SC Reptile and Amphibians
Week ending 04-29-01
Except for cold rain on Wednesday, this has been a beautiful week. I have seen a few DORs: Black Rat Snake, Black Racer, Corn Snake, Eastern Kingsnake and Green Snake.
Late Thursday afternoon (04-26-01), I walked around the farm and checked all of my coverboards. I did find any herps.
On Friday evening (04-27-01), returning home from work about 7 pm, I found an adult Redbelly Water in the middle of my driveway. The snake held a classic Redbelly pose and the western sunlight was perfect. I should have just pulled out my camcorder and taken its picture, but I tried to catch it instead. I am not as agile as I once was and the snake escaped.
On Sunday (04-29-01) Win and I herped in McCormick County. We first visited the location where we had been told there were Cottonmouths (see notes for 04-08-01). This was my third visit to this area this Spring. We did not see any snakes; however, the morning temperature was still a little cool.
We then moved into areas where Pigmy Rattlesnakes have been found. The first interesting observation we made was of a bee colony in the ground. Each female bee digs its own hole, but several dozen total bees nested in the same small area. As the temperature rose, we began finding lizards. We found a male Fence Lizard sunning on Wisteria vine. The Fence lizard did not flee, even though we approached very close to make pictures. We passed by the same vine about 45 minutes later and the lizard was still there. He had just moved down the vine with the movement of the sun. It was a good day for lizards. Besides Fence Lizards, we saw Green Anoles, Ground Skinks, a female Redheaded Skink, and a Five-lined Skink. We found a lot of Black Widow Spiders under the rocks and logs we rolled. (The one pictured was very large; if you look closely, you can see Win's reflection on its abdomen!)
In the early afternoon we walked along the shore of Lake Thurmond. At the end of a small ismus, we found many small boulders and rocks lining the shore. Win spotted an adult male Brown Water Snake sunning in the cracks between the rocks. The snake was well protected and Win was very lucky to have seen it. Our experience with Browns has been seeing them dart for cover as soon as they notice us. This snake must have thought itself invisible. It remained in place as we took pictures. The Win reached between the rocks and grasped the snake in the middle of its body. I had to reach down and remove a rock in order for Win to be able to extract the snake. This Brown was remarkedly calm after Win lifted it from the rocks. It released a little musk but made no serious attempts to bite. We took some more pictures and then returned the snake to where we found it. I had heard that Browns were in the Lake. Now we have confirmed the reports.
Moving down the shoreline, Win turned over a rock and found an immature Northern Water Snake, approximately 24 inches in length. This little snake was much more aggressive in its defense than the larger Brown Water Snake had been. We took pictures and released this specimen also.
As we left the lake area, back on a paved highway again, we spotted a young Black Racer (about 30 inches) in the road. When it saw us it began husting towad the woods on the left side. Since I wanted to get some better pictures of a Black Racer, I brought the truck to a quick stop and Win jumped out. It was a close race but Win grasped the Racer as it was crossing the finish line (a rusty barbed-wire fence). The little snake drew blood from Win but it was caught.
On our trip to home, we returned to the location of the reported Cottonmouths. Despite a diligent search, we did not spot any snakes. I am now ready to conclude that the Cottonmouths were just miss-identified water snakes. All was not in vain, however; the scenery was beautiful.
About half way home, I spotted an interesting sign on a side road. Curiosity led us to down this road a for about a mile, but we did not find Jim.
Week ending 04-29-01
Last week, one tidbit of information I neglected to pass along involved our (mainly) Canadian visitors. While around the pond on Friday evening, I scooped up a Whirlygig Beetle. They all seemed to get quite a kick out of smelling it! Seems they had never actually sniffed one, and since most of what you encounter in the animal world smells unpleasant, they were surprised to learn of its pretty, grape-like odor! Other finds included Leeches and Diving Beetles
This week I've been outside a bit, and enjoyed some nice, mild temperatures.
Monday (4-23-01), armed with my SC counties atlas and the desire to catch a snake in every SC county, I traveled across Union County to the west side of Chester and southwest York Counties. I found an old burned out house down a dirt road in York and thought, "This won't take long." I flipped the rusted tin on the ground and found............an Opossum. Later in Chester County I found a scrap of plywood in a pile of debris (again on a dirt road) and as I reached to turn it, out bolted a Cottontail Rabbit. Later under a log (in National Forest) I found a mouse. Finally under loose pine bark, and Eyed Click Beetle. Under an old sign in Chester was a nest of Bumblebees. I turned a fair bit of stuff but found no snakes! I did find some Cricket Frogs behind an old store but that was it. Back in Union County, under some tin at an old barn, I found two Black Racers and a Smooth Earth Snake. I did find some nice areas and do plan to return soon to fulfill my goal in York and Chester.
