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Western Toads - Have You Seen Them?

It is a sunny, warm August 1st at the beaver pond in Sasquatch Lake Provincial Park near Harrison Hot Springs. You would expect to hear few birds on such an afternoon, let alone find other forms of wildlife.

But wait! Stop and stand still! Was that movement under foot?

A quick glance down at your feet brings amazing results! Hundreds and hundreds of tiny creatures are present. A close up look reveals miniature brown frogs, each no bigger than 1 cm long from tip of nose to end of their body.

These wee amphibians are young Western Toads, also known as Boreal Toads. This species is found near ponds, streams or lakes. Unlike many toads, Western Toads tend to walk rather than hop.

Western Toads hibernate, often communally, in underground burrows. Depending on the site, Western Toads are likely active from March to October. Late evening, after dark and early morning are the best times to look for these amphibians.

Females lay eggs in long strings that often entwine submerged pond plants. One female can produce thousands of eggs. The eggs hatch within 3 to 12 days into small, 1 cm long tadpoles. After about 6 to 8 weeks when the tadpoles are 2.5 or 3.0 cm, they transform into juvenile toads. At this time, they may be observed in great numbers. It requires another 2 to 3 years for the young toads to become sexually mature. Adults may reach 12.5 cm long.

Another place to look for juvenile Western Toads is reported to be at Fawn Lake in Alice Lake Provincial Park near Squamish.

The number of small toads observed at a breeding site gives the impression that the populations of this species are plentiful and healthy. However, while not considered at risk, the Western Toad is considered to be a species of conservation concern.

Not enough is currently known about this, and other amphibians, in British Columbia. That is why a new program called “Frogwatch” has been started to get your help in learning more about the distribution and biology of our province’s amphibians. For more information on this program and how you can participate, see the article in this newsletter.

Mountain Sheep - Four to View

British Columbia has four subspecies of mountain sheep. The northern half of the province has two subspecies of thinhorn sheep, Stone and Dall. The southern half has two subspecies of bighorn sheep, California and Rocky Mountain.

The two bighorns are similar in appearance, being brown with white on the belly, the insides of the legs and the rump. The tail is small and dark, contrasting with the light rump.

The two thinhorns are smaller than the bighorns. Dall Sheep are the only white wild sheep in the world. Stone Sheep tend to be darker in colour than the bighorns.

Unlike the antlers of members of the deer family which shed annually, the horns of sheep consist of a bony core and outer sheath which continues to grow throughout life and is never shed.

For a list of sites to view bighorn sheep see the next article.

Sheep Viewing - Suggested Viewing Sites

The fall, winter and spring months offer some great opportunities for viewing bighorn sheep, both California and Rocky Mountain subspecies.

The following sites are suggested. They provide some of the most reliable and easily experienced sheep viewing opportunities. At many of these sites sheep are visible on the roads so please drive carefully!

    California Bighorn Sheep
  • Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park and Farwell Canyon area west of Williams Lake
  • Tranquille Wildlife Management Area northwest of Kamloops
  • Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area and Vaseux Lake Wildlife Management Area in the South Okanagan on the east side of Vaseux Lake
  • along Highway 3 between Grand Forks and Christina Lake
  • Syringa Creek Provincial Park area located on the north side of Lower Arrow Lake just northwest of Castlegar

    Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

  • Spences Bridge in the Fraser Canyon
  • from the highway junction just north of Radium Hot Springs and along the first few kilometres into Kootenay National Park

Frogwatch Wants Your Help! - New Ministry Program

A part of a national effort to gather information on frogs, the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks has a new program called “Frogwatch”.

Frogwatch encourages volunteers to watch and listen for frogs and toads, and to record data without touching or disturbing the frogs or their habitats. Data submitted to Frogwatch will help a Canada wide network of biologists assess the frog populations throughout the country.

Population declines of B.C.‘s amphibians are likely due to a combination of factors including loss of habitat, water pollution, ultraviolet rays, climate change and the introduction of non-native predators. Frogwatch will also help track the populations of non-native species like Bullfrogs and Green Frogs which may be harming native amphibians and ecosystems.

