Episode VII: The Caudates Awaken

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Josh Holbrook
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Episode VII: The Caudates Awaken

Post by Josh Holbrook » December 10th, 2015, 1:13 pm

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Greetings and salutations to all. Although in the earlier years of the forum I seemed to have time to make posts 2 or 3 times yearly, it seems that time has waned, and so I’m left posting once a year or so. So, I’ll try to make it good for all of your sakes. Before I jump in though, I’d like to thank some of the people who helped me in chasing Ambystoma this year. I’m not going to name names just so they aren’t bombarded with locale requests from herpers when Ambystoma become the ‘it’ herp, but to those who helped, know you have my sincere thanks and I enjoyed the time we had herping together.

A little more than a year ago, Beka and I were gearing up for a move to North Carolina, but we made a couple more herp trips beforehand. One while visiting Dan and Yvonne Dye in Ocala NF. And, it being Ocala and all, we found an Eastern Hog (Heterodon platyrhinos).
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And the ever beautiful Rough Greensnake (Opheodrys aestivus):

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And I also embarked on a little research for an upcoming book and started trying some bicycle cruising, with some good fruit to show for it.

The chariot:
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The road:

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Though the habitat looks dry, I’ve found that striped crayfish snakes seem to do well in short hydroperiod areas adjacent to more permanent deepwater refuges:

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Just a little tantalizing for the fun of it:

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Biking tends to make the smaller stuff more noticeable:

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Not happy:

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Nearby I saw this flock of dozens of Sandhill Cranes... Now, I don’t care for birds, but I’m guessing someone out there might, so here you go, my sacrificial photography for your enjoyment:

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It began apparent in late 2014 that I’d be moving out of South Florida, so I tried my best to get out with the people I enjoyed herping with most and see some critters I’d miss a lot from SFL. My buds Chris and Caleb with my last Burm as a FL Resident. This was the only snake found that night with airtemps (I think) in the high 50s.

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I don’t do a lot of trophy shots, in fact I usually frown on them if they’re overdone... but everyone’s a hypocrite every now and again...
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Lloyd Heilbrunn, Jason Thullbery and I went out to turn up Florida Kingsnakes one last time. We ended up with two, one roadcruised and one flipped. I don’t like the Cane Fields much, but those Kings are pretty cool.

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And, of course, I got to share some space with the finest snake in the southeast, I’m speaking of course of the Mangrove Saltmarsh Snake, Nerodia clarkii compressicauda.
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Possibly the favorite of my clarkii-finds:

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And some other Florida odds and ends:

Pseudobranchus axanthus axanthus

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Sirenid BFFs:

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Don and I also tried for the rarely seen Everglades Dwarf Siren (Pseudobranchus axanthus belli) one last time before I departed. After a long while of walking with nothing to show for it, I got frusterated and dip netted up a load of periphyton. Glad I did – I turned up two in the same dip. One that was still in its gelatinous egg, and one that had just hatched. The egg, unfortunately, slid of the net and was never seen from again – his tiny brother, on the other hand, did stick around for some pics:

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So, my decade in Florida completed, I moved with my wife and our unborn baby to Western North Carolina to begin work as a missionary with an agency that does trainings for other missionaries so that they can bring physical development – sustainable agriculture, environmentally-friendly wells, medical attention – to the people they’re Serving. Here’s a quick tour around Equip:

Solar powered aquaponics:

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Rope hand pump:

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I could tell the place was LOADED with herps:

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...And someday, I would see them...

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In reality, most days weren’t as bad as all that, sometimes in the 50s even; so there were herps to be found – especially a group that I had come to love – terrestrial salamanders (and their aquatic younglings):

Spotted Dusky Salamanders (Desmognathus conanti) seem like the only Desmogs we really get on the piedmont/mountains edge where I live:
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Though terrestrial salamander activity didn’t get going until well into March, Dipnetting proved very productive.
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Right away I was extremely astounded to be in a place where Red Salamanders were common (though it would be months before I saw any adults):

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Feel free to correct my ID, but I believe this was a Black Mountain Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus quadramaculatus):

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Ironically, despite being in a salamecca, I made it down to the Sandhills of GA quite often to search for one of my biggest targets, the beautiful Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum). The first Ambystomid down there may or may not have been my lifer – I’m not sure, if anyone can confirm or deny its Tiger-ness, that’d be swell:

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I then made it down shortly after the first of the year to find my Tiger Salamander (four, in fact):

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But also a good number of Mole Salamanders (Ambystoma talpoideum)

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And I also flipped (or perhaps it was Cary who did the actual flipping? I forget...) a Marbled Salamander. Forgive the terrible picture, but it’s all I got.

