great to see pictures from rarely pictured parts of the world :shock:
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Re: Ontario, September 2017

Postby Ilian Velikov » Tue Sep 26, 2017 2:43 pm

Great stuff, Daniel! You found quite a number of awesome species, and such a beautiful landscape. It must have been a wonderful experience.
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Re: Ontario, September 2017

Postby Jeroen Speybroeck » Thu Sep 28, 2017 9:44 am

Well done! I had a pretty tough time with Ambystoma in summer (albeit further south), so good job!
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Re: Ontario, September 2017

Postby Gabriel Martínez » Thu Sep 28, 2017 11:37 am

Some water snakes of USA are really cool. A pity that you found Heterodon clutch but not any specimens around
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