Thursday, August 02, 2012

[Note to readers - I am back from vacation. Enjoy the photos. Thanks for your patience.]

Sometimes I find exactly what I'm looking for and it makes me feel incredibly smart and highly skilled. Of course a more sober analysis would balance the account with all the times I don't find what I'm looking for and I blame it on bad luck or the ill will of the herping gods (rather than anything wrong with me), but I'll stick with feeling smart and skilled.

On Sunday I headed off on a cross-state work trip. One of the aspects of my job that I enjoy is that it takes me all over our beautiful state, particularly across the mountainous middle section that all Philadelphians should be embarrassed not to enjoy more often. To be perfectly clear, I do not go out of my way to go herping on the public's dime, but I frequently end up driving right through a state or national forest or state game land, or I end up finishing a work-related meeting at, say, 4pm, and realize I am an extremely short distance away from a neat trail head. Some traveling bureaucrats might drive a few miles to get to somewhere to eat; I tend to eat in my hotel room and drive the few miles for somewhere to hike and herp.

In this case I was picking up one of my staff who happened to be camping at a park in Northeast PA along the route to Erie (and points in between) where we were heading. I simply arrived a couple hours early and went for a hike myself in an adjacent State Game Land.

Here's the road.

Here's the adjacent creek.

 I flipped rocks as I went, revealing some of the omnipresent redback salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) as well as some mountain dusky salamanders (Desmognathus ochrophaeus). This might be my least favorite herp genus, not because there's anything wrong with the animals, but because I (and lots of other people) find them confusing to identify. In contrast to the southern Appalachians, where you'll have multiple dusky species that look very similar to each other, up here the mountain duskies look a bit like two-lined salamanders (Eurycea bislineata).

Plenty of rain had fallen during the weekend, indeed I drove through some rain on the way up and found the ground wet and the clouds just parting as I set off down the narrow dirt road. This is good turtle weather, and if I'd been in the Pine Barrens I would have fully expected to find a box turtle (Terrepane carolina) luxuriating in a warm puddle or snapping up a slug. Up in the Northern Tier, however, I was looking for wood turtles (Glyptemys insculpta - my apologies to Scott, who has yet to accept the genus change from 'Clemmys').

...and Bingo! I found old red legs himself just at the edge of the road.


I need to take a moment to appreciate the apt species name, with 'insculpta' perfectly describing the top part of the shell (carapace).

As an aside, I should mention all the pretty butterflies. Mentioning all the pretty butterflies is the kind of thing that can lose a herper his herping cred, but I was pleased to be able to photograph the skittish little bugs as they dined on fresh manure, deposited by a couple horses I had passed a few minutes before.

I hoofed it back to the car in time to pick up my staff member, who quickly learned that riding across the state with me includes abrupt U-turns to inspect road jerky and the occasional turtle-like rock.