Monday, June 4, 2007

Allegany State Park Herping Trip

This weekend, a rogue band of Cornellian herpers took Allegany State Park by storm. Consisting of Shawn, Eric, Tina, and I, our group spent three days herping, coinciding with the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage (as my previous post indicated). I'll spare the suspense, and get straight to the results: a whopping 25 species of herp - an incredible weekend for New York! Even more so, when you consider we got almost all of our target species, and missed a few common ones like Gray Treefrog and any Turtles.

We started off headed west from Ithaca on 86 (the Southern Tier Expressway). Just west of Horseheads, we stopped a rest stop closed last summer due to the presence of basking Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus). This summer, we found no Crotalus, but we did find an adult and a juvenile Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum):

The Milk Snakes were plenty aggressive. Both exhibited fake tail-rattling behavior, where they vibrate their tails rapidly in loose material to mimic a Crotalus's rattle. Here is a short video:

While there were no Crotalus, there were plenty of rattler warning signs:

We paused for a group picture. I left the camera on 10-sec. delay and ran to get in, slipping and falling into the sign just before the picture (they're all laughing at me):

Onward from there to Allegany! Our first morning, we spent herping the local spots near the Nature Pilgrimage, before they were too overrun. Already spots had been worked over, and we found all but the remote corners of the park were worked over before we got there. There were just so many people. We did find many great herps just the same. Our early finds included many of the common salamanders:

Dusky Salamanders (Desmognathus sp.)
Two-lined Salamanders (Eurycea bislineata)
Slimy Salamander (Plethodon glutinosus)
Redback Salamander (Plethodon cinereus)
A favorite salamander of many of the group, the Spring Salamander (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus):
From the lowland creeks, we moved on to upland forest for one of our target species: Wehrle's Salamander (Plethodon wehrlei). It took a long while, but eventually we hit the sweet spot on the slope and uncovered our first two Wehrle's, a new species for all. From there, we ended up encountering 11 Wehrle's at that location and 6 more at a second upland location. We were able to get acquanted with the Wehrle's field marks and identification tips much better after seeing them in person, rather than the somewhat inadequate job the Peterson Herps guide does. I'll post some details on Wehrle's at a later date. Here's a few pictures:
With one new species under our belts, we took some time off from concentrated herping to wander around and enjoy the tranquil beauty of the Old Growth basin in Allegany. The entrance to the basin is some downhill clearings covered with many very tall fern stands, as Eric demonstrates:
In the forest:

That concluded our first day's herping. That night we hopped over to the Pilgrimage for the insect blacklighting. I neglected to bring my camera, and missed out on pictures of Polyphemus Moth, Promethea Moth, Luna Moth, and Big Poplar Sphinx moths. Some of them are pictured here in the daytime on Mon@rch's blog.

The next morning (Saturday), we made some brief stops near the Red House Lake Area Maintenance Rd. for the local singing Yellow-throated Warblers. We heard two males, getting brief glimpses of one. A surprise find was an Olive-sided Flycatcher, my first for the ABA area (I saw my life Olive-sided in Mexico last fall).

After that brief stop for birds, we continued on for our second target herp: Short-headed Garter Snake (Thamnophis brachystoma). This species' worldwide range is between Allegany State Park and Pittsburgh, PA. It is a bizarre distribution and we have been shooting around some hypotheses as to why. It is a field specialist, and I believe an earthworm specialist. None of us had seen one before, and given the descriptions in the Peterson Guide we thought we'd be reduced to scale counts on every Thamnophis we encountered just to tell. Not the case (although it is a necessary double-check)! I'll be posting more on Short-headed Garter later, as I will for Wehrle's Salamander. For now, check out these cute little snakes! It took several hours of searching in hot fields, but eventually we started finding them, and ended up with 7 total at two locations. Here's a few photos:

We also found several Redbelly Snakes (Storeria occipitomaculata) in the fields. This was a new species for me. We even found both color forms (brown and slate-gray):

Late in the afternoon, after finding a handful of snakes at the second location we found for Shortheads, we made a surprising discovery at an unexpected location. Underneath some junk piled behind a garage, we uncovered a Long-tailed Salamander! Eurycea longicauda has been something like the holy grail of herping for me, and we found one without even expecting it. It was even more gorgeous than the book depicts. This thing just glowed:

We had already been on a roll, and we knew we were beating most of the lists kept by the Nature Pilgrimage for herp sightings. The Long-tailed, however, inflated our status for herpers extraordinare to something like minor Gods (or maybe it was only our egos that were inflated?). We coasted on that high feeling all through the next day - a gloomy, rainy Sunday, during which we missed all of our remaining targets. We hit locations for Four-toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) and Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis), both would have been new species for all in the group, but missed out on both. We took two friend's families with us to a Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) location so we could show their children what awesome beasts Hellbenders are. Well, the location our map lead us to was not what we were expecting, and the quality was suboptimal for Hellbenders. The only thing we caught was a Lamprey, which was pretty cool. It was probably a species of Brook Lamprey (I'll need to ID later when I can find my copy of the Peterson Fish Guide).

