Note: ‘Hot Stove Herping’ is a phrase I coined years ago, for use in end-of-year posts on the old Field Herp Forum. I stole it from baseball; members of the ‘hot stove league’ huddle together during the cold winter months and talk baseball until spring and the game comes back. In a similar fashion, field herpers living in moderate climates hunker down amid the cold and snow and think of the year that passed, and dream of the coming spring.
For the first time in ten years, I did not start off the herping season in January with a trip to Peru. Due to Covid, we canceled our expeditions for the year and planned on regrouping in 2022. As it turned out, I made a January trip to central Alabama instead, and hung out with some old and new friends while looking for frogs and salamanders.
The first herp on the list to look for was the newly described Collinses’ Mountain Chorus Frog (Pseudacris collinsorum), recently split off from the Mountain Chorus Frog (Pseudacris brachystoma). Along with genetic differences, the two species have different calls as well. We were able to find these frogs the first night, including an amplexing pair in a small roadside pond.
Late January was also time for some ambystomatid activity in Alabama, and we say plenty of Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) and Marbled Salamanders (A. opacum) in flooded flatwoods, and there were lots of egg masses from Spotties and Wood Frogs in woodland ponds.
We spent some time wading through wet places in search of amphibians, and one foggy night had a real Hound of the Baskervilles vibe to it. Welcome to the Grimpen Mire! Is that a dog howling?
We also turned up a few Four-toed Salamanders (Hemidactylium scutatum) sitting on eggs under logs or moss in wet woodland habitats.
I’ve seen Dwarf Salamanders (Eurycea quadridigitata) before but it was fun to get more pictures of them. Look at the pair of cirri on this ardent suitor!
We also found some Gulf Coast Mud Salamanders (Pseudotriton montanus flavissimus) in the same wet-woods milieu, a new subspecies for me. Not as flashy as some other Pseudotriton but I dig that orangey-brown color.
Some days were quite pleasant – if the sun came out, it was shirt sleeve weather, or at the worst, light jacket weather.
Dipnetting in a small creek turned up a few larval Spotted Dusky Salamanders (Desmognathus conanti) but I need to work on my photo-tank techniques. Or, actually come up with some photo-tank techniques.
We checked out some ponds in search of gopher frogs, but turned up a nice Western Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia miaria) instead, which I was very happy to see. My first chicken turtle. She did not do the full neck extension thing but that’s okay.
Among the many ambystomatids were a few Mole Salamanders (Ambystoma talpoideum).
Did I mention we hit the caudates hard? This was a big one for me – Hillis’s Dwarf Salamander (Eurycea hillisi), under a log in a damp flatwoods forest.
It took some doing but we managed to turn up one Brown-backed Salamander (Eurycea aquatica). A very distinct little brook salamander with a chonky form and a little pug nose. Cross a pit bull with a breakfast sausage and you get Eurycea aquatica.
We visited a spot where Webster’s Salamanders (Plethodon websteri) were known to occur, and I managed to save us all a lot of time and trouble by finding one under the first log I turned.
There was some good by-catch too – we weren’t targeting Seal Salamanders (Desmognathus monticola) but we turned up a nice one anyway.
January in Alabama was pretty good – the weather was tolerable, except for a few days when it was downright chilly. A good way to start off the year.