Thursday, October 21, 2010

I might be rationalizing myself into a herping triumph with this one, but here goes.

Remember the spring? Remember when the rains started and the frogs started calling in loud, horny choruses? One of my repeated memories of spring (happens every year, so the experiences all sort of blend together) is walking through such a chorus, surrounded on all sides by load frogs peeping, trilling, honking away (depending on the species) and not able to spot a single one. They're there, assuming Scott hasn't played an elaborate practical joke on me using dozens of tiny, perfectly camouflaged speakers, but they're tucked into the weeds and fall silent as soon as I get close, playing on my greatest herping weakness - my lack of patience.

The worst of the spring crypto-callers (for me at least) is the New Jersey chorus frog (Pseudacris triseriata). Where I hear them they tend to call from the mossy skirts hanging from emergent shrubs in seasonal pools, and up until recently I had never laid eyes on one, even though I had heard scores of them.

Jen and I had taken a trip down to a beach on the Delmarva Peninsula - an early fall getaway to take advantage of the cheaper prices and smaller crowds, but of course I had to look around for critters. We took to a nearby wooded park (where we ran into another Philly-area herper in the parking lot - small world) that looked absolutely perfect for spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata): holly and oak, greenbriar, and seasonal wetland just starting to fill up again.

I think we spotted one basking on a log with a group of painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) - the bottom-most turtle in this shot:

We heard plenty of green frogs (Rana clamitans) hopping into the pools as we went. Here's one that hadn't quite spooked yet:

We rolled every log we saw, targeting marbled salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) but finding none. These chunky salamanders, dazzlingly patterned with metallic silver on black, breed in the fall, the females laying eggs at the dry edges of vernal pools and guarding them until the water rises to submerge the eggs and allow them to hatch.

We struck out on the marbleds, but did gain more solid proof that we were in spotted turtle country (damn raccoons):
We struck out one more time on the way home. We had stopped at a parcel of land where Scott and I have seen oodles of marbled salamander larvae in the winter as we looked for tiger salamanders.

I kept catching glimpses of little creatures hopping away in the leaf litter overlaying the wet, spongy bottom of a large vernal pool. 'No, not grasshoppers,' I thought to myself, but had the damndest time getting a good look. I'd see the motion and then couldn't find the critter. After letting a few go with a shrug (then back to looking under logs) I pursued one and came up with this:

See it?
Here's a closer look:

I have to say I was impressed at the elegance of the little guy. I might just be inflating my opinion to compensate for all the effort I have put into this moment over the repeatedly failed stalking sessions, but I enjoyed my very first look at a New Jersey chorus frog.


This month's House of Herps theme is "Bring on the Rain," which doesn't just make sense in a Northeast United States theme of waiting for the fall rains that bring out the tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) but in a South African sense of waiting for spring over at Mainly Mongoose. Dig Ted MacRae's stunning tiger salamander.