Saturday, February 16, 2008

I head for the blank spots on the map when I’m scouting. You can’t always see abandoned green space when you’re looking at street maps, but you can see where the streets aren’t. In a town with a declining (mostly declined) industrial base like Philly, those blank spots usually indicate the weedy, overgrown wasteland I’m looking for.

On Sunday (February 10th) afternoon I had planned to explore some of the blank areas near the confluence of Cobbs Creek and Darby Creek in far Southwest Philadelphia and neighboring Delaware County.

I’m not sure how well you remember Sunday afternoon, but after a sunny morning, the temperature dove into the 20s, swept along by 20 mph+ icy gusts of wind.

Jen and I canned the idea of hiking around for an hour and a half, and we mostly scouted from by car. We headed west on street after street to where they dead ended or curved around at the blank spot on the map. We were pleased by what we found.

First, there’s a lot of green space back in there. Some of it is scrubby floodplain forest and dense banks of phragmites reeds – what I expect to find along Cobbs Creek – but some of it was mowed park with a bike path running through it. I found a small hill right south of where Cobbs Creek runs into Darby Creek, and it struck me as weird in a couple ways – first I couldn’t figure out what a hill was doing there, and second it looked like it was covered with phragmites reeds, which I usually associate with wetlands. They might have been some other kind of reed-like grass, but even if they were, I still expect to see a hill covered with trees. I’m betting it’s an old landfill site. If anyone reading this knows, please contact me.

Here are a couple photos – one of the path heading into the reeds, and one of some nice boards that have garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) and brown snakes (Storeria dekayi) (in the spring) written all over them.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Last Sunday (the 3rd of February) we went out scouting out in the western side of our area. We saw some impressive wetlands, but I was disappointed by the reach of suburbanization.

I can’t say I was surprised, and it makes perfect sense now that I think about it; the radius defined by how far I feel like driving to go herping will be the same as the radius defined by how far some people feel like commuting in a large metropolitan area.

What I’m getting at is that we saw a lot of well-groomed hobby farms and gated subdivisions, but not much in the way of collapsing barns or abandoned, overgrown fields. It may just be that there is nowhere like that within about an hour and a half of where I live (West Philly – close to Center City), because there are just enough people who are happy to commute about an hour and a half.

We did find some nice wetlands. Here are a couple shots – first of a big, open marsh. This is great habitat for lots of amphibians, turtles, and a few aquatic snake species.

The second is a large vernal pool that could be full of spotted salamander and wood frog eggs in a few weeks. I hope to come back and check.