Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"Wissahickon Creek Capers" or "You won't find a thing!...just kidding..."

After my successful herping during spring gobbler season, I decided to actually try to go out one day on a "scheduled herping expedition", but where? Where could I find small aminals to temporarily and unintentionally torture without their consent? Where could I do so while striking the fear of their almighty creator into them in a Godzilla-like fashion? Not that I don't know where to find stuff, but I wanted to go somewhere I knew I'd find something different than what I normally find. I also wanted to stay local, and go somewhere I've never gone, and kinda/sorta had a shopping list in my head of things I wanted to find...and had no idea where I'd combine all of these factors and come up with a productive outing. I'm picky. 

So I figured I'd find a place that's nice to look at, not hard to traverse, and where I could find something on my list so I'd feel accomplished. Ya know, special and alive like when a butterfly lands on a kid from the short bus. So I did some research (read: lazily Google'd "Philadelphia herping" for 4 minutes total) on good spots unbeknownst to me, and then emailed my new herping friend (from my first blog entry) for suggestions. I told him my list of what I'm looking to find and asked if he knew of any places where I'd be sure to find what I'm looking for that weren't hours away. 

SIDENOTE: I found out (albeit kinda obvious) that herpers won't really divulge locations for specific species, and keep that ish on lockdown so people don't go in and clear out the aforementioned species. Granted, I wasn't looking for the extremely rare yellow-bellied sap sucker or the Kodiak marmoset, but I get it. I wouldn't want some yahoo coming in to one of my favorite spots and potentially harming the indigenous population either, or disturbing the peace in general. Plus herpers are greedy fucks. 

However, he told me to try a spot up on the mighty Wissahickon (Creek) called "Forbidden Drive" (spooky!) where I would find all that I was looking for. So it was set: The next free weekend I had would be a herping trip to the far-off and perilous lands of Forbidden Drive! Hurrah!

I had no idea where exactly I was going, and my GPS on my phone took me somewhere totally different than where I had put in for directions to, so after some finagling and rerouting, I took my GPS' suggestion on where it thought Forbidden Drive was. After almost getting lost, running out of gas, and not really knowing if this was going to be worth it, I arrived at a dead-end street on the edge of the woods. There was a huge colonial-looking white house with a giant mossy tree in the front yard, so that's where I parked. I put my boots on and walked to the very end of the road down a path that lead to a bike trail. Here I thought I was going to be all secluded and remote, when an older woman appeared around the corner of a tall stone wall walking her dog. So right off the bat I was totally wrong. I did ask if this was Forbidden Drive, and she said that indeed it was. I walked down to the bike trail, looked around, and thought that NOW I was among nature and secluded.

The last great frontier.
Then 20 college assholes, with backpacks presumably carrying Natty Ices, walked right around me. What the flippin' fuck? On the other side of the bike trail was a semi-steep hill, with no visible path, that lead down to another trail right next to a small creek that lead down to the Wissahickon. I fumbled my way down and got to the bottom. This is where the fun would begin...and NOW I was finally away from all those...oh look, a lone hiker awkwardly looking at me and kinda nodding as he passed. Oh well. Anyway, it was beautiful down there, and looked like a prime salamander spot.

Not pictured: college douchebags or creepy lone hikers
I went right in to the shallow, flat part of the stream that created a small pool about a foot or so deep and immediately started flipping rocks. I figured I'd find some duskies/redbacks/two-lined at least and be able to call it a successful day. After a few rocks, I found a two-lined salamander that would not cooperate and let me catch it, the fuck that he was. He escaped and eluded capture and went under another rock. I found him again, then, poof, gone in an instant. Saw a small crayfish milling around, but nothing after that. I got out of the creek, and saw something run into a hole under a huge boulder in the bank, almost instantly giving me a heart attack and causing me to slip and crack my face open on the slick rocks. As it turns out, it was a muskrat (only slightly less dangerous than the Kodiak marmoset). After that brush with death, I made my way down the path (which was extremely slippery from recent rainfall) flipping all of the stones we could possibly flip. Not one goddamn salamander. There were plenty of worms, though! I finally made it to yet ANOTHER path that crossed over the small stream, parallel to the Wissahickon. Now, take note of this pivotal point in the story: I flipped rocks all the way down to the edge of this new path and found nothing but earthworms. I walked myself down across the path to the bank of the creek, flipping more rocks. Nothing. I have to say, I was rather discouraged. I'd been out there for a while now and found next to jack balls nothing. I was happy to just be out there doing something in all of Mother Nature's public park grandeur, but still was still pissed as fuck that this spot was a dud. 

