Friday, August 31, 2012

Somewhere on the south side of a ridge in the mountains of Pennsylvania, maybe three hours into our hike (me with Magnolia on my chest) I took the opportunity to needle Scott about why I don't like road cruising. I pointed out that I would rather strike out in gorgeous mountain forest like this than on blacktop at night.

I meant it. Even if we had found nothing, I still would have been able to head home with tired legs and a mental album full of majestic, rocky images like the one below of Scott inspecting a cliff face.

We hadn't found any of our target timber rattlers (Crotalus horridus) at that point. Here are some ledges where we might have seen them if the temps had gotten out of the mid sixties or if the skies had cleared a little (cloudy and a little warmer would have worked great, and sunny at the same temps would have given us some action, even if a shorter window than the cloudy and warm scenario):

I felt like logging something with a backbone, so Scott indulged me while I flipped rocks in a stream for salamanders. It only took me a few rocks to find this pretty two-lined (Eurycea bislineata).

I found a redback (Plethodon cinereus) but Scott game me a dirty look when I started to take out my camera.

To his credit, he scooped up this wee American toad (Bufo americanus):

We stopped to play with this female northern true katydid (thanks to James Trager for the ID).

So I can't say we were striking out completely when we realized we'd been hiking for about five hours and still had an hour back to the car.

On the dirt road back to the car, I got the sense I had to change Magnolia's diaper (ultimately I was wrong - false alarm). This would involve lifting her out of the carrier, and for whatever silly arbitrary reason I pointed to a landmark up the road and said I'd stop there. Scott asked what was wrong with where we were at the moment. I had no good answer, aside from having decided on the other spot as where I'd check the diaper.

Lucky I was being so arbitrary (or prophetic? Guided by the herping gods?), since as I stopped and got ready to pull off my backpack to get the changing pad out, I looked to my left and saw this timber basking next to the road! I think I said something like "Ooh Ooh a rattler!" and we quickly forgot the baby and started taking photos.

We spooked the rattler (poor form), and as I remembered the reason for stopping in the first place, both Scott and I noticed the same pattern of shiny coils gleaming from beneath the dry brush.

Scott froze in amazement. I started hopping down and babbling like, well, like Magnolia. Scott reached in and very, very carefully picked the snake up. We could tell it was big, but we only got a sense of HOW big once Scott was standing upright and stretching it out a bit (I include both photos for the facial expressions).

Here Magnolia and I are checking it out.

I have a hard time describing that degree of herping ecstasy in writing. Prior to the rattler we had been warmly satisfied with a nice day on a mountain and a few little critters. The rattler had made it a memorable trip, gleefully happy and patting each other on the back about the luck of thinking of changing the diaper where I had arbitrarily decided to do so. That big, mellow ratsnake multiplied the vibe by that same factor again, giving us a two-step, exponential increase to something that would stick with us all week (and even now that I'm writing about it again). We half expected to turn around and find a wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) with a winning lottery ticket it its mouth.

Last up, nice but not quite the same vibe multiplier, here is one of the green frogs (Lithobates clamitans) in a puddle at the side of the road.

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