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Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Accidental Herpetologist has an Audubon Day

I took a long overdue trip up to Maryland to visit family, friends and celebrate a niece’s first birthday.  I returned home about 1 AM the following Sunday, to find the torsion spring on the garage door was broken …….. Friday the 13thHuh!?!?!  Even more pressing were the lawn, garden and patio being in serious need of maintenance.  The weather has been nearly perfect for the lawn which seems capable of doubling in length every week!  My garden is in trouble, but that is another post (hint: moles, voles, rabbits and deer!!!!!).
After almost 3 hours of struggling with the garage door: putting it on track, aligning the cables, setting the wheels and watching it fall apart I accepted that I needed professional help on this one.  The job proved well beyond my skill level…….. 
So, with that I went to what I could do……… the yard!

Through the tears welling in my eyes, as I mulled over the prospects of having to invest in a new garage door and opener, something caught my eye.  From beneath the refrigerator, I could see the head of large skink.  The boys call him Michael Angelo.  He’s been around for at least 3 years and seems to get bigger every year.  This year he is pushing a legitimate 10 inches with a huge triangular shaped head.  Initially I figured him to be a 5-lined skink, but I've come to realize that he is in fact a broadheaded skink. (Broadheaded Skink).  As soon as I started the mower, a fat American toad hopped or rather stumbled from the grass line (American Toad)……… Okay, two observations in 3 minutes, time to get the camera!  With grass this thick, rain the night before, over cast skies and cool temperatures this day had “herping” potential.
Camera in pocket, I ran into a moth about 2.5-3 inches long and fat.  It appeared as if he had just emerged and was in the process of pumping up his wings.  I took him up and put him on the window ledge.  Not a herp finding, but interesting. 

As I am leaving I look to my right and I see a huge green tree frog.  She is another regular who has lived around the house for at least 3 seasons.  I refer the frog as “she” because I have never seen a green tree frog this large and females tend to be larger.  Tree frogs are like ghosts that disappear during the day, so to find her “day spot” was quite exciting.  Her colors are so brilliant that she is easily distinguishable: lime green body with a solid and distinct cream band along each side with red eyes.  The colors are so strong and the markings distinct that she appears almost tropical.

Before moving to the backyard, I decided to see how the moth was doing.  His body was no longer as thick or long, and his wings were probably 3 or 4 times their length an hour earlier.  Dashing from the shutter across the bricks to the drain pipe is a juvenile fence lizard.  He’s only about 3-4 inches and thin for a fence lizard which hints at his age.

Two years ago there were few fence lizards around the house.   In fact, I recall only one.  A huge old male that ruled the front porch and looked at you with disdain if you interrupted him to ring the bell!  Recently, lots of juvenile swifts have been seen all over the patio.  Last year most were 1-2 inches long and I suspect this one is from that class.  As the number of swifts increased, the number of skinks seemed to go down.  If you look very closely there is the tail of a juvenile skink beneath the drain pipe.  Both were too active and wary.
The final front yard count was one toad, two skinks, one fence swift, a moth and one spectacular green tree frog.  I was hoping to round out with a salamander, turtle or snake.  I went over to check the garden and move some sticks and caught a glimpse of something moving around the branch.  I sat still and it came back……….. A green anole (chameleon)!!!!!!!!
I have never seen one here!   My assumption was that we were just outside of their range! I must have irritated him, because he was bright green when I saw him and brown when I snapped the picture. Ironically, a few hours before leaving for Maryland, I ran into a friend who works for the North Carolina Museum of Natural History.  We were discussing the extension of alligators into the extreme Northeast corner of NC and Southeast VA around the Dismal Swamp/Back Bay area (Alligators in Virginia...) and I asked him if he’d ever seen anoles this far up.  He said no, but they were probably there.  He was right. 
I hoped to see a turtle and I got my wish, a box turtle in the far corner of the yard beneath a Magnolia.  Unfortunately, as you can see he was either dead or well on his way.  The flies were doing their part.

Oh well, Next time I’ll keep the camera on me!  While the anole was a find, Michael Angelo is impressive!  About the garage........


  1. Did you see that Anole in Raleigh? Crazy.

  2. Actually extreme north Raleigh by Falls Lake. Anoles are in Wake county. In 2008 I was shocked to see a very large one on our tent during a Cub Scout camping trip in Zebulon by Three (Tri ?) Counties stadium where the Mudcats play ball. I looked it up and talked to an "expert" and I learned that anoles are found in most of southern and eastern Wake. They are absent from the far northern section, that hook and along the county line (Wake Forest, YOungsville, ROllesville). They are documented on the park land around Jordan Lakes, and Umstead Park. In 1999 I was fishing in Umstead and I thought I saw one, but just kinda blew it off as a six-lined racer....... not so sure now. So, yes they are in Raleigh, but that is the limit of their range so ocurrences may vary year to year and locally.

  3. That's really cool. I'll have to keep my eyes more open now. I love wildlife. I saw something at Jordan lake that I'm still not sure of what exactly it was. It was a huge snake. I heard something going through the bushes and I thought it was a rabbit or possibly a deer then all of a sudden I saw this massive snake come out of the forest and start swimming across the lake. It looked to be about 8ft long and it was black. I thought maybe a rat snake, but if it was it was the record.

  4. I am jealous - I'd love to have that many herps in our little yard or my garden. We have Fowlers toads, the occasional green frog (before I turned my pond into a bog), and tons of garter snakes. That's it. An anole - that's downright tropical!

  5. Swamp thing......... that was a special day. The anole was special since we are on the edge of thier range. The other things I think migrate in and out from the nearby gamelands and parks. The down side........... our new nighbors have thinned out their trees quite a bit. It was very shaded and lots of good herp haitat. now it will be kinda sterile and open on their side. Fewer trees, underbrush, sticks and logs.