No sooner did I give up hope and was surveying the area, that two fine gentlemen stroll past me. One was shirtless, both smelled like booze, and I'm almost certain neither of them had all their teeth. Maybe combined they did. If my memory serves me correctly, the shirtless one had camo pants, and the other a haggard muscle shirt (sans muscles). They noticed my small transport/carrying tanks that I had brought just for kicks. "Whatcha catch?" one managed to formulate from his grizzled jowl. "Nothing yet," I responded. I said I was looking for salamanders, etc. He then informed me that there was a massive snapping turtle basking on the bank on the other side of the creek. He said I could see it from the path on our side. I thanked them, and they strolled on up the trail, presumably to go have intercourse with a farm animal. I figured "What the hell?" and made my way down the path where they had came from. I hadn't seen anything yet, so I figured it'd be cool to look at and talk about. After all, it was technically herping, even if someone else saw it first. I looked through the trees across the creek, looking for this behemoth turtle Jed and Chet (those are their alleged hillbilly names) informed me of. From the 5 or so minutes from when they probably saw it until they told me about it, it became a fish story. This thing could be seen from space, according to Jed's description. I walked down further, yet I don't recall seeing him. I noticed 3 rocks that were assembled to make a bench in the side of the hill on the path...ANOTHER PIVOTAL POINT IN THE STORY. We flipped some rocks and logs where I was SURE we'd find something, but nothing. I was pissed. These flack-jawed fucks either lied or the leviathan beast went back to the murky waters whence it came! At the bottom of the trail there was another paved path that lead up one way, and across a covered bridge that went across the creek to a long paved bike trail. I figured I'd rejoin civilized society momentarily (since I had been in the wilds, obviously) and walk across the covered bridge and on the bike path down towards the bank to look for this monster turtle. The bridge and the view were really pretty, but I wanted to see this friggin' turtle.

You shall not pass.
I veered off the bike path from tons of people staring at me in my enormous hunting boots and went on a trail right next to the bank. Again, pretty, but no turtle yet. Then behold! A large Chelydra serpentina just a' sittin' on the bank of the creek...

Watchin' the tiiiiide, roll awaaay...fuck, that didn't rhyme.
His shell was over a foot long, and he's just lying there catching some rays. I was very happy to get some up close (not too close) and personal time with this big guy. I'm actually not sure if it was a male or female, as I didn't want to disturb it. Coincidentally, a turtle find was on my list for the day, and this more than sufficed. I got a few more shots with my terrible camera on my Samsung phone as close as Terrance (that's his name now) would let me.

"Dude, stop being weird and get an iPhone like the rest of the world. GAWD!"
Strangely, it had been a few hours and it was getting late in the day. I decided to call it quits, having at least encountered something cool. I traversed back up the path, up the bike trail, over the bridge, through the woods, etc. On the main stretch back up, I was passing the rock bench again. I glanced down at it to find a FRIGGIN' HUUUGE American toad! I seriously couldn't believe it. There he was, just sitting in a little outcrop in the one "leg" of the stone bench. He didn't look like he was too elusive, so I reached my hand in and plucked him out.

I has a toad.
I have to admit, I was really excited. Now, I've caught literally countless toads, especially American toads, but this one was special. American toads (whom until I added that hyperlink, I was under the impression had the scientific name bufo americanus. Apparently I was wrong, or those scientist fucks changed it without consulting me) are a herp near and dear to me. First, it was on my herp wish list for this particular outing. I know they're abundant, and easy to find, and a cool "gateway" herp for beginners since they're easy to find and catch. Secondly, I haven't seen American toads around as much as I have in years prior, and never one this big in PA. The funny thing was, I wasn't even looking for anything, and definitely would have walked right by this one if not for chance. So I began inspecting my new friend. He was a she, and was plump and healthy; a fine specimen.

