Salamander Migration

You may notice robins in the yard or the first buds on the elms or daffodils ready to pop. But one of the best signs of the turning season for me is when the salamanders migrate. It happens on the first warm rainy night in spring. Sometimes it’s March, sometimes April. But when it rains all day and into the night, that’s the time when several species of salamanders come out from underground in the woods, where they spend most of their adult lives, and head to wetlands where they breed. If you happen to live someplace where roads intersect their habitat, you may see them in your headlight beams, or squished and stinking on an early morning jog. Or, if you’re like me, you pull on your rain gear and head out with a flashlight and help them cross the road.

I used to round up friends and kids to go out for the annual migration. One year I paid my sons a dime for every salamander and frog they found and I had to pony up two bucks each at the end of an hour. My kids are grown now, but when they see a rainy forecast they still text me to ask, Is this the night? Some new kids put up these fantastic signs — I hope they were out there during this week’s rains, soaking up one of the greatest rituals of spring.
Tips & Techniques- Don’t try to draw in the dark in the rain. Take a photo. I began this page with a pencil drawing compiled from two photos. I painted the yellow spots and used masking fluid to save them and some of the highlights. I then did a wet in wet wash of ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, and yellow ochre over the whole thing (the entire painting is just those three colors, with a touch of sap green and quin gold at the end). I used negative painting techniques for most of this, pulling out bits of leaves on the ground and the shapes of the salamanders.

19 Comments on “Salamander Migration

    • Lucinda- I wish you lived close by…you’d be on my “call list!” I’d love to go scouting for salamanders with you.

  1. Lovely, and so wonderful to see the kids’ warning signs! We see red newts, usually. Fortunately, our local forest habitat is deep enough that I don’t see too many getting squished.

    • People mainly see the red newts because they come out during the day. They are juvenile Eastern newts. When they are ready to breed, they change color and become more green with spots. We see them crossing the road, too. Unlike the spotted salamander, they spend their adult life in ponds/wetlands.

      • such neat info 🙂 wish I lived close by to be on your “call list” I like how you don’t hesitate to use photographs — I often do -either because I don’t have the time to sit and sketch or because I know it is a fleeting scene that I want to capture. I have had to learn to ignore comments that it is somehow not kosher ! Love how you have composed this page 🙂

      • Drawing salamanders at night in a bucket in the car has its limits! To be honest, I much prefer drawing directly from nature and then, if I have to, using a photo for reference. But I think we all need to figure out what works best for us and let go of other people’s rules.

  2. I love this page and the story that goes with it. The way you designed the layout, colors, and lettering all fits together so nicely. I have such a difficult time thinking of different layouts and ways to letter around it! Also, your salamanders are rendered so nicely and I like how parts of them blend into the background. So nicely done!

    • Thanks Annie! I usually just jump into a page and let the layout evolve. I started with the middle salamander this time and I had the sense that I wanted the loose wash to spread out behind him. When you see them on the move they do really blend into their surroundings– it takes a sharp eye and some practice to pick them out.

  3. Great rendering of the Newts. So evocative of them. I’m impressed with your olive oil tags. Nice!

  4. these are more beautiful than any Oscar gown.. I would love to see what you would do with our Santa Cruz banana slugs….sandra

  5. Despite where I live, I have never seen a salamander in nature. I love the idea of you helping them across the road. I would volunteer if I was closer!

    • They are pretty elusive so it’s a rare treat to see them moving on rainy nights. I’d put you on my “call list” if you lived closer!

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