SC Reptile and Amphibians
February began very pleasantly. Sunday (02/04/01) was a gloriously beautiful day. I still have not heard any frogs singing locally, but I did see River Cooters basking on the rocks in the Saluda River at Ware Shoals.
Friday (02/09/01): The weather since the last couple weeks in January has been pleasantly warm, but dry. I believe the lack of moisture has been the principal factor retarding the singing of frogs. Today, there was a promise of moisture in the air. When I returned home this evening, I heard Chorus Frogs for the first time this year. Win has moved to a house about 13 miles south in Greenwood County between the Saluda River and Turkey Creek. He reported hearing Spring Peepers this morning.
In the very early hours on Saturday (02/10/01), we received a couple showers totaling about one tenth inch. The day was gorgeous and warm. Painted Turles basked on a log in the farm pond. The Chorus Frogs continued their serenades. I flipped a few boards and pieces of tin but did not find any herps. I check the spring well but saw no salamanders. I dipped a net into one of the wetland ponds and pulled out a Red-Spotted Newt. It was transforming, probably from an Eft back into the adult stage. It was missing a front leg; I do not know whether from injury or malformation.
Saturday (02/17/01) was the culmination to a week of very good weather for amphibians. We had rain off and on every day. The temperatures climbed into the 70s (oF) on Thursday and Friday. The Upland Chorus Frogs have been performing at full strength all week. On Friday morning I heard a Spring Peeper making a few tentative whistles. That evening a cold front rushed by bringing more rain and lowering the daytime temperature on Saturday into the low 50s. Despite the cooling, the Chorus Frogs continued well into the night on Saturday. To my surprise, in the early evening on Saturday, I heard Southern Leopard Frogs chuckling loudly in the farm pond.
On Sunday (02/18/01), Herrick Brown came to my farm to check out the local population of Red-Spotted Newts. Herrick, a graduate student in biology at USC, is working on a masters project looking at variation in toxicity and timing of second metamorphosis of eastern newts. My son, Win, and his fiance joined Herrick and I as we checked out some of the wetland pools. We dipnetted about a half dozen transforming efts and adults, and one probable newt larva. We also captured a Northern Cricket Frog. Later, Herrick emailed me that some of the newts we collected had excreted clam shells. (Following up on Herrick's observation, I observed a shell in the excrement of some newts that I kept overnight. I also saw soft-bodied tissue which I presume is the clam body but could be some other prey.)
Herrick has been surveying a population of Broken-Striped Newts from the SC coastal area. Since I did not have pictures of this subspecies, Herrick brought specimens for photographing. The efts were equisite, a beautiful orange color.
During the next week, I decided to check out the viability of minnow traps for capturing local newts. On Wednesday (02-21-01), I placed one trap in one of the permanent wetland pools and another in the farm pond. On Thursday (02-22-01) there were 2 aquatic males in the pool trap and nothing in the pond trap. The weather turned cooler. On Friday (02-23-01) there was nothing in either trap. However, I checked a board lying on the muck beside the farm pond and found a transforming eft. On Saturday (02-24-01) I found 1 male newt in the pool trap and minnows in the pond trap. The weather warmed considerably and it rained. On Sunday (02-25-01) the pool trap contained 5 newts: 3 males, 1 transforming eft, and 1 female. The pond trap held only minnows. I have decided minnow traps are an easy way to gather newts if you put traps in proper habitat. The small farm pond is probably not too hospitable to salamanders; it is inhabited by 3 domestic ducks, 1 wild Mallard who has chosen the easy life, a variety of turtles, and a voracious pack of about 30 Channel Catfish, each weighing in excess of 5 pounds.
Sunday night (02-25-01) was wet and warm. The frogs were singing in great numbers. In the bottomlands, the Upland Chorus Frogs were singing the loudest. Spring Peepers were whistling, and I heard the long, melodic trill of American Toads. In the farm pond Southern Leopard Frogs were chuckling and Pickerel Frogs were snoring.
Spring is very near. Within the last week I have received 5 email requests for help with snake identifications. Next week I plan to resume posting notes on a weekly basis.
Week ending 02-04-01
Weather could have been better, could have been worse.
