Tuesday, March 20, 2018

You Can Tell She's a Road Ecologist...

"You can tell she's a road ecologist by the way she swerves around the snow-toads."   21 January 2018, Canada: Ontario: Grenville County: Oxford-on-Rideau Township: County Road 18, 1.5 km NNE Bishops Mills. (100 m along road), 31B/13, 44.88332° N 75.69096° W TIME: 1749. AIR TEMP: 1°C, overcast, calm. HABITAT: flat tilled-, oldfields, hayfields, between creeks. OBSERVER: Aleta Karstad Schueler, Frederick W. Schueler. 2018/005/g, weather (climate observation) (event). natural history, driveby. no snow falling, continuous snow cover in the fields.

In the course of work on the “Wildlife on Roads” book, we asked e-mail lists and facebook about their terms for things most often mistaken for on-road wildlife, their characteristics, and names used for them. We received comments from Heather Christine, Erinn Lawrie, Susan Smethurst, Christopher Hampson, Neil Balchan, Sherri Moulton, Amanda Green-Verma, Taylor Kennedy, Bev Wigney, Elizabeth Anke, Madison Wikston, Anna Best, Neil Balchan, Candace Robin, Jane Fuller, Marilyn Pallister, David Tomes, Parker Pickles Boulder, Donald Sutherland, Genèvre Arsovsky, Michelle Lauren, Rachel Young Moffatt, Tyler Hake, Gloria Allan, Mhat Briehl, Jordan Dertinger, Mike Pearsall, Holly Anderson, Sara Ashpole, Sue Hayes, Corina Brdar, Hannah Maciver, and Christina Davy (facebook or e-mail names, in the order received), and have distilled them into a list of vernacular names, which provide a vocabulary that can enhance the quick decision-making and classification needed for drive-by identification of objects that might or might not be roadkill.

Snow-toads are rarely seen in the same season as real Toads, but stand on the road in a similar upright posture. Holly Anderson's BLOBs (Bird Like Objects) are often comprised of the “plonkers of snow from behind tires on the road in a cunningly raptor-shaped slump,” and Candace Robin's Snow Turtles fall from the snow that accumulates behind the tires –  “the ones that fall off transports have the hardest shell.”

Bananacondas in their various distortions and changing colour are the classic mistaken object. These peels are found at surprising densities along some roads, twisted into diverse snake-like shapes, and darkening from yellow to black as they dry and age. Madison Wikston “once pulled over to help a bananaconda cross safely.”

Leaf-frogs are often Maple leaves, standing up on their lobes in an Anuran posture, though Poplar leaves can also twist into a frog-like shape. Leaf-mice often run straight across the road without bouncing when there's a fairly stiff breeze, and ”they have a funny way of skittering forward, stopping suddenly as the ends of the pointed leaves catch for a second, then on they go” (Bev Wigney).

Glove Birds are may be sprawled open, or rolled into a shape like that of a small Mammal. Pebble Peepers are emblematic of small mistaken creatures (on a gravel road their namesakes will often only be distinguishable when they jump or after they've been hit). Catkin Salamanders fall from Poplar trees, and a wide range of organic and mineral detritus can be mistaken for small invertebrates. 

Stick-snakes come in a wide range of sizes, and like all faux-serpents must be distinguished by the difference between the way they bend or twist from the sinuous increasing-from-the-head – decreasing-to-the-tail loops of a living Snake, and the varied crumpling of  DORs. Bungee-cord Snakes have smooth loops in garish colours, Fanbelt Snakes have broad black curves and straight segments, and rubber tarp straps are curved in upon themselves, sporting big S-hooks on both ends.

Retread Alligators: are especially common along superhighways, or they break up into Tire Turtles – they always exhibit a solidly black coloration.

Various kinds of cans or reflectors can appear to be the eyeshine of a mammal in the headlights. Stump Bears, which are distantly related to Stump Bucks, are often just off the road in northern Ontario.  And then there are Bag Owls, Hat Turtles, Dogturd Toads, Trash-bag-cat-corpses, Garbage-squirrels, the Cardboard Hawk Wing, and the Plastic Bag Pigeon. In many areas of New Brunswick most roadkills are Bark Bodies.

Christina Davy “had a good track record of stopping to yell at stupid road-crossing Pine Cone Hedgehogs while working in Europe,” Tyler Hake “stopped for discarded bras at least 3 times because the cup was facing upwards and made me think they were Box Turtles.” Many of us have had to move one particular Rock Turtle or Boot Turtle, “that we mistook for a Box Turtle every night....” (Neil Balchan) from one of our transects, and black tire Skid-mark DORs can often repeatedly appear to be the same spurious species on a  frequently traveled road. For a final bit of good news, discarded paper coffee and drink cups are almost always recognizable before one drives past or over them.

This kind of terminology is not just amusing – recognizing roadkill from a moving vehicle is a very high-speed process, and identification is facilitated by having names for the non-target objects which link with mental search images to reduce the time the eye spends on an object, and to reduce the number of stops made in error. If you've got terms of this kind that we haven't listed here, be sure to contribute and explain them in a comment.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

UPCOMING BOOK - Wildlife on Roads, the Handbook

We're now working with CPAWS Ottawa Valley Chapter and EcoKare International on "Wildlife on Roads, the Handbook, towards a hoped-for release in the spring of 2018. The book is coauthored by Kari Gunson and Fred, with illustrations and design by Aleta.

