Hold onto your long johns! It’s time for the February House of HERPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If those exclamation points seem a little labored, if it appears that I am using happy punctuation a little too heavily, well, you’ve seen right through my lame attempt to dance around, to obfuscate, certainly avoid, and maybe even to circumvent the unavoidable, monolithic, painful (like icicles boring under my toenails) theme of this HOH: the frigid cruelty of the meanest month of the year, February.
I have read that the coldest time of the year tends to be the last couple weeks of January and the first couple weeks of February. Remember that we are past the winter solstice, people. The days are already getting longer, but the days are also getting colder? Does that sound fair to you?
February brings us to the ends of our respective ropes; we’ve put up with winter for so long, we’ve been stuck with warm-blooded wildlife (sorry bird and mammal people) when all we really want is something slimy or scaly to lift our spirits, and all the cool critters are sensibly slumbering under something or other (ground, water, mud).
March will tease us, to be sure, but somewhere in there it will rain, and rain will bring the big amphibian breeding explosions. Sometime in March the right series of sunny days will draw the hardier turtles out to start basking, even some snakes to dry the mud on their scales in the light of spring. February, though, is solid winter, and that icy boot on our collective neck isn’t melting quite yet.
Many of us find refuge in our archives – databases of catch records and folders full of saved photos from warmer days. If we stick our fingers in our ears to block out the howling of the wind, we can almost make ourselves believe…
Mike, of One Herper, stuck up in Connecticut, finds relief with his records of what just might be the most charismatic turtle species on Earth (all you wood turtle fans can suck it), the spotted turtle (have I mentioned that on this very day, the 18th of February, I struck out on a pathetically long-shot spotted turtle trip?).
Rebecca In the Woods, clearly and unfairly prevented by ornery Old Man Winter from seeing wild terrapins out in the tidal marshes, takes out her frustrations by teasing hungry captive terrapins with bits of shrimp and capturing it all on video (don’t worry; they get fed in the end).
Of course the ultimate escape from winter is to forever avoid it, to set up at the equator, or maybe just flip flop hemispheres, forever following the spring and summer. Stewart over at Stewed Thoughts has me contemplating November-February residence/refuge in Australia, a bizarre parallel herping universe where God’s inordinate fondness for beetles is replaced by a whimsical fetish for skinks (really, how many skinks do they need when they’ve already got pythons and goannas?), geckos, and lethally-venomous snakes. In case you think birders have a lock on obsessive life-listing, dig Stewart’s last-ditch, desperate attempt to log 300 reptile species (Alive! Neither road pizza nor road jerky count.) by the end of 2010.
Ted of Beetles in the Bush opted to escape to Brazil, where he found a Mediterranean house gecko, a species that has hitchhiked with humans around the globe, or rather to the warmer parts of the globe that are worth inhabiting. No geckos here in the Delaware Valley…
But whatever my wiser herper instincts tell me, I’m staying right here on the ice planet Hoth… I mean always-sunny Philadelphia, where I’ll scratch and claw my way to a herp, even if it means I have to strap on snow shoes to get to them.
So stay warm for just a few more weeks, keep busy laying your board lines and scouting all your spots for after the thaw, and just make believe that a warmer, herpier time is coming.