Is this the official sign of winter? The brown snakes have given up on a great basking spot and have retreated into their den.
My thoughts do turn to the next event on the winter herping calendar: the breeding of the tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum).
I’m a little worried I missed them already. Every time it rains I wonder if I should be heading out into the wet night with my poncho and headlamp, but each time it’s rained I’ve had plans already. I need to keep a closer eye on the weather and plan ahead.
Until that mild, rainy night when I finally witness a tiger salamander orgy, I guess I’ll post about some trips from the summer. In particular I’ll pick up where I left off on my reports about our early September trip to Scott and Caroline’s cabin upstate.
Part two is about a fruitless timber rattler (Crotalus horridus) trip Scott and I took into a nearby state game land. I’m getting the part about fruitless searching for rattlers out of the way to focus on one of my favorite herping techniques: Flipping rocks along dirt roads in State Game Lands. The rocks I’m talking about usually sit up on the ridge of packed earth along the dirt roads. I assume that they get tossed up there along with the earth when the roads are graded.
It’s barely worth naming this as a technique since any herper walking along a dirt road in the woods, in a meadow, in a marsh, wherever, will be unable to resist flipping at least some of rocks on the way, even if s/he is cruising along pretty quickly.
That said, I’ve learned it’s important to keep from ignoring the rocks along the way as one hikes to the destination Clemmys/Glyptemys spot or south-facing rocky outcropping. So far I’ve found small snakes and salamanders pretty regularly.
I’m probably not going to find large snakes this way, but since some of the snakes I’m still really itching to find are small and secretive, that doesn’t matter so much.
On a recent stop on my way back from a trip for work (October 4th, 2007), I went for a little hike. It was a nice hike but a lame herping trip. It was humid, more cloudy than sunny, and in the high 70s. By the time I turned around to go back to the car I had found all of one redback salamander and had observed some impressive piles of poop that could only have been dropped by a bear (proving that bears indeed…). I finally gave up on herping, thinking of the ride back into town and the traffic on 76. I booked it back towards my car, but I kept trying the larger rocks along the road.
I was finally rewarded with this cutie – a northern ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii). Isn’t the color on his belly fantastic?
Here’s the rock I found him under and a shot of the road.
A month before then, on September 8th and with very similar weather conditions, Scott and I picked up rock after rock as we looked for a rocky slope dropping off sharply to the south that we never found.
What we did find in about an hour of flipping were five garter snakes (Thamnophis s. sirtalis), three of which were new babies, three ringneck snakes, and five shed skins. Here are some of the garter snakes, one of them on its rock, and a shot of the road. Note the loose skin on the adult. I’m pretty sure she had recently given birth, and there’s a chance those babies are hers.
I’ve heard about some other SGLs with supposed populations of redbelly snakes (Storeria occipitomaculata) and smooth green snakes (Opheodrys vernalis), and I plan to take this technique there too in the spring.