Thursday, August 04, 2005

Since I haven’t been getting out to go herping much in the Philly area, I’ve been fantasizing about Brazil. We’re going to Brazil for our honeymoon. We cashed in one hundred and fifty thousand frequent flier miles between us, and as soon as we had secured our tickets I ordered the only guidebook I could find for reptiles and amphibians of the region: Reptiles and Amphibians of the Amazon, by R.D and Patricia Bartlett. Luckily we are planning on spending a few days around Manuas, otherwise the guide would not be quite so useful. The rest of the time we’re planning on being at the beach in the northeast of the country, probably around Salvador, and I have no idea what we’ll be finding around there.

I’m not sure what I’ll see in the Amazon either, but I’ve been flipping through this guidebook like it’s a catalogue, as if I get to order up five puffing bird snakes (Pseustes species), two eastern forest striped pit vipers (Bothriopsis bilineata bilineata), fifteen clown tree frogs (Hyla species), a variety pack of anoles (Anolis species), and one of those really weird Amazonian egg eating snakes (Drepanoides anomalus).

A far more experienced herper than I once told me that the rainforest is disappointing for herping. You expect the trees to be dripping with boas and a bushmaster (Lachesis muta) chilling next to every stump, but it takes effort and luck even down there. The Bartlett’s claim that they see forty species of herps on average on their guided herping trips down there. We’re not going on a guiding herping trip, so does that mean twenty species? Fifteen?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I went out this evening to a hillside in the Wissahickon Valley section of Fairmont Park. I was not expecting to find anything, but I went anyways. It was still hot, well into the 80s at 7:30pm when I went. No snake would be at the surface, and neither would any salamander. Even the toads would be unlikely to be hopping around, though they have surprised me before. Still, I enjoyed visiting this spot. The trees here grow well spaced from each other. Rocky outcroppings and sheets of moss fill the ground in between. Just on the other side of the hill you can barely walk through the thick underbrush of spicebush (one of my favorite native plants; maybe because I can identify it) and devil’s walking stick (one of my least favorite exotic invasives), but here it’s easy to step from rock to rock between the trees and pick the path you want, not the only path that’s open. It's forest that makes you feel sheltered but not claustrophobic.

I have had great luck on this hillside in the past. I have found dozens of redback salamanders in the Spring and in the Fall, and I found a young milksnake a few months ago. I’ll write about that milksnake in another posting, but it’s brought me back several times to look under the loose rocks that litter the hillside for more. Today, though, the milksnakes were nowhere to be found, and the salamanders were all underground, hiding in the damp, cool cracks that run far back into the hillside.

Sometimes I go out herping even when it makes no sense to do so. Reptiles and amphibians are moderately predicable in their habits, and two of the most reliable predictors are temperature and moisture. On a hot, dry day I would expect nothing to be close enough to the surface for me to find, and I was correct. Still, I don’t think it was a bad idea. I have been surprised, and while it’s a blast to find herps, it’s an extra-special blast to find herps when you’re sure you won’t find any. Does that make any sense? Factor in the fact that all my weekends lately and going forward through August have been taken up by weddings, bachelor parties, or events related to my own upcoming wedding, and I went herping when I could.

Next week I'll try to make it out to the Tinicum. The wildlife refuge is full of frogs, and I need to try out my new net.