Tuesday (4-24-01), found my small Eastern Wormsnake under my tin once again.
Wednesday (4-25-01), kids at work found a small Eastern Kingsnake under tin. I'll photocopy its belly pattern (for an ID) and release him where he was found.
Thursday (4-26-01), Stopped at a couple of sites on the way home from work and found a very big, very old, scarred up, pre-shed, Black Ratsnake. He was up in the 6 foot plus range (72-76 inches) and very heavy bodied for a Ratsnake.
Friday (4-27-01), Down at the River Pasture, I saw a Black Racer and heard another snake sliding into cover. It may well have been a Racer also. I found the expected Fowlers Toads, Eastern Mud Turtle, and Marbled Salamander. Legions of River Cooters were basking on the logs and rocks in the river. Under the "good log" was NOTHING! First time since Christmas that there has not been a Spotted Salamander there! It's like the last one waited on our visitors to arrive before retreating to his underground world. There were plenty of Killdeer, Turkeys, White-Tail Skimmers and other nice things to look at. I did find a swarm of Honeybees in a hollowed tree, and the expected Black Widows under logs/debris. Reasons for caution! Caught a few C. repandas on the sandy sections of riverbank. Nice day.
Saturday (4-28-01), I found the little Worm Snake again and a small Eastern Kingsnake under my tin. Checked its belly and got a match with the one from 4-13-01. Same snake. Recorded the date and the fact that it had shed. Went to a family thing in Gastonia, NC. Not supposed to get musked or anything else socially improper, but I did scout a bit in Cherokee County and spotted a Northern Watersnake in a small creek. He got away but I'll be back soon with a flashlight, eat supper, drop my wife off at the outlet stores, and go catch a Cherokee County snake! Sounds like a plan.
Sunday (4-29-01), More family business in Gastonia. No time for herping. We stopped once and I did sneak off behind the store and flipped a piece of plywood (signboard) but found nothing.
Well, I hope you all have a good week and can spend at least some of it outdoors!
Week ending 04-22-01
I hate to say it, but I had another week without herping. During the week, I turned over a couple of coverboards near my home and found a Slimy Salamander and a large female Five-lined Skink. While driving into town, decided to check a large piece of cardboard that had been discarded on the side of the road. I had seen it before but passed it by. Under it I found a pair of Cotton Rats in a grass nest.
Sunday (04-22-01) Joey Holmes dropped by with a Jordan's Salamander, Clemson variation, so I could take pictures for the web site (see Joey's notes below). In the evening, I found a Green Frog on my patio.
The snakes are stirring around the state and elsewhere. This week, I had 7 e-mail requests for assistance with snake species ID.
Week ending 04-22-01
Been quite a week. The expected Butterflies and Dragonflies were available. Green Anoles, various Skinks, and Fence Lizards were all present. Black Ratsnakes and Racers are beginning to show up as DORs.
Monday (4-16-01): I traveled to the SC mountains with hopes of finally finding an Eastern Milksnake or Timber Rattler. I had some small hopes of Wood Frogs or Clemson Salamanders. I went a little west of the area I usually search and ended up in Oconee County. I rolled some logs, flipped some trash/debris, lifted some rocks, and peeled a little bark. I didn't see a single reptile. At one point I heard a snake, sliding through dry leaves, under a large rock. I looked and looked. I used my watch to reflect sunlight into the space under the rock but saw nothing. A few yards away I flipped some rocks and under one was lucky enough to find a Clemson Salamander (a SC variation of the Jordan's Salamander). My one and only herptile of the day, but I'd say worth it, as this was a new species for me! I did find a small shed skin in a rock wall and it was blotched, but not a Milksnake, it was a Cornsnake shed or maybe a small Black Ratsnake. I'm not totally sure and didn't get it all.
Tuesday (4-17-01): Very cool for this time of year.
Wednesday (4-18-01): A bit warmer, but not enough to suit me.
Thursday (4-19-01) and Friday (4-20-01): Visitors arrived! A colleague stopped by briefly to pick up a few items. Then a group of 5 herpetological students doing salamander studies in the smokies came down to herp around a bit here. Most were from Alberta. I had previous corresponded with some of them by e-mail and talked of herping together whenever we could. Now was the time! A close friend, my son Hunter, and I took a lot of pride in being able to show them the area. They were excited about the possibility of seeing Marbled, Three-Lined, and Spotted Salamanders. That was accomplished in short order! They got to find their Spotted under the "good log". Other amphibians included Cricket Frogs, Fowlers Toad, Southern Leopard Frogs, Northern Dusky Salamanders, Two-Lined Salamanders, and Slimy Salamanders. Our weather was a bit cool and reptiles came up short but we did get Southeastern Five-Lined Skink, Five-Lined Skink, Ground Skink, Fence Lizard, Eastern Worm Snake, Eastern Mud Turtle, Eastern Painted Turtle, and saw River Cooters basking from a distance. We heard or saw but failed to catch Peepers, Bullfrogs, Pickerel Frogs, and Gray Treefrogs. They enjoyed the birding and invertebrates also. All fun stuff, and some new species to our friends. One of the students brought my friend and I each a signed copy of John Acorn's new book, "TIGER BEETLES OF ALBERTA". It's a great book, and I've spent little time with it so far but will get into it ASAP. Thanks! And thanks John! We both appreciate it so very much!
Saturday (4-21-01): After work, I stopped by the river pasture. Glad that my new friends had enjoyed their walks there. I thought to myself, "too bad there weren't more snakes out for them" and then I promptly caught an adult Black Racer!
Sunday 4-22-01: I took a quick (10 minute) walk around the cemetery across the road. It was rather warm (low 80's) and I saw three small, Six-Lined Racerunners. Another easy animal that my friends missed due to the cool temps during their visit. Later, about a mile down the road from home, I found a DOR Mole Kingsnake! 93 cm long male! Full stomach! I took down complete data and tagged him, bagged him, and put him in the freezer.
Week ending 04-15-01
This was a beautiful, warm week but I did not get to do any herping. All work, no play.
On Thursday evening (04-12-01) I noticed for the first time this year Cricket Frogs singing at the farm pond. Spring Peepers, Pickerel Frogs, and Fowlers Toads were also singing. I did not hear any Chorus Frogs.
Saturday (04-14-01): I saw a DOR Black Racer near home.
Week ending 04-15-01
It has been warm this week. Quite warm. Butterflies and Dragonflies are out in numbers. We've managed to collect a few Dragonflies and process them for our little collection. Lizards of the expected species are abundant. Fowlers Toads are showing up in the yard on campus.
Monday (4-9-01), I went herping with Win Ott. I was wanting to add Newberry to the list of SC counties, in which, I had caught snakes. We worked some areas of National Forest in the Northern and Western sections, and at just about noon, we scored a small Black Ratsnake. My objective was completed. We also visited some spots in Laurens County and in one location we found a Southeastern Crowned Snake. I've caught only 5 of these snakes in my life and 3 were in this location. We also found plenty of 6-Spotted Tiger Beetles.
Tuesday (4-10-01), At work I found 11 Tulip Tree Silkworm Moths and 4 Luna Moths, around the front of my "mouse house". It has a large flood light on top and is quite a bug magnet! I scanned in the Little Mole Kingsnake's belly pattern and released him where he was found. (I'll keep the scanned image and check it with other Mole Kings from here around the yard for ID purposes.) I went to the pond after dark. Cricket Frogs, Peepers, Green Treefrogs, Gray Treefrogs, and Fowlers Toads were all calling. I saw 2 Eastern Mud Turtles foraging in the shallows. Best thing was the Watersnakes. I saw about 9 watersnakes, and succeeded in picking up 4 Redbellied and 1 Midlands to show my students. Plenty of musk and bites!
Wednesday (4-11-01), 12 Luna Moths under the light of the "mouse house". I don't think I've ever noticed 12 in a year, much less 12 in one morning! In class, my boys were impressed with last night's haul of watersnakes. We went for a walk on campus. Found 2 adult Black Racers. Around sunset, I took the watersnakes back to the pond and released them. On the way back to the house found an AOR Copperhead and escorted him to the safety of the tall grass in the ditch.
Thursday (4-12-01), I looked closely at the 8 Luna Moths I got (Mouse House). There were 7 males and 1 female. Hmmmm. My Glass Lizard and Skink are sure enjoying this sudden food supply!
Friday (4-13-01), On campus, we found a nice Black Ratsnake. At home, I took my little nephew snake hunting! He's 2 years old. Under my tin, we got a (2000 hatched) Eastern Kingsnake and a little Black Racer. He thought that was all just GREAT!
Saturday (4-14-01), Took a photocopy of the Little King's belly (for individual identification). Let him go when I got home.
Sunday (4-15-01), It was cool and rainy, with a lot of Church/family stuff going on. I did get to go for another snake-hunt with my little nephew. Got that little Racer again and a small Eastern Worm Snake.
Week ending 04-08-01
Spring sprang for sure on Friday (04-06-01)! Until then we have had pieces of spring, but all the elements came together on this day: sun and warmth, flowers everywhere, birds singing, bees buzzing, and pollen falling from Pine Trees like snow.
Turtles have be out sunning, but now they are out in mass, climbing atop of one another on logs and rocks. I started Saturday (o4-07-01) morning by moving a live Mud Turtle off the road. In the afternoon I saw the three Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell Turtles which I released into the farm pond last Spring. The two females (each with shell lengths of approximately 18 inches) were basking upon the rock in the middle of the pond. The rock was still covered with a couple inches of water, but this seemed to suit the big females just fine. The adult male (shell length approximately 8 inches) came to the rock and made courting moves. The difference in size between adult males and females in these turtles is amazing.
On Sunday (04-08-01) I revisited the site in McCormick County which I had visited last Saturday (03-31-01). I had been told that Cottonmouths could be found at this site. I have heard similar tales many times for Piedmont locations, but none have been verified. Usually the Cottonmouth turns out to be a non-venomous water snake. Last week I had not seen any snakes at the site; however, the river was flooded. This week the weather was warmer and the water levels within the normal river banks.
As I walked up to the site, I met a couple of fishermen who were leaving. They said they had caught a few fish and had given them to another fisherman who was having better luck. In reply to my query they said they had seen a little snake on the road while driving over but had not seen any at the fishing site. I told them that I had heard that Cottonmouths were often seen here. They said that lots of Cottonmouths were at the site and could be seen wherever snakes came out.
The prime spot for a snake to be basking seemed to me to be a large logjam of debris. This was a substantial pile of tree limbs and trunks which appeared the same today as it had last week. And it was in the bright sunshine. I looked it over but did not see any snakes. Then I used my binocculars to inspect more closely. Although the logjam was not far away and I could see it well, snakes are very cryptic animals. One of the greatest benefits of using binoculars is that it helps me focus my attention. Within a minute or two I spotted large snake. I must admit that for a second, I thought I might be looking at a Cottonmouth. The snake was dry and very dull-colored. I could only see the rear two-thirds. Further inspection revealed the pattern of breaking bands which identified the snake as a Midland Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon pleuralis); definitely not a Cottonmouth. I moved to another location and was able to make a reasonable image of its head and neck. A short distance away, on some rocks, I found another Midland Water Snake. This one was more the classic orange/red coloration.
One cannot prove a negative, but again a seemingly reliable report of Cottonmouths in the Piedmont appears to be another case of mistaken identity.
While about Sunday, I also many large River Cooters basking and several Five-lined Skinks. That evening I noticed that Fowlers Toads were singing in the farm pond.
Week ending 04-08-01
This week the Dogwoods and Azaleas have come into bloom. The weather has warmed up also. The turtles (River Cooters and Gulf Coast Spiny Softshells) have been basking on the shoals at the river. Dragonflies of several species and numbers of Butterflies have been seen. Very nice.
On Monday (4-2-01) My son and I took advantage of Spring. We headed off to Jasper County. Along the way we stopped at several locations and under debris we found 2 Copperheads. We worked our way over to Tillman, and there we found 2 Herpetologist! Jeff Holmes (my brother, in from Tenn) and Wade Kalinowski (of the Webb Wildlife Center). We went to the Webb Wildlife Center and under Wade's directions, we flipped lots of tin, rolled some logs, and looked into lots of stumps. Jeff spotted a Timber (Canebrake) Rattler but it quickly retreated into its stumphole. My son caught his first Corn Snake under loose pine bark. We saw the expected Fox Squirrels, Gray Squirrels, Hispid Cotton Rats, Mice, Deer, Armadillos (2 of them), Fence Lizards, Green Anoles, Various Skinks, Southern Toad, Southern Cricket Frogs and Marbled Salamanders. The coolest thing was when Wade took us to have a look at one of his study animals, an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. Well hidden in the grass and brush this guy was INVISIBLE! He was hard to see, even when you knew he was there! We also saw a Painted Skimmer and Palamedes Swallowtail (in addition to Tiger and Zebra Swallowtails), and paid little attention to Birds (other than a dozen Bobwhite Quail that got up right in front of my son and scared him nearly to death!)
Tuesday (4-3-01) I had to work (it was cool and rainy anyway). Wednesday (4-4-01) Found a Black Ratsnake in the yard while mowing. Excited, I checked the tin and found a small Racer. Fun. Went to the river pasture, and found a Marbled and Spotted Salamander (both, right where they've been for weeks) and saw some turtles basking.
Thursday (4-5-01) The little Racer was under a different piece of tin.
Friday (4-6-01) Herped in the local National Forest. Skinks and Fence Lizards. Scorpions, Eyed Click Beetle, and Green Darners.
Saturday (4-7-01) Warm and sunny we went to the pond, it was warm and clear and we snorkeled a while. Underwater there were tons of tadpoles, some Toads that had jumped in and were hiding, and I saw two Eastern Mud Turtles. These were fun to watch underwater.
Sunday (4-8-01) Family day at the lake. I took a walk, and found a Marbled Salamander. Noticed Brown-headed Cowbirds in a pasture with some cattle.
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