SC REPTILES & AMPHIBIANS
Week Ending July 25, 1999:
Monday evening I made a short road cruise searching for snakes just after dark. Even though the evening before had been a total bomb, I still believed snakes would be on the roads. Another strike out. However, it was interesting to see the air above the road filled with Mayfiles, like a light snow flurry.
During the rest of the week I saw a few DOR snakes but no live ones: 2 Southern Copperheads, 4 Black Rats, 2 Corns and 1 Eastern King.
Friday morning, Win, myself and a friend traveled back to the Aiken State Park. The heat was too oppressive for us and the herps. We glimpsed one small unidentifiable snake in the water, found one Slimy Salamander, glanced another blackish salamander uncovered in a clump of bog vegetation, netted a few Southern Cricket Frogs, and saw lots of Racerunner Lizards. We found 3 snake trails on the sandy road amongst numerous Racerunner tail drags but not the snakes themselves.
We had heavy rains Saturday evening, so Sunday morning I cruised the nearby roads. Saw a couple DOR snakes (included above), found a live Red Eft (land form of the Red-Spotted Newt), and a couple Box Turtles crossing the pavement.
Very hot this week. Summer seems to be in full swing. There is no rush from or to hibernation, no big breeding frenzy, and there is plenty of vegetation/hiding places for retreat. Everyone seems to have a full belly. In other words, herping is going slow, not much activity!
Seems a decent time to recall some things from the last week or so I forgot to include in recent reports: A week or two ago, while walking on our campus, my students and I saw some fair sized spiders, 3 or 4, that were about the size of a grown spring peeper. They were built like smaller versions of a trap door spider I saw on campus a couple of years ago (this was the only trap door I've ever seen). The trap door seemed the size of my thumb, like a large fishing spider except really bulky. (It was un-Godly). I also saw one of those cool assassin bugs that had the little "flags" on its hind legs. Another cool bug.
Wednesday: Checking the tanks in the lab at the institute, I found two of the recently picked up brown snakes (Dekay's) were no longer plump. In fact, they seemed quite de-flated. We searched through the substrate and came up with 28 babies! Two were put aside for the Otts to photograph for their web-site. The others, and mothers, were released on a damp hillside behind our building. I was surprised at their number, averaged out at 14 babies per mother! Still have two redbelly snakes, two redbelly watersnakes, and one more brown waiting to deliver. The two sets of corn eggs should be hatched by the end of August.
Field herping? Found a copperhead alive on the Interstate! Thursday about 10:30 pm. Still seeing baby lizards around campus. Have not re-set the trap for those softshells as trapping that location requires a good bit of walking and the heat is keeping us inside. We made a funnel trap Friday and set it at the pond last night (Sat) around dark. Went back this AM at sunrise and had nothing. I'll try again. We did go up to the store last night after setting the trap and my son picked his first giant stag beetle off the store-front.
Good birds this week, Goldfinches and Summer Tanagers right on campus!
Week Ending July 18, 1999:
This week began with record cool weather and continued rains. The good news is that the recent rains have reinvigorated the environment. The warm weather returned by Wednesday and the snakes have responded with increased activity. Having found my first Pine Snake (albeit DOR) last week, I was itching to return to the same area to search for a live one. Since Pines are principally diurnal, I headed back to Aiken County Wednesday afternoon. I cruised about 90 miles of roads but did not find a Pine Snake. I did find 5 large Brown Water Snakes basking along the banks of the South Edisto River at a public boat ramp area. I ventured into western Lexington County and found a beautiful adult Corn Snake (AOR). Its dorsal coloration was very much like the Corns found in the Piedmont; however, its belly pattern included yellow within the black markings. This is the first I can remember seeing with this characteristic.
Driving to work Thursday morning I saw and adult Rough Green Snake (DOR) and an adult Black Rat Snake (DOR). That evening I did some local road cruising and found 2 young Southern Copperheads, one alive and the other dead. I also found a young Eastern Kingsnake (approx. 20 inches) alive.
Saturday while driving to and from town on errands I found 4 snakes DOR: a adult Rough Green Snake, an adult Black Rat Snake, and 2 adult Mole Snakes.
On Sunday I found an adult Northern Black Racer (DOR) and a gravid female Rough Green Snake (DOR) during normal daytime travel. That evening seemed perfect for cruising, but after 2.5 hours of searching in prime habitat I had not found a single snake, not even a DOR!
P.S. - After consultation with Joey, I have decided the DOR Pine Snake I found last week was probably more Northern than Florida.
This week started cool and rainy, and now it's boiling hot (1:30 PM Sunday). We got some herping done anyway.
On Tuesday, I checked my tin and found two of the "tan phase" redbelly snakes. Both seemed heavy to the rear and may be gravid.
