To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve. This guest blog is Part II from M.L. Christmas about her recent adventure while on a visit to St. Jones. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)
The spotting of a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at the St. Jones Reserve was not the only first that day. That was but the first first. What was the second first? Since you have dutifully stayed tuned to this space in order to find out, let us consider the choices. Let us also pretend you have not already read the title of this blog.
What appears, and disappears, even faster than a hummingbird? Is stripey-er than a hummingbird? And can be seen while standing (both you and the creature) on the boardwalk, not far from where the planking transitions from marsh to woods?
Our mystery guest took one look at me, at my binoculars and other accoutrements, and at the overly intrigued look on my face, and disappeared, in a flash, through the gap between the planks. It skedaddled.
As with my passing — and I do mean passing — encounter with a scaredy-snake the other year, while out along the paths at the St. Jones Reserve, yet again all I was left with were fleeting impressions: Amphibian. Legs. Tail. Stripes. And gone.
Stripes, whether on snakes or on other estuarine residents, are not much on which to make an identification, but they are better than nothing. Due to the longitudinal stripes, we can immediately rule out Maggie Pletta’s personal favorite, the Marbled Salamander (a known denizen of the Reserve), not to mention such regionally recognized species as the Eastern Newt, the Eastern Fence Lizard, the Tiger Salamander, and the Spotted Salamander.
Thus, our choices include: the Little Brown Skink, the Common Five-Lined Skink, the Broadhead Skink, the Northern Two-Lined Salamander, and the Eastern Red-Backed Salamander. Out of those, the stripey-est would seem to be the three Skink species, so for now, I am sticking with one of them for the likely ID.
Species identification is not an exact science, especially when one is not an actual scientist, but that’s what learning curves are all about. Getting out there, seeing, observing, and applying logic — sometimes getting it right, sometimes getting it wrong — are all part of the growth process.
The latest lesson on the learning curve, at DNERR, is often just around the bend, whether on land or on water. Sometimes it even occurs on the boardwalk.
Text by M.L. Christmas
*Five-lined skink, Eumeces fasciatus. J.D. Wilson, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia Herpetology Program. http://srelherp.uga.edu/lizards/eumfas.htm
** Broadhead Skink, Eumeces laticeps. J.D. Wilson, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia Herpetology Program. http://srelherp.uga.edu/lizards/eumlat.htm
* * * *
M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women.