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NEW JERSEY
Highlands
 1 of 2
NEW JERSEY
Highlands
 1 of 2
Let’s begin, as life often does, with Water Snakes.  Most are typically dull on top, but sometimes very colorful underneath (compare the two my friend Ross is holding).  Nasty as always. Ross is a very sharp snake spotter.   He’s the son of some folkie friends of ours, and in between concerts we go looking for stuff to catch along the lake at our festival site, up in the Highlands region of the state.  In addition to bunches of Water Snakes, he also grabs this great-looking Garter Snake.      A short hike up the mountain are the remains of an abandoned cabin.  Nothing is left but foundation footings and a fieldstone chimney, plus a concrete slab surrounded by a thicket of blackberry canes.        Beneath the slab is a winter den of Black Racers.  We can always count on seeing a few in spring, basking by the concrete or crawling through the blackberries.  But one year was different.  Approaching the den I could see a Racer resting by the entrance, then gazing into the bushes I spotted four more in a single glance. A walk around the thicket revealed several more, and then stretched out by the forest edge was the largest Racer I’ve ever found, a full 72”, just a few inches short of the New Jersey record!   Such a concentration of Racers was all very satisfying, but I was really hoping for a Black Rat Snake.  In other reports I describe “the curse of the common snake,” my repeated experience of striking out when looking for easy-to- find species.  And of all the common snakes I’ve been unable to find, perhaps the most frustrating has been the Black Rat.  It’s one of my favorites, and so common that many of my nonherping friends (not to mention virtually all of my herping buddies) have found them without trying.  I, on the other hand, despite all my years of hunting in the right habitat and season, was never so lucky.   So, I’m staring at all these Racers among the blackberry thorns, when I notice that one of them looks slightly different.  I have a hard time seeing it clearly  it’s in shed, at a bit of a distance, and obscured by bushes  but the shape of the head appears less Racer-like.  Slowly it dawns on me that, finally, I’ve found a Black Rat Snake! Mossy rocks by woodland streams are a hang-out for Highlands frogs and salamanders.               
 Jeff Loy
Northern Black Racer Coluber constrictor constrictor
Eastern Garter Snake Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta
 Jeff Loy
Pickerel Frog Rana palustris
Green Frog Rana clemitans
Four-toed Salamander Hemidactylium scutatum
Northern Dusky Salamander Desmognathus fuscus
Red Eft terrestrial stage of the Red-spotted Newt Notophthalmus viridescens viridescens
Eastern Redback Salamander Plethodon cinereus
Northern Red Salamander Pseudotriton ruber ruber