Saturday, March 7, 2009

Alabama Spring

It was a beautiful spring day in Auburn, AL, so with our good friends John and Lindsay and their adorable dog, Tico, we decided to re-visit a few spots where I learned to herp while in college. I decided first to visit a pond, which I have always had success finding midland water snakes. After hopping a fence, in very short order we found 3 snakes, a juvenile, a sub-adult and 1 large adult. Aubrey had never seen this species so after taking a quick photograph she successfully wrangled the beast, which had been coiled nicely with some loops in the sun and other parts of the body in the shade. A young couple happened to be nearby so we invited them to come and take a look. They were really curious and did not display any hostility towards the creature. Rather they stepped forward to touch the animal and asked several questions simultaneously. Education and awareness are critical if you want to help a cause and we took control of the situation and gave our spiel. Hopefully they will recount the story to others thereby doing their part. Sometimes it’s the little things that have such an impact on the direction of our lives.

After the park, we headed to Tuskegee National Forest, the smallest national forest in the country, totaling around 12,000 acres. On the way, we stopped for a road kill snake. It turned out to be worth the effort; an eastern kingsnake, a species currently suspected of experiencing severe declines or extirpation (local extinction) where it is was, until recently, abundant in portions of the Coastal Plain. In the past 25 years, researchers and experienced field biologists have noted that populations have disappeared from protected lands (public and privately owned) including large quail plantations in southern Georgia, the 300,000 acre Department of Energy Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and throughout large portions of Florida of which over 25 percent is protected in conservation.
We took notes on where the snake was found and put it in the cooler so we could deposit the specimen in the biological collections museum at Auburn. Ten minutes later we arrived at our destination. We decided to search a few wetlands with varying degrees of winter rainfall. We didn’t find an abundance of any one species but we found pretty good diversity. In perhaps an hour, we found marbled and slimy salamanders, heard choruses of upland chorus frogs, and found the shells of slider and musk turtles. We also spooked a male hooded merganser which I had been thinking of yesterday with the notion of visiting another spot where I have had luck finding them. Two birds with one stone.
- Matt