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)





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.



Pair of Mountain Dusky’s above

P1060477Juvenile Seal salamander


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.


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.





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



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.


Northern Red Salamander 8/1/13

I finally located a Northern Red Salamander in it’s original habitat. These large robust salamanders have a two stage life cycle like most amphibians. The gilled aquatic larva can be found in clear, unpolluted creeks and seeps that feed into larger bodies of water. Adults, as shown here, are also found in and around these aquatic environments often under, leaf litter, rocks or fallen logs. The adults may also seek refuge further away from the stream but return to breed in them towards late Fall and early Winter. Young adults are strikingly colorful usually red to orange with random black spots on the topside of its body. The color may darken with age. One distinguishing feature between this species and the mud salamander is that the Reds usually have a yellow iris.



Night of Herps May 7th 2013 with Ryan Collister

Ryan and I decided to go out this evening to do some road herping. Ryan is currently a zoology major at CNU and a former Fairfax County Park Authority Volunteer at Hidden Pond Nature Center. He has been avid enthusiast of herps since he was a toddler. He lives and breathes herps and nature and is quite knowledgeable as a field herper as well as capable handler of captive herps. Tonight we linked up and headed for some sites to get our “fix” for some night herping. Below are some of he critters- some typical and some not so typical to find.
Shown below are:
American toads, Gray Tree Frogs, Red Spotted Newt (Eft Stage), Young adult Mole king snake, Ring neck snake, Worm snake, Smooth earth snake. The video shows a male gray tree frog in a vernal pool calling. If you watch the video you can hear the sounds of spring peepers and possibly the American toads calling as well. Ryan had the misfortune of being bitten by an assassin ug that night. Apparently quite painful.


P1050296May 7th 2013



First Herps of April 2013


Spring this year seem to arrive later than last year. Several trips to go on a decent field herping excursion had to be scrubbed due to cooler than normal temps. Over the past week the emps rose suddenly as a warm front moved in bringing with it again unseasonable high temperatures for seeral days in a row. Night time lows remained in the 40’s to 50’s and with a heavy stint of rain and a return of the sun and temps to the id 60’s made today (Saturday 4/13/13) nothing short of perfect for field herps here in Northern VA.

Mike and I spent about two hours in the field at first searching the horizon for migratory birds and raptors. We saw some kestrels and one Great Egret. Never seen a great egret this fart away from water before. Our first cover board yielded a beautifully pattern mole king snake. We took our usual photos of the snake then let it go where we found it (as we usually do. We never collect the animals).

We soon turned our attention to the old structure that once was a barn and searched around it under the debris of tin and wood that surrounded it. Mike fliiped a small rectangualr piece of tin of which produced a moderately sized northern black racer.

P1040643 Moving on to one of our regualr spots that historically produced kings racers and large rat snakes but quickly discovered that the stream we cross to get tour destination was flooded from the rains the day before. Chorus frogs coul be heard in the wetlands adjacent to the stream. Normally we would just trek right across but given we both only had limited tme and had previously scheduled engagements elsewhere and no time to change we opte not to.

Mike however suggested anotehr spot he found on his own a few weeks earlier when he was birding. It was the remains of an old house with several outbuildings incldung a a large barn. All of which were in a sever state of deteroiration. Perfect for our purposes though and so we proceeeded to survey the area. We decided t ocut through some woods while enroute to the new site flipping some logs. In the wooded area was a sll debris pile where we found an eastern worm snake under some cover Mike laid down the last time he passed through.

P1040650 Leaving that spot we came upon a small tributary that fed into the creek we could not cross earlier. On the bank Mike found a decent Northern brown snake.

P1040645 Leaving he woods we hopped onto a road bed borederd by cedars and some mixed hardwoods and pines. Mike said that he had seen a great horned owl at this location while birding a few weeks earleir. No sooner had he said this the owl appeared in flght right directly in fron of us.

WE finally came upon the property that had the old house and outbuildings. Almost immediately Mike stumbled upon a large racer on the edge of one of the buildings next to some plywood. I quickly answered with another large racer just a few feet away. After admiring the our catch we took some pics then released the animals back where they were found. Going into one of the buildings I found some wood and other debris on the floor and started flipping. Found one juvenile five lined skink still in hibernation as it never moved from its resting position.

P1040657 I took a few pics then carefully and gently layed the cover back over it as to minimize any disturbance.

P1040655 We continued to work around the property hearing all sorts of movement in the old buildings but didn’t investigate too much given we were short on time. On our way out Mike decided to flip a metal lid to a 50 gallon drum. Under it were a pair of mole kings!! Finding multiple snakes under the same cover wasn’t new but finding more than one king was a first for us.


Looking forward to another great herping day in the very near future



Clifton Night Hike: Late Winter Phibsv 3/11-3/12 2013

For the past two nights Me and several families from the Town of Clifton visited a few of the seasonal pools located on the outer boarders of the Town. Temps were ranged from mid to high 40’s into the 50’s. On the first night we visited the pool along Neuman road. Arriving just before dark there were only a few wood frogs and a scant sound of a peeper or two. As night time approached the pool came alive with the clucking sounds of numerous male wood frogs looking for mates.

Second night we turned our attention the the pools in 8 acre park. There we found a nice section of grass choked pools full of very vocal peepers totoally oblivious of our presence. We also observed two spotted salamanders and numerous wood frogs.

Both pools show prior evidence of activity suggestive of both wood frogs and spotted salamanders. Mostly Wood frog egg masses with fewer areas of spotted sal eggs. I am prediciting that the spots will be in full swing on the next nightime rain event.

All told the families seem to have a great time. Species recorded for these two trips: Green frog (Lithobates clamitans) Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvatica) Spring Peeper (Psuedacris crucifer) and Spotted Salamander ( Ambystoma maculatum)

spotted salamander