Sunday, June 04, 2006

We kept finding cute little northern brown snakes (Storeria d. dekayi) this weekend (June 3rd and 4th).

Jen flipped the first one Saturday under a board in the Mount Moriah cemetery, a large and depressingly run-down graveyard on either side of Cobbs Creek Parkway a couple minutes south of Baltimore Ave.

We had been collecting earthworms for my ringneck snakes along the Creek, and once we had as many as we needed, Jen suggested the walk in the cemetery. It was getting towards dusk, and the clouds left over from the day’s rain were painted a spectrum of sublime pinks and oranges. I love cemeteries for walking or jogging - wide open green spaces with no traffic and majestic old trees.

We had gone for walks a couple times in the section of the cemetery on the west side of the parkway (and had found a few redback salamanders – Plethodon cinereus), but this was our first exploration of the east section.

The walking was lovely for the first twenty minutes or so, but there wasn’t very much to look under, so the herping was pretty subdued. The east section of the cemetery had a lot less trash dumped in the overgrown plots than the west side. This is, of course, a good thing – dumping trash in a cemetery is about as sleazy as it gets – but it made for less artificial cover for herps to hide under.

Jen had walked a little ahead of me; I think it was while I was frowning at some broken headstones. She knelt down to turn something over and then shouted. I came trotting, and when I reached her she picked the board back up to reveal a brown snake.

This one had a reddish cast to it, and I think it might have been getting ready to shed. More interesting, though, was its tail, which ended in a healed-over stump. It seems to have barely escaped from something a while ago.

I have been studying the Google Earth satellite map of Philadelphia, and I headed for some promising green patches along the Schuylkill in Southwest Philly on Sunday.

I rode my bike down Woodland Ave. and then Lindburg Ave. to 63rd St. My plan was to head north, trying each numbered street to the east. The area at the end of 63rd St. looked great from outer space, but when I got there I found a gate. Google Earth can show you the ground to a resolution of a few feet, but that’s still too indistinct to make out chain link or barbwire.

I tried 61st St. and had better luck in the vacant industrial lot at its end. I locked my bike to a twisted heap of metal in the middle of the lot and started turning over trash with my cultivator. There was a lot to flip, but it only took me about five minutes to uncover this little girl.

The next lot I tried was too thick with waist-high weeds to see the ground, and I didn’t see much trash, so I gave up and hit the road again.

I really, really, really wanted to check out another lot north of there along Eastwick, but it was next to several blocks of decrepit rowhouses. I felt exposed, and I’m still a little afraid of looking under trash where I could imagine someone keeping his stash. I worry some teenage dealer with a gun will ask me what the hell I'm doing and then shoot me when I try to explain that I'm looking for snakes. Which sounds more likely, looking for snakes in a vacant lot or looking for his heroin?

I found another good, overgrown lot, this time well shielded from view by some warehouses, but there was a tow truck parked next to it with the passenger door open and the truck audibly idling. I don’t know why someone would jump out of a running towtruck into an overgrown vacant lot (a herper would have shut off the motor), but I didn’t want to find out, so I checked out Bartram’s Garden.

To the credit of the staff there, there was no debris or trash to look under, and I found nothing under logs or rocks. I did have a lovely time walking around, though. Finding snakes is a lot of fun, but flipping rotting boards, rusty car parts, and other trash can be a little disgusting after a while. Strolling around a clean meadow and well-tended gardens left a sweeter taste in my mouth for the last short leg home.


1 brown snake each day