yellow-spotted salamander eggs

received a call from the blue hills trailside museum this morning asking me if i'd be available to witness some salamander migration tonight. excitedly i answered yes and couldn't go back to sleep anymore. i wasn't expecting them to call: i knew today would be rainy but the temperature still seemed too cold, 40 degrees at best (migrations happen on 50+ degrees rainy nights).

i paid a visit to client N this morning with a dvd of the interactives i was up until 4am programming last night. it was supposed to be a short and simple show and tell session but i ended up staying there more than 2 hours. they seemed busy and i was basically left alone in an office while the project managers went to a meeting. since i had a lot of other things to do today, i wrote them a note and left.

i went to the cafe to pick up some food, tried to return my old cablemodem at the comcast office (it was locked, apparently they all went out to lunch), before coming home around 2pm. reluctantly i wrote out several checks, all to pay off various taxes (federal, state, and estimated quarterly), essentially empty my bank account. however, the check from fidelity arrived yesterday, so before i went to the porter square post office, i deposited the check so i'd at least have some money to pay the bills. at the post office there was about a dozen people in line: i decided to risk it and throw my stamped tax return envelopes in the shoot instead of doing anything fancy like certified mail.

i started preparing for my outing tonight. it almost feels like the past few years i've been collecting the necessary equipment all for this one night. i choose from my collection of ponchos and rain coats, picked out my flashlights, and rolled up my pants to fit my rubber boots. i had to be done in milton by 7:30pm so i left at 6pm, figuring that'd give me enough time, even with the traffic.

this of course was a serious miscalculation on my part. on a normal day, boston rush hour traffic can induce suicidal tendencies in the sturdiest of men. combine that with a rainstorm and traffic can grind to a halt. it was bumper to bumper inching all the way from the mass ave bridge at storrow drive down to exit 12 on route 93. it took me more than an hour to drive those miles. i started to get car sick and rolled down my window, cold drizzle hitting my face. i thought i'd miss the show completely but i made it to the trailside museum at 7:40. i could see cars outside but didn't know how to get in (all the gates and doors were locked). fortunately somebody opened a door right when i was standing outside and was able to let me in.

the slideshow was just starting. tabitha was speaking while emily assisted with the focusing. i've seen this presentation before, twice actually, early last spring when i tried (unsuccessfully) to see yellow-spotted salamanders, so there wasn't anything new. there were some parents in the audience who brought their kids, and tabitha was surprisingly patient when answering random children questions (it didn't surprise me to discover they were also both camp counselors). i did a head count and there were exactly 12 people present, including myself. after the slides, we went up to the table where they had a live wood frog and some yellow-spotted salamanders in separate plastic containers. seeing them live for the first time, but held in captivity, gave me the same pleasure as reading a spoiler of a movie. on the one hand i was glad to finally see my very first yellow-spotted salamander, but on the other hand it didn't give me the same kind of satisfaction if i saw it out in the wild.

next we carpooled to chickatawbut hill to look for salamanders in vernal pools. i rode in a prius (first time) and decided that if i ever got a car, this would be it. it was totally futuristic inside, with digital dashboard and a computer calculating your mileage per gallon as you drive.

in the cold wet rain we walked the trail in the dark with our flashlights. the temperature must've been in the 30's and without my gloves my hands would've been freezing cold. on either side of us were supposedly vernal pools that periodically we'd stop and scan with the flashlight beam to look for salamander signs. the temperature was definitely too cold for a mass migration (i even heard it was going to snow a little bit tonight) but we could get lucky and find a few stray salamanders who couldn't wait for the warmer weather to arrive. "here, some spermataphores!" tabitha called to everyone. it looked like somebody sprinkled tiny feta cheese crumbs on the water, but in fact these were the sperm packets of male salamanders. suddenly our light caught two salamanders thrashing in the water before disappearing underneath some submerged reed grass. my first official wild sighting! they're surprisingly big, about 4-5", black with yellow dots. they also have a weird look, a perpetual smile, similar to dolphins. for a creature this size you'd figure people would see them all the time, but apparently this is the only time of the year when you can catch them (the spring mating season) otherwise they're an extremely rare occurrence. they're also nocturnal, and most normal people don't spend their spring nights in the rain looking for critters. nearby were a ball of eggs, and next to those were large kidney-sized groupings of even more salamander eggs. the squeaky whistling chorus of spring peepers filled the air, occasionally punctuated by the trilling calls of grey tree frogs.

"you're lucky," a little boy told me, "you have boots," as he himself was walking in the freezing puddles with just sneakers. he and his family were from gloucester, but were spending a week here (living with his grandparents) so he can go to nature camp during spring vacation. i don't talk to children often (one of the conditions of my parole) so i was surprised to find this little boy seemingly wanting to be my friend. i told him i was from cambridge. "where's that? new hampshire?" he said. it's interesting that he's being exposed to the sort of nature in his childhood that took me until my near 30's to discover. maybe it's just a phase but who knows: maybe it's the start of a life long interest in all things nature.

we all reached a point where the marsh grass grew in too thick and decided to head back. we returned to the spot where we saw the salamanders and sure enough they were still there, several swimming around, hiding underneath the dead foliage. by the time we got back to the parking lot, my hands were frozen (i took off my gloves to take some photos, eggs only, the salamanders were moving too fast to photograph) and my nose was running.

back at the museum i go into my car and was relieved to be going home, fantasizing about a hot mug of ginger tea, soaking in the bath tub, anything to get away from this miserable cold dampness. i took my camera out of its rain-soaked casing in an attempt to dry it. there wasn't any of the traffic issues i had coming down but it was still raining heavy enough that i couldn't see the lines on the road and i probably swerved dangerously from lane to lane. i heard on the radio that the red sox lost another game behind matsuzaka's pitching (not enough run support).

as soon as i got home (10:40) i stripped off all my wet clothes and fixed myself a mug of ginger tea, as i so richly dreamed about. all in all, not bad for a day: went into financial debt (due to taxes) but saw some yellow-spotted salamanders. now that this species is off my life list, the next thing i want to see is a real live luna moth.