Monday, July 04, 2005

Yesterday I had a decent outing to the Pine Barrens. I found no snakes, but I did find a box turtle, which can brighten up any trip to the woods.

I started off at my favorite wildlife management area in South Jersey. This was one of those times (my second) that I decided to wake up at 4 in the morning so I could be out in the woods and fields as the sun just began to warm the ground. Once we get to the summer, when daytime temperatures start climbing into the 80s, many snakes spend their days deep in secure hiding spots that I can’t find or get to, and only come out when it’s not as hot – at night or at dusk and dawn. So, I’ve tried going out before it gets too hot. This worked well the first time I tried it (more about that outing later), but this time I didn’t have a ton of luck.

It was beautiful, of course. There was a misty haze in the air when I got there, and the light was soft and colorful. I saw a rabbit just as I got out of my car, and I startled several white tail deer as I made my way across the first field. I got to watch them bound away into the woods. I don’t know the names of all the wildflowers, but there were a lot of them to stop and look at, and the bright purple thistles especially caught my eye, standing high above the meadow (stupid of me not to have taken a picture, now that I think about it).

I found nothing under the boards and other debris I flipped. I tried the amazing black rubber mat, under which I had found a large worm snake (Carphophis amoenus amoenus) three trips in a row, but this time the snake was gone. I did see some eggs floating in some of the larger puddles – I think they’re Fowler’s toad (Bufo fowleri) eggs, but I’m not sure. I’ll post the photos from the trip in a future post, and by then I hope I’ll have the eggs identified. After an hour and a half I went back to my car and started wandering. I ended up on a stretch of the Batona trail, where I was accompanied by some very persistent deerflies.

Even with the deerflies buzzing circles around me and biting my head, I stopped for the blueberries. The wild blueberries are really sweet and have a lot more flavor than you get in the store-bought blueberries. I had a fabulous time eating blueberries on an otherwise fruitless herping trip last August. I quickly got over the horribly city-boy fear that they were not blueberries but rather some kind of poisonous berry that looked and tasted exactly like blueberries, and I gorged myself. I'm glad to see they're in season again.

I found a couple Fowler’s toads, got some photos of some green frogs (Rana clamitans melanota) in a puddle, and just after the biting flies had convinced me to turn around and head back the way I came (stopping frequently for more blueberries), I found a box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina).

There might be nothing in the woods cuter than box turtles, and if you like them you had better enjoy the ones you see now, since they’re going extinct from habitat degradation and over-collection. Whatever you do, don’t take a box turtle home as a pet – they’re very hard to keep alive more than a year or two, and they’re going extinct partly because of all the people who take them home for pets. If you want one really bad, you can adopt one from a rescue or buy a hatchling from a reputable breeder.

Box turtles apparently can only find each other by sight. Thus they can only mate if they happen to run into each other. If too many get crushed by cars driving home to the new subdivision or if too many people take them for pets, population densities drop too low for enough males and females to find each other. Too few mate, too few eggs get laid, and the population spirals down to extinction.

You’ll still find the occasional adult crossing the road or in a puddle after a summer rain, but since they can live for more than thirty years, you’ll be seeing the last generation long after the population has been doomed. I don’t take pictures of every redback salamander or toad that I see – they’ll be around for a while – but I always take pictures of the box turtles.

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