herpetofauna of Grasslands National Park Canada

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NACairns
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Joined: December 30th, 2013, 7:27 am

herpetofauna of Grasslands National Park Canada

Post by NACairns » March 1st, 2014, 11:18 am

Here’s a quick photographic introduction to the herpetofauna of Grasslands National Park in south western Saskatchewan, Canada. In two non-contiguous “blocks” this park represents short/mixed grass prairie around the Frenchman River Valley in the west and badlands in the east. When compared to regions further south we have fairly limited diversity but we do have some very interesting species that are not well represented in Canada. The west block is the more commonly visited part of park possessing more infrastructure and the lion's share of the herps but the east block is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been perfect for wandering for days and feeling refreshingly alone but herps are harder to come-by.
The one exception to this is the plains spadefoot which is refreshingly common in the east block during the late spring rains but is seldom seem in the west block (I put these same photos up as a response to the “gnomes of the night” post).
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IMGP1650 by nacairn, on Flickr
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IMGP0164 by nacairn, on Flickr
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IMGP2381 by nacairn, on Flickr
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IMGP0384 by nacairn, on Flickr
The most common species throughout the park is the charismatic little Boreal Chorus Frog (Pseudacris maculata). They can be found anywhere at anytime whether it’s in a prairie dog town, a water filled wallow or a soil crack in the badlands.
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IMGP0182 by nacairn, on Flickr
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IMGP7872 by nacairn, on Flickr
On a disappointing note I am somehow missing a photo of the Canadian toad (Anaxyrus hemiophrys) which occurs in the area. They are not common but can be found in reasonable numbers chorusing in the spring but are seldom seen otherwise.
A common species in the moist areas of the park is the northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens).
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IMGP0369 by nacairn, on Flickr
Blotched tiger salamanders (Ambystoma mavortium melanostictum) are common but unpredictable throughout both blocks. I’ve observed them using prairie dog burrows in the fall and regularly find them while road cruising (even when it hasn’t rained in weeks).
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IMGP7607 by nacairn, on Flickr
The western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) are found in all creeks in the park and are often found in small temporary ponds. This subspecies is one of the prettiest turtles out there.
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IMGP7831 by nacairn, on Flickr
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August09 003 by nacairn, on Flickr
There are apparently common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) present in the Frenchman River but I have yet to see one in 9 years.
A favorite is the greater short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi). this species is actually quite common if you are in the right area and has become my go to species when leading hikes for friends and family. They are present in both blocks.
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IMGP2664 by nacairn, on Flickr
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IMGP8011 by nacairn, on Flickr
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IMGP7947 by nacairn, on Flickr
The plains garter snake (Thamnophis radix) a truly stunning example of the genus. Robust and common this is a great snake that you can usually find in both blocks of the park.
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IMGP9856 by nacairn, on Flickr
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IMGP1770 by nacairn, on Flickr
The western hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus) is an incredibly rare (one record from each block) but very cool species. There is almost no sand in the region so it is not surprising that this species is seldom seen but the individual observed last year in the east block was gravid so there are at least two in that area.
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IMGP0584 by nacairn, on Flickr
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IMGP0572 by nacairn, on Flickr
Eastern yellow-bellied racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris) are present along the moist areas of the park but never seem very common. A very feisty and pretty species.
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PhotoDumpSept27_2010 143 by nacairn, on Flickr
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PhotoDumpSept27_2010 088 by nacairn, on Flickr
The smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis) is a species dear to my heart but it reaches its Canadian western maximum in the east block with only three ever reported (all last year). This photo is from another Canadian population.
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IMGP1834 by nacairn, on Flickr
The bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer say) is an increasingly hard to find species in the park (both blocks) but a rewarding species to stumble across.
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IMGP1964 by nacairn, on Flickr
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IMGP1825 by nacairn, on Flickr
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IMGP1798 by nacairn, on Flickr
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IMGP0015 by nacairn, on Flickr
Last but not least: the prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis viridis) can be found with some regularity in the west block but in recent years the numbers seem lower likely due to a the collapse of hibernacula in the wet spring of 2011. The presence in the east block was in dispute until an adult was discovered last year. This species was the one that initially caught my interest in the area and got me returning every year since 2005.
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PhotoDumpSept27_2010 105 by nacairn, on Flickr
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IMGP0755 by nacairn, on Flickr
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DSC00140 by nacairn, on Flickr
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Copy of IMGP0873 by nacairn, on Flickr

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    chris_mcmartin
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    Re: herpetofauna of Grasslands National Park Canada

    Post by chris_mcmartin » March 1st, 2014, 11:55 am

    Very cool! Many of us don't think "Canada" when thinking of herps or herping, but it was neat to see familiar species toward the northern limits of their range.