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So as I drove home in the rain that night, I thought to myself how cool it would be to get all of the Ambystoma in the area in one evening. Soon after that thought occurred to me, what did I see crossing the road?

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Well, that was cool. While I ruminated on Ambystoma I got to thinking: Wouldn’t it be cool to see ALL the Ambystoma east of the Mississippi in a single year? My first daughter was due to be born in April, so I had no illusions to actually having a lot of time to herp – there are more important things than herping –but could this be a goal that would be do-able if I only made short one-or-two day trips here and there? This quickly became my goal as I tried to have not a Big Year, but an Ambitious Year nonetheless. Get it? It’s a word play...

But nothing more happened with my goal until February, and I was left to explore my new locale – Marion, NC – in McDowell County. A nice place – a lot of small farms, and not too much else going on. A great place to live and raise a family. One of the cool sights in Marion:

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The essence of much of Appalachia – the hulls of former industry, converted to hiking trails and covered in Kudzu:

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The family loves it here and our dog Corbett has a lot more opportunities to start trouble.

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Nearby South Mountains State Park:

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But to really get going with the Ambitious Year, I got out with one of the NC native herpers and we checked a few of regular sites, turning up Ambystoma #5, The Mabee’s Salamander (Ambystoma mabeei).

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And another larger one, a first for this particular site:

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While chasing mabeei, I also saw my first Dwarf Waterdog (Necturus punctatus):

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I got out briefly with Jason Butler as we searched out Tiger Salamanders in KY. We struck out, but I did get to see my first reptile of the year (under 3 inches+ of ice). Common Snapping Turtle:

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And a further Ambystoma (#6), the Streamside Salamander (Ambystoma barbouri):
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Back home in the Mountains, the first liquid precipitation of February and March started bringing out a couple herps, most notably the gigantic Wood Frogs (Rana sylvatica), which were at least twice as massive as the woodies from the Northeast.

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I can only imagine the sort of wetland-to-upland resource pulse these frogs provide in the mountains:

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I made it to Florida one weekend and got out with some friends to chase turtles. Something about 50 degree weather and 20mph winds made herping difficult:

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So, tails firmly between our legs, we decided to go for easier quarry, Veiled Chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus).

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I also made it up to see my side of the family in Connecticut, and brought my niece out road cruising for Salamanders. We were treated to several Four Toed Salamanders (Hemidactylum scutatum):

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As well as a couple Spotted Salamanders. One of the nights we were out they were everywhere we drove – a true testament to the ubiquity of fishless vernal pools in the Northeast.

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On the drive back I met up with a local (and a fellow FHF’r) in Jersey to continue on with my Ambitious Year. He put me on both a Blue Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale) in a floodplain wetland (Ambystoma #7, BTW).

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And a couple nice looking Jefferson’s Salamanders (Ambystoma jeffersonianum), #8 for the year:
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(Yes, that’s snow in the background):

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back in McDowell County, things were in full swing – rains came in hard and the Mountain Sallies started migrating. Seeing over 100 salamanders in an evening in April and May wasn’t abnormal.

Spring Salamander (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus)
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Finally some adult Reds started coming out and about:

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And a Northern Grey Cheeked Salamander (Plethodon metcalfi)

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Stream Tyrannosaurus:

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If there’s one thing catching Eurycea has taught me... It’s that for the life of me, I can’t spell Eurycea without looking it up... E. wilderae:

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Finally in mid-April, the snakes came out at night:

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Towards the end of May, my herping buddy, Steve (also my Pastor, interestingly enough), Dan and Yvonne Dye, and Cary Howe met up in SC to chase snakes:
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The group:

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A sandhills Black Rat:
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And the crown jewel of the evening, a Southern Pine:

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And a little later, in the upstate:

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A couple weeks later, it was down to NFL to herp with the Dyes:

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Lifer Gulf Hammock Rat:

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I finally got to figuring out how to find a snake or two during the day, flipping and hiking around – a Mountain King.
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On a quick trip to SFL, I turned up a much-hunted snake for me, an Anery Cornsnake, in Broward County:
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Funny enough, my bud Steve had lived in McDowell County all his life and has never seen a Corn in the County. I’m Corn’d out after living in SFL for 10 years, and even up here I can’t escape em’. I’ve found 8 or 9 Corns in McDowell since moving here:
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Here’s two from the same night from Salamania, the annual SE Chapter field outing:
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Mountain Corns:

