Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Virginia Monologues, Part 2

Saturday June 7th, 2014

As expected, sleep was tough. Excitement, caffeine and no padding made me toss and turn pretty much all night. Until Andrea got up in the morning. Then I moved to her side (with a yoga mat under it) and slept while she woke up and poked around. In fact, she flipped Mike's Ringneck from the night before in the drainage area!

She also got some nice shots of the stream that ran through the campground.

By 9 AM(ish) we all had our heads together and were planning a trip that would take us about an hour and a half away. Cliff was once again our fearless leader, having made the journey before. Our goal was Green Salamanders  and Cave Salamanders. Being that I was already toast and had barely been awake for 15 minutes, I asked Jeff and Ben if we could carpool with them. They said yes, thank heavens. Jeff, a Carsickness Survivor, was extremely understanding of my passenger plight and took very good care of me with thoughtful driving.

We arrived before too long and headed to work. The plan was to peek in crevices in wet rock walls and try to find salamanders. Many of our number (10 of us) did just that while I concentrated on water's edge.
I had this vision of Queen Snakes, Spring Salamanders and Long-Tails!

Matt spotted the first wall Salamander, a Unidentified Desmog, hanging out in the moisture. How he saw this, I'll never know.

These millipedes were everywhere!!

I love Salamandering!

Come to think of it, I'm looking like illness is creeping in here... but I was happy in the wild!

While the more stalwart member of our crew were digging and poking at rock walls, I flipped little in the way of herps... mostly Crayfish. Where the hell were those Queens?? This UFD was my first Sal.
Probably a Northern Dook but the regenerating tail throws me off!

This young Seal with a similar tail-trauma climbed out of the water in front of me!

Here's an impressive Seal!

Another Millipede species heard from!
Flatbacked Millipede

As we moved onward and upward, we all became very well acquainted with Virginia's State Plant, the fucking stinging nettle. (Urtica dioica fukkia). It covered every opening to every path that would let us reach the rocks walls.  Cliff warned us. I wore shorts. I deserved everything I got. Matt suggested rubbing mud on affected areas. It definitely helped.

I was enjoying myself immensely, I just love this kind of habitat. I grabbed a bunch of low crevices in this area, hoping for the best.

Still hoping for Springs and Longtails, I flipped even while resting.
(Note mud covering)

Andrea was as beautiful as ever, keeping a presidential air about her.

This was my view of the real hard-working people of the trip. Many had ascended to a wonderful, moist rock wall in search of our Salamander quarry and were diligently poking through every crevice.
Mike hard at work...
I contented myself with flipping and rifling through leaves at the base. Eventually, Cliff yelled that he had one! I staggered my weary bones up top (much to some mirthful jabs from others for not coming up until one was found. Not sure why... I drove 500 miles to see animals, I was going to see animals!) to join in the celebration.

He'd found a Green, but it was a finicky fella. He refused to dislodge himself from his perch 18 inches deep inside a crevice. Everyone took turns peering in at him as he snubbed his nose at us. He resisted all attempts to woo him out. But people got to see him, so that's cool. I passed on the chance to peer in... I can barely see my hand in front of my face, I wasn't going to waste anyones time.

While I was up there, I found a few secluded, wet, crevicey areas and set about looking into them, now that I had learned how. I found a couple of Northern Duskys, which was cool. But no Greens. Mike had a bead on one but it never came out either. Eventually, we realized we weren't going to get pictures and we foraged ahead.

Andrea and I, as usual, kept low in hopes of Queens. I mean, lookit this!!

We managed a few more Seals! (That second guy is still listed as a UFD...)

While rooting around in the water, Jeff came down from above... he'd found a feisty Black Rat Snake and, knowing Andrea and I don't get to see to many, he brought it down for us to see. (He said there was a Garter right there, too!) While taking it out of his backpack (smart move!) he explained that it was pretty nippy. He was right! He got me twice in a matter of seconds!
But we got this beauty calmed down for some lovely shots.
That really made up for the deceased one from last night.

We headed back down, still keeping our eyes on the rock walls for any herp activity. We weirdest thing I saw all day happened next. I was walking along when all of a sudden, with a flash of bright orange belly, a tiny Ringneck tumbled out of one of the crevices, falling vent over teakettle! I made an audible "oh.. my... g...".
I put him back on the wet ledge and he crawled back into a crevice.
hidden ringneck
I hope a Dookie doesn't eat him!

We relaxed for a bit before leaving the place... sitting at picnic tables and eating. And getting attacked by bees!!! I had gone down by the stream on a last ditch Queen Snake effort, so I missed it but right at Cliff's knees, while he sat eating lunch, a hive exploded in a fury of wasps or bees or something, got him a few times, and managed to scare the shit out of everyone! Whoa!!

So, we all collected ourselves and headed over to one more little stop-over before heading back to camp. It was a lovely, slow river where there was some thoughts of turtles. Jeff, a Wood Turtle guru, went right in, searching for chelonian goodness.

Mike, in what might have been the most uneven flip ever, lifted up a 3 foot X 7 foot flattened log right at river's edge and came up with an unexpected, small surprise!
A Longtail Salamander! I flipped hundreds of rocks in the sandy, stream-side soil... nuthin! Next to a river, Mike flips a piece of wood big enough to cover a Komodo Dragon and got this pipsqueak! Weirdness, thy name is herping!

This was also a good place for a mug-shot of the crew, minus me... who couldn't seem to get back into frame in time.

