Checking my boards - 1st half of 2017 (NJ + MD)

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intermedius
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Joined: March 22nd, 2012, 6:19 pm

Checking my boards - 1st half of 2017 (NJ + MD)

Post by intermedius » June 27th, 2017, 8:17 pm

Last update I covered a lot of the birds I found during the first half of 2017. Now I will focus on the herps for this half of 2017. Admittedly, I have not birded as frequently this year due to college but I did manage to get out into the field a few times, especially in May when the semester was over.

We spent a weekend back home in New Jersey laying out boards for some local stewards. A few months ago they asked if we wanted to help survey some properties for reptiles and amphibians, so we agreed. We bought around twenty pieces of boards, and salvaged some tarps and carpets during winter break then set them strategically in some nice open habitats. Nobody had ever surveyed the land specifically for herps, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves, so it was a great place to test what I had learned from other herpers.


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The area used to be a corporate park, but the ruins of the buildings are now long gone and the property is going through succession. We used rakes to try and remove some of the grass and plant layers, but the frost layer made it difficult. When the frost melted we resorted to using bird seed to try and accelerate the decomposition rate underneath the boards.

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College spring break is remarkably early compared to high school. They let us out during the last week of March, but there was still snow on the ground when I got out. On a Saturday, the temperature hit the mid 50's so I tried my luck at some sites along the Coastal Plain of Maryland.

Unsurprisingly, we encountered several Marbled Salamanders – Ambystoma opacum

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A lone Eastern Garter Snake - Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis was also out basking, right next to a spring.

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Here she is in-situ.

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The area is part of some interesting habitat. Further down there are plenty of seepages in a ravine like setting. Surrounding the streams are holly and some rhododendron. Red Salamanders are known from here, but Mud Salamanders have been found nearby. Try as I may, we only found a few Northern Dusky Salamanders – Desmognathus fuscus, but the dream lives on.

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Later on, the temperatures rose into the 70's, and we had a big push of snakes exiting from their wintering sites. On a trip to northern Virginia we saw several Eastern Ribbon Snakes – Thamnophis sauritus sauritus

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Spotted Turtles were also active. I saw several in some ephemeral wetlands.

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The male slowly creeps up.

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Success!

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Also found was this White-spotted Slimy Salamander – Plethodon cylindraceus.

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Back in New Jersey, I went birding the first day I got back and ended up finding twenty six species of warblers at my local migrant trap (more on that some other time). At another site, I did some casual herping and got some usual suspects. This juvenile Garter Snake was camera friendly and posed nice for some taco tongues.

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While driving around a retention pond which yielded a locally rare Common Gallinule, we saw this large Snapping Turtle on the side of the road and moved it over to the grass where he was heading to. Fowler's Toads (below) were also common on the drives and hikes around that day.

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Around the same time, the boards that I laid were ready for checking, so we proceeded with a first official "herp survey" of the property and checked on them. Most of them were in good condition. A few appeared to have been moved a bit since our visit probably by deer or raccoons, but the bird seed seemed to do its job.

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Under one of our first boards, we discovered an Eastern Garter Snake undergoing ecdysis. Unfortunately, none of the other boards had any other snakes underneath them. There were plenty of rodent trails underneath them, so the hopes are that next round of surveying, we will have some more diversity to show for.

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The rest of the survey, which consisted of herping in the forested areas of the property and some of the streams and ponds, yielded usual suspects and some nice surprises.

Green Frog metamorph – Rana clamitans

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Wood Frog – Rana sylvatica

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Eastern Box Turtle – Terrapene carolina

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A "blue" Green Frog, a pleasant surprise.

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Along the streams in some of the more forested areas, I found some nice rocky outcrops that yielded a Northern Ringneck Snake – Diadophis punctatus edwardsii. These snakes are somewhat tricky to find around my county. This was my first one in this area.

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Also surprising was the presence of Northern Red Salamanders – Pseudotriton ruber ruber on the property. I ended up finding two larva and one adult in the same area where the Ringneck was found. In my book, the survey was a great success, with twelve total herp species found. This is a good day in my area.

