Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Toad Witch

The invasive Bullfrog
I know I know.  You're all saying, "Um, frogs?"  Well, I better clarify.  It's frogs, toads and a snake with some birds:)  I did my yearly bird survey at the Aribabi Ranch in Mexico during the first week of July. Somehow, the tiny developing Herper inside of me showed some interest:)

Anny holds her target study, the Sonoran toad.  Here is a breakdown of the frogs and toads seen here.  Left side top to bottom-Sonoran Toad, Red-spotted Toad.  Middle, top-bottom, Lowland Leopard Frog, Sinaloa Toad, Spadefoot Toad. Right, top-bottom. Bullfrog, Woodhouse's Toad

It was hot and miserable.  There were also plenty of bugs to add to the uncomfortable nature of our stay.  BUT.  I went with a group studying the Sonoran Toad(also known as the Colorado River Toad).  While they were doing their investigations, I did my own.  They were a wonderful group and made the trip down a whole lot of fun. 

The target species-the Sonoran Toad
Below is a pic of the crew during our dinner event.  The young lady at the corner of the table is Anny.  She is a graduate student who will be working with the venom of the Sonoran Toad to help develop a treatment for such things as drug addiction.  It was fun watching the crew brainstorm and put this project together as a team.  Meanwhile, I was with the herp guy, Jim Rorabaugh.  He's into everything "nature" but he really really likes lizards, toads, frogs and snakes. Over time, I've learned to appreciate them more thanks to Jim's work out in the field. 

I've seen most of the birds on this ranch so getting the bird survey done was a snap.  And I had great views of some birds that would be considered "rare" for the US.  During the nasty heat, a Summer Tanager sits down on a fence and poses. 

As he sings quite proudly, a Broad-billed Hummingbird sails past him. 

During the early morning hours, I would run my survey.  During the afternoon, I'd hide away from the nasty sun.  And during the evening, I went out with Jim and crew to look for frogs and toads!

Sinaloa Toad
In the process, Jim ID's his first ever Sinaloa Toad at the ranch!  There's nothing quite like finding a new species at a place we have surveyed for several years.  Jim has been coming to Aribabi for years and it was a first for him.  To watch him get excited was great fun.  Surprises are the best. This toad was very rare for the area. 

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Also rare?  the Western sub-species of Yellow-billed Cuckoos.  I've been to the ranch over several summers and haven't had more than two pair calling from the Cocospera River.  This year, we had an amazing 3+ pairs of cuckoos!

The first night, it looked like it would storm but it didn't.  Instead, it stayed muggy and I didn't sleep at all.  The second night was better.  We did have a storm blow into the area, but we didn't get any rain from it.  However, the temps cooled way down! 

Spadefoot Toad
During that night, the crew went under barbed wire fences and into grassy areas to look for toads and frogs.  Or whatever else came our way.  People went after frogs in nasty water.  I'd flash lights and bugs would run into me.  I am definitely a birder.  This business of picking up frogs in poopy cattle ponds is not my idea of fun.  However, watching frogger people get into the whole activity was fun. Night time photography is the worst!  50 photos for one decent one.  

Vermilion Flycatcher
During the day time, I relaxed as I casually saw my birds. 

Sinaloa Wren
I made an effort to track down the very vocal Sinaloa Wrens.  They appear to be working on a second clutch for the summer.  The nesting sites were active. 

Here is one of those nests.  It hangs down from the tree.  The hole of the nest is underneath this basket.  Pretty cool!

There were also several other birds I needed to track.  

Woodhouse's Toad-note scary "spider" behind the toad! 
The Thick-billed Kingbirds were back again nesting. 

Thick-billed Kingbird
AND I finally heard and saw the Rose-throated Becards that are always reported from this area. This bird is significant because it is only found around healthy riparian areas.  Their populations have been said to be in decline, but thankfully on this trip, two adults and two juveniles were seen!  I was SO happy.  This is the 4th time I've seen this species in my life.  Maybe one day, I'll finally get to see one in Arizona.

Rose-throated Becard
Then it's time for a muffled scream, followed by a cooooool moment.  If I know there are snakes, I'm okay.  Had I not known about this tiny snake, I would have freaked out.  But Jim gave us a heads up. 

Sonoran Lyresnake
I stand back and try to get a decent photo of the snake for documentation purposes. I can't help feeling the heebie jeebies.  It's a way cool critter and I know it.  But I have this stupid human reaction to snakes.  I wish I could control it, but I can't.  Maybe it's the way they sneakily slink silently along the vegetation. 

Anyhow, our crew got the job done and we were ready to head back home to the cooler temps.  I wish Anny the best of luck on her grad project.  It sounds like a lot of fun.  

Life is an adventure.  Where will we go next?  Stay tuned for more......


  1. I love birds, like frogs, toads stand it, but I'm afraid of snakes, and it very much. Lovely photos. Regards.

  2. Quite the adventure. Soon you'll be a snake handler. ;)

  3. OMG, i am laughing here. When you said it's funny watching the team do their job looking for frogs and toads at night. I can visualize the commotion with everybody, and you taking your own photos! It was real fun, if i were there i will also enjoy it even if i am scared of these creatures. I haven't touched a live frog, but i have actually dissected one in the undergrad days.

    1. Oh it was interesting. I was laughing but then I stopped when I got a bug in my throat. Nasty! I used to touch longer. And now that I think of it, I hope they washed their hands before grabbing the ice for their drinks! I don't want to think about that one. Hope you are well and having fun! Happy week to you!

  4. A wonderful post Chris - so much of interest. Great photos and birds - love the Tanager :) Good to read about toads and frogs and research. Have to admit I am not over keen on snakes (especially the venomous ones of which we only have one over here - the adder) but they are fascinating creatures.

    1. Thank you! Yeah snakes are scary! I do like to watch them at work but not creeping up on me. I have a tendency to almost step on some while I'm looking up. We have more than a few poisonous ones here. If I ever get bit, you'll hear my scream from across the ocean:) Hope you had a great start to your week! Hugs!

  5. Hi Chris. It seems like a long time since I dropped by - sorry about that.

    A great story you're telling. I was more than a little surprised to find you taking interest in the herps! I'm fine with snakes as long as I know that they're not going to kill me. The trouble is sometimes, when things happen in a hurry, you don't have time to make that decision!

    That Vermillion Flycatcher is amazing!

    Best wishes - - - Richard

    1. Hello Richard! I am so sorry that I haven't dropped by...yet! It has been a whirlwind summer on the road with others birding. With work starting up again, I'll be "normal" and "boring" again. But I need money so I can fund more treks:) The Vermilion Flycatcher is such a beauty. No matter how many times I see that bird, I have to take yet another pic:) Hope you are well and I'll be stopping by soon. My best! Chris


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