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Ministry of Environment

Recording and Reporting Observations

Great Basin Spadefoot (Spea intermontana) Photo © Leah R. Ramsay.
No reproduction or distribution without permission.

Below are some guidelines for making accurate observations in the field and recording the pertinent information. The hints and instructions below are provided in the order that they appear in to Online Incidental Wildlife Observation Form. However, there are only four information fields that are mandatory: Location of observation, date and time of observation, the species observed, and the number of animals observed. These are highlighted in red below.

Location of the Observation – UTM Coordinates

This is the most precise coordinate system and the one used by all the Geographic Information System (GIS) databases in B.C. UTM stands for Universal Transverse Mercator, a system of world coordinates that are expressed in metres.

Our data system only allows entry of UTMs from the NAD83 system. National Topographic Maps will have an entry in the lower right hand corner that states either “North American Datum 1927” or “North American Datum 1983.”

UTM coordinates are expressed in terms of a Zone (7 to 11 for British Columbia), an easting (a 6 digit number), and a northing (a 7-digit number).

You can find your UTM location in several ways:

  • Read UTM coordinates off a topographic map.
  • If you have a GPS unit, or a cell phone that can function as a GPS receiver, you can set it to display your location as a UTM coordinate. You will need to make sure the GPS unit is set to use “NAD83” as the map datum (see above). If you have a UTM in NAD27, please indicate this in the Comments field.
  • You can select your location using the mapping tool in the Wildlife Incidental Observation online reporting page.
  • If you have the location information in Latitude and Longitude, the coordinates can be converted to UTMs using online tools (e.g., http://www.rcn.montana.edu/resources/converter.aspx). A Google search will provide a choice of websites that can make this conversion.
Land Information

Describe the dominant plants or any special features at the location.

Often identifying the plants requires specialized knowledge. However, even noting whether the site is open or covered in shrubs, herbs, deciduous trees (like maple and oak), coniferous trees (like fir and pine) or invasive weeds could be valuable in the future when the site is revisited. Similarly, one could note how much of the surface of the pond or wetland is covered over with vegetation, and whether this vegetation is below the surface (submergents like bladder wort, millfoil), floats on the surface (like pond lilies, pond shield), or breaks the surface (like cattails and bulrushes).

Landowner Type

You can pick from a list of choices if you know this information or leave it blank. If you select “Other”, provide information in the comments space.

Landscape Context and Condition

These two fields give you the opportunity to describe the location where you saw the animal in more detail, such as level of disturbance, the presence of roads, deforestation etc.

Alive or dead?

This online data entry site can also be used to record information about amphibian and reptile mortality due to road traffic, diseases, pollution and other threats. If you are reporting a dead or injured amphibian or reptile select the “Was it a sick, dead or injured animal?” option and it will take you to Wildlife Health reporting site when you click on the “Next” button. Please note: If you need immediate attention for the animal or animals or if there is urgent need to deal with the threat, please call your nearest Ministry of Environment or Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations office and request immediate attention. 

Information about Observation

For incidental observations, select date from the online tool.

For long-term observations being entered into the Excel templates, it is very important to enter date using the exact format specified below. The date may not span days. For clarity, on your field forms do not use a 2-digit month or year format. A reliable format is dd-mmm-yyyy (e.g. '7 Jun 2008' or '7-Jun-2008'). When entering the date into Excel ensure that Excel interprets it as correct date information.

Species Identification

You can learn how to identify amphibians by visiting our Who’s Who page, where you can look at a list of frogs, toads, and salamanders in your region, read fact sheets about them, use the step by step identification key, and listen to frog and toad calls. The BC Reptiles website maintained by the Thompson Rivers University provides information on reptile identification and natural history much like the BC Frogwatch website provides information on BC Amphibians. If you are still unable to identify the animal in the field, take photographs from different angles and email them to BC Frogwatch for identification.

When entering incidental observation, the only way to fill this field during online data entry is to use the “select” button so that the correct common and Latin name and code are entered. Typing in a generic word like frog or toad or salamander or boa will bring up a list of choices that you can select from.

