Saturday, December 01, 2007

We were disappointed by the weather on Monday. I had come in early to work so I could leave early, and when I left for work it had been raining, just as I had hoped.

A few days before I had noticed the Monday forecast for rain all day and into the night. I’d been keeping an eye out for that kind of weather, so I had emailed the regulars to see who might be up for a tiger hunt. We wouldn’t need any elephants or rifles, just flashlights, ponchos, and sufficient herping drive to wander around at night, in the woods, in the cold November rain.

Last year I missed the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) breeding season, and this year I’m determined to hit it. Chris reminded me that the tigers were breeding at our target New Jersey site last Christmas and that when he had recently been to the site, the vernal pools in which they breed were still dry. Still, I figured a solid day of rain might fill the pools a little and bring a few of them out. (there's also a possibility of visiting a site in Delaware where the tigers are known to breed in December).

That rainy day was not to be, however. After the morning rain the fog rolled in over my Center City office and, according to three different internet weather sites, over our tiger site. It rained again in the evening, but we agreed to call off the trip and keep our hopes up for some rainy spells in December.

Since then, I've managed to read a few academic articles about tiger salamanders in New Jersey, and they're supposed to breed more in January than November, so I think Chris is probably right - that we should be especially attentive as we get into December and that it's a little early right now.

While I’m on the salamander theme, at least I’ll highlight an interesting find while we were out at Scott’s cabin the second weekend in September, making this the third and final installment on that trip.

A rocky creek runs through Scott’s family’s property, and when Jen thinks herping, she thinks of flipping rocks in a creek for salamanders and frogs. Scott and I were probably overly focused on finding timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) and wood turtles (Glyptemys insculpta) out in the state game lands, because Jen landed the only lifer of the trip for us just in back of the cabin.

We were finding a bunch of two-lined salamanders (Eurycea bislineata) and mountain dusky salamanders (Desmognathus ochrophaeus) along the creek bed – over thirty of each for the trip. They actually look kind of similar; both are small salamanders with yellow backs. For a day I thought we were just catching only two lines at first, but then I took a closer look at one and noticed the eyes bugging out a little too much, the more muscular cheeks, the back legs that were a lot bigger than the front legs, the shorter body, and I said, “you know what…” Here are the mountain duskies. They're not the flashiest of salamanders, but dig how they sparkle in a camera flash:

I’m embarrassed to say I don’t have many photos of two-lined salamanders. These are photos from past herping seasons. Note the more slender, elongated build and the rounder head with the shorter snout and smaller-looking eyes.

Like redback salamanders (Plethodon cinereus – of which we also found dozens), I see them so often I think “no need for another photo of a two-line” when that’s not the case. I only notice that I hardly have any pictures and that they’re all crappy when I’m writing up the blog post later.

Jen reported finding another type of salamander, though, a much bigger salamander that she chased from rock to rock for a few yards before it got away under something she couldn’t lift. My mind shuffled through the few possibilities, and I decided she must have seen a spring salamander (Gyrinophilus p. porphyriticus). These are big (up to 9 inches) salamanders that live around creeks and springs (no surprise there) and that feed on salamanders and other amphibians. All those two-lines and mountain duskies are dinner for the big one that got away from Jen.

The morning after Jen reported the big salamander we were both out there hunched over and scraping our knuckles chasing salamanders when Jen shouted out that she had another big one. This one didn’t get away, and she handed it over to me in a plastic container we prefer to use when handling amphibians. This was not as big as the one that got away, but it was still a big salamander at around six inches.

It got me wondering about the lunker salamander that’s still out there in the creek, gobbling up the little salamanders and taunting the clumsy humans. We’ll get him next year.

I'll end with a few photos of other species we found. There were lots of frogs hopping into the creek and into a couple ponds on the property. Some were bull frogs (Rana catesbeiana), some were northern leopard frogs (Rana pipiens), some were probably pickerel frogs (Rana palustris), and some were green frogs (Rana clamitans melanota). Here's a small green frog I found near the creek.

Here's a small slimy (Plethodon glutinosis) salamander Jen turned up.

Last, here's an oddly colored redback I found. It looks like it's missing its red pigment, so it's more like a yellowback. It's a crappy photo, but as the only salamander I've seen like that, I figured it was important to post it.