    NACairns
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    Re: herpetofauna of Grasslands National Park Canada

    Post by NACairns » March 1st, 2014, 12:35 pm

    There is some great herping up here, in some areas the density of individuals compensates for the lack of diversity. Our herps are much maligned primarily by Canadians but the longer winters and post glacial history make for really interesting eco/evo questions and I love looking for critters locally. That said I still love getting down to the states (or elsewhere) when time/finances allow.

    pops
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    Re: herpetofauna of Grasslands National Park Canada

    Post by pops » March 1st, 2014, 12:43 pm

    Very interesting post.Sounds like a great place to visit. Those pseudacris are especially beautiful-dave

    NACairns
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    Re: herpetofauna of Grasslands National Park Canada

    Post by NACairns » March 1st, 2014, 3:08 pm

    Thank you, I love this area. I now live in Ontario so I only get to visit when scheduling allows but the northeast is nice. I'm glad some one else appreciates Pseudacris. As usual, P. maculata in SW Saskatchewan are highly variable in colour and pattern but I am particularly fond of those that resemble the second photo (pale with nearly lime green limbs and spots coalescing to a dorsal patch).

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    Kyle from Carolina
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    Re: herpetofauna of Grasslands National Park Canada

    Post by Kyle from Carolina » March 1st, 2014, 6:02 pm

    I loved this post, such a great variety. I didn't realize smooth greens were in Saskatchewan. I'm definitely looking forward to getting down to Grasslands NP this spring. I especially like the spadefoots and the hognose, both of which still elude me here in AB. The plains garters are the best looking snake on the northern prairies.

    NACairns
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    Re: herpetofauna of Grasslands National Park Canada

    Post by NACairns » March 1st, 2014, 7:19 pm

    Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. GNP/Val Marie is a great place to visit especially in the spring and fall. With spadefoots you'll have to watch the weather and wait for warm rains in late May then head to the east block. In fact if hoggies, smooth greens and spadefoots are your targets then I would head to Manitoba where all are more common. Agreed on the T. radix, they are gorgeous snakes especially the ones in SW Saskie.

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    Jon Wedow
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    Re: herpetofauna of Grasslands National Park Canada

    Post by Jon Wedow » March 3rd, 2014, 7:48 am

    Awesome! I'd really love to make it up that way herping some day.

    Jon

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    Kevin McRae
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    Re: herpetofauna of Grasslands National Park Canada

    Post by Kevin McRae » March 3rd, 2014, 10:27 am

    Great post and photos! Good work on the hognose!

    GNP is my one of my favourite parks to visit in Canada. It has incredible biodiversity and is a photographer's paradise!

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    justinm
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    Re: herpetofauna of Grasslands National Park Canada

    Post by justinm » March 4th, 2014, 8:27 am

    chris_mcmartin wrote:Very cool! Many of us don't think "Canada" when thinking of herps or herping, but it was neat to see familiar species toward the northern limits of their range.
    Agreed with what Chris has said. To be honest I only think of the snake dens in Manitoba when I think of Canada. The Canucks I've met in the field have all been awesome herpers and super fun people. You guys rock!

    NACairns
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    Re: herpetofauna of Grasslands National Park Canada

    Post by NACairns » March 4th, 2014, 8:36 pm

    Thanks that Heterodon was a highlight of the summer last year, I hadn't seen one since I left Manitoba a couple years ago. I usually take a lot of pride in predicting/hunting my way to an animal but that one was pure luck and I'll take it. Herping in Grasslands is great but you have to be persistent. If it isn't a shoulder season you have to work to see a snake but when you do find your a critter it makes for one hell of a release. I think that sums up herping in much of Canada even the Narcisse pits have their slow days. That said, I've lived in four provinces and when you come across a bullsnake in Saskie, a hognose in Manitoba, a rubber boa in BC or a massasauga in in Ontario all exactly where you thought they would be you might as well be in god damn Costa Rica. This C. viridis was the first of its kind seen in 20 years in the east block and it was exactly where it should have been: west facing slope, mammal burrow near an old Neotoma nest (the rats aren't supposed to be there but...) it doesn't matter what the diversity of your country is if you get to enjoy a moment that much.
    Cheers to the lot of you,
    Here's to spring,
    Nick
    Image
    IMGP1605 by nacairn, on Flickr

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