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Afterwards, my dad and I took a trip south into the coastal plain of New Jersey and Maryland. We had a full week to ourselves before it was time to go back for summer courses in college, so we wanted to do a big herping trip to compensate. Over the winter when I was stuck in my dorm, I spent a lot of my time investigating google earth for dump sites, so we had a lot of places to go investigate. Sometimes we would find a private property sign, or an empty field with one piece of carpet. Other times we would hit a jackpot.

This Black Rat Snake – Pantherophis obsoletus was flipped under a large board we found at one of our "jackpot" sites.

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Said "jackpot" site.

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Northern Water Snake – Nerodia sipedon

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Eastern Box Turtle – Terrapene carolina

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Another Black Rat, at least 4-5 feet long, on a mattress at another dump site.

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A very large Eastern Garter Snake was also found at this site, probably eating the same things the rat snake chows on.

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Northern Black Racers – Coluber constrictor were some of the most common snakes flipped during our trips, along with Ringnecks and Worm Snakes. At one site, we appeared to discover a rookery, with at least four or five snakes utilizing a collapsed boat as shelter. We caught one adult periscoping out of a stack of carpets nearby.

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Throughout our time herping we were in "Coastal Milk" territory, but knew that they weren't easy to find in the areas where we searched. Nevertheless, we did not take them out of the equation. Around halfway through our trip, a large thunderstorm system plowed through, ending in the late afternoon. Around that time we were heading towards our last site for the day a bit discouraged since we did not see anything too significant at our last sites. Then I discovered a small pile of shingles and flipped them, only to discover something spectacular underneath.

Coastal Plains Milk Snake – Lampropeltis triangulum "temporalis".

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The trip could have ended there and we would have been happy. Of course, we wanted to try and find more. Try we did but failed. So we moved on to other sites the next day, this time targeting other species of King Snakes. In a short amount of time I flipped what we were looking for under a freshly laid board.

Mole King Snake – Lampropeltis rhombomaculata. This juvenile had some pretty nice blotches.

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Then a few minutes later, I flipped a large piece of carpet and found a gravid female. She was surprisingly cooperative for photos. The juvenile just would not stay still.

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Also seem was this large Eastern Smooth Earth Snake – Virginia valeriae valeriae

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Besides a few Worm Snakes, the only other thing we saw was this nicely patterned Northern Brown Snake – Storeria dekayi dekayi

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Our last snake of the trip was hiked on our way back home. We turned around a bend, and looked down along the leaf litter for anything on the crawl or basking. Sure enough, we got the last king snake to achieve our "Lampropeltis trifecta".

Eastern King Snake – Lampropeltis getula getula. Besides the milk, my favorite find from this year. It's been almost five years since I saw my last Eastern King, it's good to finally see that chain pattern once more.

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~

And that concludes my first half of the year. I hope you all enjoyed. The birds from this year will be accounted for soon.

– Justin

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Jeff
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Joined: June 11th, 2010, 5:01 am
Location: Louisiana

Re: Checking my boards - 1st half of 2017 (NJ + MD)

Post by Jeff » June 28th, 2017, 4:07 pm

That was an enjoyable tour of a part of the country that I have not explored. Snow in March - ugh! There are 5 mole king records for Louisiana, and none by me. I wouldn't want to ruin the thrill of the catch by finding two in a trash dump, or would I? Nevermind, I'll take one in a trash dump over 0 in 25 years.

Regarding your boards, I would have recommended on practically no experience, to leave the grass underneath. I base this statement on a late Spring survey of board sets in Iowa grassland in which snakes (green, red-bellied, garter) were under grass boards, none were under boards that were on bare ground.

Jeff

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intermedius
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Re: Checking my boards - 1st half of 2017 (NJ + MD)

Post by intermedius » June 28th, 2017, 7:34 pm

Jeff wrote:That was an enjoyable tour of a part of the country that I have not explored. Snow in March - ugh! There are 5 mole king records for Louisiana, and none by me. I wouldn't want to ruin the thrill of the catch by finding two in a trash dump, or would I? Nevermind, I'll take one in a trash dump over 0 in 25 years.

