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)

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