Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Our Last Toad

In the fall of 2016, we fitted 30 toads with transmitter belts and were able to track 11 of them to winter hibernation sites.

Toad 57 was our last toad to have her transmitter belt removed on March 24th 2017

A huge THANK YOU to all of the toad volunteers that helped us catch toads or allowed us to access private land in 2016-17! We have removed the transmitter belts from each of our toads and all of our field work is now complete.  

The next step is the data analysis and write-up phase of our project.  We are excited to dive into all of our data to learn what toads are cueing into when they select hibernation sites, or if there is anything at all. As development pressure and traffic levels increases in the local area, understanding what toads need for winter hibernation can help private land owners and land managers protect critical habitat features. We will keep everyone posted on our results.  Watch for another public presentation in fall 2017.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016


The Vancouver Island Western Toad Research Team is in need of more toads. We need a sample size of about 15 toads for our winter hibernation study and we are only half way there. We hope that you can keep an eye out for adult toads (at least 8 cm or 4” body length) when driving in the Sahtlam area or out in the yard, especially in the first 3 hours after dusk. The forecasted rain for this weekend could bring some out. If you find a toad, please place it into a tall bucket with a secure lid and email duncantoads@gmail.com or call Shari at 250-597-7473.

Thank You 

Toad 33, aka "Peko" 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Year 2 is under way

We currently have 6 toads on the air  for year 2.  Thanks to some great volunteers, we have two toads with transmitters for the western side of our project area.  It will be exciting to see where these animals choose to spend the fall months and ultimately where they choose to sleep for the winter. 

Karen with toad 35 aka  "Sparky"

Karen found toad 35 on her front porch late one evening and put him in a cat carrier for us. This is our first toad in the western side of our project area, the Cowichan Lake Rd and Stoltz Rd neighbourhood.  If you live out in this area, you might see us out locating Sparky to follow where he moves. On his first check in, we found him happily tucked into a nice warm pile of old grass clippings.  He hadn't moved too far in the first 24 hours.

Toad 35 "Sparky" enjoying the morning sun in a compost pile

                                                        Toad 35 being released after getting fitted with a transmitter.                                             

Toads Wanted!

We would love help finding toads this fall.  If you are the kind of person that does not mind going for a walk in your neighbourhood at dusk or in the dark, we would love to meet you at our public meeting on Sept. 20th at the Sahtlam Fire Hall at 7 pm.  We will give more details on what to do if you find a toad and where to look. Hope to see you there.

Friday, 19 August 2016

2015-16 Project Results Summary

For those who are interested in knowing what we have learned so far about toad winter hibernation, below is a summary of the results from our 2015 report.

Executive Summary from 2015-16 Report
Western Toads (Anaxyrus boreas) are listed federally and in British Columbia (BC) as Special Concern (S3/S4). On the south coast of BC, where rural and urban development has been extensive Western Toad breeding populations are relatively rare and patchily distributed and they are believed to be in decline. The BC Western Toad Provincial Working Group prepared a Draft Provincial Management Plan for this species, citing urban development and transportation corridors as medium and high threats for the species respectively and identified hibernation sites as a knowledge gap needed to assess population viability and improve best management practices. The overall goal of this multi-year project is to identify important terrestrial habitats on eastern Vancouver Island in order to contribute towards habitat protection and improved connectivity. The objectives of the study for 2015-16 were to locate and describe Western Toad hibernation sites, determine whether hibernacula are communal, and determine the distance between important habitat features such as hibernation and breeding sites.

Our study site is located in the Cowichan River Valley west of Duncan, on Vancouver Island within a mosaic of land uses (forestry, housing developments, agricultural land, etc.). We captured toads via two main methods—volunteers telling us when they had a toad on their property and by conducting night road surveys. We fit adult toads with BD-2 radio transmitters, some of which had temperature sensors. Toads were re-located every 4 to 7 days throughout the fall and winter. In fall 2015, we set remote cameras at three hibernation sites from 2014-15 to see if the sites would be re-used. We also set cameras at 11 hibernation sites in winter 2016 to capture toad emergence and to determine if the sites were communal. Lastly, we set microclimate data loggers at hibernation sites to record air temperature and relative humidity and we measured habitat variables at three spatial scales at 16 hibernation sites and 48 random sites.

Of the 23 toads fitted with transmitters in fall 2015, we tracked 13 toads to 12 confirmed hibernation sites. Toads moved extensive distances in the fall, and many moved in the direction of / closer to their breeding site for hibernation. As a result of these extensive movements, toads crossed at least one public road during their migrations. Most of the toads (62%) utilized the area around their hibernation structure prior to hibernation or post emergence for many weeks (within 25 m). All of the toads hibernated in some type of edge habitat, of which a component included trees. More than half (54%) of the toads we tracked in 2015-16 hibernated in a 10-15 year-old clearcut that contained a mosaic of old logging roads, small wetlands, and tree patches. The majority of toads (75%) utilized wood structures (relatively large logs and stumps) for hibernation, while others used banks or mounds that appeared to have a woody component. The toads went subsurface for approximately 7 to 15 weeks from late Oct. to late Jan. Underground temperatures at toads fitted with temperature-sensor transmitters were on average 3°C warmer than surface air temperatures recorded during daytime re-locations, except during the mid-point of the hibernation period (mid-Dec to early Jan). Wildlife camera data confirmed that at least one of the 2015-16 hibernation sites was used by at least four toads, most hibernacula were used by other amphibian and mammal species, and one site was also used by a reptile species.

The improved and continued success of this toad habitat project is due to the attention we have given to increased public awareness (media coverage, blog, public presentation, mail out fliers), improving and expanding our techniques (e.g., capturing toads earlier in the season, including habitat data collection, increased awareness around the timing of toad activities), and vigilant monitoring.

