Pony Island Trip

The Reptiles Alive crew was invited to spend a few days at Assateague Island by park ranger friends. This is where the famous wild ponies wander the beaches. I was excited to try surf fishing for the first time. Caroline was up for some grilling and kicking back on the sand.


We lucked out on this trip right off the bat. Assateague is notorious for its blood sucking mosquitos in the summer. Our entire weekend turned out to be just breezy enough to keep the little vampires off of us. After introducing us to all of the nice people at the campsite, I wanted to hit the surf.


Like my bathing suit? My good swimsuit ended up in the dryer, so I made due with shorts and a tank top. The water was freezing cold, but I thought it felt great. It had been a long time since I got to swim in the ocean. I just love those waves.

Next, was to find out what sort of creatures swam around in those waves. We were staying on the national seashore instead of the park, so it was ok to go fishing. There was even a perfect little bait shop for all of your camping and fishing needs right on the other side of the bridge before driving on to the island. There we picked up poles that could hold up to the surf, blood worms, and fake blood worm stuff. I found out that I really liked the fake blood worms. They were little strips not unlike thin bubble gum. They did not wiggle, slime, or bleed. I believe that they did just fine. Caroline told me that we needed to get some small fish to catch some big stuff. Well, what do you know? The bait shop was equipped with a freezer full of them!

Check out the awesome creatures we caught and released!


rayintThat is Caroline holding what I believe is a dogfish.

That nifty looking thing on the right is a ray or skate. Go ray! Both of them went right back in to the ocean and swam away. We had hotdogs for the eating.

The weather was fantastic on the first day. We even got to build a nice campfire that night and drink some hot cocoa. (one of my all time favorite things for camping)

I slept so well that night in my nice cozy tent, that I was up before dawn, fishing of course! Check out this unbelievable sunrise!


I caught several dogfish and released them before anyone was awake.

We had a wonderful breakfast. Then to some serious relaxing on the beach, followed by the most important part of a Reptiles Alive vacation. That is, looking for herps.

We walked along the gorgeous secondary dune trail and ran into a little bumpy slimer! I love the bumps on this guy. Nice color!

toadinhandintThat toad took a mighty fine picture. We had a wonderful hike along the dune trail before heading back to the car and back home.

Look at the lovely scenery along this trail!


On our way out, I finally had my camera ready for a shot at the resident feral ponies. See you soon guys, we had a great time!


Calvert Cliffs Expedition

We have only one day off together. That means a trip to somewhere close. Today we head out to Calvert Cliffs in Southern Maryland:


With only a two mile hike to the fossil filled beach, it was a treat.



We saw many frogs and other critters along the boardwalk. Caroline looks like she is about ready to go skipping. Tra-lah-lah-lah.

It was in the perfect 80′s. The boardwalk comes to an abrupt end. We have two miles ahead of us. Some fantastic scenery. And something possibly never seen before!

Can you find the turtle on the log in this picture?


Can you identify that turtle?  Me either, that little guy is WAY too far away.

Keep your eyes peeled on the other side of the walk or you might miss a HUGE worm snake.

Worm snakes (Carphophis amoenus) have tiny little eyes and look very much like a giant worm. The worms know the difference though. These snakes dine on worms! They even have a little spike on their tail to help push those wiggily-iggly slimy little worms in their mouth. Sssssslurps up!

Caroline fondly calls the worm snake and the next snake, LBS’s “little brown snakes.”  They may look the same, but they are very different.

Smooth Earthsnakes (Virginia valeriae) spend most of their time underground, they are fossorial.  They love to snoop under logs, boards, and rocks for yummy earthworms.

Does that sound like another snake?

Wormsnakes lay eggs like typical snakes.  Earthsnakes give live birth.  Visually, wormsnakes have pink bellies and a blunt snout.  Earth snakes have longer snouts and their scales include black specks.


Ringneck snakes are one of my favorite snakes to find.  When you first see them, they look like just another LBS.  If they get nervous, you get a surprise!  A brilliant yellow, orange, or red belly flashes into view as the snake flips and coils on the ground.

So far we have had amazing luck.

