My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

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MonarchzMan
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My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by MonarchzMan » November 14th, 2014, 10:11 pm

I decided at the beginning of the year that I wanted to go with a Year of the Salamander photo project to photograph salamanders in the Meet Your Neighbours style (read: on white). I know some don't like this particular style of photography, but I think it's useful to highlight the animal, which for a number of salamander species, is highly useful for identification (read: Desmognathus).

I feel like, in general, salamanders get the short end of the stick as far as popularity, even in the herper community. It could be because they're largely fossorial and out of sight. They're poorly understood, even in the scientific community as compared to their more saltational cousins. With the recent publicity about American salamanders being threatened with chytrid found in Europe, I feel like drawing attention to the incredible diversity of salamanders in the U.S. is even more important. And given that the U.S. is the world leader for salamander diversity, I feel like that has to be celebrated.

I was hoping to hit 50 species for the year which would be over 25% of the salamanders found in the U.S. and a respectable number for a year on limited funds and time. Unfortunately, I was not able to hit that, but did manage to get 36 species for the year, which is still a respectable number, but in doing so, I've decided that I want to extend this project to a multi-year project and see if I can photograph all 189 species of U.S. salamander. That may be a tall order given the rarity and protection of some species, but it's worth a shot! This year, I hit the southern Appalachians twice this year and a brief stint in the Pacific Northwest. Next year, hopefully, I'll be able to hit the Appalachians again and the Ozarks. Hopefully, at some point, I can get out to California and get the sallies there (in particular, I'd really love to get all of the Ensatina subspecies).

A friend of mine created a composite that I liked since they were great for diagnostic purposes, so I'm replicating that here. The maps come from AmphibiaWeb (From Laura Blackburn, Priya Nanjappa, and Michael J. Lannoo (2001) US Amphibian Dist. Maps (http://home.bsu.edu/home/00mjlannoo/)). So without further ado, here's what I found this year. And don't worry, those who don't like the white backgrounds, I have taken a few of habitat shots ;)

Stay tuned for next year to see the additions!

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The Real Snake Man
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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by The Real Snake Man » November 14th, 2014, 10:41 pm

A great idea with great execution and apparently a good deal of success in locating your targets. Fantastic photography. I look forward to seeing how this project advances over the years.

-Gene

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Mark Brown
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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by Mark Brown » November 15th, 2014, 2:07 am

That's a fantastic project! Salamanders were never given short shrift in my world - when I lived in salamander country (Ohio) I enjoyed them nearly as much as snakes, and now that I live in a place where they're not nearly so common, they're about the only thing I miss about the Midwest.

Do you have any plans to collate and publish your results when you finally reach your goal? Sure would make a great book.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by Antonsrkn » November 15th, 2014, 2:50 am

Do you have any plans to collate and publish your results when you finally reach your goal? Sure would make a great book.
I'd buy it, really good presentation and quality of shots. Some of those species i was aware of but never realized how range restricted they were before seeing this post, it was enlightening. I generally am not crazy about the white backgrounds but like you said I think it worked really well for this!

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by Msteffen » November 15th, 2014, 9:53 am

You're going to want to re-think that D. wrighti I think. My opinion is based on color, tail length, and head structure.

Mike

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by cbernz » November 15th, 2014, 9:56 am

Yes, salamanders are given short shrift, if not outright disdain, within the herp community, despite being more morphologically and biologically diverse than any other group of herps. I still can't quite figure out why - maybe it's because you generally can't road-cruise salamanders in warm weather, and there aren't any venomous ones. In any case, I love salamanders, and I think your multi-year salamander quest is a noble one. You've gotten some great shots of some premium quality salamanders here. I particularly love that Spring Salamander (danielsi?) - what a screamer! I also know, based on my experience attempting to photograph some of those species, that you put a lot of work into getting those damn things to sit still for those excellent shots. Very well done.

One small thing - your D. wrighti looks to me like an interestingly patterned D. ocoee (or whatever the Dusky species would be at that location). D. wrighti should be stubbier, shorter-tailed, and have coppery eyelids and a clearer herringbone pattern.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by chrish » November 15th, 2014, 10:25 am

Cool idea and great output.

I am one of those who is not fond of the white background ;) , but I do see the benefit of the underside shots.

This might be good candidate for cross-polarization to get rid of some of the glare on the darker sals - http://www.naturescapes.net/articles/te ... otography/. It doesn't look good in all situations, but it really might make a difference here.

Good luck with the project. That would be a blast.

And I agree, a book of those plates would make a nice coffee table book.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by pops » November 15th, 2014, 10:34 am

Wow! Great idea, thx for posting this. Can't wait to see more!!-Dave

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by mtratcliffe » November 15th, 2014, 11:38 am

Glad to hear you had a productive year, and I love the photos w/the range maps. Really neat post!