On Monday (1-29-01), I went to the river to look at the salamanders. I found 5 Spotteds and 2 Marbleds. 3 of the Spots were under the "good log" and looking close I recognized the head patterns of 2 of them from previous visits (they had rather distinct head patterns). I then quickly drew the head patterns (size/shape/positioning/color; yellow vs orange) of the spots. Back at home I was able to check these old reports and recorded the dates that I had seen these animals. I found that the first one had arrived by December 19, 2000. This means that this salamander had been there, under the log, for 40 days. Pretty cool! I'll try to check in at regular intervals to see who's in that area. I suppose I should also mention that all are males. Along the way I saw Yellow Shafted Flickers and a Redheaded Woodpecker (don't see many RHW here). I stopped by work and found another (or maybe the same) male Opossum in one of the live-catch traps. Liberated of course. Near the reservoir I saw a Grebe.
Inside, we've been opening a few cans of cheap salmon, with which to bait possum traps and we've noticed that the garter and water snakes really enjoy pre-killed mice when they are soaked in the salmon juice. I never guessed they would like it (the smell of the salmon) since it is COOKED meat but they sure do.
Friday (2-2-01) No Groundhogs. I did go back and check on the Spots. All 3 still there, under the log.
Saturday (2-3-01): I was off work. The Holmes family loaded the car and went to Charleston. We toured the new South Carolina Aquarium. It was quite nice, with several species of herptiles displayed. The fish exhibits were also impressive and the Otters were delightful. One of the coolest aspects was to sit on the Aquarium's deck, overlooking Charleston Harbor. There we saw Dolphins, Brown Pelicans, and Cormorants. Nice. On the way home Sunday (2-4-01) I made mental notes about roadside areas with plans to look for Ornate or Brimley's Chorus Frogs in the upcoming weeks.
Week ending 02-11-01
It's Monday (2-12-01), it's 40 degrees and raining, but last week was a MOST BEAUTIFUL WEEK! It was warm and sunny and I wore shorts to work EVERY day except Saturday and it was warm enough then I just wore fatigues instead.
On Monday (2-5-01) I checked on the Spotted Salamanders by the river. Three under the "good log" (same three I've been seeing) and three others under a log by the backswamp.
Tuesday (2-6-01): Nothing exciting.
Wednesday (2-7-01): Outdoors on campus we found Green Anoles, Ground Skinks, Fence Lizards, Two-Lined Salamanders, and Slimy Salamanders; we didn't even look for Duskies! My Biggest thrill was a pair of Mourning Cloak Butterflies! I have since learned they hibernate here and could come out on a warm day! I was still thrilled.
Thursday (2-8-01): Saw the Mourning Cloaks again (or two others).
Friday (2-9-01): Ground Skinks, Mourning Cloaks, and had another Opossum trapped at work. We marked this one (by painting 3 red rings around his tail with fingernail polish. Now I know this will not last very long but we'll be through trapping by the end of the month and after that it's no big deal). On the way home, I stopped several times and in 3 locations I heard Upland Chorus Frogs singing. Towards sundown, here in the yard, I had 2 mosquito bites and saw a bat overhead. This was a nice relief in midwinter!
Overnight we had some rain.
Saturday (2-10-01) On the way to work (before dawn) I saw one AOR American Toad. We saw one Mourning Cloak while checking the traps and under tin we found our first snake of 2001: a Southern Ringneck! Oh well, a snake is a snake! After work I checked on the Salamanders; I found all the expected Spots plus 2 others. In several places there were Chorus frogs calling intensely. In one location there were Southern Leopard Frogs chuckling and one egg mass. That evening mammals were active, while going into town, we saw several deer close (too close) to the road and a nice Striped Skunk (don't see these often) wandering along the side of the road.
Perhaps my biggest thrill this week was not outdoors. At work, once a year they offer us the chance to apply for academic funds. This year I ordered a lot of books and videos. I got a load of stuff in from ZOOBOOKS and CAROLINA SCIENCE AND MATH (Carolina Biological Supply as it was formerly known). We got in a complete set of Peterson Field Guides, a complete set of Audubon Field Guides, and a set of Simon and Schuster's Field Guides. We also got a set of butterfly nets and replacement bags and some other various books, with more stuff coming soon. I deeply appreciate the fact that these funds are available. It helps me to help the kids enjoy nature, science, and learning.
Week ending 02-18-01
We've had some warm days, and some cooler days this week. Rains and storms off and on throughout the week. It's made for a nice bit of midwinter herping. Several times I've stopped at wetlands and listened to the calls of the Upland Chorus Frogs.
On Tuesday (2-13-01) I heard them in Laurens, in town, in a little wetland area.
On Thursday (2-15-01) I had a little time in the evening to go out. I went to the pond after sundown and looked around. No Chorus frogs but I heard a few Spring Peepers, and found one male. I picked up a very nice Pickerel Frog. A few American Toads were out - males, walking/marching down the hill towards the pond. In the clear shallows I saw maybe a dozen or so leeches, all small ones, swimming or crawling along on the bottom. Bats chirped as they zoomed overhead. The next morning (Friday 2-16-01) before dawn, there were a few more toads on the roads as I went to work. It's still very early for this but these males seem determined to get things started.
