Saturday, July 23, 2005

Lately I have not been getting out to go herping very much (haven’t been writing much either). I have been traveling a lot, and the time I’ve got has been dealt out between extra hours at work and wedding-related tasks and celebrations. I’m not getting married until the end of October, mind you, but it’s already keeping me from getting out. In the spring I was hitting the woods at least a couple times a week. Now I feel lucky to make it out once a week to spend twenty minutes hunting for worms, and the lack of activity is driving me nuts. The weather doesn’t help either. I don’t like wandering around outdoors when it’s in the 90s, and neither do most herps. You’ll find maybe some frogs and toads hopping around where it’s wet, but that’s about it.

I have yet to take up road cruising – driving around at night when the herps are moving and trying to catch the ones that try to cross the road, but that would probably be more productive. Maybe if it’s been raining and I know I don’t have to wake up too early in the morning I’ll head out over the bridge to Jersey and try driving around the Pine Barrens. Am I too lazy? I could claim environmental concerns keep me from road cruising – all that gasoline you burn driving around all night.

This Tuesday I spent all of twenty minutes near Cobbs Creek looking for some worms. It’s not too hard to find nightcrawlers there – the really big Chinese ones. A lot of people don’t know that nightcrawlers in this area are exotic invasive worms (see, a fact that takes away any qualms I have about feeding them to Shorty, my shortheaded garter snake (Thamnophis brachystoma).

Anyhow, I was out there getting worms after work, and I heard the bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) calling. It was around eight o’clock, and I’m not sure when they started, but it made me feel like I had found something. You’ve probably heard bullfrogs – they rumble out a deep call that sounds kind of like “jug-o-rum.” ‘Bullfrog’ seems like the right name for them. They have the same kind of awesome, bulky presence as a large bull. If I had to come up with a new name, I might call them hog frogs – think of those gigantic hogs as big as oil drums. Bullfrogs eat any moving creature they can fit in their mouths. One of my coworkers put some bullfrog tadpoles in the pond in her back yard along with the fish. Now there are just two bullfrogs – one on each side of the pond.

I was helping clear invasive exotic plants near the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center in the Spring with a team of AmeriCorps volunteers when one of them found a bullfrog. The beast completely filled her hand, and its fat gut brimmed over the sides. It just sat there, letting itself be paraded around, almost proudly, delighted to show off just how fat a frog can get. Now that frog’s sitting in the high grass by the water and bellowing into the night.

Monday, July 18, 2005

I apologize for not having posted in a while. I was in San Francisco for a wedding, and the days before that I was busy working to prepare for being out of the office for two days.

Not that I have anything exciting to report. We went out last Saturday to a state park in New Jersey and found nothing but a shed snake skin. I think it was from a water snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon), but it was hard to tell. I guess I could have taken it home and counted scales to be sure, but that seemed like too much effort.

The herping accounts you read (or at least the ones I read) are about herping successes. People usually don’t take the time to write about how they drove out to a beautiful location, walked around for a few hours, bent over every thirty seconds to look under something, and only found worms and bugs. That, however, is what happens a lot of the time, and a lot of the rest of the time you only catch a glimpse of a snake slipping into a hole or hear a splash of a frog making its getaway. I’m not sure how much worse I am at this than everyone else, but I’m pretty sure that not finding anything is pretty common.

I’m sure people (maybe yourself included) wonder why this nut likes to spend his time catching snakes, turtles, frogs, and other creepy crawlies. I think people should be wondering why this nut chooses to spend so much of his time not finding snakes, turtles, frogs, and other creepy crawlies.

Like the luckless fisherman on a the water, I do try to make it about the beauty of nature and about being outside. Many times I give up after a few hours and turn from herping to just hiking. Being outdoors in a place not made of concrete, asphalt, or mowed grass does make me feel free and content in a way I forget about completely until I feel it. This hedging my bets, however, probably reduces my odds of finding herps, since I often go to beautiful places with the thought of hiking if my luck is bad, and the beautiful places aren’t graced with the illegal dumping sites where it’s so easy to find the herps.

I'd like to say I'm as happy as I could be when I'm out there gasping at the majesty of Appalachian valleys or feeling myself melt into the velvety green of a forest after a rain shower, but then I'd be lying. No matter how awestruck or sublime my mood, it is always improved by the dowdiest garter snake, my ten thousanth redback salamander, or even the splash of a frog I didn't see.