While we've always been nominally grumpy about the way roads influence landscapes as "the largest human artifact," and about their enormous impact on wildlife populations and the spread of invasive plants, we still use internal-combustion vehicles on roads for our exploration of Canada. Our database currently contains 29,792 on-road records from Pelee Island to Fort McMurray, and from to Haida Gwaii to Nova Scotia (and there may more from Newfoundland and the NWT in 1970s field notes that haven't been entered).

In 1977, when we took the canoe Fairhaven Bay from Vancouver Island to Quadra Arm to fill a gap in herpetological knowledge of the mainland coast of British Columbia, we landed at an old lumber camp: we were able to pitch our tents where we were told the Grizzly Bears didn't visit, and to use a pickup truck to extend the known range of Tailed Frogs, Ascaphus truei, from just north of Vancouver to halfway-to-Alaska.

Our attempts to survey away from roads led us to coin the maxim that "the reason herpetology stops at the limit of roads is because anything else is idiocy." (in 1989, right along the Yellowhead Highway, Fred was able to extend the Tailed Frog's range to almost-in-Alaska).

On that trip for Canadian Nature Notebook we'd been doing our other road ecology thing - marking down locations (in those days odometer readings) for stands of invasive roadside Plants - the now-believed-to-be-alien, Narrow-leafed Cattail, Typha angustifolia, which has since continued its spread all across the western provinces, to the point where it dominates some marshes in Saskatchewan 

Roads actively kill animals, and facilitate the spread of invasive Plants, but herpetology uses roads like physicists use particle detectors, to document both geographic ranges and seasonal movements of their species. We've long used the eddies around bridges and culverts to concentrate shells for the Canadian Library of Drifted  Material and as sampling points in surveys of streams, as we're "doing bridges."

In the 1990s naturalists and ecologists hit upon the idea that (since roads were constructed by fellow Humans) it might be possible to reduce their ecological impact by campaigning to modify the way roads were built and maintained, rather than just regarding them as inevitably destructive natural phenomena. In 1990 Fred and David Tomes surveyed the herpetofauna of the Bruce Peninsula, and while about half of their data was of road-crossing animals, their final report barely mentioned ways of reducing the slaughter - but now Kari strains her back installing fencing which keeps the Snakes and Turtles off the roads there.

In the 1980s and 1990s precise locations of roadkill had to be taken from guessing ones position on a topographic map, and this was very much facilitated in Canada by the presence of the UTM military grid on the maps, which meant that, from a 1:50:000 map, one could record a position within 50 metres. Then in 1995 Global Positioning units became affordable, and suddenly one always knew, and could MARK, one's location as a downloadable waypoint, and looked at a map mostly to see the surroundings, rather than to figure out where one was. On-line mapping resources became more and more convenient and accurate, so that it was soon possible to record a location to within a couple of metres just from a visual memory.

In 2008 a series of meetings, instigated by Dave Ireland, led to the formation of the Ontario Road Ecology Group (OREG) which has been through a series of organizational formats, and is hopefully now setting out to represent the whole road ecology community of Ontario.

Fred waypointing as Adam Zieleman drives during the 2010 'Thirty Years Later' expedition 
- a year when we recorded 1617 on-road observations.
A big inspiration in our move towards road ecology as a science in itself, rather than just a way of studying animal movements, has been the Geomatics and Landscape Ecology Research Laboratory (GLEL) at Carleton University, with their Friday seminars, and their mailing around of pdfs of landscape ecology papers for discussion at these seminars.

In 2008 Fred posted 'Ten Other Questions about Road Ecology' which he felt weren't being adequately addressed in the GLEL or by OREG, and in 2009 he sang the song of road ecology as a scientific dreamtime (this is made into a poem in his darwinian poems book.)

As road ecology became more of a "thing," we got involved in a number of road-centred projects. In 2004 we started "doing the streets," frequent surveys of on-road creatures and conditions on the 267 metres of streets facing land we've occupied in the village of Bishops Mills (3279 surveys to date), and in the first season of OREG Kari calculated a GIS projection of how many forest and wetland-dwelling Animals are likely to be found on every 15 metres of road in Ontario, and we tested her model on a circuit around Leeds & Grenville counties. With Kari we waypointed turtle-crossing signs (which had been erected, without - except for those done by South Nation Conservation - recording their positions), to assess their effectiveness and longevity. In 2014-2015 we worked with A2A on a survey of roadkill and possible mitigation of Hwy 401 through the Frontenac Axis.

...so when this orphaned ms popped up, we've settled down with Kari to use her experience with mitigation and policy, our experience as independent road ecologists and general naturalists, and lots of peer review by friends and colleagues, to put together what we hope will be a useful guide for a citizen scientists who want to get started in road ecology. We will be using this site, Doing Natural History as a repository for data and discussions too detailed to fit into the book, so this is just the first post focused on "Wildlife on Roads: The Handbook."

A spread from the Amphibians section of "Wildlife on Roads, the Handbook"