After our friends took off, wet, happy, but herp-less, we decided an incorrect location was not going to stop us, so we proceeded to scout every major stream in the region. Two hours later, we had not found one stream that seemed suitable for Hellbenders, they were all either too small or too large to effectively search. Our secret Hellbender spot has chosen to remain a secret... we'll refind it at some point...

All in all, it was the best herping trip I've ever been on. It was made all the better by visiting the Nature Pilgrimage at night and reconnecting with many friends from home I haven't seen in a long time. It was also great, as Mon@rch notes, to see the strong role kids have in the Pilgrimage. The morning we left, we stopped at the Pilgrimage to see a local 16-year old named Rex give a Herpetology talk and live animal presentation. We joked about 'putting him in his place' and 'seeing how much he really knows', but Rex did a great job talking about and showing almost all the native herp species to a full crowd under the tent. He is just as dedicated and knowledgeable as any of us, just a few years behind us in education. We exchanged some information, and of course gave Cornell a big plug for his upcoming college search. We always are in need of more bright, dedicated young folks.

Trip total: 25 Species

Ambystoma maculatum - 4
Notophthalmus viridescens - 31
Desmognathus fuscus - 89
Desmognathus ochrophaeus - 91
Eurycea bislineata - 6
Eurycea longicauda - 1
Gyrinophilus porphyriticus - 13
Plethodon cinereus - 113
Plethodon werhlei - 17
Plethodon glutinosus - 3

Rana pipiens - 3
Rana palustris - 10
Rana catesbeiana - 1
Rana clamitans - x (didn't count numbers)
Rana sylvatica - 1
Pseudacris crucifer - 6
Pseudacris triseriata - 1
Bufo americanus - 17

Nerodia sipedon - 2
Storeria dekayi - 4
Storeria occipitomaculata - 6
Thamnophis sirtalis - 7
Thamnophis brachystoma - 7
Diadophis punctatus - 5
Lampropeltis triangulum - 2


  1. WOW, you guys did such an amazing job with the herps! I wish I could have helped with the short-headed garter and I can't wait to learn more about them! I also am jaw dropping with your finding of the long tailed salamander! I have gone in those areas a zillion times with out finding them! I thought they never existed! Bravo work guys! BTW: REX is awesome and without a doubt he knows his stuff!

  2. Rex will be drooling over the longtail. Did you tell him where to find one?

    Here are some pictures of Rex and the gang doing their herp presentation:

    Rex and Friends

  3. Sweet herp list! I wish I could have made it out more that weekend. I still can't believe the longtail. They are just too cool. It was great meeting you guys. Maybe I'll see you at Cornell in a couple years.

  4. Thanks guys! Good to hear from ya Rex. Hope you didn't take the 'we'll put him in his place' comments to heart ;)
    Shawn talked to our Herp Club advisor, Kraig Adler today, and he wants us to add the longtail onto our annual august hellbender trip. So we will likely return before the summer is over to scout for more...

    ~ Nick

  5. If you don't mind me tagging along shoot me an e-mail before you come down this way again. If I could get in on the 'bender trip that would be great too :). I should be around all summer. My e-mail is


  6. Lovley!!

    I really wish that Sweden had some more species. Still, I love to go herping here too.

  7. wow great list, ive been going there since i could walk, theres tons of wild life. As far as hellbenders go i do no a great spot i see usually atleast one a year in the quaker area of the park. Im no herper though maby an enthusiest at most. Any way once upon a time i encountered a snake in the park that was spitting venom i was wondering if any one could tell me what this snake might be as i am un aware of venom spitting snakes native to the area. Im pritty sure it was not a rattler and if this is a forign species will it effect the environment? Any very nice long tail havint seen one in a long time nice find.

  8. Hi! This is by no means through any fault of your own, and I'm not even sure how it happened or how one would go about fixing it, but I wanted to bring something to your attention. If you google "juvenile crotalus horridus" and click images, it pulls up the picture of your milk snake (beautiful snake btw). In other words, it implies this snake is a rattlesnake. I found this because I'm trying to convince someone that the "baby rattlesnake" they have in a jar right now is not at all a rattlesnake but just a baby black rat snake, and that he would be foolish to kill it (not that he wouldn't be foolish to kill the rattler either, but I'm losing that battle). I was going to direct him to google what I just did to see pics of baby timbers to note the difference, and unfortunately it pulls up lots of images of non-venemous snakes! So - I'm not sure how many people do this do determine if they have a rattlesnake, then incorrectly identify and kill it based on these photos that aren't rattlesnakes at all - bummer. Anyway - nice blog, just wanted to let you know.

  9. Thanks... Nothing I can do about what google pulls up, but if anyone clicks through to this post it is pretty clearly labeled. Oh well. Thanks.

  10. Hello, Followed your comments under the milk snake picture to here. This Sunday I was riding my bike on the Erie canal here in Lockport when I came upon this beautiful milk snake like in your first two pictures. Beautiful reptile and long too! about 3 ft. I watched him for a bit and then got him off from the path so he wouldn't get hurt.Didn't decide to pick him up although he didn't try to strike, just moved away VERY FAST.