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Some of our group:
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More Salamania quarry:
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That weekend, Dan, Yvonne and I stuck around after everyone else had headed out and turned up some beautiful Bat Cave Salamanders (Plethodon yonahlossee var longicrus)

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And along with them, some Blue Ridge Greycheeks (Plethodon amplus)
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A Crevice Salamander in a Crevice:
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Jake stopped in a few weeks later and we hunter Yonahs with him as well; but first stopped to see the falls:

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In an attempt to end my Ambitious Year victoriously, I drove down to NFL to see the beautiful Ambystoma cingulatum and A. bishopi – the two flatwoods salamanders. Unfortunately it was dry all weekend, and this is where the Ambitious year failed. I missed out on only these two and Ambystoma texanum; though the latter would have been gettable had I gotten the two Flatwoods sallies. Nevertheless, I had a heck of a time with the Dyes and Josh Young.

3 EDBs in 24 hours? Yeah, no complaints here...
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Elsewhere in NFL, we turned up a ton of undescribed Necturus and Sirens.

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And those beautiful clarkii... My only ones in 2015.
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Mike doing some star photography:
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Oh, and this guy... What the heck’s up with this?
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We looked around in a few springs, which was a lot of fun. We turned up all life stages of River Frogs (Rana hecksheri):

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And a couple Stripeneck Musks:

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Well, drawing to an end, I’ll put up a few shots from my favorite local cruising road.

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One of my big hopes moving up here was to have more Mud Salamanders in my life. My local cruising road has spit 6 at me so far:

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And I’ll leave you all with a parting shot of a montane wetland – one of the few natural ephemeral ponds in the region – and the solemn question of what, exactly, is there out there left to be found in this herpetofaunal world that we love, but really know so little about. Time will tell. With 101 herp taxa in 2015 I think I’ve only scrated the surface of the wonderful biodiversity of the southeast.

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Hadar
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Re: Episode VII: The Caudates Awaken

Post by Hadar » December 10th, 2015, 1:43 pm

So many great herps Josh! Where are the baby herping photos though?

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Kyle from Carolina
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Re: Episode VII: The Caudates Awaken

Post by Kyle from Carolina » December 10th, 2015, 1:58 pm

Great stuff man. I hope you enjoy western NC, it's a magical place. Had fun seeing yall at salamania. Did you end up finding any local timbers yet?

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JakeScott
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Re: Episode VII: The Caudates Awaken

Post by JakeScott » December 12th, 2015, 3:58 pm

Fantastic! I can't wait to get back up there. Soon....soon....not soon enough.

Looking for salamanders in the mountains is never wasted time, even if you find nothing. Beautiful country and I am full of jealous that you get to live up there.

-Jake

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Josh Holbrook
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Re: Episode VII: The Caudates Awaken

Post by Josh Holbrook » December 14th, 2015, 6:22 pm

Heather - It'll come... She's completely out by 7pm every night, so not suited for the life of herping quite yet. Plus she'd try to chew on any salamanders I give her...

Kyle - Nothing yet. I tried finding that one spot, but we took a wrong turn. I'll try again in the spring.

Jake - Tis' true. And there's nothing like being in a new area and being able to dig in and find new stuff. Magical, I tell you.

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Hadar
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Re: Episode VII: The Caudates Awaken

Post by Hadar » December 15th, 2015, 1:04 pm

Josh Holbrook wrote:Heather - It'll come... She's completely out by 7pm every night, so not suited for the life of herping quite yet. Plus she'd try to chew on any salamanders I give her...
Well that won't do. Most parents have babies that wake up in the middle of the night and yours sleeps the night through. No good, no good at all. ;)

Ecto Hunter
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Re: Episode VII: The Caudates Awaken

Post by Ecto Hunter » December 15th, 2015, 6:56 pm

You cleaned up, Josh! Very enjoyable post.


-Robb Herrington

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Josh Holbrook
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Re: Episode VII: The Caudates Awaken

Post by Josh Holbrook » December 20th, 2015, 6:13 am

Hadar wrote:
Josh Holbrook wrote:Heather - It'll come... She's completely out by 7pm every night, so not suited for the life of herping quite yet. Plus she'd try to chew on any salamanders I give her...
Well that won't do. Most parents have babies that wake up in the middle of the night and yours sleeps the night through. No good, no good at all. ;)
I know, I need to get on that...


Thanks Rob.

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