Cover boards for wildlife (Six on Saturday #61–December 12, 2020)

Six on Saturday today is another garden project. This one adds wildlife habitat to your garden and provides the opportunity to see animals that are usually hidden from view.

1. Cover boards

coverboard

A cover board is exactly what it sounds like: a wooden board or piece of sheet metal that is placed on the ground to provide habitat for small animals. They’re often used by herpetologists to attract reptiles and amphibians, but they also attract insects, spiders, and small mammals.

This past spring, the kids and I placed three cover boards–two wooden boards and one piece of corrugated metal siding–in likely spots around our property. Over the summer and autumn, we have checked the boards once every two weeks, which we think is a decent compromise between checking so often that animals are frightened away, and checking so infrequently that we miss things.

If you live in a place with venomous snakes, it’s a good idea to use a rake or snake hook to lift cover boards. Pull the board towards you, so that you will have the upright board between you and any disturbed snakes. If you find a small animal, take a few pictures and then carefully lower the cover board again. Gently move the little creature to one side first, and let it crawl back underneath after you have lowered the board. You don’t want to find its squashed corpse the next time you lift the board Wait a reasonable amount of time and then repeat. That’s all there is to it

The rest of my photos today are animals that we found under the boards.

2. Eastern narrowmouth toad (Gastrophryne carolinensis)

narrow-mouth

The first time we looked under the boards, we found a pair of eastern narrowmouth toads. These guys spend most of their lives hidden, and I have only seen a handful in the past twenty years. I previously posted about this species here.

3. Wolf spider (Genus? species?)

wolf-spider
Maybe a Hogna species?

4. Eastern worm snake (Carphophis amoenus)

worm-snake1

I have written about eastern worm snakes here.

worm-snake2

5. Another worm snake ready to shed its skin

earth-snake1

6. Marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum)

marbled-salamander

See this old post for more about marbled salamanders.

As always, the Propagator is the host of Six on Saturday.  Head over there to see his Six for this week and find links to the blogs of other participants.

More danger noodle amour

I almost stepped on this pair of copperheads when I went to feed the chickens on Thursday morning. Luckily, they were so focused on each other, they didn’t even flinch when I did a sort of skip-hop over their heads.

Based on their patterns, these are not the same two that my wife found last week. Apparently, our garden is serving as some sort of copperhead love hotel.

Get a room!

amorous-copperheads

My wife thought she had found one very long copperhead when she went out to water her kale seedlings, but it turned out to be an amorous pair. According to Reptiles of North Carolina by Palmer and Braswell (University of North Carolina Press), copperheads have been found mating in April and September, so this seems quite late in the year.

amorous-copperheads-2

First snake of 2020

baby-water snake

This snake was on our lane, not in the garden, but I am counting it as the first of 2020. My daughter and I spotted it near the creek as we were returning from a walk at dusk on Friday, March 27.  It appears to be a baby northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon), the first I have seen in the neighborhood.

For scale, the sweetgum seed capsule above the snake has a diameter of about one inch.

Baby skinks

skink eggs

Last weekend, I finally got round to moving some of the last remaining limbs of the oak tree that fell across our lane last autumn (picture #6 here).  Under one of the branches, I discovered five small eggs, each about 1.4-1.5 cm long.  Since I had already disturbed them, I decided to collect them and see if they would hatch.  I placed them on a layer of leafmould in a small plastic terrarium (actually an empty animal cracker container from Costco).  After spraying water on the walls of the terrarium to keep humidity high without soaking the eggs, I put it in the shade on our screen porch.

All five eggs hatched yesterday, and they proved to be the eggs of a skink (Plestiodon species, formerly Eumeces).

Skink hatchling1

There are three very similar Plestiodon species in our part of North Carolina:  Plestiodon fasciatus (five-lined skink), Plestiodon inexpectatus (southeastern five-lined skink), and Plestiodon laticeps (broad-headed skink).  The hatchlings of all three species are virtually identical, distinguished mainly by scale counts.

Skink hatchling2

In the garden, I most frequently see Plestiodon skinks clinging to the foundation of our house, on the wooden deck, or at the edge of the driveway, where they patrol for insects even when the concrete is hot enough to burn bare feet .  The vivid blue tails and neat yellow stripes of the juveniles are always a welcome sight.

After admiring the little hatchlings, we released them into the garden with the hope that they will grow fat on insect pests and avoid hungry birds.