I seriously was so happy over this big girl. I'm not a chubby chaser, unless it pertains to toads...and she was chuuuuuuuubby!

"Who you callin' chubby, you fat fuck?!"
I deemed the trip a success. Happy happy happy. I walked back up the path to the other path we started on near the creek. Remember earlier how I said it was a pivotal point how I flipped rocks all the way down to the edge of the path? Good. I hit that point again. I, still on my toad high, happened to look down and noticed something bright against the dark and dull muddy landscape. To my shock and amazement, there lie a northern red salamander! Just out in the open! I was there right in that spot and saw NOTHING under any rock or log, and now this thing is just sitting there, like "Hey, down here asshole!" My jaw dropped and I'm pretty sure I squealed with giddiness. I reached down for it, but I noticed it wasn't moving. It had expired. I was sad, to say the least. It didn't feel dried out, there was no physical wounds or anything on it, and he wasn't squashed. He was just kinda lying there, a little bloated. I couldn't figure it out. He was also out in the open, not under leaves or anything. It's like he just died mid stroll from under one rock to the next. The woods were wet from the aforementioned rainfall days before. I was stumped. I even sniffed him to see if he was dead long or not. Yes, I smelled a dead salamander. He was fresh. I was both puzzled and saddened for this find and loss! I did take a snapshot of him just to document:

We hardly knew ye.
As you can see, he was a nice size, and hadn't been dead long. So he was there and died within an hour of me being at that exact spot. I actually dug a little hole at the base of a small tree, buried him, and placed a small flat stone over his new grave site. After this expedition, I emailed my herp buddy and told him of my findings. He was surprised and excited to see a northern red "so far south", but also was puzzled about the cause of death. He said he usually attributes things like this to birds. Well, fuck you, birds! I also must admit, this kind of salamander find was also on my herp wishlist. So technically, my entire wishlist for the day had been fulfilled. I was ecstatic. It really was an awesome day for herping, all in all. It was so bizarre: I looked for hours and nothing; I give up, and within the 10 minutes of walking back to the car, I find all sorts of stuff without even trying to. Don't that beat all? That goes to show you that you never know what you're gonna find (or when or where or how), and that things happen when you least expect it. See? My blogs have morals to the story, and life lessons. You're welcome.

Saturday 6/8/13 count:

two-lined salamander: 1
common snapping turtle: 1
American toad: 1
northern red salamander: 1 (deceased)

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Gobbler Hunt Herping Hi-jinx" or "What the Eft?"

Hail, oh enthralled and engrossed reader! If you're reading this, a) you read the first blog entry enough to want more herping and tomfoolery from me, and b) you need to reevaluate your life choices in how you kill time at work surfing the web. The last entry was just an intro with some random facts and findings about my herping adventures. This one is an actual story/outing I had earlier this year in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania near my grandfather's old cabin. As I stated before, I am a hunter. That means, that with this particular hobby of mine, I spend a lot of time outdoors. This hobby makes it a perfect companion to one of my other hobbies: (obviously) herping! Hooray! It's usually the downtime in between the actual hunts that allows me to encounter the little herps (is "herp" a noun?) although there are exceptions to the rule. So without further ado, here's my awe-inspiring story of herping on the hunt:

It was late April...or was it early May? Anyways, it was the day before Opening Day of Spring Gobbler season. Spring Gobbler season started in May this year according to my Google search just now. I strive to bring my audience the facts. It was relatively warm and it had rained very recently. My father, grandfather and I arrived up the Poconos mid-afternoon. We checked in to the hotel (unfortunately, we do not own my other grandfather's cabin due to some fuckstick of an uncle, but I digress), and prepared to go out to roost us a turkey! For those of you who have never seen a live/wild turkey, don't watch the Discovery Channel, or are stupid, turkeys can fly. They also scare easily and are almost as weary as they are dumb. However, they are smart enough to not want to sleep on the ground at night. So they sleep in trees, thus protecting themselves from predators like foxes and coyotes, unless said predators can scale vertical surfaces like Batman and/or Spider-Man.

Side note: It baffles me how many people that live out in the sticks have no fucking clue turkeys can fly. That'd be like city folk saying "Oh, I totally didn't know that squirrels can climb trees, or that hobos will eat anything!"

