Thursday, September 01, 2005

Thursday we had abut forty five minutes to kill before we had to retrieve a truck full of Jen’s belongings from my aunt’s driveway and move it all in to her new apartment. My aunt lives in Chestnut Hill, and Jen suggested stopping by the Wissahickon Valley section of Fairmont Park. The weather was beautiful, dry and sunny and only about seventy degrees at ten-thirty when we entered the forest.

Someone had recommended a good salamander stream last weekend, and I wanted to try it out. We had searched for stream-side salamanders in the Wissahickon Valley before, but had found none. I assumed that the streams were too polluted, but my source assured me that there were supposed to be something like seven or eight species in the park, not just redbacks (Plethodon cinereus) - not that there's anything wrong with redback salamanders.

We started up a path along the stream, and I had a hunch about a rotted log next to the path. I have hunches about logs, rocks or other debris all the time. I see something and I say, there’s gotta be something under this one. I’m right probably less than five percent of the time, but I still feel like a genius when I find something.

This log I flipped over, and my faith in my herp hunting abilities was confirmed; there was a bright yellow salamander sitting there next to a monster earthworm. The salamander dodged under the log again. I stood very still and called to Jen to get me the plastic deli container and the camera. I wanted the container to scoop up the salamander and hold it for the picture (salamanders are very delicate and it’s best to avoid handling them), and I wanted Jen to take the picture with the camera.

I was extremely excited to immortalize the moment. I had never seen this kind of salamander before. It was a beautiful buttercup yellow with black spots. It had a long, slender tail, which, as later confirmed by my guidebook, indicated it was a longtail salamander (Eurycea longicaudia longicaudia).

Jen turned the camera on and laughed. The camera had no film in it. It may shock the readers to learn that I do not have a digital camera, and it infuriated me to realize I had forgotten to bring film and had screwed up an opportunity to record a beautiful salamander in an improbable location.

We saw no more longtails, though we did see and fail to catch four two-lined salamanders (Eurycea bislineata), a more-familiar streamside species for me. I’ve found these guys almost everywhere I’ve lived. I’ll write more on how to hunt for streamside salamanders later, but I was gratified to see the streams in the area could support these salamanders, and I was yet again delighted to find herps so close to home and within the limits of the fifth-largest city in the country.

To see some pictures of the salamanders I was too spaced out to bring the film to photograph, follow these links:

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