Westward Herping Excursion 8/5/2013 Piedmont – Blue Ridge- Valley and Ridge Provinces of VA and West VA

Mike and I decided to take a trip from our Northern VA home westward towards the valley ridge area of Western VA and West VA.Our plan was to make as many stops at state and national parks within a two and half day period until we reached our final destination West Virginia. Our first stop landed us at Sky Meadows State Park in Virginia. A nice, scenic spot rich in American History and birds. No herps but not to say they aren’t any there. after our brief stop at Sky Meadows we proceeded on to Shenandoah River State Park where we were tipped off about finding some cool herps there. Conditions were not ideal given we had arrived in the middle of the day -dry and very overgrown. Still a no regrets. Scenery magnificent and the Shenandoah River was crystal clear something we don’t always see around Northern VA. After about two hours we left for Skyline Drive and hit some trails within the National Park. We walked a nice flat loop trail only to find that someone had already been through flipping logs and rocks. Nonetheless we continued our journey checking logs and rocks and carefully replacing them back the way we found them. We found several Northern Ringed- Neck snakes.

Northern Ringed-Neck Normal Pattern

One of the snakes appeared to be missing the typical collar and had no ventral yellow coloration that is characteristic of the species. We photographed it then released it exactly where it was found. We later determined this to be a smooth earth snake (Madison County, VA)

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Video of the unique Ringed-Neck Snake

We remained at Skyline until dark taking a few pics of Black Bears and attempted a few pics of Black Ravens then made our way to Staunton, VA to stay the night.

Mike Pics (9)
Mike Pics (8)

After Leaving Staunton we made our way towards Highland County which borders roughly West VA. We stopped at virtually every roadside picnic area or park finding a variety of dusky salamanders both terrestrial and some semi aquatic.

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Pair of Mountain Dusky’s above

P1060477Juvenile Seal salamander

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Plethodon – or Red Backed Salamander
We also found our share of red-backed salamanders as well. At one particular site we noticed posted on a fence at the entrance to the state property a figure of some sort -fold art or some symbolic warning sign to ward off nature seekers. We were told from people form the area that it was a warning sign. But why at the entrance to State land?

Warning Folk Art

Eventually we made our way into West VA but it was by now around 3:30 in the afternoon when we decided to make our way up a mountain road towards Monongahela National Forest. We were low on gas but decided to make the trip anyway. The drive to the summit was approximately 17 miles but turned out to be well worth the trip. The scenery was majestic and there were very few people around.

P1060579At first we weren’t producing any herps. Again as with Skyline Drive it appeared someone had beaten us to the area given many rocks had already been flipped. After about 45 minutes Mike found two nice garter snakes. We had our groove on now and our efforts began to pay off.

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Mike above checking some of the flat rocks along a trail. This area proved to be unproductive however and there was evidence that this area had been recently checked before given the number of flipped rocks. Unfortunately, whoever flipped the rocks before us wasn’t very careful about returning the rocks to their original position so Mike and I found ourselves spending more time realigning the rocks rather than actually surveying critters.

P1060496The parking lot was where the fun began especially for serpents. As I mentioned earlier within 45 minutes Mike decided to hit the parking area and begun flipping rocks along the border of the pavement and natural area finding not one but two small garter snakes together. i had my hand at the same finding another garter snake but much larger and of different color pattern. We have observed at least three different color patterns in these snakes ranging from speckled brown and yellow to dark black and speckled.

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After exhausting our luck in the parking area we decided to move on to the talus slopes. Talus slopes are basically hillsides or slopes with very large rocks the result of millions of years of weathering processes on the mountain.

P1060585 Within minutes Mike yells out “SNAKE” producing two incredibly beautiful colored red-bellied snakes.

P1060544 He found the two unexpectedly in some rocks wedged sideways between some larger rocks. Normally we limit ourselves to flat lying, dinner plate sized or larger rocks. Experience has taught us these flay lying rocks seem to be the preferred hiding places for snakes.

P1060524 Not wanting to be left out of the finds I quickly headed near Mike. Within minutes I uncovered a beautiful smooth green snake only to have it escape me sliding away deep into the fissures of the larger rocks. Determined to find another one I continued to move along the high part of the slope eventually uncovering not one but three more smooth greens that day.Below video of the first of four smooth greens found that day

I also had luck finding a few red bellied snakes of my own.P1060572P1060577

 

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Mike Pics (5)

 

Satisfied but also running of daylight Mike and I headed down the mountain and made our way eastward toward our last leg of our tour. Just prior to our departure Mike picked off a nice shot of a Cedar Waxwing.

