Field Notes – Annual Salleyland BioBlitz

by | May 11, 2022

Location: Salleyland in Salley, SC
Date: May 8th, 2022
Time: 9am – 3pm
# of participants: 20


For the past several years SCPARC members have been invited to visit the 100-acre property of Dr. Whit Gibbons during the first weekend of every May. This property, located just outside of Salley, South Carolina, has several distinct ecotypes that each sport a unique and diverse set of reptiles and amphibians. The plethora of plethodontids (and other salamanders) on the property have earned it the name,“Salleyland’.

This year we had yet another spectacular trip to Salleyland! Sixteen SCPARC members joined for this event and were guided around the property by Dr. Whit Gibbons, Mike Gibbons, Jen Gibbons, and Parker Gibbons. It was a slightly chilly and overcast day, with temperatures ranging from the mid 50s to the low 70s. Such weather conditions created a continuously herp-filled day (whereas hotter days often see herp encounters taper off as the heat rises). 

The group arrived around 9am on Sunday morning, May 14th and, following brief introductions, Parker Gibbons presented a canebrake rattlesnake that was found the day before on the property. After learning about this incredible critter,  the snake was released where it was found along the edge of the swamp. We all reveled in  observing a rattlesnake rhythmically swimming through the calmly flowing water of Goodland Creek, often making sure to keep its rattle above the water. After coming out of our awe-inspired daze, we checked some nearby aquatic traps that were set the day before. In a hoop trap we found a large female slider with a hole in her mouth suggesting an encounter with a fishing hook. We also found several crayfish and a redfin pickerel in the trashcan traps set along a narrow wooden bridge going over the creek.

We then continued down the driveway of the property with the goal of making our way towards the upland pine habitat before the late morning sun would render this habitat ‘too hot to be productive.’ Of course, it took us a while to make it to the pine uplands because there were plenty of aquatic traps, coverboards, and forest debris to check along the way. Under cover materials we found a red salamander, a three-lined salamander, a slimy salamander, a common five-lined skink, and a ringneck snake. The aquatic traps produced a common musk turtle, more crayfish, and a couple mud sunfish.

Once we made it to the public road, we decided to do an impromptu roadside litter sweep because there was garbage  accumulating around the bridge just outside of the property. We filled an entire trash can in the matter of minutes, which makes us think we’ll need more trash cans next time we visit! We left the filled trash can on the side of the road and continued our journey to the pineland with plans to come back for the trashcan on our return.

Once we entered the dry upland habitat, it was clear it had recently been burned. The newly green grasses were only a couple inches tall and the base of the rocket-stage pines were scorched. The coverboards laid out through this habitat were easy to spot and we began flipping as we walked through the young forest. We found and caughta black racer out basking and several folks enjoyed the experience of holding the feisty snake. Under coverboards, found a Southeastern five-lined skink, a southern toad, a red-bellied snake, and 3 red-bellied watersnakes – the watersnakes were all found under the same piece of tin and it was assumed it was one large female and two small males.

Before departing from this upland habitat, we had the opportunity to set some new coverboards in the hardwood forest along the edge of the pine forest that had been recently burned. The burn made it easy to navigate with large pieces of tin and SCPARC members turned the sometimes arduous process of laying large pieces of tin into a quick and easy task. The hope is that this tin will be productive for next year’s visit to the property!

As noon approached, we made our way back to the cabin (making sure to pick up the garbage can as we went) to have lunch before heading out to explore the other habitats on the property. Lunch was quick because we were all eager to make  our way across the creek and into the swamp in search of the infamous chamberlain’s dwarf salamander. Everyone ended up muddy and wet as  we flipped the ‘swamp jumpers’ and other coverboards along the way, finding madtom catfish, three-lined salamanders, mud salamanders, and a red salamander. Once we reached a known location for the Chamberlain’s dwarf salamander, the group proceeded to sort through patches of sphagnum moss in search of these very small vertebrates – we were sure to carefully replace every clump of displaced moss to ensure the habitat remains intact. Our search turned up 4 Chamberlain’s dwarf salamanders in total and the ability to see this small and rare salamander up-close was a special experience for everyone.   

Our next stop was out at the powerline strip that runs through the north end of the property. We followed a trail marked by several coverboards  and found a Southeastern crowned snake under one of them. The powerline strip had some coverboards of its own and a banded watersnake was found under tin at the wettest portion of this habitat.

For our last ecotype adventure, we entered a mixture of hardwood and dense pine forest enshrouding a large slope along the property. This habitat provided us with the opportunity to see an eastern narrow-mouthed toad, both a male and female eastern fence lizard, and a broad-headed skink.

Gravity eventually pulled us down the slope back towards our original embarkation  point at the cabin where we all happily slumped into chairs, and spent the rest of our time reflecting, chatting, hydrating, and resting. . Soon, folks began to trickle out, calling their goodbyes. 

Thank you very much to the Gibbon’s family for providing us with the opportunity to explore this wonderful property and for all the herp-filled experiences we have had here over the years!

Species List (23 species total)

Salamanders (5 species total)
Three-lined Salamander (Eurycea guttolineata)
Atlantic Coast Slimy Salamander (Plethodon chlorobryonis)
Mud Salamander (Pseudotriton montanus)
Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber)
Chamberlain’s Dwarf Salamander (Eurycea chamberlaini)

Frogs (4 species)
Southern Toad (Anaxyrus terrestris)
Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad (Gastrophryne carolinensis)
Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans)
Unk. Tadpole (Lithobates sp.)

Turtles (2 species)
Pond Slider (Trachemys scripta)
Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)

Lizards (5 species)
Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus)
Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps)
Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon inexpectatus)
Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon faciatus)
Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis)

Snakes (7 species)
Southern Watersnake (Nerodia fasciata)
Plain-bellied Watersnake (Nerodia erythrogaster)
Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata)
Southeastern Crowned Snake (Tantilla coronata)
North American Racer (Coluber constrictor)
Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus)
Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)