Wednesday: At work we found a southern ringneck, a new hatched fence lizard (first fence hatchling of the year), some skinks, anoles, and toads were around also. We moved the compost (old shavings from the rodent and herp containers, containing uneaten rat/mouse feed) pile and uncovered chased down and subdued a 17.5" black rat (Rattus?). Thought it might make a nice study skin.
Wed afternoon I stopped by the local pond to have a look around. After checking the plywood coverboard, I turned to go back to the truck and heard a small rustling on the ground.........the rear half of a copperhead was sticking out of some debris. I looked close, in need of shed, and a gravid female. I touched the tail with my hook, to chase it foreward through the debris. She went through, and under trash on the other side. Simple. Flip the trash and pin her. I flipped the trash and underneath; rodent tunnels. I lost her!
After dark, I went back, picked up one DOR copperhead for later skinning, and at the pond caught 2 northern waters and 3 redbelly watersnakes (2 of these mature females; possibly gravid but they were out feeding and have eaten since capture.) There were also some mud turtles (3 adults and 3 half grown), some toads, and a leopard frog.
Thursday: In my classroom, a new ratsnake? An obsoleta? Textbook "greenish". I later found out it came from Lee county SC (Bishopville) and had been brought in by a co-worker I seldom see who has property there.
Friday: Had my class take a stroll around campus. Picked up a gravid brown snake, toads, anoles, chorus frog, and female box turtle. We also found 2 six-spotted tiger beetles and actually caught one by hand. We offered it to the racerunners, and they totally ignored it but then lunged for crickets. (the racerunners we caught about a month ago are doing great, eating well, drinking water from a bowl, and very active; a great tank of lizards).
Saturday: No herping. My Wife's birthday, and also our 16 th anniversary! It's not a good day to get covered with musk!
Week Ending July 11, 1999:
Win and I did not get to herp until Friday when we took a day trip to Aiken State Park. The park superintendent had seen our website and invited us down to help identify herps in the Park. From a personal viewpoint just the trip down was worth taking the day off. Just a little south of I-20 in Aiken County we spotted our first Pine Snake!!! Unfortunately, it was DOR and badly mangled in the front half of its body. I found a Sonoran Gopher Snake on my first trip to West Texas a few years ago, but I have never found a Pine Snake in over 40 years of searching. This snake was an adult, probably 4 to 5 feet in length. Because the front half was so destroyed, I cannot be certain, but my best guess is that it was the Florida subspecies, P. melanoleucus mugitus.
We started our trip a little before 7 a.m. Within a couple of miles were saw a Red-Tailed Hawk on the shoulder of the road grasping some prey animal. Next we saw 2 Eastern Kingsnakes, DOR. Later, immediately after leaving the DOR Pine Snake, we saw a Coyote run across the highway. Although they have been reported in the state for years, this was my first sighting in SC. Just outside the Park we found a recently killed Redbelly Watersnake.
The Aiken State Park is located adjacent to the South Edisto River in the middle of the Sandhills Region of the state. It is a very attractive park with well-maintained facilities. There were few other visitors at the time. After meeting with the Park Superintendent and getting some helpful hints on recent sightings, Win and I began searching some upland pine habitat. The Super said Canebrake Rattlesnakes were commonly seen. He also had seen a Pigmy Rattlesnake and a Slender Glass Lizard recently. Six-lined Racerunner Lizards were just beginning to become active. Our first notable find was a Southern Red Salamander Win found under a log in the depression of a fire control break. As it turned out, Win made all the finds within the Park.
We moved to another upland area of pines and oak. We saw more Racerunners. In an area where a branch flowed across a dirt pathway, Win turned over a small log in the water and found one of the eel-like salamanders. It was small, maybe 9 inches long. He scooped it up in his hands, but it slipped away before he could get it secured in the dip net I was holding.
We then moved to an area of very sandy soils. It was about 11 a.m. and the sun was bright and hot. Racerunners were abundant and their holes were easy to find. We had set out with the hope of finding a Coachwhip. Win had never seen one in the wild and I had not found one alive in over 30 years. They had been common in my area of the Piedmont then. The last one I had seen was a DOR about 10 years ago. The Park Superintendent said he had seen one recently at the park, but otherwise sightings were reportedly rare. We were in my truck leaving the area when I noticed a lot of lines in the sandy road. I stopped and got out to inspect them. They were Racerunner tail drags, as I expected. I was hoping to see a snake track in the sand also. Suddenly Win shouted and jumped out of the truck. This could mean only one thing so I immediately began scanning the underbrush for a fleeing snake.
