Tag Archives: wood frog

Amphibians at MABA by Maris Van Vlack – RISD Student and MABA Intern

Keep a lookout for the many amphibians that live at MABA! Although all amphibians spend part of their life in water, each species lives in a different habitat. Because of this, you can find them all over the MABA property! I have seen them by the vernal pool, pond, brook, as well as by the sides of the trails. 

Yellow spotted salamander in ink and watercolor; eastern red-backed salamander in watercolor

Salamanders can be found by the brook, usually near or under rotting logs. There are two main species at MABA: the yellow spotted salamander and the eastern red-backed salamander. The yellow spotted salamander is mostly black with yellow spots. The red-backed salamander has a reddish-orange stripe down its back, and tends to have a longer, thinner body. At first glance, you may mistake a red-backed salamander for a small snake. 

Frogs are by far the most common amphibian at MABA, and green frogs are the most common of them all! By the pond at the back of the sanctuary, they will come and sit just a few feet away from me. They range from 2” to 3.5” in length. I have noticed a lot of variety in the coloring of green frogs: some (like the one pictured) have more green spots, and others appear more grayish green.

Green Frog in watercolor

Pickerel frogs are about 2.5” in length and have distinctive black and brown markings on their bodies. When the frogs are in the water and only their head is visible, try and notice if there are any black markings by the eye. This can help you distinguish pickerel frogs from green frogs. 

Pickerel frog in ink and watercolor

Of the MABA frogs, the Wood Frog seems to live the farthest from the water. Often on the trails by the edge of the brook, Wood Frogs are mostly tan or light brown with a dark stripe by their eye. 

Wood frog in watercolor and marker

Frogs and toads are quite similar, but toads tend to have dry skin and live farther from the water.

American Toads, which are the only species that I have seen at MABA, are tan or brown and have spotted, bumpy backs. Below is a drawing of two of the toads I have seen: the larger, older one was about 3” long and the smaller one was only 1” long. Both were seen on the Main Loop Trail. 

American toads in ink

This larger American Toad was being preyed upon by a garter snake when I approached. When it heard me come closer, the snake slithered away and left the toad alone. 

If you cannot get a picture of an amphibian you see, it is helpful to remember its size, coloring, markings, and location so that you can identify it later. A quick sketch might help as well!

My name is Maris Van Vlack, and I will be blogging for the summer of 2020! I am a rising sophomore at the Rhode Island School of Design, with a major in Textiles and a concentration in Drawing. I used to take homeschool classes at the Museum of American Bird Art and have had my artwork exhibiting in their Taking Flight Exhibit for young bird artists.

I am especially interested in working with unusual materials in my work, and am inspired by plants, animals, and the patterns found in nature. This summer, I will be creating a guide for the MABA trails with sketches and paintings. I will be recording and writing about my observations, and sharing them through these blog posts. Hopefully this will be an educational and inspiring resource, and will motivate you to sketch what you see when you visit MABA this summer!

Wood frogs of our vernal pool…Nature in a minute

As winter ends, low lying areas and woodland hollows fill up with snow melt and rainwater to create temporary isolated woodland ponds called vernal pools. The wildlife sanctuary at the Museum of American Bird Art has 5 vernal pools on the property with our largest vernal pool only a 5 to 10 minute walk from the museum’s parking lot. These pools provide critical breeding habitat for several amphibian and invertebrate species with life cycles that have adapted to these rich, temporary phenomena.

As winter slowly turns into spring, I eagerly anticipate walking up the first hill on the main loop trail. Before the vernal pool is visible, I know spring has arrived when I hear a characteristic “quacking” that isn’t from ducks, but from the wood frog (Rana sylvatica). When they emerge from their winter slumber, they quickly make their way to vernal pools to breed. I heard the first wood frogs in the vernal pool on March 26, 2018 and was able to take the first pictures today.

Characteristic dorsal-lateral ridges on the back of the wood frog.

This masked frog looks somewhat like a much larger spring peeper, but look for the ridges running down the sides and no pattern on the back.

Notice the characteristic eye mask right next to the eye

True to its name, it lives in forests, breeding in temporary, or vernal, pools. It attracts mates with a quacking call, and the female lays large masses of eggs.

Listen carefully for the characteristic quacking coming from the vernal pool right next to where this wood frog is sitting.

Learn even more about vernal pools in the Spring 2018 issue of Explore.

Spring Has Sprung: Notes from the Field

Over the past few weeks, the sanctuary has been bursting with life as spring is “just around the corner”, even though we woke up to snow on April 5th. Join us at 8am on our weekly Friday bird and natural history hikes to see all the amazing creatures, plants, and views on the Morse Wildlife Sanctuary. Even better is the terrific company and being out in nature. 

Snoozing Raccoon

While I was investigating life in a vernal pool, some peaceful fur way way up in the crook of a tree caught my attention. A raccoon was snoozing the day away. Check out the ears on one side and the foot on the other.


Mystery Tree Damage

Near one of our smaller vernal pools, the damage to this tree puzzled me. Based on it’s teeth marks, it is clearly a rodent, but the damage is one inch deep at some points and is about 8 ft long. I’m are not sure what caused this damage, but could it be a porcupine? Let us know what you think.

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Deer Traffic Jam


Birding Highlights

Here are a few of the birds that have been seen over the past few weeks.

  • Red-tailed hawk hunting pine voles

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  • Brown creepers
  • Eastern phoebes
  • Wood ducks
  • Hermit thrush
  • Hairy and downy woodpeckers
  • Flocks of dark-eyed juncos, chickadees, tufted titmouse, and American robins
  • Pair of nesting red-shouldered hawks
  • Red-bellied woodpeckers
  • Calling red-winged blackbirds in the red maple swamp (birding hotspot)
  • American woodcock
  • Our digital photography homeschool class observed a cooper’s hawk preying on a mallard.
  • Check out our bird blind by the gallery, our feeders are always stocked and there are usually lots of birds to photograph

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Flora Highlights

Stunk cabbage is one of the first plants to emerge in the spring. It is found near soggy or submerged soil and is usually pollinated by flies. This was taken near the Pequit Brook.

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Rattlesnake Plantain

Check out this amazing little orchid hiding under the pine needles. These pictures are from early March.

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One of the tiniest and earliest spring flowers

We have had over 10,000 of these flowers blooming in bare patches of soil and on our lawns. They are so easy to miss until you start looking for them.

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Vernal Pools in the Wildlife Sanctuary

In early March, when the weather cracked 60 degrees, the spring peepers and wood frogs started calling. Wood frogs sound more like ducks than frogs. Check out these two videos to hear them.

Wood frogs are abundant at our wildlife sanctuary and are always one of the first frogs to emerge from hibernation. This year, wood frogs were first observed on March 10 congregrating in large numbers at our main vernal pool and where I counted well over 60 wood frogs on March 11. Listen to their chorus from March 11, 2016.

Spotted salamanders have also been laying eggs and fairy shrimp are abundant.

Fairy Shrimp. Photo Credit: B. L. Dicks and D. J. Patterson

On April 3rd, Owen Cunningham and a volunteer spent the afternoon searching for life in our pools and were able to identify wood frog and spotted salamander eggs. This data will be submitted to the state and we expect that our vernal pools will be certified by the Mass Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

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