Saturday, January 10, 2009

It looks like it's time for the Best of 2008 post, as much as I hate to admit it. I'm not quite ready to put "9" at the end of "200_" but I'm also not ready to face all the herping I didn't do, all the critters I didn't find in 2008.

I didn't find any milksnakes (Lampropeltis triangulum) in Philadelphia, at least not any alive. Scott did find this one dead and many-times compacted into snake jerky.

At the beginning of the year I decided I'd like to spend more time in Cobbs Creek. We turned up some garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) at the start of the season:

but I never made it out for my grand walk up the length of Cobbs Creek's Philadelphia stretch.

Now that's not saying I didn't get in a lot of quality herping.

I started the year the right way, with a visit to some breeding spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) and wood frogs (Rana sylvatica). As cold, wet, and an unpleasant as the outing into a cold, rainy March night may be, this is one of those trips every Philly-area herper should do to kick off each year.

Here's a shot showing how pretty spotted salamanders can look by daylight (we found this one in July):

We got in a good early spring spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) trip with friends:

... and then managed to find spotted turtles in a magnificent and enormous marsh in the rolling hills of farm country to the west of Philadelphia, a region I had planned to target at the beginning of 2008.

(me with a trap and some painted turtles - Chrysemys picta)

(a northern water snake - Nerodia sipedon)(snapping turtle - Chelydra serpentina, then lifted by Simon)

We found a lot of other critters out there, and we look forward to another year of deeper herping and spotted turtle population surveying on the property.

In general I managed to keep out of the Pine Barrens, a smashing success in my general turn to the north and west. On one of my three or four trips out there Eitan spotted one of the true prizes of the Barrens, a hognose snake (Heterodon platyrhinos):

And earlier in the day we'd spent time with female diamond back terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin):

Eitan and I also headed into the mountains of Pennsylvania on a May trip in search of black ratsnakes (Elaphe obsoleta), redbelly snakes (Storeria occipitomaculata - one of my targets for 2008) and timber rattlers (Crotalus horridus). We found none of the ratsnakes or redbellies, but we did find a bunch of timber rattlers, majestic even if they hadn't had their first sheds yet and were still dusty from hibernation.

In the heat of the summer I went a'turtling. I was searching for some of our non-native turtles - map turtles (Graptemys geographica) and spiny softshells (Apalone spinifera), but found neither. I netted and trapped oodles of stinkpots (Sternotherus odoratus), painted turtles, and I managed to net a big snapping turtle.

(Here's a trap full of painted turtles and stinkpots.)

(Here's a painted turtle)

At the end of the summer Scott, Josh, and I took a herping road trip to eastern North Carolina. I'll be posting about that trip in the coming weeks (something to look back on from the depths of February), but here's a shot of me with the greatest eastern kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula) I've ever seen.

Funny enough it was in the fall that I hit it big with timber rattlers:
(and one little copperhead - Agkistrodon contortrix - as found, photo by Eitan)

Last, I'll wind up the discussion of 2008 with one of the most exciting herping projects I've ever started (which is saying a lot - I've started a lot of projects, but can't say I've finished a ton of them) - the West Philly brown snake research project. I've started marking snakes at two locations, the idea being to learn more about the demographics of at least a couple populations and maybe answer some interesting questions about how little snakes get by in a big city.

Here's a shot of the pants that produced so many brown snakes this fall:

... but that's not all! Last year I ended with a parade of box turtles (Terrapene carolina). This year, a parade of stinkpots!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Last night I dreamed of copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix). It was one of those herper dreams in which everywhere I looked I saw more snakes, my excitement building as I realized this was the best herping day of my life. Most of the snakes were northern water snakes (Nerodia sipedon), but then I looked again at a couple of them, and lo and behold, copperheads!

It was a fun dream, but that happy sweet feeling I had when I woke up, fuzzily still thinking I had just seen some really cool copperheads, turned to bitter frustration when I looked outside and remembered that it is early January. I haven’t seen a copperhead since October, and I won’t see one again at least until April – more than three months from now.

Probably not by coincidence I was looking at photos of copperheads and timber rattlers (Crotalus horridus) last night. The images lingered until my dreaming brain, through whatever bizarre rules that govern dream production, yanked them back out for a fantasy. My dream probably thought it was doing me a favor, but I’m not so sure.

December was hard. I did find some amphibians in Georgia over Christmas, and I’ll post those soon, but we’re hurting. Scott is frustrated, I’m frustrated, I’m taking advantage of the lull to write a lot and take care of other tasks in my life that I otherwise neglect for herping, but this much frustration this early in the winter does not bode well.

Jen and I went on a little hike in the Wissahickon on Saturday. It’s hard to call a hike in forty degree weather a herping trip, but I did turn over some boards, stones, and logs in a place I sometimes see long-tailed salamanders (Eurycea longicaudata), but all I found was half-frozen mud.

Maybe some proper scouting will cure this bug. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the weekend.