Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

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platinum_z
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Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

Post by platinum_z » October 10th, 2019, 3:17 pm

I have spent the past year field herping with the intentions of finding P. melanoleucus in the lower coastal plain of SC. I have found suitable pine snake habitats, but I have yet to find the snake. I have put so much of my time searching for habitats and the pine snake itself and keep turning up empty handed. I come here to ask for advice because I think that maybe there are some differences in how to find a pine in SC opposed to somewhere else. I also am finding conflicting information on what temperatures I am more likely to find one in. I have the general idea of what the habitat should look like and contain, but maybe someone who has more experience than me can chime in and answer some of my questions? Should I be looking in suitable habitat that has lots of thick brush? I have done significantly less searching in habitats like that because I don't think I'd ever see the snake if I came across one. The best spot I have found that seemingly has all the right things (sandy soil, long leafs, lots of stump holes) has become overgrown, so I have not been there in a while in favor of new spots. Really I would appreciate any advice anyone has about finding P. melanoleucus in the lower coastal plain. I know they are here, and I am not giving up my search for one. I understand that they are hard to come by and the best time of year to find them has passed, but I would like to know all the information I can know that would help me find one this fall and during the next season. Thank you.

Jimi
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Re: Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

Post by Jimi » October 10th, 2019, 4:10 pm

I've never seen a pine in SC, but in peninsular North Florida I came to understand them as a June - mid mornings - dirt roads cruiser animal. (That's a pretty hot sunny time of year there.) Substrate was key, land cover less so. They're big and slow, so get hammered by traffic. You'll probably get some spots located first, by DORs. You might check w/ SCDNR about salvaging those for placement in a natural history museum collection; I can get you a name if you need help.

Does SC have a herp atlas?

Good hunting.

platinum_z
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Re: Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

Post by platinum_z » October 10th, 2019, 8:45 pm

Jimi wrote:
October 10th, 2019, 4:10 pm
I've never seen a pine in SC, but in peninsular North Florida I came to understand them as a June - mid mornings - dirt roads cruiser animal. (That's a pretty hot sunny time of year there.) Substrate was key, land cover less so. They're big and slow, so get hammered by traffic. You'll probably get some spots located first, by DORs. You might check w/ SCDNR about salvaging those for placement in a natural history museum collection; I can get you a name if you need help.

Does SC have a herp atlas?

Good hunting.
Thankfully where I have been looking I have not found very many DORs at all this year, none were pines. Honestly, I did not think a natural history museum or scdnr would be interested in a DOR pine, other than the location where it was found. I never thought to look for a SC specific herp database, but I found https://www.carolinaherpatlas.org/Data. It doesn't have records of P. melanoleucus in the counties I am searching in.

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nhherp
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Re: Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

Post by nhherp » October 11th, 2019, 9:39 am

I have in the past found DOR pines snakes in the lowlands of SC.

The largest contributing factor for habitiat is old pine timberland where stump removal was not practiced. So much of the lowlands is replanted money pine acreage and it can look "good" but due to practices in timbering it never sits long enough to return to what is needed for long term Pit occupation. I would advise you to find the old stands of pine, preferably where they left stumps (and the root systems to decompose) when it was timbered. Anywhere you can find agopher tortoise population to exist should also offer you the best chance of seeing a pine snake.

Try to get access to some of the hunting reserves/plantations which practice more ecologically based habitat management. This is a tough one, but if you live in the lowlands it can be done.

-N-

platinum_z
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Re: Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

Post by platinum_z » October 11th, 2019, 10:21 am

nhherp wrote:
October 11th, 2019, 9:39 am
I have in the past found DOR pines snakes in the lowlands of SC.

The largest contributing factor for habitiat is old pine timberland where stump removal was not practiced. So much of the lowlands is replanted money pine acreage and it can look "good" but due to practices in timbering it never sits long enough to return to what is needed for long term Pit occupation. I would advise you to find the old stands of pine, preferably where they left stumps (and the root systems to decompose) when it was timbered. Anywhere you can find agopher tortoise population to exist should also offer you the best chance of seeing a pine snake.

Try to get access to some of the hunting reserves/plantations which practice more ecologically based habitat management. This is a tough one, but if you live in the lowlands it can be done.

-N-
Sound advice. I have found places like you described, but no gopher tortoise populations. In what I believe to be the best habitat I have come across yet in my search, I found Eastern Box Turtles burrowing into the old stump holes. Thank you for your advice and words of assurance. I have a feeling I am going to be in for the long haul with this one, there are only so many hours I can dedicate to this search in a given year. But I love the chase and everything I see along the way.

Jimi
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Re: Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

Post by Jimi » October 17th, 2019, 9:35 am

The only extant GT populations in SC, as I understand it, are right down by the GA border. A very narrow strip, with zealous private-property protections and not much in the way of public road access. Sure, you could definitely find a pine snake down there, but...you should also be able to find them clear up to the NC border as well. Looking at the Carolina Herp Atlas, there are lots of holes for new county records.

