Yellowstone: Mary Bay

2014-07-07 08.32.38

My field partner and I had fantastic luck this year with finding the unfindable. Seriously. Just like the salamanders hanging out in the Observation wetland, Mary Bay was even more of an unexpected surprise. There are only a handful of wetlands in the Park that have all four amphibian species and we were able to add Mary Bay to that list…it took us a few tries though.

The bottom portion of Mary Bay is filled with small thermal pools that dry up quickly and one very large pond that is so mucky around the edge that you can barely survey it. It’s actually pretty gross in there because it’s all filled with animal poo. The geese (as you can see in the photo above) and swans fill the wetland up. In fact, everything likes to poo in there. I’ve never seen so much tadpole poo in my life. I was scooping up large clumps of it. Heck, I even had to take a station break and go in the trees nearby. That never happens. Hailey’s Comet is more common.There’s just something very bowel releasing about the place. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with the fact that one scientist in the Park is convinced that if Yellowstone erupts, Mary Bay will be ground zero. Coincidence? I think not!

This is our annual July 4th survey. It’s usually scheduled for a half day and always takes a full day. Oh Mary Bay… The smaller sites were finished quickly because most had already dried up. The puddle-sized ones were bursting forth with tadpoles, adults still calling and attempting to lay even more eggs and metamorphs pouring out onto the dry ground. It was glorious. By the time we hit the Bay of Poo, the sky opened up and completely drenched us. Not the best way to begin an 1.5 hour survey! Because of the quicksand shoreline we were both only able to survey a small portion of the wetland. Despite this, we were convinced that we had seen spotted frog tadpoles, a load of chorus frog tadpoles, two fleeting salamander larvae and no toad tadpoles.

Later on, I spoke to Deb about what we’d seen and she mentioned being surprised that toad tadpoles are never found there because it’s thermal and they dig that scene. I began to question my amphibian identification skills at that point because, in retrospect, the thousands of small, dark tads clumped together along the shoreline seemed like they could have been toads. Toad tadpoles love to hang out in large congregations and are very curious. They won’t swim away when you approach them. In fact, they’ll usually swim right over to see what’s up. Other species definitely don’t act this way. At the time, we just couldn’t get that close to really tell for sure. So since we were returning in a few days to survey the dreaded upper sites, I agreed to give Poo Bay another looksee. Well, low-and-behold after much heated debate, we determined that the clumps of spotted frog tads were in fact, toads. By the hundreds! Thus, we were able to add Poo Bay to our small list of sites containing every amphibian species in the Park.

Surveying in Yellowstone is definitely like a box of chocolates…just not as tasty.

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