Saturday, August 07, 2010

What's not to like about quiet, green, public, open space with lots of snakes and salamanders? So what if we're sharing the space with thousands of dead people. Readers of this blog might recall my love of herping in Philadelphia's cemeteries - in particular Mt. Moriah Cemetery and the Woodlands, both in West Philly, and both pretty close to where I live. Mt. Moriah is a 15 minute bike ride, the Woodlands about 5 minutes.

The cemeteries come from a common tradition: back in the mid 1800s when Philadelphia was just starting to reach beyond the Schuylkill River, these bucolic, beautifully planted estates spread over rolling hills were billed as peaceful, wholesome places to bury the loved ones and visit them on easy trips from the crowded city.

Mt. Moriah has had the poor luck of having its surrounding neighborhoods get kind of sketchy, at least on the Philadelphia side (half is in Yeadon in Delaware County. I don't mind that very much; even the deplorable practice of dumping trash in the cemetery (come on, who the hell would dump a toilet in cemetery?) makes for cover for me to search under for snakes and salamanders. That said, it's been getting out of hand lately.

Whoever takes care of Mt. Moriah has apparently brought a dumpster up there to work on the trash, but that dumpster has been there for a couple months along with the piles that seem to be about half of a demolished house. I had a really hard time getting to my prime brown snake (Storeria dekayi).

I saw evidence of other wildlife. Here's a weird scene - a weeks-dead skunk with a small pile of poop. I have read that foxes, which I have seen there, like to poop in prominent places as a way to claim territory. I wonder if there is any significance to the fox choosing the skunk remains for its latest statement.

I did find one of the old roofing shingles I like to find snakes underneath, but I had no luck.

Otherwise the plants of late summer had taken over. Here's the path to one of my spots, nearly closed off by Japanese knotweed.
Some sections were better kept than others.

Others were solidly vegetated.

I did like this butterfly even if it wasn't a reptile or amphibian.

...and I appreciated this mockinbird's perch.
...and I kept an eye out for fruit opportunities. These grapes should be good in a few weeks.

...and these choke cherries were great right about now (actually, I probably missed the tree's peak a couple weeks ago).
Still, no snakes.

Today I tried out the Woodlands, much better maintained than Mt. Moriah.

I was on my way home from the farmer's market when I decided to swing by. Here's my trusty steed loaded down with veggies:

A nice corner of the cemetery where I find brown snakes and garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) had been taken over by mulberry saplings:

I squirmed my way back there and started looking under the chunks of a downed hackberry tree. I found mostly the usual annelid suspects:

...but finally under a choice log - set in weeds, near the old stone wall...

I felt a distinct sense of euphoric relief to find what I was looking for. Here's the brown snake:

I let the snake go and went back to my other love, choke cherries!

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