Monday, July 14, 2008

We’re in the summer doldrums right now. It’s hot, it’s dry (drier than the spring at least), and the herping ain’t easy. Our fine scaly and slimy friends are done breeding for the year, so they don’t have to be out and about to find mates, and they’re probably eating a little less, so there are fewer reasons than in the spring for them to be anywhere we can find them.

Some of our easiest herping techniques are undermined by the weather: snakes have little incentive to bask in the open or under thin layers of cover (tin, plywood, etc.) when the air temperature is warm enough for them to be active anyhow. It’s harder to spot anything on the ground when the ground is covered by lush, leafy shrubs and chest-high grass. The vernal pools that hosted lots of amphibians and spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata) are now just dry spots on the forest floor or patches of mud.

This is not to say that there’s no herping to be done. Road cruising, my least favorite herping technique, suddenly becomes attractive when most of our quarry switches to nocturnal behavior, although high gas prices might make driving back and forth for hours hard to justify. Turtling looks like a lot of fun in summer heat – I’ll take any excuse I can get to splash around in the water. Some flipping makes sense: big chunks of stone and concrete can preserve cool moisture, and I often find brown snakes (Storeria dekayi) at dusk under cover, even on the hottest days.

Take advantage of rain if you can. Kid Chelonia has had great luck on rainy days at dry vernal pools; the water brings out spotted and other turtles that have been hiding in burrows or in the mud for weeks. Box turtles (Terrapene carolina) absolutely love warm rainy weather. Hit the woods in an afternoon storm and you’re likely to see some of these guys munching on slugs and earthworms or soaking in a puddle.

On the July 4th weekend Jen and I made it out a couple times. On the Fourth we managed to flip some trash at the PIDC’s West Parkside Industrial Park – my favorite brown snake spot whose hibernaculum was bulldozed last fall. We found this female, a hopeful sign even if she was in a different section of the industrial park.

We also made it out on a scouting/hiking trip. We were targeting PA hognose snakes (Heterodon platyrhinos) but set our hopes on low. It was our first time to the area, and hognose snakes are notoriously tricky to find. We got some exercise but no snakes, although the sandy habitat looks perfect, and I saw some suspiciously snakey burrows in the sand.

It was a wet day, so we thought it would be easy to catch a few worms to feed the stinkpots on the way back to the car, but we were wrong. The ground was still dry in most places, and it took us ten minutes to find a wetter patch of ground with some worms at the surface. I absentmindedly kicked at a small chunk of wood on the ground and was shocked to see this pretty little guy.

This is a spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum). It’s not unheard of to find them in the summer, but these are generally rare finds past their spring breeding season, proof I guess that it’s still worth getting out in the summer doldrums.