Cook Forest: Salamanders and Old Growth    Edward Frank
   May 27, 2006 19:40 PDT 

Today I attended two programs at Cook Forest State Park, PA. The first was program about amphibians and reptiles found in the park. Dale Luthringer's blurb for the program was:

Saturday, May 27 at 1000am - 'Slide Show and Search for Pennsylvania's Herps' What kinds of reptiles and amphibians are found in Pennsylvania? Have you ever had a chance to see them up close? Join Terry Laux, herpetologist for the Pennsylvania herpetological Atlas Project, at the Log Cabin Inn Environmental Learning Center for an intriguing slide show of PA's frogs, toads, salamanders, snakes, skinks, and turtles. We will then take our new found knowledge and strike out on foot to search for and identify these amazing animals. (2 hrs)

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Terry Laux. son, and Dale Luthringer

Terry Laux gave a short slide presentation and then the group headed down the Liggett Trail to search for salamanders and frogs. I didn't expect to find very many as on a typical trip to the park I will see few red efts and some frogs jumping into pools as I approach but not much else. I don't tend to turn rocks over and look under them for salamanders. Many, if not most of them are more active at night, and the place to look for them during the day is under damp woody debris and rocks near or in hillside springs in the forest floor. There are a dozen salamanders we reasonably might find in a search of the park. On the hike there was a group of twelve people, including several young boys, one of which was Terry Laux's son - an expert in finding salamanders under rocks. We Found eight species (I may be missing one of them):

Spring Salamander

Mountain Dusky Salamander

Northern Dusky Salamander

Red Eft (Red spotted newt)

Redback Salamander

Two-striped Salamander

Wherle's Salamander

Spotted Salamander

(see for some info and photos)

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Spring Salamander  Gyrinophilus porphyriticus porphyriticus
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Two-lined Salamander Eurycea bislineata bislineata

This is a pretty good count for a single short walk along a gravel road. We had found many dusky salamanders and a couple of spring salamanders, when at the end of the journey one of the boys found the spotted salamander. Several people had already started to leave, and they were called to the find. It a a large salamander, black in color with yellow spots. It is the largest of the terrestrial salamanders found in the area and an uncommon species to find. It the same pile of debris, near where Heffern Run joins Tom's Run also yielded the first redback salamander, and the first two-striped salamander of the day.   This marked the end of the formal field trip. A few of us continued down another hundred yards or so to some vernal (maybe perennial) pools off the side of the trail. They contained hundreds of tadpoles swimming through the still water. On the trip back we found a bird nest in a pocket in a road bank, and a few more red efts. We saw or heard a couple species of frogs, and a small toad to round out the amphibian foray.

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Spotted Salamander  Ambystoma maculatum

Tadpoles in vernal pool

How does this relate to old growth forests? These salamanders represent one of the many species that make up the complex ecosystems of our forests. The area we were walking is not old growth itself, but is contiguous to old growth in the park. In areas with less disturbed environments the species diversity of amphibians is generally higher than in area that have been repeatedly cut again and again. The population numbers are also higher. That is one characteristic of a healthier ecosystem.

The second program of the day was a trip through the Forest Cathedral area conducted by Dale Luthringer:

Saturday, May 27 at 200pm - 'A Walk Through the Forest Cathedral'     Please meet at the Log Cabin Inn Environmental Learning Center for an interpretive hike into the Forest Cathedral. Observe the 5th tallest tree in the entire Eastern U.S., learn how to identify old growth forest characteristics, and observe different types of environmental disturbance that are an integral part of old growth forest ecosystems. (2 hrs)

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Along the Longfellow Trail

Anthony Kelly - another ENT - also attended this program. The hike began at the Log Cabin Inn where Dale pointed out the difference between Eastern White Pine and Eastern Hemlock. He pointed out the 80+ year old hemlocks less than 3 inches in diameter. We visited the Seneca Pine, the Longfellow Pine, and many trees in between and Dale gave his usual exemplary discussion of Old Growth, Cook Forest, and related topics. We looked at more salamanders, woodpecker holes, downed trees, moss and lichens, listened for birds, and most of all Dale talked about what we were seeing in the forest, the trees, and the process that were taking place as the forest grows, ages, and is reborn.