"Roosting" is when a hunter goes out around dusk, makes turkey sounds, and tries to locate the general whereabouts of a turkey (the gobbler in this case) for the next morning. Sure, it's stalker-ish, but as is all hunting. We tried to locate a big ol' Tom turkey so that we knew about where he was going to roost so we can show up the next day and shoot him in the face when he rolls out of bed. Simple.

No sooner did we get out of the car did I begin my herping antics. I can't help myself! We parked near my grandfather's (former) cabin, and I immediately began searching places I've searched since I was a wee lad, places I had found stuff before. At first, no such luck. Then I lifted a metal plate that covers a well drain (I think. I'm not a plumber) and lo! a juvenile pickerel frog sat at the bottom, about 3 feet down. I was delighted. I haven't seen them around as frequently (and the increasingly more elusive northern leopard frogs and wood frogs I've previously been accustomed to catch or see every year). He seemed like he was stuck, even though he clearly was there on his own free-froggy-will. The drain pipe was high enough that I knew he couldn't get out, so I tried reaching down to grab him, but alas, my short hobbit arms were no match for a yard's worth of space. It actually was pretty deep, but I wasn't going to let my new bestest friend ever be doomed to a dark, damp, bug-ridden prison...although he may have preferred that in retrospect. I didn't think that one through. ANYWHO... As my fore-bearers walked up the road, I tried desperately to reach him. After a few failed attempts and being yelled at to grow the fuck up, I had a great idea (at the time). I found two relatively even branches on the ground and used them to fish him out with what can only be described as Neanderthal chopsticks. Patent pending. I finally grabbed the little fella with the sticks like a web-footed dragon roll and put him in a small plastic tank that I (of course) took with me to turkey hunt. He was a little dry, so I scooped some water from a puddle into the tank. After some inspection and walking our way up the mountain, I decided to release him in the creek that runs down it. I bid my new friend farewell and snapped a picture, thus officially chronicling a herping trip.

We hardly knew ye.
We made our way up the mountain more, and I casually flipped some small, flat stones alongside the creek. After only a few, I came across a red-backed salamander, which I've literally found hundreds of in the past. I WILL be taking pictures of all that I find, even these common little guys, no matter how many reds I find!

Get used to this face.
The more we ventured up the mountain, the less I flipped rocks and worried about keeping my footing on the slippery, mossy terrain. We were keeping close to the creek under the cover of some old hemlock trees. As we walked and called, I looked down, and to my surprise and delight, I found something I haven't seen up there in a very long while: a red eft!

Surprise, muthafucka!
It wasn't like I hadn't seen one before. I literally used to try to carry pockets full of these guys when I was young, walking around on turkey hunts with my family. They'd always climb out, but I kept stuffing more in. I of course released any that I managed to keep secure through the hunt, much to my dismay, and by order of my father. (He taught me very early on to not take little guys like the efts out of nature and to put everything back where you found it. I only listened sometimes, but thanks anyway, dad!) But I haven't seen them around in years. I've seen red-spotted/eastern newts all the time, but not the efts. As I'm sure ALL of you know, red efts are the juvenile, terrestrial land-stage of the eastern or red-spotted newt. The larva (which look exactly like the adults, but with gills) start out in the water, lose their gills, then go up on land for a few years as efts, then go back into the water as adults. It's the circle...

...the circle of life.
I quickly scooped this little guy up and inspected him. It's actually kinda sad and weird how happy I was to find him. After a few minutes and a mini photo shoot (as seen above), I put him back off the path and resumed the roost attempt. Except that now, I was on high alert for efts. I didn't realize it at the time, but finding that one little guy would be finding the first of many over the course of a few days. I very shortly afterwards found another (which I didn't take a picture of) to equal excitement as the first. Then the more I walked, the more I found. I was in herping heaven. The following shots were all taken before I picked them up to look at, no matter how staged they look. So eft you if you don't believe me...GET IT?!?!

This shot is magazine worthy.

...and another.

You get the idea.

Totes adorbs.

Every side is my good side.
After the eftsplosion, I concentrated (finally) on roosting a turkey. I couldn't help but flip one last rock, just to see, and I of course found one more red-back salamander.

