Looking back on a May day in EKY

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Aneides Aeneus
Posts: 47
Joined: November 15th, 2014, 8:54 am
Location: Lexington, KY

Looking back on a May day in EKY

Post by Aneides Aeneus » June 29th, 2016, 7:01 pm

Hey guys,

It's been a while since I posted on here, and I haven't gone through my recent photos yet, so I thought I would post some stuff from earlier this year. Specifically, this is an account of a beautiful day I spent in Eastern Kentucky herping with my friend Kevin Hucheson (another forum member) and his dad.

We began the day by stopping at a productive road cut on the way to our destination:

ImageEastern Kentucky Road Cut by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Normally, this cut is a reliable spot for copperheads, worm snakes, ringneck snakes, and milk snakes. However, on this day we were worried we wouldn't find anything at all; the temperature was in the high 50s, and the sky was mostly cloudy. Luckily, a few cold and torpid snakes made their appearance.

Worm snake (you can tell I spent about 10 seconds trying to get a photo):

ImageWorm Snake by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Milk snake (once again, poor photo attempt):

ImageEastern Milk Snake by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Copperhead:

ImageNorthern Copperhead by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

A fence lizard was also found here:

ImageFence Lizard by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

From there, we moved on to an abandoned building on a forested ridge close to our destination. We have visited this building twice before, and laid out a couple sheets of tin as well as two old wooden doors. Though we have only found lizards under the AC so far, we have seen kingsnake sheds in the surrounding clearing. On this morning, the sun came out just as we were entering the clearing, and we happened upon this kingsnake out sunning:

ImageBlack Kingsnake by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageBlack Kingsnake by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

After this neat find, we checked our AC without success. On the way out of the clearing, we found the surprise of the day, a baby water snake. As I said before, this clearing is on top of a ridge; there is no major water body within almost a mile!

ImageNorthern Water Snake by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

After that, we moved on to our destination, which may be my favorite place in the state. At this location, a large stream cuts a 150 foot deep gorge through layers of sandstone and limestone. Unlike many gorges of its size in eastern Kentucky, this gorge is barely half a mile wide at the widest; in most places you can see from wall to wall! Within the gorge is a cool, moist environment perfect for salamanders. Most of the gorge is forested with hemlock and rhododendron; fallen boulders and muddy seeps abound.

We began by parking where a small road cuts through the gorge, and hiking downstream to where a small tributary stream feeds in. In the first muddy seep we came to, we found a couple of Allegheny mountain dusky salamanders:

ImageAllegheny Mountain Dusky Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

This species's distribution is extremely spotty and disjunct in Eastern Kentucky, and it is considered rare outside the southeast corner of the state. However, in this gorge it is the most common salamander species, proving far more common than the seal and two-lined salamanders usually prevalent in Eastern Kentucky.

Next, under some rotting logs, we ran into a couple slimy salamanders:

ImageNorthern Slimy Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

We aren't entirely sure about this one; it could be either a slimy salamander or the very similar cumberland plateau salamander:

ImageUnidentified Plethodon Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

The best way to tell the difference is to check the salamander's chin. In theory, cumberland plateau salamanders should have an all white chin, and slimies should have an all black chin. This salamander appeared to have a white chin with some dark pigment at the base. What do you guys think?

ImageUnidentified Plethodon Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

As we walked through the woods, we also ran into several red efts. We usually only see these active on the surface after rains, but since it is so moist in this gorge, it seems they are easily found here even on sunny days.

ImageRed Eft by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Once we reached the tributary stream, we ran into the second most common salamander in the gorge - the longtail salamander:

ImageLongtail Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Normally these guys show up literally everywhere in this gorge: along the main stream, in tributaries, under cover objects in the woods, on sandstone boulders, along the cliffs, in seeps, etc. On this day, we saw far fewer than usual, but the few we saw were quite stunning.

ImageLongtail Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Near where we found the longtail salamander, I spotted a tiny hatchling green salamander in a sandstone boulder. Unfortunately, I was unable to photograph it in situ, and I didn't want to risk hurting it, so I didn't try to coax it out of its crack.

We continued to see many mountain dusky salamanders as we followed the tributary upstream. Though many individuals are a dull brown color, this species can exhibit remarkable variation.

