Wildlife Hotspot: Riding Mountain
Once a month, we’ll feature a wildlife hotspot. We want to aid you with getting ‘the shot’ in order to help rekindle your love for nature, to enable you to become inspired by wildlife and to equip you to become an advocate for a wilder world at home.
This month’s focus:
Riding Mountain National Park’s Salamanders
Riding Mountain National Park is almost exclusively a park loved by Manitobans, but this shouldn’t be the case. It might be one of the finest, accessible wilderness areas in Canada and the Parks Canada rangers running this protected area are simply amongst the best you’ll find anywhere.
From lynx to black bears to moose to wolves, Riding Mountain has incredible diversity, well documented sightings, and helpful staff willing to aid you with getting your perfect shot.
Initially, we came to the park in search of beavers and had incredible luck in and around Omminik Marsh, near the townsite of Wasagaming on the picturesque Clear Lake. But for the last several years, what keeps us coming back for more is the migration of eastern tiger salamanders.
While the amphibians are not uncommon in the park – including in the aforementioned Omminik Marsh – the best location for viewing the mass migration is just south of the protected area on Highway 357.
It takes about twenty minutes to reach the highway from Wasagaming, but the salamander hotspot begins the moment you start east along 357.
For about five kilometres, you’re in dense salamander country. Hundreds live on both sides of the highway in the ponds and marsh land that parallel the road.
In late summer, every year, the salamanders begin a mass migration to mate, forcing the beautifully marked amphibians to cross the highway.
We’ve written about the corresponding tragedy of taking in the migration. While many survive their slow walk across the lightly used 357, many more don’t. And until a system is built to help facilitate the migration, what has become one of the species’ last true strongholds will continue to be threatened by cars who can’t avoid squashing the tiny animals that, often, cross by the dozen.
Part of the photographic experience for us is helping the salamanders cross. We pick them up by the tail and move them to their destination safely. It might seem silly, but for us it is the least we can do.
To photograph the salamanders, a macro lens is extremely helpful. Larger salamanders are the size of a human hand. Smaller ones are as big as a finger.
What makes matters more difficult is that the best time to view the salamanders is during a rain storm or just after. Be sure to carefully plan your visit around the weather and, if you can, select a time when the rains will have moved on, but the salamanders are still visible.
Though shots of salamanders as they just leave the paved road surface have worked out well for us, our favourite is trying to predict their movements coming in or out of the grass. It requires great patience, but it’s well-worth the effort to capture images like these.
Eastern Tiger Salamanders of Riding Mountain
Location: Highway 357 and Highway 10, Manitoba
Accessibility: First 5km of Hwy 357, 20km south of Riding Mountain National Park on Hwy 10
Photographic Focus: Eastern Tiger Salamander
Best Time: Anytime, but particularly during or right after a rain storm
Season: Late August
– It’s heartbreaking to find salamanders that have been killed by cars, so please drive slowly and, if you see one cross, help it to the other side.
– There are many salamanders – and other amphibians – inside of Riding Mountain National Park, but this is easily the most sure-fire location.
– A macro lens is highly recommended for capturing the salamanders and light is usually not a problem.
Tags: canada, clear lake, eastern tiger, ghost bear photography, manitoba, national parks, nature, riding mountain, salamanders, simon jackson, wildlife hotspots, wildlife photography