When entering data in to the Excel template for the long-term monitoring, copy the code for the species exactly as it is from the options provided by double clicking the column header of the “Species Code” column

Determining sex, age and life-stage

For most amphibians and reptiles, it is extremely difficult to determine the sex of the animal without capturing it and examining it closely or dissecting it. In a few species, males may have  vivid colouring during breeding (e.g., yellow throats on male Bullfrogs). Another hint to determine sex is that only male frogs and toads call during the breeding season. However, outside of the breeding season, it is difficult to determine the sex of the animal. Enter “Adult Unknown Sex” in these cases.

Determining if an amphibian or reptile is an adult or a juvenile is also difficult. There are varying guidelines based on size. If the animal looks about adult size (based on information in field guides), then assume it is an adult and provide comments about how you assessed this. If you are unsure if it is an adult or juvenile, enter “Unknown age/unknown sex” in the online data form and provide an approximate size measurement in the comments field. Determining the larval stages in amphibians is much easier as tadpoles look very different from frogs and toads but this could be trickier for salamanders. In most cases, if there are bushy gills on either side of the head for a salamander, then that is the larval stage. However, some species like the Northwestern Salamander reach sexual maturity (adulthood) in the larval form(gills still present, due to phenomenon called paedomorphism. If in doubt, take a photograph and send it to the BC Frogwatch email address for clarification.

In the case of amphibians, we would like you to specify whether you saw eggs,  egg masses, or egg strings. If there are black dots or wiggling embryos within the jelly layer, then it is an egg mass or string. If possible, enter the approximate number of egg masses or strings observed in the comments column. In some species like Oregon Spotted Frogs and Wood Frogs, multiple egg masses can be laid one over the other in a communal mass, and adult Western Toads can lay tangled strings of eggs. If possible, please estimate the number of discrete egg masses or strings that you can see and write in the comments column how you estimated the number and any errors that might be associated with your estimate. Amphibian eggs are very difficult to identify. Please take a clear photograph and send it to BC Frogwatch for identification if necessary.

Estimating number of animals or eggs
Northern Leopard Frog Photo © Heather Waye.
No reproduction or distribution without permission.

Estimating the numbers of animals or eggs  present can be a tricky task when there are hundreds or thousands of animals as in a tadpole aggregation or during mass migration of baby toads. One way to count them would be to select a small area (e.g., 1 meter by 1 meter), count the number in that area, then estimate the area over which the animals are found and multiply the two numbers. For example, if there were 25 animals in one square meter, and the animals were spread over a 50 square meter area (5 meters wide by 10 meters long), then there are approximately 1250 animals. If you prefer to estimate area in feet or inches that is fine too. If the animals are moving around or they are very dense it might help to take a photograph and then count the animals in the photograph. Valid data entry requires that you estimate a number, even if it is very approximate. If you do enter such an estimate, indicate in the comments field/column how you estimated your number.

Because populations of frogs and toads can fluctuate widely from year to year, it is useful to have some idea of approximate numbers and how those may change from year to year.

What was it doing?

During online data entry you will be asked to pick from a long list of activities that the animal may have been engaged in when you observed it (e.g., basking, feeding, etc.). While filling this data field is not essential and a number of the choices do not apply to amphibians and reptiles, some activities like basking (turtle on a log in the pond), courtship (calling frogs), travelling (snake crossing a road) etc. will provide useful information.

Details about how you detected the animal

During online data entry you will be asked to pick from a list of choices related to behaviour or animal sign related to your observation. The only ones of relevance to amphibians are the “Seen” or “Heard” options. Some of our amphibians have distinct calls and this can be used as a survey technique to detect the presence of these amphibians. If you heard frogs or toads, it is useful to distinguish the call intensity with the following categories: individual calls can be counted, calls not overlapping; some individual calls can be counted, other calls overlapping; there is a full chorus, calls continuous and overlapping, individuals not distinguishable.

Upload Photos

You can upload up to four photographs of the animal or location. File formats such as jpegs, gifs, bmps, tiffs are all acceptable. Larger files take longer to upload, and so choose an optimal file size that provides sufficient clarity for identification but that does not take too long to upload.