Wednesday, July 16, 2014
The whole school year, I was determineed to keep my summer schedule free. Why? you might ask. Well, because I then I fill it with chance opportunities like this!! A trip to South Western Virginia, to the humid hills, and Appalachian country, and to a region which, I would say, offers the most salamanders a wildlife biologist like me could ever dream of!!
Back during the school year, my best friend had asked me if I would accompany her to visit her horse trainer, who now lives out near Meadowview, Virginia. How could I say no to a cross country trip Appalachian country? Well, I couldn't! and so at 6:00am one summer Sunday, we loaded her truck and headed East! Both her and I were seasoned road trippers, so driving the whole 16 hours in one whack was a piece of cake for the two of us!
As I advanced up the trail, I came to a small water flow that cut across the trail. The water here was crystal clear! Not like the muddy milk that fills Nebraska's lakes and streams. I began to flip a few rocks in this flow, hoping to find some amphibian action. And by golly, I'm getting spoiled! With the second rock I flip I find an Black Mountain Salamander! I'm far from a pro when it comes to salamander ID, since Nebraska only has a few species. I was thrilled to have caught the first of many animals for this trip! A few choice pictures and I replaced the little fella under his rock, and I continued up the trail
The Black Mountain Salamander, Desmognathus welteri, belongs to the Plethodontidae family. It's habitat includes temperate forests, rivers, freshwater marshes and springs. They forage mostly at night and eat flies, beetles and other insects, as well as their larvae. The Black Mountain Salamander looks a lot like other similar looking species of dusky salamanders. Its range includes eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and eastern Tennessee in wooded mountainous countryside where it hides under rocks and logs in swift flowing streams, pools, or anywhere else there's reliable water. Reproduction occurs in the spring or summer. The female lays clusters of about 25 eggs in or near streams. The larvae are aquatic and take almost two years to complete metamorphosis. The average life span is about 5 years for the Black Mountain Salamander. One thing of concern is road building and strip mining, which turns up a lot of silt in the water ways and has a bad effect on these as well as other salamander populations.
This hike was just ecstasy for me! My Merrill Trail Gloves made zero noise as I glided up the trail, feeling every step as the trail came to my foot. Various song birds filled the jungle with a beautiful tune, one of the advantages of morning hikes. I was also stoked to see so many different bugs and insects. Talk about biodiversity! If I was a more devoted entomologist, I would be filling specimen jars right and left out here.
Towards the middle of my hike, I spotted a backpacker's camp sight (these are common up here, as the Appalachian trail travelers need places to stop each night.) But I usually do pretty well flipping the rocks around fire rings. I think it might be because ants and other small insects come to clean up any food particles left behind, and the herps come to eat the bugs. Classic camping food web here! And as par for the course, my last rock housed a nice little Black Mountain Salamander!
As I waiting in the parking lot, I found a crap ton of Tiger Swallow Tail butterflies, enjoying..... yep, a pile of horse crap! Jim said they like the moisture in the horse poop. I reckon they might take some nutrients from their smelly buffet too.
A bushman like myself can certainly enjoy a good hard hike, especially when I can sit here with my shoes off while my friends must unsaddle their horses both covered in sweat and hair. I sure do love this life! It's going to be a great week!