We have done intentional surveys for frogs and salamanders, but our work with reptiles has been more incidental - we note them when we see them. Because of their relatively long-lives (usually associated with relatively low per year reporduction), wandering ways, ground-hugging habits and, in some cases, popularity in the pet trade, many of our 'herps' (i.e., amphibians and reptiles) have declined dramatically. Uncounted numbers of vernal pool amphibians are run over each year as they make their way to or from their breeding grounds.
Below, we present illustrated lists of some of our frogs & toads, salamanders, snakes and turtles. Aside from the pictures, we don't present much ID information. However, as noted below, a few years ago we did put together some ID info for the amphibians. A couple of our blog postings have also profiled some of our 'herps': May 2011 (looking at early Spring amphibians) and a special June 2013 edition by former intern Ben Derr, profiling a summer's worth of herpetological creepin'.
Resources: NY Herp atlas (for the distributions of our species); The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State by James Gibbs and colleagues; Amphibians and Reptiles of Connecticut and Adjacent Regions by Michael Klemens; Stokes Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles by Thomas Tyning; The Year of the Turtle by David Carroll.
Grey Tree Frog
This is a relatively small but very attractive frog. Adults are generally grey, but the young frog is pea green. Its loud, short trills announce it from many of our ponds. As the name implies, ponds are only a rendezvous point for mating; the rest of the year is usually spent in the woods, where their calls are occasionally heard throughout the year.
This tiny herald of Spring is common and easily heard in many county ponds. It is loud and has a fairly prolonged calling season, so its presence is not easily missed. Getting a good view of one is another matter. During the 'off-season' (i.e., mid summer - autumn), this species can be found hopping inconspicuously around the forest, before passing the winter hibernating in the uplands.
The sonorous, pulsating drone of the Bullfrog carries well, and this species is found around many of our ponds and lakes. It is a native species here, but is considered invasive in some regions, where its predatory habits make it especially destructive. Young Bullfrogs don't metamorphose until the first or second year after they hatch, and so one can find large tadpoles in early Spring. Like the Green Frog, this species hibernates on the pond or lake bottom. Older Bullfrogs are the largest of our frogs, being definite 'two-handers'.
The common, stereotypical greenish frog with its loose banjo-string call can be found around many water bodies, including some streams. Its shades vary from a bluish green to a dark mottling. These frogs are almost always found right around water, and they pass the winter hibernating in the pond-bottom muck.
Superficially similar to the Green Frog (and even more so to the Leopard Frog), the generally greenish Pickerel Frog is distinguished by a regular pattern of dark blocks on its back and yellow 'drawers'. While sometimes found around ponds, this seems to be a more far ranging species, and it is not unusual for us to find it along creeks. Its call sounds like the closing of a squeaky door.
Northern Leopard Frog
This frog is a rarity in the County. We know it from a wet meadow in Claverack and the banks of Claverack Creek in Hudson. It is apparently more of a wet meadow than pond species. Its jumps are amazing and, if you happen to be roaming the appropriate habitat and come upon a master jumper, it's worth tracking him down, if you can.
Our Green-frog sized, brownish visitor to vernal pools. It is regular, although perhaps not common in the County. This frog spends most of its life in the uplands, but they converge on vernal pools in early spring (ca. 1 April) for a brief flurry of mating. You might hear their duck-like calls for little more than a week from any given pond. The grapefruit-sized egg masses are around a bit longer, but the tadpoles begin to hatch by early May.
This is our most common toad, it is often found hopping about lawns and other domestic venues. Its nonchalance is probably partially due to its poisonous or at least unsavory glands. The long (when will it run out of breath?!), high trill usually starts in mid Spring and their threads of eggs can be found in many of our ponds and lakes.
We have seen this species occasionally in some of our larger forest blocks; not common.
Jefferson's / Blue-spotted Salamander
We have seen Jefferson's for sure, and Blue-spotted may also be about. The genetics and hence distinctiveness of these species are somewhat unclear. The Jefferson's is a somewhat lighter-built species than the Spotted (below); its egg clusters are likewise smaller.
These are large, ponderous salamanders (well, at least 6" long as adults) of our vernal pools. A member of the Mole Salamander group, this and the two adjacent species spend much of their days below ground and out of sight, although mid-summer rock-flipping occasionally reveals them. Their egg clusters are distinctive and can be found in many of our shallow pools.
We've not found this autumn breeder ourselves, but have friends who have definitely found it in Taghkanic. An elegant species.
The frequently-seen Red Eft is the punk teenager stage of the pond-dwelling Red-spotted Newt. This species is seen in many of our ponds, where its poisonous skin (Efts are red for a reason!) helps protect it from fish and frog predation.
Northern Dusky Salamander
This is a less common stream salamander; we occasionally find it together with the Two-lineds, but rarely, if ever, alone. It is somewhat bulkier than the Two-lined, and large adults can superficially resemble some of the Mole Salamanders in form.
Northern Two-lined Salamander
Nose around the moist edges of a clean, rocky stream in the County and you're likely to find this long, skinny species. Larvae can regularly be found in the water; adults tend to be out of the water, but not far from it.
We know this large, orange salamander from one clear mountain stream in the Taconics. It apparently makes a meal out of Two-lineds.
A small, trim, attractive salamander with a square head and a parquet-floor back pattern. We've only found this species around wooded wetlands.
These are our most common salamanders, and flipping stones in a moist forest will usually quickly reveal them. Unlike our other salamanders, they do not rely on waterbodies for breeding sites. Instead they lay their eggs under moist rocks. The Lead-back form lacks the common brick-red dorsal stripe, but is a color morph rather than a distinct species.
Northern Slimy Salamander
This black salamander looks as if it has been flecked with white paint. It is rare in the County; we know it from one talus slope in Taghkanic.
By far our biggest turtle (at least away from the Hudson). These prehistoric creatures are often seen lumbering across roads; they especially like to lay their eggs in plowed fields.
Common Musk Turtle
We've seen this species once near a Canaan wetland, but without our camera.
Eastern Painted Turtle
Our most common turtle; this is the pond turtle, often seen in the act (?) of basking.
This species is Painted-Turtle size but has a more highly-domed shell. We know it from one grazed wetland.
This turtle rarely strays far from its creek haunts; we've found its remains once, but its tracks were not unusual along the muddy banks of our larger streams.
We haven't seen it, but this Federally-endangered species is in the County.
Eastern Box Turtle
Our tortoise. We've seen it once near the City of Hudson.
(a very incomplete list - some people have good eyes for snakes, some don't. We don't, but we occasionally trip over them.)
We sight this small snake with the light necklace occasionally; but, so far, have apparently been camera-less.
A prettily-painted, medium sized snake which we see fairly often.
Often seen around ponds and streams; these can be dark, moderately large snakes. They seem to especially appreciate the fish-trapping pools formed as summer drying lowers the waters of our streams.
We occasionally come across this smaller snake around farms; not quite sure why we haven't snapped any pictures yet.
A fine, wetland-dwelling contortionist of a snake which resembles the Garter Snake. We have not seen it often.
Our most common snake; we see these regularly.
Surely more common than sightings suggest; but we've only seen it in a single Hillsdale pasture.
This protected species is a dweller of the Taconics.