Monday, May 7, 2007

Cornell Herpetological Society Spring Field Survey

Today, 18 intrepid herpers from the Cornell Herpetological Society descended on the Finger Lakes Land Trust preserve, the Lindsay-Parsons Biodiversity Preserve, for our annual spring field survey. Our goal was to survey some new parcels recently added to the preserve for the FLLT, and to try to find the local population of Black Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta), a rare snake in NY.

Derek got off to a good start by finding a deer limb stuck in a tree. Well-cured venison anyone?
And then, for the first herp find, a half-eaten Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum):
The living herps soon started rolling in. Here was my first live find of the day, a complete, living Spotted Sal:
We worked our way up a small tributary of Cayuga Inlet towards the steep hill known as Thatcher's Pinnacles, known locally as the only spot for Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorus) in the Cayuga Lake Basin.

We picked up some Mountain Dusky Salamanders (Desmognathus ochrophaeus), some of them quite small:
Here is a Mountain Dusky compared with a Northern Two-lined Salamander (Eurycea bislineata):
This small salamander confused us. Some people thought it might be a larval mudpuppy, but we narrowed it down to a larval Spring Salamander (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus), which we thought was odd, due to the small size of the stream (more on that point later):
We also found some interesting invertebrates:

This millipede has some special significance to the preserve. I could not find a reference to it, but it is one of the millipedes that smells of almond when in defense mode, because it excretes cyanide. This bug was one of the catalysts for preserving Lindsay-Parsons as a biodiversity preserve for biochemical prospecting:
From the small creek, we moved uphill into some drier forest where we encountered a changing suite of species, including our first snake, an Eastern Garter (Thamnophis sirtalis):
A red eft (the terrestrial juvenile stage of the Red-spotted Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens):
A Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) away from the spawning grounds:
Eric even overturned a rock that had no less than seven Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) under it:
We broke for lunch before beginning the assault on Thatcher's Pinnacle. The new plot we were to survey just happens to be on the other side of the rise:

The dry, rocky slopes of Thatcher's Pinnacle yields yet more species. We find our first Slimy Salamanders (Plethodon glutinosus) which come in a variety of amounts of spotting:
We also have entered the preferred microhabitat of Northern Ringneck Snakes (Diadophis punctatus):

Finally we crest the steep slope, and enter a cooler, upland mixed Hemlock-deciduous forest. We make our way to a vernal pool and small stream on the new parcel. We spy some egg masses:

Some more efts:
A Northern Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus fuscus):
And finally, the jackpot for salamanders, several adult Spring Salamanders. It turns out we were wrong about Spring Sals required larger creeks, we found these in creeks we could straddle:

We made our way back off of the Pinnacle, with intentions of going to a staked-out spot for the Black Rat Snakes. At the base of the slope, I stumbled into one of the biggest beds of Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) I have ever seen. Two shots from the middle of the bed, looking in opposite directions:
I'm not big into wildflowers, but we did see some white and some red trilliums, which I am fond of.

This leaves us at the Black Rat Snake spot, which I will leave undisclosed to protect the snakes. They are known to rest there, and are presumed to overwinter. We very carefully checked the spot, with no intentions of disturbing any snakes for fear of scaring them away from the location. We found none, and people began to wonder off to check nearby ponds. I continued to search around, and I stumbled across one. My first wild Black Rat Snake!
We maintained are distance from the beautiful snake, never approaching close enough to touch it (which is why my photos are distant and lousy). We did have the kid in the group lay near the snake (which politely did not try to escape from our presence), and estimated her length to be just over five feet. Eventually she climbed into some bushes at eye level and moved off:

This was by far the highlight of the trip, and I ran out of photos just as the snake moved off. Our remaining highlights were observing two Common Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) performing some sort of wrestling behavior (courtship or fighting) on the far side of the pond. They repeatedly rolled, exposing bellys, heads, and limbs in the shallows. Also, a Red Fox den nearby revealed a yelping kit. Overall, an excellent trip! Our totals:

Chelydra serpentina - 2
Chrysemys picta ~13

Rana clamitans ~4
Rana pipiens ~4
Rana palustris - 1
Hyla versicolor - 2
Pseudacris crucifer - 1

Ambystoma maculatum - 3
Notophthalmus viridescens ~30
Eurycea bislineata ~ 12
Desmognathus fuscus ~3
Desmognathus ochrophaeus ~15
Gyrinophilus porphyriticus - 5
Plethodon glutinosus - 5+
Plethodon cinereus - too many to count, 40+

Thamnophis sirtalis - 2
Diadophis punctatus ~7
Elaphe obsoleta - 1


  1. Just found your blog through CNY Natural History...very cool. Keep up the amazing postings.

  2. Please teach people to MOisten with dew or water from the stream hands BEFORE they handle the salamanders.
    Good practice.
    RESPECT them please!

  3. We tried to, on almost all of them. It may not look like it in the pictures though. We know good practice :)
    ~ Nick