Thursday, August 7, 2014

Friendly Faces in New Territory: Virginia Part 2

     On day three of our Virginia adventure, Jenae and I went for a morning hike up in the rocks just outside of a small town near Meadow View. I must say, Jenae is a pretty amazing friend, because not only does she put up with me always catching wildlife, she's willing to go just about any place I want to go.
      What a beautiful morning! In humid forests like Virginia Appalachians, a fog like steam is very common in the mornings, and many of the large waxy leaves of the undergrowth are coated in water and glisten in the morning sun. A lush forest like this would be unusual if it didn't have the morning songs of many different bird species to light the atmosphere for the day.
This skink was our first of many animals of the day!
      So as we geared up to go bouldering and flip a few rocks, I spotted a familiar flicker across a rock. Maybe it's just me, but I think the way a skink moves is very easy to notice from afar; that quick, jerky, start-stop motion was all I needed, and I jumped off the tail gate and power walked right over to the log it was on. I was able to snap a few decent pictures before he bolted off.
       I sure was jazzed by this early sighting! Hopefully there would be many more to come! Jenae and I took off up the first trail we could find. It was actually quite a steep little climb! I was stoked because these were excellent rocks for climbing, and this particular portion of the hike produced some spectacular views!

     Towards the middle of our hiking day, we weren't really in any special habitat,; just the usually hiking trail with a few rocks here and there. I told Jenae I was going to go check a few rocks up by a seepage, a little ways off the trail. Upon my return, just before I met up with Jenae, I spotted a small movement of blaze orange that seemed to appear out of the end of a small log. I froze in my tracks, not daring to possibly spoke whatever it was! As I looked down, I was elated to see the Red-spotted Newt, the eft stage too! What a treat!
    The Red-spotted Newt, Notothalmus viridescens viridescens, is easily the prettiest colored amphibian in my opinion. This newt has three different stages in it's life. It starts its life as an aquatic larvae. At this point, the newt cannot travel from water and relies heavily on its branching network of external gills to breath. The gills soon disappear, and a blaze orangish red coloration covers the terrestrial eft stage. During this stage, the eft is fully able to travel over land, and often times travels quite far. This serves as a dispersal method, and ensures diversity in the gene pool. Finally, after about two years as an eft, the Red-spotted Newt reverts back to a fully aquatic breeding adult stage for the rest of its life. The Red-spotted Newt commonly lives 13-15 years in the wild. It feeds on insects, mulluscs, crustacians, and eggs. And even though, this Newt will release a toxin when attacked or injured, only about 2% of the larvae will make it to the eft stage. Which is why I'm so pumped to have found this little gem!

      The trail continued to skirt the inside of this pocket in a mountain side. The cool thing about the mountains here is with every inward curve, water funnels into a small stream that skips across the rocks and through most of these hiking trails. This makes for some very convenient salamander habitat!
      Further up the trail, as a small stream cut across, the rocks on the downhill side of the trail had formed a mighty little cliff with a sweet waterfall. And it just so happened that our trail took us right to the base of the waterfall. How convenient! After exploring this beautiful master piece, I decided to walk this drainage down to the road instead of taking the trail back; it was only a couple hundred yards down the hill anyways, and the drainage was full of pools, rocks, and some fast water spots too. It had all sorts of great habitat I couldn't pass it up.
      On my descending climb through the drainage, I saw several other Salamanders, mostly Black Mountain Salamanders, but I got to observe them in their natural routines. They seemed content to relax on a moss covered rock as the water occasionally splashed up on them. Though, when they were hunting, they would swim through the crystal clear pools, searching the cracks and hide hole of small arthropods. Many times they would mouse around rocks, only to slip into a hole to check the underside of the rock for food items; this behavior reminded me of the way a weasel or mink busily searches the rocks on a lake shore, slipping under and over each rock to find their food.

      I was slightly surprised I had stayed mostly dry coming down the drainage, as I jumped from one slippery rock to the next. I guess if you spend enough time in the outdoors you understand your limits pretty well.

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