Sunday, February 26, 2006

This blog is about my herping activities, about how I wander around (mostly in and near Philadelphia) looking for reptiles and amphibians.

There is another side of my hobby: I also keep snakes (in the past lizards and turtles too) as quasi-pets. I won’t write about keeping herps in this blog, tempting though it may be, but I thought I should explain what brought me to Hamburg, PA Saturday morning. I was there for the bimonthly reptile show. This is an event at which vendors set up tables to sell the critters they’ve bred and imported as well as to sell anything one could need to support captive herps: cages, bedding, water bowls, frozen rodents, fruit fly cultures, etc.

I am not a big fan of the captive herp industry (I prefer to buy from and sell to other hobbyists and to adopt unwanted herps), and as usual I left feeling a little nauseated and unsettled. I had the frozen rodents I had needed, and I headed for the hills for a cleansing hiking and scouting session.

There is a line of Pennsylvania state game lands (SGLs) and state forests on the ridges to the north of I-78 in Berks, Schuylkill, and Lehigh Counties. These are the closest mountains for Philadelphians, as far as I can tell. Several species of herps reach the edge of their range there. Others are more abundant than in the piedmont and coastal plain. Timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) live in those hills as well as redbellied snakes (Storeria), both of which are target species for me this year.

I scouted around those ridges on Saturday, and I had a great time. The forecast had been for a 50% chance of rain and snow, but the skies ended up blue and sunny, so that in spite of the 45 degree weather I did not need to bundle up.

I had brought a dip net in case I found some promising vernal pools. I found some great pools, but as you can see from this photo, there wasn’t much I could do with the net.

The ground was dry where it wasn’t frozen solid, and I blame the lack of moisture for my total failure to find any redback salamanders (Plethodon cinereus).

I also wonder how to herp the boulder fields on these hillsides. The south-facing sides of these ridges feature these steep slides of rocks and boulders.

These look perfect for timber rattlers, as well as ringneck snakes (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii) and copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix) but how do I search for them when the rocks are too big for me to lift, and there’s nothing beneath them but more rocks and boulders when I can lift them? I pick one up, and all I see is all the gaps between the boulders underneath.

I only found one herp on my outing. I explored a new hillside in one of the SGLs and then tried a streambed. I picked up a streamside rock and saw a little tail wiggling in the water underneath. I gently scooped it up and put it in the container I had brought along. It was so tiny, about three quarters of an inch. Note the two parallel rows of little spots down the back – these mark it as a baby northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus).

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