I told you to get used to this face.
Believe it or not, in between all the amphibians I was coming across, we actually managed to roost a turkey. As a matter of fact, it was my calling that did it. We had split up: my father went up the mountain further, my grandfather and I went back down and all the way up the road. We called, I heard a gobbler respond, and quickly got almost as excited as I was for my eft encounters. My grandfather couldn't hear it, as it was about 60 yards away, and he needs a goddamn cornucopia ear-horn to hear. We went back to the car and rested for the hunt the next morning. 

Sunday 4/28 count:

pickerel frog: 1
red eft: 7
red-backed salamander: 2

The first day of the actual hunt was a good one. We got into the woods at a decent time; the sun really hadn't come up yet. We went down to where I heard the gobbler the night before and figured out our gameplan. Before we even got a chance to call or set up, or even really discuss it, the gobbler started calling from the tree. He was definitely hot to trot. That man-whore. We quickly came up with a strategy and set ourselves up. After about an hour of action, a second gobbler calling from a different location, and other signs we'd bag a turkey, the bastards walked away from the decoys and us, continuing to call as if to mock us. We walked around in the woods til almost noon, and called it quits. No luck on this day. We packed up and went back to the hotel to nap, then repeat our agenda from last night.

We came back out around 5, but it has started to rain. Great for springtime herping, not so great for turkey hunting. Most non-amphibious wildlife doesn't like the rain as much as we don't. They can't hear potential dangers as well, and their hair gets absolutely ruined! It didn't look like we'd have any luck tonight, or the next day for that matter, but we went out anyway, hoping for the best. At least I might be able to find some more critters with this crappy weather. We walked up the road and started calling, working our way back down towards to cabin.

I'm going to start selling my pictures to Target so they can sell it as "wall art"

My father decided it'd be a good idea to split up again. He would go all the way down the road with my grandfather, and I would go up alongside the creek like we had originally done the night before. I must admit, I wasn't very hopeful for finding anything, turkey or otherwise. It was chilly and miserable, and getting dark more quickly than it would normally. I began making calls halfheartedly, and figured this would be a perfect time to flip some rocks and screw around. With no luck for a long while with turkeys or salamanders, I continued to call every few minutes or every few rocks. As soon as I was barely paying attention to either, I came across two plethodon glutinosi...oh, I meant two slimy salamanders. Duh. And yes, that is their actual name. I've never came across one of these before, let alone two, so I was excited to inspect and photograph them. The smaller of the two quickly darted in a hole in between smaller rocks from under the bigger one I lifted. The larger was almost as fast, but I pulled some rocks aside to grab him.

It wasn't the first time I've driven my hand into a tight, wet catch a salamander, that is. When I was about 10 or so, up around that same spot, a midst catching a bucket full of red-backs, I lifted a large rock that was settled deep in the soil. From under the rock popped a small head which looked like an orange snake. It "slithered" back under more rocks and dirt, so I plunged my small hand into the hole, determined to pull out whatever it was. Smart move, I know. I was always I thinker. Turns out it was a huge northern red salamander. This thing was like 6-7 inches long. I wish I took a picture of it, but this was before the days of having everything right in your pocket via shitty/outdated Samsung smartphone.

The flash on my phone camera apparently makes it look like midnight at 7PM.
So this little guy was my first slimy. It was good to see some diversity up there, and it was promising that I saw not one, but two of these guys huddled together. I always see red-backs, and as fun as it is to find them, I like having a smorgasbord of salamander species. How's THAT for alliteration? 

He's super photogenic. I named him Sméagol.
After I did my best to put all the rocks back in place and release him, I started finding MORE efts. These guys were all bunched up.

This is Hawk & Animal, the Legion of Doom.
Then I found this picturesque scene at the base of a tree:

The Dude, Walter, and Donny
The funny thing was: I was barely paying attention at all anymore and only calling every few minutes, and boom, a gobbler responded out of nowhere (the same gobbler from the day before). I couldn't believe the overall luck I was having. I found a new species (to me) and re-roosted a turkey. It turned out to be a successful day overall. The next morning, we had the same luck as before: a jerkoff turkey just out of reach. I also found like a ton more efts walking through the damp woods, too many to count or document. They were even on the road pictured above. So spring gobbler hunting 2013 = awesome. Even though we didn't shoot a turkey in the face, I had a great time with my father and grandfather, found a bunch of amphibians, and got to relax up the mountains.