Now we are at the beach.  I am amazed at how blue the water is here!intcalvertcliffbeach


These two pictures were sent to all my friends at work, to taunt them.

We get to play during the normal work week when there is no one around.  I love being alone out in the wild.  I imagine during the weekends, the beaches are filled with people looking for fossils.  You can have as many as you find on the beach.  Cool!

 One guy we met found several shark teeth and even a few fossilized dolphin teeth.


Back on the trail, this little skink ran right out in front of us.  What is with these lizards?  Every time we see one I swear they are playing chicken on the hiking trail.  Are they making bets with other lizards to see how close they can get to a hiker without getting stepped on or caught?  Three worms for three inches!

Check out the huge ear on this guy!

On our way back, several people going the other way told us to watch out for the copperhead in the middle of the trail.  It was battling another snake, we swear!  Yeah, right.  For one it is most likely a non-venomous brown snake.  We doubted there was even another snake in the vicinity. Boy were we wrong!


Racer eating a copperhead

A northern black racer has wrestled and killed a bone fide copperhead snake.  Then, he began to eat it.  We stared in amazement until he slurped down the last of his tail.  Down like spaghetti.


Hemlock overlook on a cold day

Early spring may sound like it is too early to look for herps. Salamanders and frogs are a plenty this time of year. Make sure to pack your rain gear, shoes that can get wet, and a warm coat. Get ready for some fun!

It is the best time to spot amphibians by the hundreds coming out of hibernation to lay eggs in vernal pools.integgmassh2oThe best day to look for amphibians is on a warm day right after a good rain. Listen for frog song the night before. If you hear a racket, the next day is a good day to go out. (Of course if you are willing to brave the rain and dark, that night is a great time to see some frogs.) Don’t forget your flashlight.

This is a picture of an egg mass with the tadpoles already hatched. The eggs are encased in a gross, gooey, slimy mess to protect them from predators and the elements.

One of our favorite places to look for animals is along the Occoquan River. In addition to reptiles and amphibians, you are likely to spy a hawk, turkey, beaver, and various gorgeous plants.

intredsptnewt02Our adventure started a short walk from the parking lot at a small pond. Hundreds of red spotted newts (Notophthalmus viridiscens) were breeding in the water and even walking right across the path.

The female you see here still has her cloaca decended. (That is the yellow spotted thing under the tail behind the back legs.) She may have just bred. The male entices the female in the water with undulating vibrations of his tail, wafting a beautifully smelling hormone into the female’s nostrils. Then he deposits a spermatophore or sperm packet in front of the female. The female will carefully pick up the spermatophore with her cloaca and use its contents to fertilize her eggs. Females may mate with up to thirty different males in a season!

She will attach the mildly toxic eggs one at a time to underwater vegetation. The tiny tadpoles will hatch in a few weeks, but they don’t stay tadpoles for long. Babies quickly metamorphosis into aquatic adults.

Then things get strange. Some of the aquatic newts will change again, into a land-dwelling creature known as a red eft. The fire engine red efts look nothing like their aquatic parents. The little creatures will boldly amble across the forest floor for many years with little concern of danger. They secrete a nasty tasting toxic mucus if anyone dares to tangle with them! Efts finally will change back into their aquatic form once they are done exploring the world above the water. (Hold on to shorts everyone, I am still looking for a red eft to take a picture.)

intjeffshimmylog01Be prepared for a bit of adventure. Sometimes trails and bridges get washed out with early spring rains and flooding. Looks like we took a bit of a wrong turn here. Shortcut!

Shimmy Jeff, shimmy!

Boy that water sure looks cold.

Also be prepared to check out some awesome remains of old houses. Usually only chimneys and foundations survive. I am always impressed when I find a partially organized pile of rubble. What would it be like to live in such a small stone structure?intstonetinydoor01

(Come to think of it, it is probably a lot like my dorm room in college. Except, bigger and with better heating.)

Hours of a nice hike, crisp air, and lots of mud were rewarded with a fit body, huge appetite, a two lined salamander (Eurycea bislineata) I think, and a friendly cat.