Monday, April 18, 2011

Here's a quick report on a quick trip in cloudy weather a couple weeks ago, when I had been thinking of just staying in the apartment and doing boring things, but then got the motivation up to check out a small stream near a marsh we like to herp.

Streamside/streambed herping used to be my bread and butter - it's easy and nearly instantaneously-gratifying. Almost any stream, with the exception of REALLY polluted streams that you probably wouldn't want to splash on you anyhow, host at least one species of salamander (up here it's two-lines: Eurycea bislineata). As the streams get cleaner and you get more protected land around them you can add a few more salamanders, a few frog species, maybe a couple snake species, etc. This is probably the most fun in the Southern Appalachians, where they have more salamander species than they know what to do with, though the fun changes when you're holding a dusky salamander (Desmognathus species) with a vague pattern and you can't figure out which of the four or five local candidates it could be.

That's not a problem in the Delaware Valley. We've got maybe four likely salamanders: the two-lines, northern duskies (D. fuscus), long-tailed salamanders (E. longicauda), and red salamanders (Pseudotriton ruber), which eat all the other ones. Get another hour and a half into the mountains and you can add mountain duskies plus the real beast of our rocky streams, the spring salamander (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus - note the genus name, which means 'tadpole-loving,' kind of like how I 'love' ice cream.). I often find frogs too, namely pickerel frogs (Rana palustris) and green frogs (Rana clamitans), the occasional garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) or nothern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon), and, if I'm really lucky (and I haven't been this lucky yet in PA) a queen snake (Regina septemvittata). Basically all you do is walk up a length of stream bank and look under the rocks and logs. I have the best luck with objects right at the edge, where a rock might be hitting the water on only one side. This luck might be more a question of how hard it is to catch critters uncovered in the full flow of the water, where the kicked-up silt makes it hard to see anything and they can swim away more easily, than of these types of rocks making better homes for critters. Either way, flip what you can, and don't be too hard on yourself if they swim away before you can get your hands on them; usually if you see one of a given salamander, you'll see more.

Thus I wasn't too hard on myself for not catching the two-lines I saw in this stream.

Someone else had been here hunting.

I made sure to check some boards on the way down.

I didn't expect a whole lot and thus was not disappointed, but I did think it was neat to see a small mammal working on making this board into a home.

That's cute in its own right, but it also promises to make for nice milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) bait.

Last up, here's a really nice-looking red-back salamander I found under a brick sitting on top of a stone wall. All kinds of objects cry out 'flip me,' and even if most of them are liars, every now and then they tell the truth.

Here was my third try at a photo. I decided not to detain the salamander any more and let it go.

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