Saturday, July 26, 2008

Every week when I go running in the Woodlands Cemetery I check the two boards that I've found around the edge of the grounds. This morning (Saturday July 26) I started slowing my pace as I approached the location of the first board, but it was gone. I doubled back to make sure I hadn't passed it by accident, but it wasn't anywhere; someone had picked it up.

This is not the first time they've done this. Board number one used to be another board (great for finding brown snakes last fall and this spring) until it disappeared, at which point board number two became board number one. I was a little miffed at its disappearance, but really I can't fault the Cemetery for taking good care of the grounds; no one else will appreciate discarded boards like I do, and the caretakers' job is to keep the place looking nice in a conventional sense.

Luckily board number two (the new board number one) was still there (perhaps because it's hidden by weeds?), and this morning I lifted it to reveal a garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis).

She looked an awful lot like one I caught there a couple times in the summer of 2006, but then a lot of the bigger garter snakes look very similar - dark muddy green background, light stripe down the back. I noticed a scar on the tail of this one, and next time I find a hefty adult female garter under that board, I'll check her for scars.

It was a relief to see her, for some reason I can't put my finger on. Maybe it's the summer doldrums; the lack of snakes is getting to me. Maybe it's because I went on two dismal Jersey road cruising trips last week and needed a success.

The first cruising trip was to the Barrens with Scott and Eitan (bad influences) for the usual Fowlers toads (Bufo fowleri), carpenter frogs (Rana virgaticeps), and one southern leopard frog (Rana utricularia) that was the best looking thing all night. Carpenter frogs, by contrast, are astonishingly ugly. I know I shouldn't say that about any animal, but with their vague dark stripes down the back and mottled muddy green background, they look like bad watercolor.

What really killed the trip for me was one of the DOR black racers we found (Coluber constrictor). It was way over on the shoulder of the road, and it was totally intact and immaculate except for the imprint of one tire smashed through its midsection, pasting it to the blacktop. Someone really swerved out of their way to kill that beautiful, utterly harmless snake, and it's hard to feel good about humanity after that. I peeled the poor guy off the road and tossed him off into the weeds. We debated why herpers tend to remove DOR animals from the road surface; I know I do it out of respect for the animal. Sure it's dead, but nothing deserves the indignity of people repeatedly running it over for sport.

The second trip was on Wednesday to Salem County, where no one ever goes, but where I'm interested in learning the terrain. I think it's got a lot of potential. My idea had been to hit the roads after the storm or before the storm, or maybe in moderate rain, but we got caught in sheets of rain and couldn't see the road, let alone any critters.

1 comment:

Catbird said...

What a great blog! I found it through your excellent piece in the Inquirer about the late lamented Brown Snake hibernaculum; it's nice to know I'm not the only one who realizes there's lots more nature in Philly than pigeons and starlings.

I'm a birder who got my first snake bite in May when I tried to pull a Jeff Corwin -- using a stick in an attempt to secure the head of a partially run-over Black Snake just inside a state park in Delaware. Poor thing easily pulled free, lunged, and grazed my right index finger. So I went to Plan B, scooping it up with said stick and placing in the undergrowth off the road. My wound didn't hurt as much as seeing such a beautiful critter injured.

I've bookmarked your blog, and look forward to reading more.