On Sunday (2-18-01) I went to the river pasture to check on the salamanders. Under the "good log" there were two. One I had seen before, the other was a new one. By the backswamp was a log with two Spots under it, and another log had a single Spot present. Canada Geese, Mallards and Wood Ducks completed the scenery. The geese, along with Chorus Frogs and Barred Owls supplied the background music for my afternoon.
Throughout the week I've seen some other good birds here and there; Red-Tailed Hawks, Red-Shouldered Hawks, Kestrels, Barred Owls, Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, and, several times while crossing the Enoree River I've seen wild Mallard Ducks in the shoals below the bridge. All very nice birds. Birding takes place behind Herptiles and Insects in my life but in winter it can supply some much-needed nature time.
Spring is close,
Week ending 02-25-01
On Sunday (2-18-01) evening, I talked for quite some time to the man who owns the river pasture. I taught him about the importance of the tributaries and backswamps. We looked at the Spotted Salamanders and discussed how their lives revolve around the seasonal wetlands. He seems committed to protecting (and even enhancing, if possible) these habitats. Score one for the environment!
On Monday (2-19-01) I was up and off early to Chattanooga, TN, to attend a PARC (Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation) meeting. There were the expected sessions on "what has been done," "what is being done," and "what should be done," with all the debate and mixed opinions that accompany such meetings. But, it did seem to be a very productive meeting. One highlight for me was the people. I saw folks I had met before such as David Scott and Dennis Herman. I met others like Julian Harrison, John Jenson, Paul Moler, and Lisa Powers. All very nice. Of course, Jeff Holmes (my brother) was there and did a very informative yet humorous, presentation about what the Nature Conservancy in Tennessee is now doing to protect species in trouble. That same night he did a different presentation, a musical performance in a local bar. Bar? Herpetologists? We had a good time, but it might interest all to know that we were also well behaved!
On the way home Wednesday (2-21-01) I had another great thrill. It was not the many Groundhogs and burrows along the road (love them big fat rodents) or the Beaver lodge (love these big fat rodents also). No, the really neat thing was about 60 miles north of Atlanta on I-75. I was driving south, and meeting me head-on was a great flock of about 40 geese, in two loosely connected V-formations. As I got closer, thinking, "That's nice. They're so pretty. I never saw geese until I was about 18." (and other nice thoughts about Geese), I suddenly realized these geese were different. Large, fairly dark, with necks stretched out front, but, they also had long legs stretched out behind?!?!? SANDHILLS! They were Sandhill Cranes, wintering in Northern Florida and the nearby Okeefenokee Swamp; with warm weather in late winter they would have been passing right through this location. It's been 5 years or so since I've seen these great birds; it's always a thrill.
Back at work, I got some more stuff in (that I'd ordered with educational funds) from BioQuip including lots of great books and videos. Still waiting on the last of the stuff from Zoobooks and Carolina Biological. Had a great opportunity to acquire this stuff, just couldn't pass it by.
On Friday (2-23-01), on campus, we found Mourning Cloaks, Green Anoles, Ground Skinks, several Fence Lizards and Slimy Salamanders.
Saturday (2-24-01), I stopped a couple of times on the way home from work and heard Upland Chorus Frogs in one location (in strong chorus) and a few Spring Peepers in the other place.
On Sunday (2-25-01), it was wet and fairly warm outside. In the afternoon, my son and I went to the river pasture. We saw Mallards, Wood Ducks, Geese, Belted Kingfisher, about 50 Wild Turkey, Spotted Salamanders, Marbled Salamanders, Three-Lined Salamanders, Southern Leopard Frog, and we each found Eastern Mud Turtles (our first turtle catches of the year). There were several places with Peepers and/or Upland Chorus Frogs calling. Some Leopards chuckled a bit, and we found about a dozen egg masses in one little area. Lots of fun. Father and son time together. I will say of the Spotteds, that one was a male I'd seen once before, and the other two were females I'd not seen. Cool. Tonight I returned to the backswamp in the pasture. I heard Pickerel, S. Leopard, American Toad, Peeper, and Upland Chorus Frogs. Peepers were the dominant voice but it was the Chorus Frogs I needed to catch. It took a bit of effort, as they fell silent at my approach, but I did succeed in getting 3 males in the bag. These will be photographed and released.
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