As for aggressive naval-stores exploitation, and aggressive silvicultural site prep, yeah, of course those have not been good for longleaf retention or recruitment. But as I said previously, in FL at least I came to understand land cover as not so important for pines (or most of the other xeric-uplands snakes). Large-lot rural subdivisions with intermixed mowed areas and fire-suppressed vacant lots produced pines, hogs, EDBs etc just as well as the best-looking, extensively-managed public forests. It's really all about substrate and elevation in my experience. Low traffic counts help a ton also.

Bottom line - for huge snakes, these things are outrageously cryptic. It's going to take some sustained effort, and luck.
I did not think a natural history museum or scdnr would be interested in a DOR pine, other than the location where it was found
Well, they would be. First, all the states in pine snake range are increasingly interested in them. And museums are always interested in new specimens. Start talking with people, you'll see.

Good hunting.

platinum_z
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Re: Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

Post by platinum_z » November 3rd, 2019, 1:46 pm

Here's a little update.
I have made a breakthrough in that someone I reached out to was kind enough to tip me off to a general area where P. melanoleucus has been found. It happens that I had searched an area within 5 miles of this new location. It is now in the 60s during the daytime, but on a sunny day I ventured out to this new location and gave an evaluation. Spent about 4 hours hiking and scanning the ground from 1 to 5pm while also taking notes of the land, plants, and trees. Interestingly there was almost a complete absence of suitable hibernacula. I found only 1 fallen tree that had made a large hole from where the roots had been ripped up. There was a large amount of turkey oak, and many of the pines were large and mature . A majority was loblolly pine but some long leaf in the mix.

My searching yielded no snakes. I am unsure if I will continue searching this new location. A spot I had looked in earlier in the year had many of the same pine snake habitat qualities that this new spot where one was supposedly found has. However it had dozens of potential hibernacula. Many stump holes and fallen trees with the root systems lifted from the ground. It has since become somewhat overgrown and I feel I would have a harder time spotting any snake in there, but I am more hopeful now that I know with some certainty that I am in or near the general area where they are extant.

Imgur link contains images of the new spot. The images are too big to be put on here. Thank you to everyone who has given me advice.
http://imgur.com/a/fDbNtUk

Jimi
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Re: Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

Post by Jimi » November 4th, 2019, 10:11 am

You had me at turkey oak. Ha ha. Really though. Nothing says high and dry in SC like turkey oak.

I clicked your pix link. That's a super-exciting place you found, just from a generic field-herping perspective. I especially like the adjacency of the xeric uplands with the forested wetlands - I have so many happy memories from hunting areas like that. The tip-up (hurricane blow-down with big root ball exposed) is such a classic spot to look for hibernation-emergents come the cool sunny calm days of March & April.

it is now in the 60s during the daytime
Generically, those are good temps. But a November day and a March day at those same temps are sooooo different! One is hiding-away season, the other is coming-out season. Totally different odds of finding stuff.

I am unsure if I will continue searching this new location.
Are you out of your G-D mind?!?!?! Dude. Hit that spot repeatedly, in March, April, May and June. Early in the year, don't go on chilly windy days. Go on calm sunny days when the last ~3 night-time lows have been at least 45-48F, and the highs have - and will, the day you go - hit at least say 63-65F. Watch where you step, canebrake rattlesnakes can be very cryptic. They are really very gentle, but they still won't thank you for kicking or stepping on them!

potential hibernacula
Tip-ups and other vegetative hole-creators are definitely helpful. However I think - I suggest - you also have to consider burrowing animals like moles, pocket gophers, and armadillos. Some of my pine spots in N FL (which gets plenty cold) had zero tip-ups - indeed, hardly any trees - but abundant pocket gopher mounds.

Good luck out there. Be careful, and stock up on permethrin for next field season!

platinum_z
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Re: Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

Post by platinum_z » November 5th, 2019, 2:01 pm

That's a super-exciting place you found, just from a generic field-herping perspective. I especially like the adjacency of the xeric uplands with the forested wetlands - I have so many happy memories from hunting areas like that. The tip-up (hurricane blow-down with big root ball exposed) is such a classic spot to look for hibernation-emergents come the cool sunny calm days of March & April.
I also found this spot exciting, but that decreased some when I failed to find any potential hibernacula. The adjacency to wetlands seems to be a theme for the sandhill areas I have frequented. I am glad the spot looks promising to other herpers.

