Friday, 4 November 2011

Great Smoky Mountains - October 26-29, 2011

I traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains not to long ago with a friend to look for salamanders. As opposed to most of my other trips, this one was kind of spur of the moment with no prior research done. We basically grabbed our field guides, hopped in my car and drove there.

After a 14 hour drive through the night, we arrived, found a campground, set up, and started herping. It didn't take long before I flipped a denizen of fast flowing streams throughout the park.

Flipping rocks behind the campsite revealed a few common low to medium elevation Plethodontids.

Plethodon serratus

Plethodon glutinosus

We found a decent seep not far from our campsite. Sifting through the leaves and vegetation revealed more new species for us. The only one I photographed was this Spotted Dusky.

Desmognathus conanti

Running on absolutely no sleep, and having ingested nothing other than cold ravioli, some beer, and some energy drinks, we were pretty tired but decided to press on to a location where we had one species in mind. It took us over two hours to get there, but we finally arrived.

It didn't take long before we found 2 beauties crawling out in the open. These have got to be one of the coolest herp species in North America.

Cryptobranchidae alleganiensis

Cryptobranchidae alleganiensis

What a great start to the trip! At this point we were at almost delirious and hallucinating as we made the drive back. Somehow we arrived in one piece as darkness was arriving. Most logical thing to do = keep herping. We didn't drive 14 hours to do nothing.

We decided to go back to the rocky seep near the campground. I was happy to finally grab some shots of my first Seal Salamander.

Desmognathus monticola

Desmognathus monticola

More quads were found, as well as a few conanti.

I was happy to have this guy crawl out of a leaf pack. Being from Ontario, we don't get any Gyrinophilus or Pseudotriton. Unfortunately he was missing the tip of his tail.

Gyrinophilus porphyriticus danielsi

Gyrinophilus porphyriticus danielsi

Finally, we went to bed. What a day!

On day two, we "slept in" till 8:15 and decided to hit up some high elevation areas for some species - namely, Plethodon jordani. We arrived at a locality where no one ever misses them, and promptly missed them. We tried a few more spots on the way down, but still nothing! It was pretty dry and cold - maybe that had something to do with it? I got excited briefly when I found this guy - unfortunately it was a Desmognathus imitator. Nonetheless, it is a cool species and one I was happy to see.

Desmognathus imitator

We flipped a rock and found this...someone's passport photos. Kind of creepy...

The only other high elevation specialty we got was a little Ocoee Salamander. At first we thought it was a Desmognathus wrighti - the Pygmy Salamander. Unlike most of the creek-dwelling desmogs, the Pygmy Salamander undergoes direct development (i.e. no eggs) and spends the majority of time in the forest, away from water sources.

On the way down the mountain, we passed a corner where Chris thought was a nice mountain creek. He convinced me to turn around and we checked it out. Sure enough, we found a few cool species in 15 minutes!

Desmognathus santeetlah

"stardust" form Desmognathus quadramaculata

Also seen were a few D. wrighti in moss around the edges of the creek.

That evening, we made the journey to a mountain peak at the east end of the park. It was foggy and raining, and the road was pretty sketchy. We were both sure we were going to die, since one small mistake could send a vehicle hurtling down the mountain. Nonetheless, we made it to the destination and began walking. Since it had been raining all day, we figured some Plethodontids may be out and about.

Unfortunately we didn't get any P. jordani, but we did get some individuals of P. teyahalee and P. glutinosus and .

The following day, we headed west to another part of the park. Little did we know that we would be stuck in a traffic jam behind "leafers" - people there most likely for the fall colours. Most of them didn't know how to use the pulloffs at the side of the road, so it was a frustrating drive! As well, we couldn't find our target destination, and it was raining extremely heavily. However, we walked a few creeks and turned up some Eurycea and more Spotted Duskies. One looked VERY similar to a Seepage Salamander (a species we ended up striking out on)

Desmognathus conanti

Eurycea longicauda

Eurycea longicauda

We arrived back at camp that night and decided we would stay local, checking out some streams near us. We had some fun chasing Desmogs in the fast flowing creeks, and even caught a couple!

We saw our only frog of the trip here - a Wood Frog.

Lithobates sylvaticus

Here's a picture of Chris with a tight grip on his woody. ;)

I was glad to finally obtain some good photos of the abundant Blue Ridge Two-lined Salamanders.

Eurycea wilderae

We managed to see a few more Gyrinophilus as well!

Gyrinophilus porphyriticus danielsi

Gyrinophilus porphyriticus danielsi

At this point, we had seen most of the low to mid elevation species in the area, and we didn't feel like driving up another mountain, so we decided to go home. I drove through the night again, through blizzards and swerving around deer, finally arriving back at 1:00 in the afternoon the following day. We missed a lot of targets, but it was still a decent trip.

As far as birds, we didn't see much. At one point, a Barred Owl perched on a branch beside my car one night as we were traveling up a perilous mountain road. I was also happy to see a flock of Red Crossbills (they were straddling the border so I have them on both my Tennessee and N.C. lists haha). I had never actually seen a Red Crossbill before - the one I have in Ontario was a bird calling as it flew over.


  1. Great photos! I'm super jealous of the Hellbender finds. Such an amazing amphibian.

  2. Thanks! I would think this is the coolest animal in North America.

  3. Stellar photos Josh, congrats on a great trip.