Thursday, August 24, 2006

I’ve been avoiding posting about herping trips outside of the Philly area. My idea has been to save them for the winter. I’ve been getting out enough locally enough to write about, and I figure I’ll welcome having the material in February when everything is frozen solid.

That said, the past week I did not get out much locally. So, I’ll write about a concept that hit me when I was up visiting cousins in Massachusetts. This incredible new concept is aquatic herping.

Our cousins took us out to a swimming pond near their house in Conway, a small town in the Pioneer Valley, not far from the Connecticut River. The landscape is a mix of small farms, houses on mowed or wooded lots, and patches of forest. The pond in question is filled by a spring that feeds out through a short length of wooded brook.

Jen’s cousin Jeff had commented that some kids had found a snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) earlier in the year back in some reeds, and we came ready to do some herping. We found some common frogs and salamanders around the edges, and then I strapped on my goggles and got in the water.

I did not find any turtles, but I did have a blast catching newts (Nopthalmus v. viridescens) underwater. I thought that these little aquatic herps would be faster and more agile than I am, but for the most part when I went after one, I caught it. I enjoy swimming laps for exercise, but there was something far more exhilarating about chasing something down under water.

I couldn’t stop talking about it the rest of the trip, and while we weren’t able to get back to the pond before we headed back to Philly, I see no reason I can’t do this locally.

I’m always stopping at the water’s edge when amphibious herps are getting away from me. A turtle jumps in the water, and I shrug and keep walking. The newt dives for the bottom, and I look for another to photograph. I need to hit the woods prepared to go in after them.

There are a lot of tactical questions for me to resolve about catching herps in the water, but early feedback from other herpers on the topic is promising. Apparently this is a great way to grab basking water snakes (Nerodia species). These usually drop right in the water as soon as you get close, but they are reportedly easy to approach from the water. This is also a great way to observe snapping turtles and stinkpots (Sternotherus oderatus) under water, and one guy even reported that you can swim up on basking turtles this way and grab them before or as they jump off their logs.

Now for a photo: This is a little garter snake (Thamnophis s. sirtalis) – I think it’s a yearling – I found at Cobbs Creek on August 10th. The temps were in the high 70s at about 8:00pm, and I found it under a small log.

Last, there is a new website for an extension of the mostly-concluded PA Herp Atlas Project. They need data on 36 relatively rare herp species, and the website makes it really easy to submit your finds: