SC Reptile and Amphibians
What a glorious month February can be in the Piedmont of South Carolina! The month started cold, but before mid-month 60-degree days arrived. The remainder of the month was very pleasant and ended with gorgeous 70-degree days. Undoubtedly there will be cold days in March, maybe even snow, but Winter's grasp is now broken.
The Upland Chorus Frogs tentatively began to sing during the second week. On February 11th I was hearing sporadic songs; by the 14th I could hear their chorused songs resounding from the wetlands. A few days later the Spring Peepers and Southern Leopard Frogs began testing their voices and joined the Chorus Frogs in concert the next week. I heard the American Toads begin their trills the last weekend of February.
In the second week of February Joey began finding Green Anoles and Ground Skinks. On the 16th he found his first Eastern Fence Lizard of the year. He also reported seeing basking water turtles. I visited the shoals of the Saluda River at Ware Shoals on the 16th. The River Cooters were massed on the rocks. Back home I found some Three-Lined Salamander larvae in a spring seep. About a week later Win found a large larva (approximately 2 inches total length) of a Northern Dusky Salamander in the same seep.
During the mid-Febrary weekend, Joey with family and friends vacationed at a cabin in Givhans Ferry State Park about 30 miles west of Charleston. He reports, "It was a warm weekend and we were not let down. Anoles and Ground Skinks were common. We saw Sulfur and Eastern Coma Anglewing Butterflies. Also Belted Kingfishers, Osprey, Pileated and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, and Hermit Thrush (plus the expected Herons and Egrets). I had hopes for several Salamander species in the area that were needed for photographs on the web site but all I found in or under logs were Slimys. Frogs were the big hit with me. We needed several frogs also and in no time I had located and secured 2 Southern Chorus Frogs. Peepers were to be heard at all stops, and in one place, We heard Brimley's Chorus Frogs but were unable to find one. Another stop had lots of activity. Of course there were loads of Peepers. We heard some chuckle/grunt/snore sounds. I found a Leopard but believe a couple of other species may also have been singing because the sounds did not seem to be strictly Leopard and other similar-sounding species are in that area. A friend found a Southern Toad. I scored BIG (in a manner of speaking) by wading and listening to track calls, and came up with 3 Little Grass Frogs. A more appropriately named animal you'll seldom find! They are tiny indeed. The drive home Monday was uneventful except for seeing the usual Red Tail Hawks, a Harrier, and (surprised me) a Great Horned Owl in a tree near the interstate. We also saw DOR River Otter and Beaver, mixed in with the usual road-killed Deer/dogs/cats. I don't see many dead Otters on the roads."
In mid-month Win collected some amphibian eggs which had been deposited in the wetlands near home. I am fairly certain they were Upland Chorus Frogs. We put them in an aquarium so we could monitor their development. Using my "toy" digital microscope I have made pictures of their growth. On the 19th the eggs were pretty much just spherical masses. On the 24th, a developing body can be seen. The tadpoles began separating themselves from the jelly on the 26th. If I also made a short movie of one of the tadpoles swimming.
The last week of February was great weather for the amphibians. Joey did a lot herping that week. He reported, "Throughout the week, there have been plenty of Green Anoles and Ground Skinks. We've also seen Slimy Salamanders under cover in hardwood forest.
"On Wednesday evening I went to the pond. Got a few Upland Chorus Frogs and a Leopard Frog. Saw a few American Toads, and collected a handful of Spring Peepers to feed the Ribbon Snakes. In the Shallows of a mucky pool beside the pond, I saw a large dark Salamander. It got away. I believe it most likely to be a Spot, but the possibility exists of Mud, Spring, or even Tiger!
"I took my class out on campus Thursday, and under the rocks in the creek we found several nice Dusky Salamanders and a Two-Lined. We also found, caught and released the first snake of the year (decade, century, millennium) for us: a SUPER EXCITING HUGE DRAMATIC FAST Brown Snake! It must have been at least 10 inches! Oh well, you gotta start somewhere.
"On Thursday night, found the same old frogs/toads, but I did find where the Leopard Frogs have dropped lots of eggs. There is a place out in a grassy section of the pond, maybe a bit more than ankle deep, where the egg masses are. With each egg mass being about the size of your fist, this area in the pond is covering a place about the size of an average bathroom floor! It is so packed with eggs that only in one or two places can you see the bottom through all the egg masses! Of course there are plenty of other masses around, but this site was pretty neat. No swimming salamanders were to be seen on Thursday.
"On Friday, a friend came by and we went back to the pond. I looked really hard into the shallows where the Salamander had been seen. Nothing. We did have a good time and saw lots of the Chorus, Peepers, Leopards, and American Toads (walking downhill, towards the water). We stayed a few minutes and checked out the stars. Nice clear night. We went to another location, the place where we caught Spots earlier this year. We found the same frog species and a Red-Spotted Newt, but no Spots.
"I did not get to herp on Saturday.
"On Sunday morning, with low pressure and approaching rain, I went to a pasture by the Enoree River. I walked about a mile, to a certain log by a wet ditch. This log is almost always good for Marbled Salamanders. I have found 4 under it on several occasions. This time I rolled it over and found 4 Spots! All big ones! I worked around another back swamp pool, in another drainage area of the pasture and found 5 more Spots! In one hour, I had caught more Spotted Salamanders than in the rest of my 38 years combined! I also saw a pair of breeding American Toads and a Leopard Frog. Under several logs I found Black Widow Spiders. Creeps me out when they are near my hands!"
On Sunday night (2-27-00) I accompanied Joey and his son to the pasture. We found 6 Spots (5 of which were under logs that had Spots in the morning) but Joey's son did find one out walking. This obviously was a really good day for them. The weather was just right, and we could afford the time to go looking for them.
After leaving the pasture, we visited the frog pond. There were lots of American Toads in the water. The overall frog symphony was almost deafening. We saw a couple of breeding balls of American Toads. Joey collected a couple of dozen toads to feed the snakes at the lab.
On Saturday afternoon, the 26th, I found an Eastern Mud Turtle basking in sunshine about a foot in front of its hibernation den. The den was a hole under an overturned tree stump at the edge of a field about 200 feet from water. The turtle still had small pieces of mud clinging to its shell. I was without my camera, so I rushed back to home to get it. When I returned about 5 minutes later it was gone. I must have spooked it.
I have intended to restart posting herping notes on a weekly basis in March. However, it looks like I will be doing a lot of traveling in the near future. I will post notes as frequently as I can. It looks like March will be a good herping time locally. I hope it will be the same for all of you.
with reports from Joey Holmes and Win Ott
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