Saturday, October 28, 2006

What did I want to do on my birthday? Several people asked me that question last week, but I didn’t say “herping,” because that would have made me look a little obsessed, and I’m trying to put a damper on that. Also, I had to go to work, so I had planned to spend some time looking for brown snakes (Storeria dekayi) on Sunday the 22nd.

Unfortunately I ended up getting sick that weekend and was only just getting better on Wednesday the 25th, my birthday. I was still kind of under the weather that afternoon, but I managed enough energy to get in the car and drive to one of my favorite brown snake spots in West Philly for a brief bit of herping around 5pm.

The temperature was only about fifty degrees, but with partly cloudy skies there was enough sun to imagine something basking or catching some heat under the right piece of surface cover.

Rock after rock, and board after board revealed nothing but worms, crickets, ants, and dirt, however, and after twenty minutes I wondered if I was just wasting my time. Sometimes finding nothing under a rock means you’ve tried the wrong rock. Sometimes, though, it means that the critters that day aren’t hiding under rocks; they’re deeper underground or out in the weeds.

I headed up and over one little rise in the field and decided to try a few more trash piles before giving up. Finally I tried an old door, and I found why there weren’t any brown snakes under the other rocks, boards, and logs.

They were all under the door! I’d never seen anything like it! I have dreams like this, where I’m looking at more snakes than I could count, let alone catch, but I needed to take a picture or no one would believe me. So the first thing I did was put the door back down as gently as I could so I could get my camera out. When I lifted the door again, the snakes were starting to move. Some around the edges were starting to crawl off into the weeds, so I started clicking to get pictures of as many as I could.

I wanted to disturb them as little as possible, so after pulling one out for a close up, I left the door. Once I was back at home I counted about thirty snakes from the pictures.

I tried a few more piles of debris and I struck gold again here, a few yards away from the door. There were ‘only’ ten snakes under this one, about half babies born this year, as you can see here.

Brown snakes will hibernate wherever they can squeeze down below the frost line, but when you’re this small, all kinds of stump holes and old cracked foundations with decent southern exposure will do. Still, they often gather together to hibernate, and I’m pretty sure I found a den site. Forty or so brown snakes had crawled over from the surrounding fields, were hanging out at their hibernation site and had spent the warmer part of the day soaking up the heat closer to the surface. Now I know where to look for them first thing in the spring.


40 brown snakes

1 comment:

B.G. Andersen said...

Dude. Happy Birthday!