As winter releases its harsh grasp on the land flowers start to bloom and life springs up around the terrain. This might be one reason for calling this season spring. Although in my opinion the more logical explanation would refer to the spring in your step as you take a stroll through the park and feel the warm sun against your back. The sun gives you the much needed dose of vitamin D you have been lacking during the dark winter months which some say is needed for happiness. The sun is a vital part of life for all species. We might think that light is the most vital for plants due to photosynthesis, but we often forget about some of the smaller species that call the park home.
The Western Terrestrial Garter Snake (Thamnophis Elegans Vagrans) is one species in special need of the sun. We often reply to snakes as being cold blooded, perhaps a better term for this would be ectothermic. Ectothermic means that the inner heat generated by the species is relatively small for the total amount needed for the organism to function. Because of this they require additional heat from the environment. Due to this reason we see ectothermic species such as the Garter Snake basking in the sun.
While the Western Terrestrial Garter Snake is not poisonous it can still cause problems if you play with it. As a child I would play with the Garter snakes only to find that they would leave a “present” in my hand as I held them. This is a safety mechanism used by this particular snake. This gift is not one that you will wish to keep, it is extremely smelly, rather disgusting, and usually washed off immediately. Due to this reason it is usually best to not disturb the snakes if you spot one, but leave it alone so it does not get hurt and you do not get any special gifts.
Many people associate snakes to evil in myths. Movies make snakes even more intimidating referring to large pits full of snakes that the hero must escape and other such events. While these experiences have shaped our feelings about snakes it must be realized that like most animals, snakes are more afraid of us than we are of them. While attempting to get a picture some of the snakes of this area I came across a Garter snake lying in the water. My companion was holding my camera and standing on the gravel bed directly across from me I asked him to toss me the camera. I caught the camera and looked down once more to find the snake completely gone! I had no idea where it had gone to. During the two second interval in which I took my eyes off the snake it had seen the shadow of the camera fly over and completely disappeared. The predators snakes face on a daily basis cause them to be very wary of any other living creature, especially ones that throw stuff over their heads.
Another ectothermic species found in the park is the Columbia Spotted Frog (Rana Iuteiventris). This cute little frog enjoys the slow moving water, and low growing vegetation of a riparian zone. The park makes a perfect habitat for the Spotted Frog with the many marshes formed by the dredge. This particular frog has been used as a model species for the effects of habitat fragmentation. This means that it is a species that can survive the habitat being fragmented or cut off from the original habitat. They have been able to study the effects of this change in environment using this frog like an indicator for the healthiness of the environment.
While some may say that the Columbia Spotted Frog is common to this area, it must be noted that the area in which the frog is common is very small. The distribution of this species in the Columbia River basin is mostly Northeaster Washington, Northern Idaho, with just a few small areas in Eastern Oregon. This being said we are very lucky to have a few of this neat amphibians in our park for our visitors to enjoy.
These cute little friends are only two of the many different species that call the Sumpter Valley Dredge State park home. Along with great history, neat animals, and friendly rangers the park has lots to offer.