ImageAllegheny Mountain Dusky Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageAllegheny Mountain Dusky Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Based on past visits, we have found this stream to be a good place for spring salamanders, one of my favorite species. I quickly flipped up a young adult, only to watch it slither down a hole. Somewhat aggravated, we continued on in search of another. Along the way, we found the only two-lined salamander of the day. Funny how this species is ubiquitous almost everywhere in eastern Kentucky, but here it is one of the rarest species.

ImageSouthern Two-Lined Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

We were encouraged by the presence of many spring salamander larvae, including this monster:

ImageSpring Salamander Larva by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Eventually, we reached the point where the tributary first enters the gorge, cascading down a series of waterfalls. We decided to explore around here a bit.

The lowermost waterfall:

ImageEastern Kentucky Cascade by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

View from the top, looking down the tributary:

ImageEastern Kentucky Gorge by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

In this area, we found a couple seal salamanders. Normally this species is very common in almost any eastern Kentucky stream, but in this gorge it seems to be limited to the splash zones of waterfalls.

ImageSeal Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

After that, we headed back down towards the main stream. Along the way back, Kevin decided to check out a small seep we had passed by on the way up, where he found a big, gorgeous spring salamander. Given my level of competence, the moment he handed it to me I managed to let it escape under a large boulder! :oops:

I continued to search for another spring salamander as we headed back down the tributary, and while I was unsuccessful, I did find the day's only northern dusky salamander. This is yet another species which is common almost everywhere except this gorge.

ImageNorthern Dusky Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

As we neared the main stream, I decided to lift up the rock I found the first spring salamander under, just to see if I could get a glimpse of it again. To my surprise, it had moved to a portion of the rock far from its burrow. I caught this one without letting it escape under a boulder, and I even managed to take some mediocre photos:

ImageKentucky Spring Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

After that, we waded back up the stream to our car, and headed to our next site.

Kevin and his dad, Bruce, on their way upstream:

ImageEastern Kentucky Stream by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Our next spot was a location at the foot of the continuous cliff line along the north side of the gorge. This spot is very interesting to us, because the wet crevices here harbor a large population of cumberland plateau salamanders. In about 30 minutes, we found around 10 individuals! Apart from the white chin, this species differs from slimy salamanders in that it has less spotting on the tail, and it has a more flattened head and a thinner tail. though its habitat preferences are not well understood, it seems to like areas with moist rock outcrops or rock faces. This population seems to live exclusively in crevices.

ImageCumberland Plateau Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageCumberland Plateau Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageCumberland Plateau Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageCumberland Plateau Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

One individual in situ:

ImageCumberland Plateau Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Showing the white chin:

ImageCumberland Plateau Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

My hasty attempt at a herp-in-habitat shot:

ImageCumberland Plateau Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

During our search for cumberland plateau salamanders, we also found this green salamander deep in a crevice:

ImageGreen Salamander by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

And that concludes our day. I'll leave you all with some photos of the stunning scenery of the gorge. These pictures do not do the place justice!

ImageEastern Kentucky Hillside by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageEastern Kentucky Stream by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageEastern Kentucky Waterfall by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageEastern Kentucky Gorge by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageEastern Kentucky Stream by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Hope you all have seen some beautiful places this year, and not to mention, some interesting herps.

-Ananth

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Jeroen Speybroeck
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Re: Looking back on a May day in EKY

Post by Jeroen Speybroeck » June 29th, 2016, 11:34 pm

What a day! Really need to get back for another US mander hunt some day...

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Noah M
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Re: Looking back on a May day in EKY

Post by Noah M » July 2nd, 2016, 5:31 am

I'm itching to head north SO badly! Great stuff man!

AZherper
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Joined: August 31st, 2015, 7:53 am

Re: Looking back on a May day in EKY

Post by AZherper » July 2nd, 2016, 7:45 am

Wow, what a packed day! Awesome job, I especially love the sals.

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Aneides Aeneus
Posts: 47
Joined: November 15th, 2014, 8:54 am
Location: Lexington, KY

Re: Looking back on a May day in EKY

Post by Aneides Aeneus » July 4th, 2016, 7:47 am

Thanks guys! I'm certainly very lucky to live so close to salamander paradise (the Appalachans). If I can find the time I will be posting more Kentucky finds soon (as usual mostly salamanders).

-Ananth

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