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by MattSullivan » November 15th, 2014, 12:28 pm

very cool dude. great shots and nice idea. i think amphibians, especially salamanders work really well on white to show them off

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by MonarchzMan » November 15th, 2014, 2:37 pm

I'd love to make some sort of book at the end of the project. I haven't quite thought that far ahead, but I think this sort of style would lend itself well to a coffee table type of book.

Chrish, I've thought about cross polarization in the past, and it might be worth looking into, not only for the dark salamanders, but also for the wet ones. It's such a trial to get decent shots of those desmogs without having giant hotspots.
Msteffen wrote:You're going to want to re-think that D. wrighti I think. My opinion is based on color, tail length, and head structure.

Mike
Thanks for letting me know. Desmogs are a major pain, and I outsourced to some friends who live in Desmog country and are more accustomed to them. Any suggestions on what it might be?

cbernz, I don't think it's D. ocoee. It was found just south of Johnson City, TN, which would be out of the range of D. ocoee, as best as I can tell.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by The Real Snake Man » November 15th, 2014, 3:10 pm

As opposed to a coffee table book (which of course is up to you, and I'd still buy it), how about a good-sized book that mostly chronicles in detail your major searches and successes (and possible failures: Eurycea robusta, perhaps) and has color plates of each US species in the center. Throughout the book you could use the great in-habitat shots, but the plates would be just on white, in an attempt to show diagnostic features and the like. Maybe you could even have the chapters broken up for special topics, like hellbenders being the focus of one, and Texas cave/spring salamanders the focus of another. I don't know; that's the format that jumps out at me for this kind of thing. Getting pretty excited about this. You no longer have a choice. You must finish the project, and you must publish a book about it. :)

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by MonarchzMan » November 15th, 2014, 3:17 pm

The Real Snake Man wrote:As opposed to a coffee table book (which of course is up to you, and I'd still buy it), how about a good-sized book that mostly chronicles in detail your major searches and successes (and possible failures: Eurycea robusta, perhaps) and has color plates of each US species in the center. Throughout the book you could use the great in-habitat shots, but the plates would be just on white, in an attempt to show diagnostic features and the like. Maybe you could even have the chapters broken up for special topics, like hellbenders being the focus of one, and Texas cave/spring salamanders the focus of another. I don't know; that's the format that jumps out at me for this kind of thing. Getting pretty excited about this. You no longer have a choice. You must finish the project, and you must publish a book about it. :)
Haha, that all sounds good to me. I guess I need to start chronicling the adventures (could be a trip by trip basis for the chapters).

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by Stohlgren » November 15th, 2014, 3:35 pm

MonarchzMan wrote:Image
This looks to be a young quadramaculatus. The two rows of white spots along the sides are indicative. The belly is just beginning to develop the black coloration.

And I agree that your pygmy is probably an ochrophaeus complex animal.

-Kevin

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by MonarchzMan » November 15th, 2014, 4:20 pm

Stohlgren wrote:
MonarchzMan wrote:Image
This looks to be a young quadramaculatus. The two rows of white spots along the sides are indicative. The belly is just beginning to develop the black coloration.

And I agree that your pygmy is probably an ochrophaeus complex animal.

-Kevin
That was a pretty large individual (like 4"), would that be a young quadramaculatus?

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by Stohlgren » November 15th, 2014, 4:50 pm

Yes. Quads are one of the largest (if not the largest) Desmogs. Total length can exceed 8".

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by cbernz » November 15th, 2014, 5:26 pm

MonarchzMan wrote:\cbernz, I don't think it's D. ocoee. It was found just south of Johnson City, TN, which would be out of the range of D. ocoee, as best as I can tell.
That would make it carolinensis or orestes, depending on where you are. I'm not certain where the divide is, or whether there is any overlap. Desmogs are tough. Every trip I make to the Southern Appalachians, I find a good number of individuals which I don't bother to try to identify to species (especially young ones).

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by cbernz » November 15th, 2014, 5:27 pm

Also, would you mind sharing your techniques for shooting these photos?

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by chrish » November 15th, 2014, 6:35 pm

MonarchzMan wrote:Chrish, I've thought about cross polarization in the past, and it might be worth looking into, not only for the dark salamanders, but also for the wet ones. It's such a trial to get decent shots of those desmogs without having giant hotspots.
Have you tried using just a polarizer? They will remove some of those reflections just by themselves.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by MonarchzMan » November 15th, 2014, 9:13 pm

cbernz wrote:
MonarchzMan wrote:\cbernz, I don't think it's D. ocoee. It was found just south of Johnson City, TN, which would be out of the range of D. ocoee, as best as I can tell.
That would make it carolinensis or orestes, depending on where you are. I'm not certain where the divide is, or whether there is any overlap. Desmogs are tough. Every trip I make to the Southern Appalachians, I find a good number of individuals which I don't bother to try to identify to species (especially young ones).
Yea, once I realized basically all Desmogs are spotted when they're juveniles, I decided to stop taking photos of those as there is little hope in IDing them.