Frogs are viewed as an indicator of environmental health. They usually live in areas where land and water meet, areas which humans frequent or are quick to develop.

For more information on Frogwatch, how to submit frog sightings or frog biology, visit the program's homepage. The mailing address is Frogwatch, Wildlife Branch, P.O. Box 9374 St. Prov. Govt., Victoria, B.C. V8W 9M4. The program can also be contacted by e-mail.

Wildlife Viewing Yukon Style - Other Viewing Programs

There is an active wildlife viewing program in the Yukon. It is managed through the Fish and Wildlife Branch of Renewable Resources.

Yukon’s Wildlife Viewing Guide has just been revised. It contains useful information on what species may be observed as well as specific information for 114 sites. The sites are organized sequentially along 11 major highway routes.

Forty-two of the guide’s viewing sites marked with a stylized binocular logo indicating that they are “Yukon Wild” interpretive or orientation sites that provide on-site information. Also listed are other sources of information, publications, contacts and a species-by-location index.

Other Yukon viewing publications are available. A specific brochure for the Faro area highlights what to see at ten sites. Several bird checklists are available including one for the Faro and Ross River Region and one for the 279 bird species found throughout Yukon. Other checklists available from the Yukon Bird Club include Herschel Island and Whitehorse.

A web site is available on-line.

For more information contact the Wildlife Viewing Program [Renewable Resources, Government of the Yukon, Box 2703, Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 2C6; 867-667-8291].

New Festivals Video - Planning Resouces

It is no secret that a well planned birding or wildlife festival can have significant economic impacts in local communities. This is especially important during the spring, fall and winter months when general tourism levels are lower.

There is a growing list of annual wildlife festivals in British Columbia. The first major festival, the Brant Wildlife Festival in Parksville and Qualicum Beach, started in 1991. The 3,000 participants at the three day 1993 event brought $420,000 in revenues to the two communities. A second study found similar results for 1994.

A new video shows how birding festivals are generating tremendous economic activity in local communities. Watching wildlife generates sustainable tourism income and increased recreational activities can help to conserve natural resources.

Birding Festivals: An Economic Force for Conservation was prepared by DJ Case and Associates for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. It is an excellent tool to assist festival and special event planners in successfully soliciting participants and sponsors, including local businesses, local governments and chambers of commerce, as well as raising much needed funds.

Copies of the Birding Festivals video can be purchased for $15 US each. For ordering information contact DJ Case and Associates directly.

For more information on festivals and special events in British Columbia visit the British Columbia Wildlife Watch web site and click on festivals and special events. For internet links to festivals across North America look in the links section.

More Resources - Other Videos

here are several other video resources available that will assist agencies and organizations in the development of viewing sites and activities. While produced in the states these resources are applicable to anywhere people watch wildlife.

  • Watching Wildlife: A Guide to One of America’s Most Popular Activities is a 30 minute video that teaches tips and techniques for successful, enjoyable wildlife viewing. This video was also produced by DJ Case and Associates. The video reinforces the book Watching Wildlife: Tips, Gear and Great Places for Enjoying America’s Wild Creatures published by Falcon Press.
  • Keeping Wildlife Wild is a video that teaches and reinforces techniques in how to avoid human/wildlife encounters Prepared by the Center for Wildlife Information in Missoula, Montana, the video shows inappropriate activity around wild animals and then highlights, in a positive fashion, easily learned techniques for enjoying the great outdoors.
  • Watchable Wildlife: Marketing Programs and Events shows how communities and businesses benefit from popular viewing programs. Prepared by the Missouri Department of Conservation the video details how watchable wildlife programs provide opportunities for education, recreation and conservation.

New Region Information - Web Additions

The British Columbia Wildlife Watch web site is growing. Work has begun to develop the basic framework to provide viewing site information for regions outside the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.

The 1st step is to list the sites. The 2nd step will involve filling in the details for each viewing site listed. The second step will take time, so please be patient. As these new sections are added to the web site, if the information you need is not yet available on-line, please contact British Columbia Wildlife Watch by mail [11385 - 238th Street, Maple Ridge, B.C. V2W 1V3] or e-mail.