We all headed back to camp, exhausted but happy! Andrea had decided to go to the next camp over to shower with two handsome young men so I stayed back, planning on washing mud off in the stream and maybe look for a few more herps. There was to be a short hike at the showering camp first, to see if they could find a Yonahlossee for Jeff and Ben who had missed the previous day's hike.

While tidying up the camp, Mike and Desirée came by to see what the plans were. I said that I was going to wash up and herp the stream and Mike decided to join me!

I really wish I had spent more time exploring this spot! As we walked over to go in, Mike was looking for a Pickerel Frog that he'd seen the day before. He didn't get a picture and it was a county record. Amazingly, a Pickerel jumped out! It was a feisty one, but we finally corralled it for a pic!

He said we had startled off a large Water Snake, too. Damn! Missed it!

Down in the water, I did the unmentionable... I found a lifer without Andrea! I'm sure we'll encounter others in our lifetime but this was my first Southern Two-Lined Salamander!
Looks just like a Northern! Just geographically challenged!

I also flipped a sweet Blue Ridge Mountain Dusky, my only one of the day! Weird since I scored so many the day before!

I finally got my field-guide perfect Seal Salamander shot!

A nice Black-belly

I finished up with this UFD... I want to say Seal or Blackbelly... but who knows?!

Meanwhile, at the other camp, Andrea flipped the weekend's first Redback! The forgotten Plethodon!

Jeff and Ben got their Yonahlossees! A big and a little!

Andrea got a Slimy!

And then, after showering, she came back and promptly passed out!

I slept well too, after a full day. I had stayed up talking with Mike, Desirée, Matt and Siobhan, the latter two who were departing shortly. When the rest of the gang got back, sleepiness overcame us all! I actually slept fairly OK that night, whippoorwill be damned!

Sunday June 8th, 2014

The plan was to meet at 8:30 AM to drive a short way to look for Shovel nosed Salamanders. I tore down camp as quickly as I could and we more or less were all ready by 9:30. I'll take it. Again following Cliff, we headed up a dizzying twisty-turny road and parked (once it straightened out) on the side of the road, next to a stream. We all stepped in, some on either side of the culvert, and started flipping underwater rocks, the domain of the Shovel-nose. Heading down to the water, I startled something in the brush. It turned out to be a Pickerel Frog.

I have no idea who found this... it was just in the pictures when we uploaded. But it's a darling little BRMD!

I was flipping tons of crayfish so my thoughts were again on Queen Snakes. In fact, I decided to flip a few rocks that were atop the culvert pipe in hopes of encountering such a thing! No, but I found a 15" Ringneck!
Yep... lookin' sick there, bro.

Andrea went to the other side to show Mike, but he'd found 5 of his own Ringnecks and a Water Snake! Show off!

Jeff and Ben had searched downstream and come back to say they'd found a promising spot, so we all drove down a spell to look. Yes, it was nice and shaded and had plenty of underwater rocks. I got this Seal fairly quickly.

I had flipped a few fish but never even considered trying to catch one. Dexterous I ain't! Mike, however, nabbed this darter! Amazing!

He then got this monster of a Seal!

It was then that Cliff came triumphantly splashing our way, proclaiming that he'd found a Shovel-nose! We poured him into the tank with the Seal, who twice snapped at him! We released the Seal... what an asshole!

So, here's lifer #9- the Shovel-nosed Salamander!

We had achieved that day's goal, but continued to flip a bit. I flipped a pink hot-dog of a Salamander... a Spring! Cliff and I tried to procure it but it was too smart for us. (For me anyway!) I flipped a massive rock and there was another! Surely this one wouldn't evade me! I got my hands on it... it squirted right out. Andrea made a grab and the same thing happened! Finally, Mike's cat-like reflexes nabbed the little guy!
Damn... about 6 inches long and still has gills! Gonna be a bruiser!

The last herp of the weekend (in fact my last one as of this writing) was a small, dark Seal.

It was time to call it a day and hit the road. Cliff, Carl, Jeff and Ben were going to another mountain to try for Weller's again but we needed to hit the road. We said our farewells, happy with our trip and with our new "real life" friends.

We never did see Clair's bottom...

So, somewhere along the line, I decided that I was alert enough to go straight through. Mmm hmm. So, we planned a route to bypass Richmond and go for it. All was well. We stopped at Golden Corral for actual food. I felt hot and shitty, but I figured the throbbing pain was just sore muscles. I drank a lot of caffeine. I even had a very rare cup of coffee for the road. We drove on through rain and shine and stopped in West Virginia for a mosquito bite.

Somewhere in New Jersey, I was ready to pass out. We pulled into a parking lot and slept for 2 hours. Refreshed (hah!) I got back on the road. In the 15 minutes that Andrea dozed off, I managed to make a wrong decision and add on an hour. Fuck. But we kept going. At 3 AM in Danbury, CT, I had to pull over. The chills had overtaken me and I shook and cried. The only thing that made me move on was knowing that if I stayed, I'd hit Hartford rush hour! YAAARRGGHH!!

OK, delerium ans insanity aside, we made it home by 6AM Monday morning. We showered (with soap!) and went to bed for a while. When I awoke, my temperature was 102.1. And there it stayed, except when it went up, for two days. On Wednesday, I went to the hospital. We awaited the doctor's word... then:

I missed a shit-ton of work and had to pass on weekend herping. (Andrea went and will regale you with stories of her successful solo adventure!) I'm still recovering but I regret nothing. I had a great time, herped with great people and saw some amazing animals... some that I might never see again!

Tons of thanks to Andrea and Mike for planning this whole thing and especially to Cliff for being our Salamander Leader! His direction, as well as his knowledge and passion, fueled us all weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, right...Carl flipped the BRMD across the street from that stream.