Mike Pics (6) We ended up staying the night in Strausburg, VA. The next day we drove over to another part of the GW National Forest to a place called Elizabeth’s Furnace. Once again we hopscotched our way through several roadside parking and picnic areas. We weren’t very successful at quantity but did manage to find a huge slimy salamander. Overall we considered this a productive trip. We learned where we would spend our time most in future trips to these areas. WE know there is more to discover but given our short time we are definitely satisfied with the experience.

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A week in Herps 4/17/2013

A great week for herps. nighttime temps around 50-60 degrees with daytime highs in 70’s. The week started out with some nice finds (see previous entry) a combined total of 22 snakes 6 different species one of which a newby for me – the smooth earth snake.

P1050006 All of the species were found in Fairfax county but in different locations and habitats. The larger species of Mole kings and northern black racers were found in open fields with the exceptionof one juvenile racer found under an old car door in a wooded area. All of he snakes were found under artificial cover consisting of pieces of metal and plywood.

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One exception an eastern worm snake was recovered under some pine bark on the forest floor.

P1050004The smaller snakes were found in different locations. The smoth earth and the northern browns were found under plywood.

The ring necks under flat rocks sometimes as many as four at a time.

P1050021P1050024I also found about 8 skinks none could be positively identified but my guess majority of themwere five lined and possibly a broadhead or two. The phibs were less numerous. Several two lined, a dusky and gravid female spotted salamanders as well as one cricket frog and one american toad. All found in their natural habitats with the exception ofthe toad which was occupying the same piece of plywood the skinks were found. Chorus frogs were heard but none captured.

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Rare Albino Eastern Worm Snake by Mike Gregory and Mark Khosravi

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Well its getting close to kick off time at the park where Mike Tony and I work. the upcoming weekend promises to be quite a buzz with all of our scheduled programs for scouts and the general public – our most prized of all clients. This weekend 4/28/2012 will be nonstop for us all Herp related. To make sure we are better prepared it customary for members of our staff to legally obtain some native species from to serve as props for the programs. All animals are also customarily released back into their natural habitats unharmed soon after.
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The morning started out cold and rainy but Mike suggested we go out and search anyway before he was scheduled to work. So wihout too much twist of the arm I agreed and we headed out to some familiar sights that usually produce a few small snakes and possibly some decent phibs.
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We moved along flipping previously laid cover boards, the artifical hides made from plywood, finding mostly very dry substrate and ants and a few other insects. On the second to last board Mike yells out “Mark!! Come check this out!!!” I initially thought what possibly could he be so excited about. So I made my way over to Mike and there he was starring intently over the raised cover board and at the dry earth below. There lying side by side were two worm snakes one of which was definitely unusual. Neither one of us had seen anything like it so we could only specualte what it could be. The one snake was definitely smaller and pink above and very pink below as opposed to the larger worm snake that had the normal brown dorsum with pink ventral side.

Rare:Pink Eastern Worm Snake

Watch this video on YouTube.

A draft of the VHS Field Note Entry is shown below:

Carphophis amoenus amoenus (Eastern Wormsnake) VA: Fairfax County, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, 5040 Walney Rd., Chantilly, VA 20151 (38 51.7°N,-77 26.0 °W). 22 April, 2012. Michael Gregory and Mark Khosravi

Coloration: On 22 April, 2012 at 11:43AM an albino Eastern Wormsnake (Carphophis a. amoenus) was discovered in mixed cedar and hardwoods section along the Walney tract of area of Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. The specimen was found alongside a wild type worm snake under the same coverboard. Classic albinism was exhibited including red/pink eyes and a lack of any pigmentation except for a light yellowish coloration around the edges of the dorsal scales.

Albinism in Carphophis amoenus amoenus has been previously reported in Arlington County, VA (Allard, H. A. 1945. A color variant of the eastern worm snake. Copeia 1945:42) and in James City County, VA (Somma, Matthew. 2012. Field Notes – Coloration, Catesbeiana Volume 32 Number 1).

Photographs were deposited with the VHS Digital Archive (#213) as a voucher. The animal was released after photos were taken.

Michael Gregory
[14607 Lock Dr
Centreville,VA 20120]

Mark Khosravi
[7155 Main Street
Clifton, VA 20124]

Barrier Islands of Georgia -Albino White Tail Deer?

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(Above) The bayside entrance to Little St. Simmons Barrier Island. 

An Interior path within Cumberland’s Maritime Forest (below) . Note the wild horse to the right.  martimeforest

Took this photo (below) while birding on the southern End of Georgia’ Cumberland Island. If you ever want to visit a barrier island with Natural Dunes and Maritime Forrested Communities this is the place to go

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