In June, sites offering viewing and education opportunities were listed for the Thompson-Nicola, Kootenay and Okanagan Regions.

Wetland Watching - Knowing Your Habitats

A successful wildlife watcher has learned that specific species frequent certain habitats at predictable times of the year. Wildlife are everywhere not just at formally identified viewing sites. Once you begin to recognize different species and learn what habitats they are likely to visit and when, you will increase your chances of observing wildlife.

Wetlands are an excellent habitat to look for wildlife, including birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects and fish. There are many different types of wetlands including marshes, bogs and fens. While all different, each represents habitat that attracts and supports wildlife.

Ducks Unlimited Canada has published an excellent handbook called Understanding Wetlands. Its focus is on interior wetlands of British Columbia. In addition to finding a wealth of plant life, a remarkable variety of wildlife species depends on wetlands for water, food, breeding habitat and protective cover. The following excerpts paraphrased from the handbook will help to explain why wetlands are such good places for watching wildlife.

    British Columbia’s wetlands are critical to thousands of migrating water birds. While some only stop to feed and rest before travelling on, many remain to breed and nest. Deciduous trees, shrubs, grasses and other moisture-loving plants, as well as woody debris found in riparian areas, provide critical habitat and protective cover for nesting water birds. Although water birds spend the majority of their time in the wetland, many species nest in the riparian zone or in the upland, some more than 300 m from the water’s edge.

    Shorebirds often gather in large flocks around wetlands, wading though shallow water in search of crustaceans, mollusks, small fish, insects and seeds. Emergent plants, such as cattail and bulrush, provide secluded nesting sites close to wetland feeding grounds.

    Songbirds are most easily recognized by their cheerful melodies. Wetlands and riparian areas provide a critical source of food, including insects and seeds, during the breeding season and during their long migration.

    Hawks and eagles are often seen soaring above wetlands or perched like sentinels in tall snags or trees, carefully surveying their hunting grounds. Many birds of prey depend on the abundant life that wetland and riparian areas support.

    Undergoing an extraordinary transformation from egg to adult, amphibians are extremely dependent on wetland habitats. Healthy wetlands are critical for amphibian populations. Adult amphibians can travel long distances and utilize many types of riparian and upland habitats before returning to their wetland breeding grounds.

    Many species of reptiles are frequent visitors or permanent residents of wetlands. Reptiles depend on healthy riparian areas as well as wetlands for their survival.

    Teeming with life, wetlands nourish and support an astounding number of mammals. Year round, Beaver and Muskrat obtain food and material to build lodges. Mink and River Otter excavate dens along the shore, close to their favourite feeding grounds. Moose depend on aquatic plants, willow and other shrubs for food. Many other mammals that are not necessarily wetland-dependent benefit from both wetland and riparian habitats.

    Wetland and riparian areas are vital to a wide variety of fish. Wetland invertebrates provide an important source of food while vegetation and covered areas provide resting, breeding and rearing habitat.

    Invertebrates include insects, mollusks, crustaceans, spiders and worms. They are by far the most abundant and diverse group of animals living in wetlands. Invertebrates are the foundation upon which the entire wetland food web is built.

Bird Tracks

Oyster River Regional Park

Redfish Creek Spawning Channel

    Located next to Highway 3A just west of Balfour. This small channel is 0.6 km long and up to 1.3 m wide yet it provides spawning habitat for up to 4,000 Kokanee. The best time to visit is during August and September. Kokanee Salmon is a land-locked species of Sockeye Salmon that lives it entire life in fresh water lakes. Both Kokanee and Sockeye take on red spawning colours which makes them easy to see. Spawning Kokanee can also be observed at the nearby channel in Kokanee Creek Provincial Park.

Robertson Creek Hatchery

    Located on the Stamp River northwest of Port Alberni and 6.3 km from Highway 4. This hatchery raises Coho and Chinook Salmon and sea run Steelhead Trout. Salmon returning to the hatchery area must first negotiate the large fish ladder at Stamp River Provincial Park. Spawning fish may be observed in parts of Stamp Lagoon. Watch for Coho and Chinook Salmon from September through November and spawning Steelhead Trout in February. The hatchery is active and open to visitors year round.