Trip Details

Location: New Jersey Pine Barrens

Weather: Mostly cloudy, high of 55 degrees. Rain and drizzle with low to moderate wind.

Herpers: Eitan Grunwald, Jim Scharosch

Account by: Jim Scharosch

Photos by: Jim Scharosch (unless noted)

Finding and getting my pics of the black headed timber rattlesnake so early in the trip allowed us to change up our plans for the remainder of my stay. There was no reason to continue tromping up and down mountain sides. A secondary goal of the trip was to see an eastern king snake or a pine snake, so a trip to the New Jersey Pine Barrens was on tap. Day three we awoke to a downturn in the weather. It was cloudy, chilly and rainy. Eitan had already told me that we were a bit early in the season for the pine barrens and this weather surely wasn't going to help. He told me that a friend of his had seen some pine snakes already this year so that brought a bit of optimism, but the weather was surely going to hinder our efforts. Eitan also told me that the pine barrens were hit or miss when the conditions were optimal, and we sure weren't optimal today.

We rolled out to drizzle but bore on anyway. We checked a few pine snake locales and saw old burrow activity but no sign of snakes.

We came to one of Eitan's junk flipping sites, and after turning a couple of boards we found a large Northern Racer (Coluber constrictor).

Eitan didn't think it would sit, but it cooperated pretty well for photos. I guess that was one positive side effect of the crappy weather. As nice as this junk site was, this was all we found here. We moved on and checked a number of other spots. I found this small Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) sitting on top of a board.

I wouldn't have messed with a photo, but I turned the board to check underneath it with the lizard sitting on it and placed the board back on the ground and the lizard never even moved. I guess it wanted to have it's picture taken.

We checked a spot that Eitan says is known for producing kingsnakes. It wasn't to be today, but we did find an Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum). It was about six inches long, and didn't look to be enjoying this weather any more than we were.

We also found an American toad (Bufo americanus) at this location.

We checked another junk site and I snagged this fast moving northern racer under a board. I had to dive to snag this one, and it was worked up. I didn't need to mess with on the ground photos, so Eitan shot this in hand photo for me.

Photo by Eitan Grunwald

You can tell that snake would have loved to tag me if I would have brought it into range of my face. Eitan found a young Fowler’s toad (Bufo fowleri), which was cool to see.

A bit later I found a Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata)

I didn't think much of it at the time, but Eitan told me they don't see a lot of them so I took a couple of photos. It was a pretty snake, and had a nice light background color. It was about fourteen inches long. We moved on to another junk site that was absolutely baffling to me. There was so much junk scattered throughout nice sand habitat and we saw almost nothing. The weather had even gotten a bit nicer, the sun poked throught the clouds now and then and the temps had climbed up to around 60 degrees. Eventually Eitan flipped a foot long Eastern Worm Snake (Carphophis amoenus).

It was cool to see since the farthest east I had seen a worm snake until now was Kentucky. I found another racer basking on a stump, but it practically flew off the stump into the weeds. I had seen enough racers that I was not motivated to attempt to track it down. All these amazing cover items in this location and we turn up one worm snake and a racer. It reinforced what Eitan had told me earlier, that herping the pine barrens was a lesson in patience.

We worked another pine snake location to no avail, though I found an adult fence lizard out crawling around. It's coloration was very bright, but my photo didn't manage to capture that at all.

We made a few more stops before heading back to Eitan's but didn't see anything else. Even though we didn't find any of the prime pine barrens herps, it was still a cool trip. I enjoyed seeing the racers, and I got a sense of what the habitat and herping techniques were like. It was a learning experience, if not a herp-filled experience, so it was still a postive day.

Day four of the trip the weather turned even worse. It poured rain and was even colder and windier. Eitan offered to tough it out, but I didn't see much point in spending another day burning gas and time with little hope of success. That evening we had a great dinner at Triumph Brewing Company in Princeton. I always judge a brew pub by their IPA, and Triumph's wasn't very bold. I changed my mind when I tried their Belgian Tripple and Oatmeal Cookie Stout. Those beers made up for the tame IPA.

To wrap this all up, I have to say a huge thanks to Eitan. From picking me up and dropping me off at the airport, doing all the planning and driving and letting me stay at his house, he went way above and beyond what I would have expected. Eitan called it "paying it forward" for the help he had gotten in the past, but this was beyond that. Without his help I never would have been able to knock that black timber off my list of snakes to see. Thanks to Eitan's wife Karyn for putting up with me staying at their house and allowing me to steal Eitan away for a couple of days a few weeks before thier son's wedding. Thanks to Billy and Chris for help with locations. Thanks to Kyle for the great start to the trip, and to Jeff and Evelyn for a fun evening and for showing me thier copperheads.

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