Here is my "field studio" which is just a piece of 12"x12" acrylic on a PVC stand (which conveniently collapses and all fits in my backpack. I have a larger one (18"x24") for large animals like snakes and turtles, but for 95% of what I shoot, this small one works great. It is a little tough with a 9-10" Dicamptodon on it, though. I have a flash remotely triggered by my twin flash, and then I just adjust the two such that the bottom gives "pure" white, and the top properly exposes the animal. I usually have to do a little bit of touch up in Lightroom to get everything just right.

ImageField Studio by J.P. Lawrence Photography, on Flickr
chrish wrote:Have you tried using just a polarizer? They will remove some of those reflections just by themselves.
In the past, I've tried using a circular polarizer, which has had some success, but not as much as I'd like. I read/heard somewhere opinions on filters, and the one that struck me most was "why put a $50 piece of glass in front of a $1000 lens?" It's a difficult answer to justify. I have a decent polarizer, but do need to invest in one of the high quality ones.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by pete » November 16th, 2014, 9:23 am

That is fantastic! I like the way you set it up and the field shots are beautiful!

Very nice job :thumb:

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by Jeroen Speybroeck » November 17th, 2014, 4:38 am

Predictably from my avatar, I liked this very much, thanks!

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by Noah M » November 17th, 2014, 5:45 am

I can't believe the range restrictions on some of these. It really shows the value of Appalachia.

This is a neat project. I wish you the best of luck.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by MonarchzMan » November 17th, 2014, 6:09 am

captainjack0000 wrote:I can't believe the range restrictions on some of these. It really shows the value of Appalachia.

This is a neat project. I wish you the best of luck.
Whenever I get to spend more time on the West Coast, you'll see that it's just as impressive. Then there's the odd Eurycea radiation in and around Austin, Texas. That one greatly intrigues me.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by Mark Brown » November 17th, 2014, 7:06 am

MonarchzMan wrote:Whenever I get to spend more time on the West Coast, you'll see that it's just as impressive. Then there's the odd Eurycea radiation in and around Austin, Texas. That one greatly intrigues me.
You should come and explore - it's a wonderful place to visit (and to live). I worked closely with a guy back in the early '80s who was a weekend pot hunter and he used to talk about finding salamanders in quite a few of the small caves where he was looking for artifacts. He was an all-round naturalist so I never had any reason not to believe him, and none of those caves were known to researchers at the time, though he was doing a lot of his exploration in the Jollyville area and he may have been seeing what would end up being described as the Jollyville Plateau Salamander many years later. I suspect there's still a LOT of work to be done on the central Texas blind salamanders.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by MonarchzMan » November 17th, 2014, 8:33 am

Mark Brown wrote:You should come and explore - it's a wonderful place to visit (and to live). I worked closely with a guy back in the early '80s who was a weekend pot hunter and he used to talk about finding salamanders in quite a few of the small caves where he was looking for artifacts. He was an all-round naturalist so I never had any reason not to believe him, and none of those caves were known to researchers at the time, though he was doing a lot of his exploration in the Jollyville area and he may have been seeing what would end up being described as the Jollyville Plateau Salamander many years later. I suspect there's still a LOT of work to be done on the central Texas blind salamanders.
At some point, I would like to do that. I'd really like to contact people working with these salamanders (particularly the federally listed species) to see if they could show me some of the salamanders so I could get photos. I'd really like to avoid fines or jail for wanting to take pictures of salamanders... I'm still trying to figure out the best method for doing water shots, though, so I'd like to avoid much in the way of the aquatics until I have a reliable method that I'm satisfied with.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by chrish » November 17th, 2014, 8:35 am

Not to sidetrack your wonderful series here, but maybe this would be an appropriate place to point people to an issue I brought up on the NAFHA forum - viewtopic.php?f=12&t=20943

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by Bostaff of Asclepius » November 18th, 2014, 1:24 pm

Great work, looking forward to your future contributions!

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by simus343 » November 18th, 2014, 5:20 pm

I must say I really actually enjoyed the white backgrounds that displayed the species range maps. This has really opened my eyes to what salamanders I have yet to see in Northwest Florida and has inspired me to get the heck out there this winter and really scope out some areas more closely on Eglin and possibly in Blackwater if I get the chance! And so, for giving me some inspiration for this winter's herping, thanks heaps! :beer:

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by MonarchzMan » November 18th, 2014, 6:38 pm

simus343 wrote:I must say I really actually enjoyed the white backgrounds that displayed the species range maps. This has really opened my eyes to what salamanders I have yet to see in Northwest Florida and has inspired me to get the heck out there this winter and really scope out some areas more closely on Eglin and possibly in Blackwater if I get the chance! And so, for giving me some inspiration for this winter's herping, thanks heaps! :beer:
I might do a spring trip to ANF for snakes and salamanders. There's a bunch of species that occur in that area (I'd LOVE to find some of the Flatwoods Salamanders).

