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.


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.


The Day of The Snapper!


Today turned out to be quite a day for running into snapping turltes. We are well into the Fall season and the daytime temps are still pretty warm but nights are starting to chill a bid abd daylight hours are wanning into longer nights. I have been seeing a number of herps especially the reptiles, snakes in particular, crossiing the roads and mostly at night. But on this late Wednesday October afternoon it was snapping turtles that were the dominant encounters. I had received a number of reports from friends and people who know me that thet had seen large turtles crossing the roads this week and were asking me what was causing all of these turlte sitings? My thoughts, and only my opinion of course, is that the turtles are migrating towards new hibernaculums (or old ones) for the winter. The other thought connected with thi sidea is that given the weatehr on this day was quite warm but forecasters were predicitng a cold front with a significant drop in temp was heading our way in the next few days. Could it be that the turtles know this inately and were starting to relocate to more suitable temporary or permanent habitats. I dont really know for sure.

I was on my way to do a scouts program at the nature center driving down Clifton road this evening. About halfway to Braddock road I could see there was a car slowing ahead then as I approached to within a few yards the car spead up. As I went to accelerate I noticed a large object in the middle of my lane where the the car ahead of me had slowed down. It was a rather large snapping turlte in its typical defensive posture head tucked raised uo on its hind legs but fortunately unharmed. So I stopped my car put my flashers on and got out to help the turtle out of the road.

The turtle in my estimation was aout 10 -15 pounds with aq carapace length of about 1- 1.3 ft. I tried to locate a suitable release site but given that traffic was stopping and starting to build up I decided to put the animal in my car and cover it to keep it calm. But this encounter was peanut compared to the monster I caught the next day near my high school. A similar encounter as before but the difference wth this huge snapper was that I had to remove it fromm underneath a homeowners car. The turtle had crawled from the intersection of the road and decided to take up residence under a homeowners car in their carport. When I arrived to assess the situation I could see that their were some local kids attempting to use a fishing pole with the fishing line fashioned into a slipknot hoping to noose the goliath snapper.


Relocating the rescued snapping turtles

Rescued Snapping Turtles Released

Bull Run Upper Fords to the Stone Bridge

Walked Bull Run from Poplar Ford to the Stone Bridge. I have always been curious to see the boundary line that separated the two opposing forces during the first major battle of the Ameican Civil War. The weather has been extreme with record setting temperatures and little or no rain. The Run was probbaly only down a foot maybe two and we seldom reached depths past our waste. The bottom along this stretch was pretty firm with very little soft silty areas. Water was relatively clear but there was very little vegetation. Along the way there were numerous fish and we did stumble upon a few musk turtles.

Stinkpot-Common Musk Turtle -Bull Run

The run was also suprisingly clean of solid waste especially when compared to the areas south of the rte 28 bridge where the trash is becoming a problem.
On our approach to The Stone Bridge somewhere along the vicinity of Farm Ford the bottom was solid rock. The bottom rock seemed to merge with a high bank also made of the same rock- a sand or mud stone. This is where we found an abundance of different ferm like plants, mosses and liverworts, and sedum just to name a few. There was also some neat looking Geology in the nearby cliffs.

A_tricomanesBull Run Southwest BankAspenium_platynueronBull Run Musk Turtle (2)MaidenhairBull Run North East Bank (2)Lizard_tail1

Eastern Hognose Snake

Eastern Hognose Snakes are one of the most fascinating snake species in our area. The come in a exhibit a variety of color patterns from nearly all black to combnations of black yellow orange and gray. They are most famous not for their variable color patterns but for their interesting behavior when one encounters them (Watch the videos).

Eastern Hognose Snake

So far I have encountered three hognose snakes this year. Unofrtunately one was a roadkill and the other suffered what appeared to be a mortal wound from a car and most likey died not long after I picked it up from the road. The only living one I found was an adult black variant on July 5th in a stream valley while I was out looking for Wood turtles.

I remember leaving the wood turlte site with the feeling that I was going to see a hognose today. Well it happened but not in the way I expected. When I initially saw the snake I thought it was a black racer. The animal had the upper quarter of his body perched up on a log and the rest of his body streeched on the ground behind it. I could se from a distance that it had a white throat and all other indications pointed our to me that this was a one of our common black snakes. So I carefully stretched out my monopod to take some film of the “racer”. Knowing too well that the snake already spotted and would flee if I tried to get closer and capture it. So instead I decided to film it using my monopod and my point n shoot attatched at the end to get a cloe up shot of the animal. Expecting the snake to bolt I stretched the monopod as far as it would go, turned on the video and proceeded to stick the camera as clsoe to the snake as possible. Instead of fleeing as I expected would happen the snake just stayed put. So I took a chance to move in closer and try to catch it. As I moved closer I could see the upturned snout then realized I had found a hognose!!

Hognose snake playing dead