A Very BIG Thank-you 

To all of the volunteers who helped capture toads for us in fall 2015, and to those private land owners that gave us permission to access their property to track toads and/or to collect habitat data in 2015/16. This research would not be possible without the generous support that you have given. 

Toad 31 post hibernation check up and release.

Hibernation site for Toad 23 (aka Benny).

A closer look at the hibernation site in late February reveals Benny's face.

Toad 23 thinking about getting out of his winter's bed now that spring has sprung.

If you haven't had the chance to view our previous posts, we invite you look back through our blog to see  many more toad photographs, read up on our research  from 2015/16, and watch a video on the Cowichan Valley toad hibernation project.  You are also invited to join us for a presentation on our project on Tuesday September 20th, 7 pm at the Sahtlam Fire Hall.

We hope that you will continue to support us in this upcoming last year of the project, starting in early Sept. 2016 and running through to the end of March 2017. This will be the last year of our study. If you find an adult toad between Sept.-Nov. please contact us (duncantoads@gmail.com).

Saturday, 9 January 2016

We have followed 13 toads to their winter hibernation site 

 We can still use your help

Toad 14, aka Mobbie, in a underground tunnel in early November

The winter weather and cold temperatures have sent our toads underground, away from the frost and freezing conditions.  We successfully followed 13 toads with transmitters to their winter hibernacula. We are continuing to monitor the toads' transmitter signals on a weekly basis to record how long the toads remain at their chosen site.  

Jared checking the micro climate conditions at the location of the strongest signal for toad 30.

While our toads enjoy their winter nap, we are busy collecting information about the area around their hibernacula. We are collecting information such as ground cover, canopy cover, the number and size of trees, coarse woody debris, proximity to roads, forest or water. Through the use of statistics we can attempt to determine if there are any key features that attract the toads to their chosen winter rest site. However, in order for the results to carry much value, we need to have a larger sample size than 16 sites (12 hibernacula from 2015 and 4 hibernacula from 2014).  This means that we need to collect the same information at each hibernation site plus 3 random sites per hibernacula (16 x 3 = 48 random vegetation plots).

In order to avoid biasing the location of our sample plots, we generate random points in our study area through the use of GIS (Geographic Information Systems).  In some instances these points fall on public land such as the centre of a road, in a BC Park or on Crown land.  Other times the points fall on private property and we need permission to access that property for our study.

Sometimes we are lucky to know the land owner and they have given us permission to go on their land and collect our information.  Other times access is more difficult because we do not know who owns the property. We have mailed out a flyer to these addresses in hopes that the land owner will contact us with permission to visit their property.  We are currently trying to line up access for the last 15 sites so that as soon as the snow melts, we will be able to finish the remaining vegetation plots and then dive into the statistics.

You can help us by talking to your neighbours about our project and directing them to look at our blog.

For more background information on why we are completing this project as well as good examples of how we actually follow toads and complete vegetation plots,  watch the short video below.

Attempting veg plots in the snow.  It didn't work that well.

Friday, 25 September 2015

14 on the Air, Still looking for a few more toads

Toad 21 being released after getting fitted with his winter transmitter
It has been a busy start for our telemetry study this fall.  In the past 2 weeks we have found 17 toads and fit them all with small temporary transmitters.  Two toads have slipped their belts and were nowhere to be seen when we went to locate them for one of their weekly check-ins.  All we found was the transmitter hiding in some vegetation.  We have also removed one belt from a small male, as we need to try and even out the distribution of our study sample throughout the project area.  We had three toads on one property and we decided to only follow the larger female at this site. Because this female is much larger than some of our males, we have been able to fit her with a 9 month transmitter which will hopefully take us through the winter and well into spring, as long as she does not slip out of her belt too. At present we have 14 toads on the air and we are continuing to search for more adult toads for our hibernation study. Our goal is to have 15 on the air throughout the fall and winter.

We would like to give a shout out to some of our Toadally Awesome volunteers.  

Finding toads for our study is a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack. There are several things that make finding toads a little challenging: they are mostly nocturnal, they prefer to hunker down during the day under vegetation or in other hiding places; they have excellent camouflage and they are relatively small compared to other wildlife.  Last year we found 8 toads by driving along roads on dark, and usually rainy nights.  This year we have been fortunate to have some great volunteers looking for toads on their properties and calling us when they find one.  We have been able to fit these animals with belts and then release them back where we found them.  It will be interesting to see if the toads from peoples' gardens behave any differently from those that we have found associated with road edges.

Special thanks goes out to Darren and Wendy, Rose, Morris and Corrin, Lisa, Arlene, Cherie, Helen, and Susan (don't worry you will find one Susan).

Here are some of our volunteers 
with their toads

Arlene with toad 22, aka "Teddy"
Toad 22 was found on the road in front of Arlene's house on Sept.18th.  He moved to the back of Arlene's property and has spent the past 7 days in an old, decaying stump under a large maple tree.  A perfect place to hide during the day and forage at night.  

Cherie with toad 24, aka Prince Charming

Toad 24 was found by volunteer Cherie, while she was out working in her beautiful garden on Sept. 21st. We fit him with a transmitter that afternoon and released him where he was first seen.  We went back to Cherie's garden on Sept 24th to check on Prince Charming and he hadn't moved far, less than 5 meters from where we released him.

If you see a toad in your yard, please catch it and place it in a large bucket with a tight fitting lid with air holes.  Make sure to have some moist leafy vegetation in the bottom of the bucket.  Call us right away and we will come to see if your toad can be part of our study. We are especially interested in toads from the western side of our study area (see the map below).