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by simus343 » November 18th, 2014, 7:30 pm

MonarchzMan wrote: I might do a spring trip to ANF for snakes and salamanders. There's a bunch of species that occur in that area (I'd LOVE to find some of the Flatwoods Salamanders).
I got to meat Dr. Bruce Means a few years ago at a lecture and book signing he had at a Library near me. He talked about the time he spent studying Flatwoods Salamanders in the ANF, and he noted that even in ponds that remained what would be considered suitable to perfect habitat, they disappeared from. As a result I think it may be a little challenging, but good luck! They seem very sensitive to everything (maybe evolution is just catching up to them) so I'd be super careful about any equipment you use while out looking for them such as boots.

Another very well known conservation area to support Flatwoods Salamanders that comes up in almost all literature I have read on them, is the extensive 464,000 acre Eglin Reservation, 250,000 acres of which is conditionally open to public recreation according to the Florida FWC. It may be worth a look there, but they can be very uptight about conservation and may have already permanently restricted areas, with no exceptions, that support Flatwoods Salamanders. Not to mention the constantly changing access because of military training and drills.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by FrogO_Oeyes » November 18th, 2014, 8:10 pm

It may be interesting to note that many of the species already covered are possible or probable composites of cryptic species [Desmognathus marmoratus, D.ocoee, D.quadramaculatus, D.conanti, Aneides aeneus, Eurycea spp., etc], as are a number of those yet-to-be-recorded.

I have to agree with the others - nice work, it looks great and would make a desirable hardcover.

I have had a decent year, for being a canuck in the upper Midwest - 8 species. With luck I hope to manage one or two more despite the winter weather, and next year blitz 30 or more [many being undescribed cryptic species].

Good luck, I look forward to seeing more!

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by MonarchzMan » November 18th, 2014, 8:39 pm

FrogO_Oeyes wrote:It may be interesting to note that many of the species already covered are possible or probable composites of cryptic species [Desmognathus marmoratus, D.ocoee, D.quadramaculatus, D.conanti, Aneides aeneus, Eurycea spp., etc], as are a number of those yet-to-be-recorded.
Yea, I know. Those and the slimies are probably cryptic. In general, biogeography of salamanders are quite poorly researched. I wouldn't be surprised if those were each complexes of a half a dozen species.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by justinm » November 22nd, 2014, 8:03 am

JP,

I want to buy this right now. This is a great idea, well executed. I am bookmarking the post as a favorite and will continue to look it over. I love it. Habitat shots have their place but this shows the animals clearly, and the map is so cool. I totally agreed with the ranges of the species I knew well enough. Wow, I'm thrilled that you shared it.

Justin Michels

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by MonarchzMan » November 23rd, 2014, 6:42 am

Thanks for the compliments! I'm hoping I can make good progress next year. I figure if I can get to 75 species by this time next year, I'll be doing really well.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by Fieldnotes » November 23rd, 2014, 8:47 pm

Great Pictures, its too bad that dont make more accurate range maps cause those are way off. So Off, that they are not worth adding to your outstanding pictures.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by MonarchzMan » November 24th, 2014, 4:22 am

Fieldnotes wrote:Great Pictures, its too bad that dont make more accurate range maps cause those are way off. So Off, that they are not worth adding to your outstanding pictures.
They give a general impression, but yes, I may create maps myself with more recent data.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by MCHerper » November 24th, 2014, 9:15 am

Outstanding work!!! Great job!

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by cbernz » November 24th, 2014, 10:52 am

Fieldnotes wrote:Great Pictures, its too bad that dont make more accurate range maps cause those are way off. So Off, that they are not worth adding to your outstanding pictures.
Really? Which ones in particular? I didn't think they were that bad.

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by walk-about » December 3rd, 2014, 2:57 pm

MonarchzMan - Amazing post! Inspirational and spirited on so many levels. I have not been on this site in almost a year, and this is exceptional beyond anything I have ever seen on FHF. I will be back for seconds and thirds on this one.

Dave

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Re: My Quest: Salamanders of the U.S. - Year 1

Post by MonarchzMan » December 3rd, 2014, 4:35 pm

walk-about wrote:MonarchzMan - Amazing post! Inspirational and spirited on so many levels. I have not been on this site in almost a year, and this is exceptional beyond anything I have ever seen on FHF. I will be back for seconds and thirds on this one.

Dave
Thanks! It's been a fun year (especially getting into identification of all of these species). I can't wait to knock more off of the list this next year.

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