Regarding your boards, I would have recommended on practically no experience, to leave the grass underneath. I base this statement on a late Spring survey of board sets in Iowa grassland in which snakes (green, red-bellied, garter) were under grass boards, none were under boards that were on bare ground.

Jeff
Jeff, thanks! Coincidentally, we found one a dekayi a few days ago under a grass board at our site. We're trying different things out, and plan on laying more pieces of cover in new areas. Actually, I'm in the minority group of herpers when it comes to finding snakes. I enjoy the thrill of flipping a large board and finding an adult snake underneath a bit more than hiking one out. I guess I always felt flipping a board was like a gamble, and finding a snake underneath was hitting jackpot.

Interesting to hear that Mole Kings are uncommon in Louisiana. I guess they're not abundant along most of the gulf states?

– Justin

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Fieldherper
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Re: Checking my boards - 1st half of 2017 (NJ + MD)

Post by Fieldherper » June 28th, 2017, 9:03 pm

Great stuff! Don't see too many MD milks/moles posted.

FH

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John Martin
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Location: North end of Lake Okeechobee, Florida

Re: Checking my boards - 1st half of 2017 (NJ + MD)

Post by John Martin » June 28th, 2017, 10:22 pm

Thanks for this post, I enjoyed it! :D That Eastern King is massive! Looks like it possibly had a meal of a fairly large snake? Or gravid?

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tomharten
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Joined: June 21st, 2011, 10:37 am
Location: Southern Maryland

Re: Checking my boards - 1st half of 2017 (NJ + MD)

Post by tomharten » June 29th, 2017, 8:10 am

You slayed it! What County in MD if you don't mind sharing that?

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intermedius
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Re: Checking my boards - 1st half of 2017 (NJ + MD)

Post by intermedius » June 29th, 2017, 11:02 am

Thanks folks,

FH, these are my second and third mole kings respectively. The first one I found on the side of a busy highway!

John, yeah it was! I wouldn't be surprised if another king snake was inside.

Tom, I herped throughout Maryland as well as New Jersey. But you could say I focus mostly on the Western Shore of Maryland, and most of southern New Jersey.

– Justin

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tomharten
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Joined: June 21st, 2011, 10:37 am
Location: Southern Maryland

Re: Checking my boards - 1st half of 2017 (NJ + MD)

Post by tomharten » June 29th, 2017, 4:28 pm

Great post! Thanks. I've lived in Calvert Co. (western shore) for the past 25 years and never found a Mole King- Congrats!

herper1
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 6:25 pm
Location: South Jersey

Re: Checking my boards - 1st half of 2017 (NJ + MD)

Post by herper1 » July 3rd, 2017, 4:13 am

Fun post and great finds and pics! I am your neighbor to the south (southern jersey here) so if your ever down this way again feel free to hit me up. I am in Atlantic county, Is that first trash pile pic in southern NJ? That trash looks familiar!

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Brian Hubbs
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Re: Checking my boards - 1st half of 2017 (NJ + MD)

Post by Brian Hubbs » July 3rd, 2017, 1:00 pm

OK, very nice report and pics. I especially like the milk snake pics (Hmmm...I wonder why that would be?). Was the milk in NJ or Virginia? You seemed to be in both states, but weren't clear on what was found where. I don't think Mole Kings are in NJ...so I assume those were in VA. PM me and I'll give you a clue on how to see more milks...

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intermedius
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Re: Checking my boards - 1st half of 2017 (NJ + MD)

Post by intermedius » July 5th, 2017, 12:36 pm

Thanks all again. I'm itching to get back to the field soon!

Coincidentally, I went back to my board line a few days ago and didn't strike out.


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– Justin

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Brian Hubbs
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Re: Checking my boards - 1st half of 2017 (NJ + MD)

Post by Brian Hubbs » July 6th, 2017, 4:06 pm

Very nice! If i ever do a Harmless Snakes of the East book I'll hit you up for some pics...but I know that easterners don't usually buy books...or even read... :lol:

NACairns
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Re: Checking my boards - 1st half of 2017 (NJ + MD)

Post by NACairns » July 6th, 2017, 7:50 pm

Great post, love the photos. That rhombomaculata is stunning as are Clemmys.
Thanks for sharing.
Best,
Nick

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