Things you can find under logs
I’m sort of digging this herping thing, it has a couple things going for it. For starters, it doesn’t require the earlyish mornings that the best birding does. I’ve been burning the candles at both ends lately, and it’s been hard to motivate myself to get out early enough to go birding on the weekends. It doesn’t help that the birding in mid-March is still pretty slow. but the herps are really active these days as the first few days of extended warm temperatures. Frogs have been calling since February, but bugs and snakes and salamanders are out and active. And I figure if I’m just going to go out and see the same 30-25 species of birds day in and day out, I might as well flip a few logs over and see what’s underneath them.
And as it turns out, a whole lot. And nearly all of it pretty exciting. When I was a kid, before I was into birds, I was really into snakes and turtles, so going around flipping logs these days makes me feel like a 9 year old out for whatever again, which is a pretty cool thing. It also reminds me of those early days of birding so long forgotten, when I was more or less confused about just about everything I’d see. I know most of my common and expected species (reptiles, at least), but most of the amphibians are pretty new, and worse, some of them are identified by subtleties that make silent Empids look like they’re wearing nametags. I don’t know that I’ll ever be at that level, I don’t know if I ever want to be. I just like knowing what I’m looking at, but that’s always how it starts, isn’t it?
So I’ve been flipping lots of logs this weekend, at Umstead State Park on Saturday, where I also picked up the spring’s first Louisiana Waterthrushes, Yellow-throated Warblers, and a Northern Parula, and yesterday, at Duke Forest, where I’ve heard there are some impressive populations of a couple species of salamanders I’d really like to see. I didn’t, incidentally, but I did find these things.
Yellow and Black Flat Millipedes are out in force these days. Not only are they pretty flashy for millipedes, but this particular species is endemic to the Triangle, which is pretty cool. At least, I read that somewhere and I can’t find where. I’m just going to keep believing it though, this is certainly the only place I’ve ever seen them.
I’ve flipped over logs to find a grand total of four of these White-spotted Slimy Salamanders this weekend. They’re a lot feistier than the Marbleds Noah and I found last weekend. But they’re still plenty big, which is always surprising to me. When I was younger, we’d find Slimys outside cave openings in Missouri, and I never remember them getting more than about 3 inches long. This guy was about 7 inches long! And true to their name, they secrete a super sticky slimy when you pick them up that’s not easily washed off. Worth it though. They’re super cool.
I was a little disappointed that I’d made it so far into the spring without finding a snake, so I was pretty happy to find this little guy curled up under a biggish log. This is a Worm Snake, North Carolina’s smallest species and completely harmless at only about 8 inches long. I ended up finding two on the day, but no bigger snakes.
One of the more common critters underneath logs are these large, handsome, beetles. I’ve heard them called Bess Beetles, or Patent-leather Beetles, because of their shiny carapace. They have nasty looking jaws but are essentially harmless.
Not under a log, but hopping ahead of me down the path, was the little frog. I’m usually not fast enough to catch frogs; if they are anywhere near a pool or stream they usually make a clean getaway, but this one was easily cornered. I didn’t know what it was at first, but when I got home I identified is as a Northern Cricket Frog. This brownish one is apparently one of four color forms – brown, gray, green, and red – that can be found. Smart little guy with yellowish thighs and a dark triangle between his eyes. All things to look for, apparently.
So yeah, herping is pretty eye-opening, and a good way to fill the time before those birds start coming back in numbers. So go flip some logs! You’ll be glad you did.