(May 8, 2015) Some physical changes to the environment — a building goes up or one comes down, a bay fills in, or a tree falls — are easy to spot, others require more subtle means of discovery.
Ecologic forces are generally held in balance, but when something changes, symptoms appear.
“Reptiles and amphibians are our most rapidly declining populations. We need a good data set of their numbers, because they act as our canaries in the coal mine,” said Dave Wilson, executive director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.
Forests on the lower Eastern Shore, Wilson said, are transitioning from hardwood to loblolly pine and are being impacted by real estate development. There are the overt effects of cleared land: increased runoff from impervious paving, habitat loss and migration issues.
“Birds are easy to see and track and we’re used to seeing fish, but many of our reptiles and amphibians are just barely hanging on,” he said.
The goal of the herp search, more precisely known as the Great Worcester Herpetological Search, is to produce an aggregate count of the number species as well as relative populations within specific areas of the county.
In Worcester, there are approximately 19 species of snakes, 15 species of frogs and toads, six species of salamanders, 13 species of turtles and four species of lizards. This weekend’s search will provide data to help Department of Natural Resources scientists better understand population trends in this declining group of vertebrates.
Last year, more than 80 reptiles and amphibians representing 15 species were the result of the search. Finds included ringneck snakes, racers and kingsnakes. Box and mud turtles were also found along with four species of frogs and toads.
The 15th annual search will begin with a meeting at the Coastal Bays office at 9 a.m. Saturday, located at 8219 Stephen Decatur Highway, a quarter-mile south of Frontier Town.
A brief pre-hunt training session will feature live turtles, snakes, frogs, and salamanders and explain ways to identify them in the wild. It is free to the public and will be held to prep volunteers for searching three sites in the morning and one in the afternoon.
“At the meeting you can discuss which site will have certain species, and then you can use that information to select what site you want to visit. Go and see what you like,” Wilson said.
Participants should bring lunch and drinks. Groups will return from the field around 12:30 p.m. for lunch then hunt again until approximately 5 p.m.
Wilson said it is not necessary for attendees to be present at both sessions.
An adult must accompany all children under 14. Sunscreen, mosquito and tick repellant, greenbriar proof-pants, bright clothing and boots are recommended.
For more information, call the Coastal Bays Program office at 410-213-2297 ext. 102 or email Wilson at email@example.com.