Win said it was a snake, but it was climbing up a tree instead of running away. I had stopped the truck beside a a 25 to 30 foot high oak tree on the passenger side. The snake must have been under the tree looking for the lizards which had made all the tracks in the road. It had finally become spooked even though we had not seen it. When I finally saw the snake it was about 15 feet up. It was an Eastern Coachwhip!! By climbing up onto the truck tool box I was able to take some decent pictures. I tried to grab it with a pickup stick but it just climbed higher.
Since this was Win's first Coachwhip, he was determined to capture it. With cunning and patience he was able to catch it. More pictures are on the a snake page. Win plans to tell more of the catch in a followup writing.
We did not make anymore remarkable finds. Southern Cricket Frogs were out in abundance, especially around the several ponds in the Park. We did not see any more snakes. There were a number of basking turtles in the ponds. We left about mid afternoon. We had a very enjoyable visit and hope to return soon. All captured herps were released where they were found.
On the trip home we saw a DOR Black Racer and another DOR Eastern Kingsnake.
Sure been a hot week! But we did get some much needed rains and I think the herps responded. We found the first baby anoles and skinks this week, so some hatching is getting underway. Still trapping for the ever elusive Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell Turtle, but it remains "elusive". Box turtles are seen on the roads, some alive, some splattered.
On Wed. I had my class looking under the landscaping timbers around our parking lot (we were getting some toads to feed the garters) and found a small kingsnake and 2 brown snakes in about 10 minutes. We had already caught a racer while out setting the turtle trap. After the afternoon storms, I went road cruising and saw loads of frogs and toads but no snakes.
On Friday while trapping we saw but lost a racer. We then went to another site for cricket frogs and found a ringneck snake and 2 chorus frogs (and surprisingly, no crickets). Friday night on the way into Laurens and back (around sunset), I found 2 copperheads and got a nice little (36") male corn snake, all off the roads. I took one copperhead, that was found a few yards from my mailbox, down to the Sumter National Forest in Laurens county, to a remote area where he could live in peace.
This week the cicadas are still singing, and wood thrush, killdeer, wood ducks, and kingbirds have been the birds I've taken note of.
Week Ending July 4, 1999:
This past week has been hot and humid. The Copperheads love it and are prowling the highways at night. Win and I saw a half dozen: 2 AOR and the rest DOR. One AOR was very dark colored. I stopped to capture it for examination but a car passed between me and the snake. Copperheads on the road usually freeze, providing one plenty of time to capture them. However, the passing car's wind and vibration frightened it, and it bolted across the shoulder and into the kudzu. Other snakes DOR were an adult Black Rat and a juvenile Garter. We have had rain and the Box Turtles have been crossing the roads in significant numbers. Otherwise we have not been able to do much herping.
Here's how the week went for me:
Monday: My son and I took a walk by the Enoree river (about 3 miles) and found 3 racers. There were also many cooters out on the logs. We found some tiger beetles (likely C. repanda, we'd found repandas there before) and enjoyed the walk (hot as it was).
Tues: no outdoor herping, just cage cleaning at work.
Wed: Start a new course at work: Trapping! Sherman traps are in storage, now we go for turtles. We set a turtle basket in the local pond (got a case of freezer-burned cornish hen from the cook for bait). Wed. evening I went to the pond to get a treefrog (no luck) and saw one redbelly water. I checked the trap, while there, and saw one mud turtle and 3 painteds. The students would be excited about a catch like that!
Thurs: We went to the pond with the kids to check the trap. We picked up one mud turtle in the shallows before we got to the trap. When I pulled up the trap it housed one painted, two muds, and a 10 lb snapper (most of my students are city boys, they had never seen such a creature and hailed it as "huge". If they only knew.) On the way to the road we found another mud turtle (a female) on the move and some 100 yards from the water and heading uphill. We also picked up a very nice, sub-adult, male, mole kingsnake!
Fri: Had the kids build another trap, got our cornish hen and went to the Enoree, to go for that elusive gulf coast spiny softshell turtle. We have to hide a trap in that area as many people fish there. We found a suitable spot and set the trap. High hopes.
Sat: No place to park at the river. Too many tube, canoe, fishing and other recreation seekers. Finally squeezed the giant PWI van in off the road and checked the trap. Not a thing! Later, after work went to Greenwood Lake for family holiday weekend. We were there over 24 hours and I did some shore-line prowling at night and by day and saw just one, tiny, unidentified watersnake. Wow! I recall getting a good many in the same spot on the last weekend of May 1978 in the afternoon. Oh well, times change. It is refreshing to see very little habitat destruction in that area.
Best bird this week: Yellow-Billed Cuckoo just north of Clinton, SC. I must also say I've been seeing quite a few robber flies this week and they are pretty neat. Around the water, dragon and damsel flies have been super.
This week is going to be a hot one! Stay in the shade, stay in the water, stay inside.
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