(Originally posted on our 2012 Field Blog — posted by Renee, content by Sean)
Read part 1 here!
by Sean Graham, continued from “Blue Creek Death March – Part I”
When my intern George Brooks showed up (pictured at left), I wanted to take him for a test spin. He’d already shown a lot of gumption by contacting me about doing fieldwork during the summer of 2012, and at first I tried to turn him away, since I knew we couldn’t afford to pay him. I don’t agree with researchers who have people working for them for free, so I told him to look for a paid internship and that if he still couldn’t find one we’d look into it further. He eventually wrote me back that not only were there no paid internships, they were actually expecting him to pay them to do an internship. To make a long story short, we got him over here from England to do field work within Conecuh National Forest. One of the main things I wanted him to do–besides helping with the various Fence Lizard projects going on–was to help me document new or unvouchered species for the forest. Since vehicle availability for him would be tricky at times, I expected him to be able to go do some productive herping right around the field house. I poured over topo maps and found that the creek draining Rome Pond (Blue Creek) flowed north right into the Conecuh River, and that there was a lot of nice topography up that way, probably indicating good hardwood forests. Many of the species I wanted to find–Brown Snakes, Worm Snakes, Queen Snakes, and Fowler’s Toads–are common species further north in Alabama but rare in Conecuh, and I thought they might be lurking in the hardwood forests north of U.S. 29.
I started getting the feeling we were getting close to the river. Up ahead there was what appeared to be an opening. But the creek just kept on winding. Like Christopher Columbus sighting signs of land, we began seeing sure signs that the river was right around the corner: a Largemouth Bass, a River Cooter, an old wooden bridge. Still, the river didn’t appear, and as our drinking water ran out, the creek became deeper, its banks steeper. But the walk was still pleasant, and as the rushing water from Blue Spring joined our creek the terrain became truly enchanting. The steep banks of the creek were cloaked with a mature beech magnolia forests and sheer bluffs covered with angel hair ferns; surely this area would turn out to be the haunt of Worm Snakes and Spotted Salamandersif we could just find them. Gurgling springs bubbled out of the sides of the banks in places, making any worry about drinking water unnecessary. Finally, the creek became waist deep, the sand began shifting heavily under our feet, and the sandbar marking the confluence of Blue Creek and the Conecuh River appeared. It was one o’clock.
Sean and George found a Queen Snake – but what about Worm Snakes, Brown Snakes, and Fowler’s Toads? What surprises await at the Conecuh River, and will they make it back to Rome Pond unscathed? (This is the “Blue Creek Death March”, after all.) Tune in next week to find out in the much-anticipated, final installment!