Saturday, July 20, 2013

Long Weekend in Killbear Provincial Park

Hairy Woodpecker!
For the past long weekend, a group of my best friends (and our counterparts) decided to go camping up at Killbear Provincial Park.  This wasn't meant to be a birding or herping trip, but of course, I just couldn't help myself.

Baby American Toad
It was a pretty cold weekend for camping, which means it was also a little cold for snakes.  There were a few times where the sun peaked out for enough time to run around on some trails, but for the most part, the joys came from the views.  We went on a few hikes around the area, but unfortunately found very few snakes. The weekend consisted of finding one garter snake, one live massasauga, and a dead massasauga.  I was able to see a bunch of birds like a playful hairy woodpecker, black-throated green warbler, american redstart, blackburnian warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, and one red-eyed vireo who would not stop talking at our campsite!
Eastern Garter Snake

Although it was a slow weekend for herps and for birding, I was still able to see a few of my favourites that I had seen throughout the spring.  I was also able to drive around the park with my boyfriend (Michael Colley) and get to learn all about his Master's Project (With Laurentian & Queens University) taking place there.  As some of you may know, Killbear Provincial park has been installing underground eco-passages throughout the park for reptiles (mainly for Massasauga Rattlesnakes)

ECOPASSAGE: A series of fences leading to under-road tunnels that allow wildlife (and in this case snakes) to safely cross roadways

Dead Massasauga Rattlesnake
The purpose of his project is to assess if Massasauga Rattlesnakes (or any snake for that matter!) is actually using the passages. When the road was put in, it separated the snake population into two isolated sections on either side of the road.  In the short term, the ecopassage will hopefully help the snakes move across the road from one habitat, to another more wetland habitat. The passages are a needed component to the ecosystem to allow the snakes to populate both sides of the road without getting hit in the attempt, because similarly to humans, it's not good to have a limited gene pool.  In the longterm, the hopes are that the two snake populations will fill in the gap left from the road.

Massasauga Rattlesnakes are the only venomous snake in Ontario!  They have only three populations which can be found in the Georgian Bay (largest pop), a small area in Niagara, and a small area in Windsor.

This project involved a crap ton of surveys, which is mainly walking and biking up a variety of roads and collecting data on dead snakes that are found as well as collecting and processing live massasaugas.  "Processing" the snake involves first placing a tube around it's upper potion (so that it can't bite you).  The lower buttons of the rattle are then painted colours and they are pit-tagged (which is similar to microchipping).  The paint allows the snake to be detected as having been caught before while in the wild, while the pit-tag allows electronic readers at either end of the ecopassage to detect when a snake has used it. The reader will bring up a number associated with the tag and then researchers will be able to know which snakes (ie. sex, approx how old, etc) have been using the passage and if populations are able to mix.
Massassauga being processed
It seems like a really awesome project and I am so excited to be able to learn more about it through Mike, and sometimes even get to help out!  Massasaugas have gotten a really bad rep, since they are venomous, and are often purposely killed by people driving (for that matter, all snakes have this problem also).  Having a project like this in such a busy Provincial Park not only helps snakes move around like they were naturally supposed to, but it also helps to educate campers on these awesome creatures, who often shy away from human living secretive lives.

Mike and the Georgian Bay Sunset

It was so sad when the weekend was over.  Great food, great friends, an unbelievably beautiful sunset, and amazing little creatures.  Of course, the weekend ended with much more sun and warmer temperatures leading to the last find....helping a Blanding's Turtle cross the road!

Till next time!  Happy Outdoorsing!

Me and a Blanding's!