Saturday, December 19, 2009

It's looking like about ten inches of snow outside right now as I write this. The total could be around 16 inches. I got no herping finds to report, and no trips to contemplate with this kind of weather. I'm not quite ready to do an end-of-the-year post (I could still find something cool next week, right?), but luckily there is something new to post about: House of Herps.

This is a blog carnival, which, for those new to the concept, is a periodic compilation of blog posts on a related topics. It was organized by more-general naturalist bloggers and birders, something that took me aback at first. Herpers suffer from a powerful mix of paranoia and low self esteem: what normal people could possibly take an interest in the objects of our psychopathology? They must have some ulterior motive. Are they trying to steal our spots?

Once I got over the initial sense of being weirded out, I had a writing crisis - what interesting herping topic could I come up with in the middle of winter? I volunteered my post about Herp Atlas submissions (see below), but on reviewing the other posts in the House of Herps' first edition I've realized the obvious: the audience is not other herpers, but rather people with a broad and genuine interest in nature, so they'll be fascinated by topics that jaded herpers have given up on. I was going to write about scouting for January, but hell, maybe I'll do redback salamanders (Plethodon cinereus).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

December 13th, 2009. Herp Atlas Day

1:43 PM: I don't herp for the paperwork, but that's what I find myself doing right now (or at least the electronic equivalent). A glance out the window shows me that it's still raining and a quick check of tells me it's 44 degrees. That's pretty miserable weather to be outside, so I can't say I'm missing anything. Still, I am in full procrastination mode right now rather than simply pulling together the notes from my herping records database, pulling the photos, grouping them with satellite images, and sending them to the hard-working New Jersey biologists who keep track of what we catch around the state. I did some this morning, went for a swim, and now I'm back home watching football (I swear I can watch football and do this at the same time. Really!) and working on the atlas submission.

Taking action as a citizen scientist should fill me with pride! We should all be reporting our finds to our local herp atlas databases. So many of the species we catch are so poorly documented that even our records of catching them, hearing them call, seeing them slither out of our grasp can add to our knowledge of their local abundance or scarcity.

If you don't believe me, consider that a year and a half ago I learned that a record I had reported to the PA Herp Atlas project was a county record for a salamander species. Even cooler, at the DVHS meeting on Friday evening a fellow herper reported that the state (PA) will be funding a study of a copperhead population he discovered in the Philadelphia suburbs. These are the kinds of minor advances that we can accomplish, but of course we need to report them.

How can we weekend, citizen biologists find what the professionals have not? Aren't these guys with advanced degrees in biology combing the woods and wetlands? Haven't they been doing it for hundreds of years? Maybe not. I remember hearing about a conversation a fellow herper had with a NJ state biologist. We sort of figured that the biologists spend a lot of time out in the woods and swamps doing, well, biology. Oh no, complained the biologist, he spends his time reviewing plans for strip malls and subdivisions and negotiating with land developers.

Of course this long discussion is itself another instance of me procrastinating. Ugh, back to work. I promise to check back in only after I've finished the NJ report.

4:21 PM: I feel like I've just finished some kind of really long workout - a long, tedious, crampy workout that made my eyeballs hurt. My New Jersey Herp Atlas reports for the whole season - March through September - have now zipped through cyberspace to somewhere in the Garden State. My season in New Jersey (where I herped a lot less than in PA this year) has now converted from an obsessed herper's recreational activities to a socially useful activity.

Now, it's time to do PA :-(

5:20 PM: Done!!! Pennsylvania's was a lot easier. For one thing, the Herp Atlas asks for submissions on a lot fewer species than New Jersey's and asks for less information on each find. Pennsylvania's atlas just collects basic information on species of conservation concern, while New Jersey's atlas collects information on everything. I also did a better job of submitting finds throughout the year for Pennsylvania. Maybe it's the extra information they ask for in New Jersey, but I put it off all year saying, "I'll take care of it in the winter, when I won't be herping anyhow."

Now the sad reality sinks in that there are still a little more than two weeks left in 2009, and I'm not likely to find anything else of interest until the calendar rolls over to 2010.