Early on Saturday morning I packed up my rental car and headed east. I needed to be in Baltimore by Sunday night, so my plan was to drive part of each day and look for salamanders along the way. Today I was hoping to stop for the night somewhere in West Virginia, which meant spending the afternoon herping somewhere in eastern Kentucky.
I decided to try a state park east of the Daniel Boone State Forest, on the eastern side of the state. Being Saturday, the park was crowded with weekenders, so I picked one of the long hiking trails to try. Most folks aren't interested in walking seven mile loops, so I had the trail to myself for most of the time. The trail wound down into a rocky hollow, where water dripped from an overhanging shelf of sandstone. Underneath, a jumble of wet rocks, and under the first rock I lifted was a salamander - a little stubtail, long slender body, dark grey. It was a nondescript little thing, not much to look at; I was pretty sure I had a Ravine Salamander (Plethodon richmondi), a new one for me. I searched around nearby but could not come up with a better example of the species. One rock, one new salamander - I was off to a good start.
The path wound downhill towards a small creek, and I took the time to putter around the rock-strewn banks, looking for the species that prefer that habitat. It would have been odd not to find any Southern Twolined Salamanders here, and sure enough, I turned up several under rocks next to the water. I also found several juvenile Nerodia sipedon under the same circumstances; also typical habitat for these young water snakes. Also present were a few Northern Ringneck Snakes, and a large backwater puddle yielded a nice Pickerel Frog and an American Toad.
Hoping to turn up something new and novel before I lost the light, I moved on up the trail. It soon crossed a smaller, shallow rocky creek, and here I chased down a large and dark desmognathid, probably a Northern Dusky (Desmognathus fuscus fuscus) in this region. With this patternless creature I got my first taste of the nuances of salamander identification, where the animal looks nothing like what's shown in a field guide. I was pretty sure that neither the Mountain Dusky, Desmognathus ochrophaeus, or the Black Mountain Salamander, Desmognathus welteri, were found here. It had a fuscus tail, being compressed and keeled, and more higher than wide at the base. Okay, fuscus it is...
It was time for me to turn around and get back on the road. On the way back, I found a fair-sized Worm Snake under a flat rock. The prefrontals and internasal scales were fused on this snake, marking this as Carphophis amoenus helenae, the Midwest Worm Snake. This feature was worth checking, since this part of Kentucky is where the Midwest Worm Snake and the Eastern Worm Snake meet.
Near the parking lot, a rustle in the leaves turned out to be a small but pretty Eastern Garter Snake, which I posed for photographs with the last light of the day. Today's half day was filled with mostly bread-and-butter species; by tomorrow I would be in a different region with new creatures to find. Today would also prove to be the snakiest day of the trip.
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