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.

Advertisements

Salamander Rain

Every year, I wait for the first warm rainy night in April, excited as a kid anticipating Santa Claus. That’s because this is the night of the annual salamander migration. Under the cover of rainy darkness, salamanders come out of the forest en masse and crawl to wetlands and small ponds to breed. It’s the one night of the year when I get to see these ancient creatures doing what they have done for millions of years.

Salamanders 2015

Click to view larger

I recruit a team of hardy souls and go to a spot where a road bisects woods and wetland. Salamanders have no choice but to cross. The traffic is light, but even a few cars can cause a lot of carnage. Flashlights in hand, we patrol the road, look for small waggling objects, and deliver them quickly to the other side. We identify and count the species we see— Jefferson, spotted, four-toed, red-backed, plus spring peepers and wood frogs. On a good night, we may find 20 or more in an hour.

Except this year… the only salamanders I get to see are the ones on this page. That’s because there have been no steady early evening rains, only rain after midnight (and I’m not crazy enough to trade sleep for rain and amphibians). Salamanders have crossed into a new season, and I’ll have to wait a whole year to see them again.