Thursday, July 14, 2011

Species at Risk in Muskoka: A guided walk of Torrance Barrens

For our 2nd Nature Quest workshop of the summer we gathered at Torrance Barrens to learn about Species at Risk in Muskoka. Torrance Barrens is a Conservation and Dark Sky Reserve established in 1999. The 1905 hectares is a region as a protected pace free from intrusion by urban light pollution. Its' rugged barrens, wetlands, and forested areas also provide habitat to at least 5 of Ontario's Species at Risk.

Natural Heritage Biologist Jan McDonnell led the group on a hike around Highland Pond and spoke to us about the valuable habitat the area provides and the species who call Torrance Barrens home.

Above: Here's Jan telling the group about turtles that are known to live in Torrance Barrens. Spotted Turtles have been seen here before and Blanding's turtle habitat exists here.

Above: a Spotted turtle, a species at risk classified as endangered

Above: a Blanding's turtle, a species at risk classified as threatened

Above: Participants in the workshop cross the bridge over the wetland. Wetlands are one of Muskoka's most valuable habitats. They provide many services like filtering the water to maintain water quality, help prevent erosion, and help control floods. Many species also depend on wetlands for habitat and food.

Above: Jan passes around a turtle shell and a snake skin for participants to look at as she speaks about suitable habitat for snakes such as Massassauga rattlesnakes and Eastern Hog-nose Snakes.

Above: Massassauga rattlesnakes (threatened on the species at risk list) use large "table rocks" as gestation sites. It is here that they give birth to live young every 2 years. It is too energetically demanding to do every year. The table rocks are used to thermoregulate; hide in the shade under the rocks or between the rocks when it's hot and lay on top when they need to absorb heat.

Above: Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes eat toads and tend to roam over vast areas in search of toads, open sandy areas & dry woods. They lay eggs under a log or in leaf litter in midsummer. Their eggs hatch after about 2 months.

Above: In a dramatic fashion, the Eastern Hog-nosed snake will play dead (and even hand its' tongue out!) as a defence mechanism. They are also known to "puff adder" to intimidate potential prey, although they are not dangerous. They are categorized as threatened on the species at risk list.

Above: At our last stop, Jan talks about the poor fen wetland in Torrance Barrens. Poor fens have a high water table and some flow-through, but not much fresh water. They absorb massive amounts of water and are exceptional at preventing floods, supplying a constant flow of water and water filtration.

Above: The Whip-poor-will is a nocturnal bird whose habitat can be found in Torrance Barrens. They like a mixture of open (for feeding) and wooded (for nesting) areas. Whip-poor-wills call at dusk and just before dawn and their name take after the sound of their call. They are also a species at risk, categorized as threatened.

The Five-lined Skink is Ontario’s only lizard. Juveniles have a bright neon blue tail (grey in adults as above). Skinks are active during the day and like wooded locations with sandy soil and open rocky habitat with crevices and loose rocks. They lay 6-10 eggs under a log or rock which hatch in late summer. They are listed as a species of special concern on the species at risk list in Ontario.

Watch for turtles out on the roads this season!

Slow down in areas where you see this sign.

Find out more:

Don't miss the last 2 Nature Quest workshops!

July 19: Batty about Bats

July 26: Woodlot Management and Tree Selection

GO HERE for registration information

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