Monday 4/29 & Tuesday 4/30 count:

slimy salamander: 2
red eft: 10+

Friday, October 25, 2013

My First Herping Entry

Greetings and salutations readers! This is my herping blog. For those unaware, "herping" is looking for/photographing/catching/observing reptiles and amphibians. For those who are still clueless as to what any of the words mean: Google. I've been wanting to start this blog for a while now. I was inspired to do so by a fellow Philadelphia herper whose blog I happened across earlier this year. Since then, I've been out a number of times in various locations throughout the area, and have been consciously attempting to document my finds. The key word is "attempting". I've also compiled a few pictures and stories for "throwback" posts from past finds, especially since the winter is coming up. All pictures are taken with my crappy Samsung Conquer's 5 megapixel camera (since it's always readily available) unless stated otherwise, so I apologize for the quality of some of the shots in advance. I think that it adds to the authenticity of my findings, since I'm not setting up a camera or trying to get the perfect shot. It's mainly me trying to hold on to the critter long enough to get the least blurry photo possible. I also may curse/use inappropriate language. If you find this offensive, fuck you. Just kidding. But seriously, don't read anything else then.

me herping in Ocean City, Maryland

That was the introduction to the blog. Now for me: I've always loved animals. I've been "herping" as long as I could walk and pick up stuff. It started with bugs, but as I got a little older, my interest "evolved" from insects to amphibians, and I've been overly fascinated ever since. I was that kid who repeatedly checked out the same "Field Guide to Reptiles & Amphibians" books from the school library every time I went in there. I was in the bushes or lifting up rocks while my family was walking from Splash Mountain to the Haunted Mansion in Disney World. Standing around outside at house parties, I was the one to pick up the creature who wandered into the driveway lights sending people running, then started to explain science stuff to them about said creature. So basically, I'm a weirdo. I've had countless pets over the years, from exotic to conventional (a.k.a. normal). I'm also a hunter, which believe it or not, allows me to "kill" two birds with one stone (get it!? A hunting pun!) even while on a hunt. I basically love nature, and the woods, and peace and quiet. Flipping rocks near a creek on a mountain in the spring looking for salamanders just puts me in a good place. So this blog is a place for me to share (for those other weirdos or adoring fans whom are actually interested in this shit, too) some of those experiences that have made me smile, even just a little.

I'll do my best with identifications and scientific names. Feel free to correct me if you see an actual error. I have no ego. At all. Ever....but if you correct me and I'm right, I'll find you and punch you in the throat.

This blog will also showcase my poor attempts at comedy. So, laugh. LAUGH.

I figured I'd start my first blog entry with some credentials other than me saying "I herp a lot." I've also never called it "herping" until very recently. It was always just "catching frogs" or "looking for newts" or "Hey! I caught this water snake! I wonder if it's poisonous. Stick out your hand..." After reading the aforementioned blog from the first paragraph, I figured it was how big boys referred to catching small animals with a butterfly net and rain boots. I've found some pretty cool species, and seem to have decent luck with it (especially recently). I don't really have a "life/bucket list" or whatever for species I'd like to find, but any time I come across something I've never encountered before, it's special and exciting to me. I also have a tendency to look for stuff no matter where I am. If I was pulled over on the side of the road waiting for AAA to tow my car, I'd be lifting old tires or wooden boards until they got there. Then I'd ask them to wait one more minute while I check this last log.

Eastern Musk Turtle while fishing outside Philadelphia. He was very happy to be tricked into biting a worm on the line, then handled for photography

Attached below are some random pictures taken of random critters throughout the years...randomly. They basically don't have a cool enough story to go along with them (or that I just found them whilst doing something else and not technically "herping"). 

a juvenile Garter snake from a flipped board in the Poconos. This was on a path near my grandfather's cabin while on a whitewater rafting trip

Fowler's Toad on a mini-golf course in Ocean City, Maryland, seconds before she pee'd in my hand.

So, that's all for now. Thanks for reading my first entry. I have plenty more where this came from! Until then, um...yup...

I need a catchphrase.