Generically, those are good temps. But a November day and a March day at those same temps are sooooo different! One is hiding-away season, the other is coming-out season. Totally different odds of finding stuff. Are you out of your G-D mind?!?!?! Dude. Hit that spot repeatedly, in March, April, May and June. Early in the year, don't go on chilly windy days. Go on calm sunny days when the last ~3 night-time lows have been at least 45-48F, and the highs have - and will, the day you go - hit at least say 63-65F.
The days of being in the 60s and 70s here are coming to an end very soon. I am going to try and make the most of whats left, despite herp activity slowing down with the cooler fall temps. Tomorrow it will be high 60s low 70s and clear and sunny, I plan to return to my new spot and the other that had many hibernacula just a few miles away.


I have some addition questions. My approach has been hiking around a spot walking moderately slowly looking around at the ground maybe 5-8ft infront of me, basically hoping that I walk up on a pine sunning itself or looking for food. I look inside any hibernaculum I find, and I frequently stop walking to take a close look at ground around me. Any suggestions what I could be doing better or what would be more effective?

Jimi
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Re: Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

Post by Jimi » November 5th, 2019, 3:38 pm

I have some addition questions. My approach has been hiking around a spot walking moderately slowly looking around at the ground maybe 5-8ft infront of me, basically hoping that I walk up on a pine sunning itself or looking for food. I look inside any hibernaculum I find, and I frequently stop walking to take a close look at ground around me. Any suggestions what I could be doing better or what would be more effective?
That sort of slow stalk seems perfectly appropriate to me. In all honesty I have only once walked up a pine (lodingi, Harrison County MS), and that was pure dumb luck. He was sunning next to a hollow stump, and darted into it when he saw me come around the stump about 6 feet away (I was actively herping, but being careful of large rattlesnakes).

I guess my only suggestion would be to - as part of the routine you've described - raise your head now and then, and incorporate the occasional slow, more-distant scan to your front and both sides. A big snake with good eyesight is going to see you easily from 40-50 feet; you should be able to do the same in turn. You will definitely see some fleeing coachwhips this way, if nothing else.

good luck!

Jimi
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Re: Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

Post by Jimi » November 5th, 2019, 3:42 pm

I would also repeat what I said about my learnings in Florida - June was what I observed to be the peak month for surface activity. I'd put a lot of effort into June, if I was there trying to do what you are. The March-April stuff would really be more about chances at "fun bycatch" like hognose, pigmy rattlers, EDBs, coachwhips etc.

good hunting, let us know how you do out there, even if it's just broadhead skinks and such

platinum_z
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Re: Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

Post by platinum_z » November 7th, 2019, 2:47 pm

When I returned to the new spot I came across an adult Black Racer in a small grassy "valley" between 2 sandhills. It was low 70s partly cloudy. The grass was so thick and tall I had no chance of seeing it before it noticed me. While hiking I didn't see any mammal burrows, and only 1 additional tip-up. This does not make the presence of pines look likely to me. But I still wish to return to spend more time in areas where there is a lot of Turkey Oak, the soil there seems especially sandy and ground visibility isn't so bad. I also wonder if pines would simply just create a burrow in the very sandy soil. Pics in imgur link http://imgur.com/a/7SqRHNC

Jimi
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Re: Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

Post by Jimi » November 7th, 2019, 3:38 pm

I also wonder if pines would simply just create a burrow in the very sandy soil.
I think so. They've got that skull and face for a reason. From what I've read, pine snake burrowing & hibernation behavior varies around their range. I would think SC animals would exhibit some aspect of "northern-type behaviors", such as more active burrowing, going deeper down, etc.
While hiking I didn't see any mammal burrows
I wouldn't expect to see many actual apertures, ever. Sandy soil collapses too easily when it dries out at the surface (the higher moisture content underground helps retain voids down there). But do you see any mounds of soil there? From pocket gophers?

platinum_z
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Re: Lower Coastal Plain Pine Snakes Advice?

Post by platinum_z » November 8th, 2019, 4:05 pm

From what I've read, pine snake burrowing & hibernation behavior varies around their range. I would think SC animals would exhibit some aspect of "northern-type behaviors", such as more active burrowing, going deeper down, etc.
That's interesting I didn't know about them being that way.
I wouldn't expect to see many actual apertures, ever. Sandy soil collapses too easily when it dries out at the surface (the higher moisture content underground helps retain voids down there).
Funny you mention apertures because I once found a portion of a medium size shed leading either into or out of an aperture on the side of a large mound at another spot I have been to. There were over a dozen of these mounds in a fairly small area, and they varied somewhat in size. I would describe these mounds as big; a few feet high by several feet wide. I believe they were formed over time starting as tip-ups because they are too large for any local animal to create. I don't know if I have any pictures. It was wet for a sandhill habitat, and many of the burrows did go very deep.
But do you see any mounds of soil there? From pocket gophers?
None at this new spot. Perhaps some of the smaller mounds I saw at my other spot could have been. I want to get back into that Turkey oak to investigate a some more. Day and night temps have been lowering lately, but I'm still willing to try my luck on a sunny day in the mid 60s.

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