Sunday, June 17, 2007

I feel like I’ve been neglecting my local brown snakes (Storeria d. dekayi). It had been a few weeks since my last visit, and that one was just a quickie while driving by. Of course the snakes don’t care; this is entirely my problem, not theirs. The snakes need nothing but cover to hide under and slugs and worms to eat. For them I’m just a terrifying near-death experience. I’m the monster that wakes them up in the middle of an afternoon nap, plucks them up in the air, and then miraculously replaces them without taking even a bite.

I put ten brown snakes through that emotional roller coaster again on Monday evening. I went with John and his girlfriend Aqila. John teaches zoology at a local high school, and he contacted me after he read the brown snake article in Reptiles Magazine. He reported that his students were proud that Philadelphia got some attention in a national magazine, but many were quite blasé about finding brown snakes in vacant lots: “this is news? we’ve been catching them for years.”

In the course of emailing, I had convinced John to take a california kingsnake (Lampropeltis g. californiae – the West coast version of the kingsnakes we find in Jersey) someone had given me. We decided to combine the snake pick-up visit with a trip out to find brown snakes, so around 6:30pm we hit the PIDC land. The weather looked good for brown snakes. The temperatures were in the mid/low 70s, and it had rained only a couple hours before.

Still, taking someone you don’t know well to one of ‘your’ spots is always high-pressure herping. What if you do all that talking and take them all that way, and you find absolutely nothing?

Luckily the brown snakes spared me that embarrassment. The first chunk of concrete I tried hid a fat female.

The second chunk hid two, one of which might have been a male.

A large board we lifted had another two snakes underneath.

From there we walked up the railroad tracks to check out the adjacent land they’ve been developing. There was none of the vegetation with which I usually associate brown snakes, and all the chunks of concrete looked like they had been recently shoved around by earth movers.

When I laid out the options to John and Aqila, ‘we can look around here a little more, or go to the cemetery,’ their eyes lit up and they voted for the cemetery.

So, we were off to the Mount Moriah Cemetery for round two. There we walked around a lot more than we had on the PIDC land, but we found the same number of snakes. I went looking for some boards that produced for us last summer, but the area was completely overgrown by Japanese knotweed.

We got lucky when I tried a small board (about 10” by 10”) under which I had found one plump female last year. I lifted it up, and we saw not one, not two, not three, but four brown snakes! That’s got to be the highest number of brown snakes per square inch I’ve found outside of the hibernacula.

Number five was hiding under an old log. This was a small one, last year’s baby, I think. Last summer I found very few of the little ones, so it was a nice way to wind up the trip.