In search of salamanders 0
Nottawasaga naturalist always on the hunt -- and ready to share his knowledge on hike
COLLINGWOOD -- Dave Featherstone is making a beeline for a salamander pond on the slopes of the Niagara Escarpment but his head is on a swivel as he walks through a beech-maple woods overlooking Georgian Bay.
He keeps an eye peeled for the rare butternut tree, inspects the mottled leaves of the trout lilies, and bends to check out a pair of camouflaged trilliums pushing up through dead leaves on the forest floor.
"This place is ready to burst," says Featherstone, a naturalist at the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority. "The spring flowers are about to open, the tree buds are swelling and the birds are on their way."
On Saturday, May 12, Featherstone is one of a group of specialists sharing their knowledge with hikers at the Peak to Peak Escarpment Challenge hike-athon, taking place on the Bruce Trail south of Collingwood.
The experts, including a geologist and archeologist, will be stationed along the hike-a-thon route throughout the day ready to answer hikers' questions about the unique Niagara Escarpment environment.
"May 12 is an ideal time to experience spring in these woodlands," he says. "The spring wildflowers are in full bloom, a lot of neo-tropical birds are arriving back in the area from Central and South America, the frogs are peeping in the ponds and the leaves are just starting to come out."
On this trip into the woods, however, it's the salamanders that have Featherstone's special attention.
When the weather warms in the spring, mature salamanders along the Niagara Escarpment make their way to ponds like this one in Pretty River Provincial Park.
For a brief flurry they mate and lay their eggs, then head back to the woods to hide under rotting logs and mossy rocks.
Their offspring emerge from floating egg masses, then develop in the safety of the pond until the water levels fall and they're ready to hit the woods themselves.
On this day, Featherstone is not disappointed. He spots the transluscent jelly-like egg masses floating in the pond, and in the clear water can easily pick out adult red-spotted newts motoring about in the silt of the shallows.
The Escarpment, with a mix of wetland pockets as well as mature upland forests, provides ideal habitat for amphibians like these.
"They start their life in the ponds but spend much of their lives in the woods," he says. "That's why protecting their habitat means protecting not just the ponds, but the interconnected woodlands around them."
As much as he likes keeping tabs on the wildlife and wildflowers as manager of watershed monitoring at the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority, Dave Featherstone is just as keen on introducing others to the wonders of this world-renowned biosphere.
That's why he's donating his time on May 12 to add his own expertise to the Peak to Peak Escarpment Challenge experience.
For more information on the hike-athon and to pre-register, please visit www.peaktopeakhike.com.