A Blog Around The Clock

The adventures continue. It’s like Steve Irwin, but without the cameras.

Last Leg
(of Shennongjia)

27 August

Watched some made-for-TV movie (in English!!) with the chick from the TV series “Weird Science” and the movie “King Pin.” My plan for the next few days was to go to Pinqian for 3 or 4 days, depending on luck, returning to Muyu on the 31st because the 1st was Xiaoli’s birthday. Then we’d go to Caiqi (Tai chi) for a day, followed by one last visit to Dalongtan to check on the tin.

For the most part, whenever I am in Shennongjia I am at the mercy of Linsen and/or Xie Dong. Linsen was busy all day, and Xie Dong didn’t have his phone on. So I walked around Muyu, trying to get a few more pictures of Muyu, and just walking to kill some time. I went to my favorite restaurant. I told the owners that I was only in Shennongjia for about a week. I took a few pictures with them. Not much else went on.

28 August

Got my passport back (luckily with a receipt along with it). Thought we were leaving for Pinqian today, but apparently not. Many days are being wasted needlessly. It was a hot day, so I filled the container holding the snake eggs up with water (not completely) and placed them on the window sill so they could get some heat. They are looking very plump.

I watched “24″ tonight, in Chinese, and then the Emmy’s (in English). “24″ won a lot of awards. Ever since Independence Day, my only English speaking program, was taken away, I’ve found myself watching Friends every night (it is in English) – only Mon through Fri though.

29 August

Hi Yin’s mother is back. It was nice seeing her again. It was another hot day, so I put the eggs on the window sill again and went to get some work done at the museum. Since we weren’t going to Pinqian yet again, I needed to do something worthwhile. On my way out Xie Dong shows up and says we will go to Pinqian tomorrow. I told him that was fine, but since we waited so long I would only be able to spend 2 nights, 3 days there, because I had to return on the 1st for Xiaoli’s birthday. He looked at my calendar and said we could stay for 3 nights. I told him “no, I have to be back on this day” and pointed at the 1st. He said “but today is the 28th.” “No, today is the 29th.” He also said we didn’t have a car. I asked him how much a taxi would be. To Yazikou it would be 80 Yuan, and then from there we’d take another one to Pinqian, about 40 Yuan or so. Quite expensive.

Linsen met me at the museum. We had a lot of specimens to remove from Pepsi bottles and transfer to glass containers. I estimated around 25 jars. After dividing up the specimens Linsen put a label on each jar and I went through and wrote down the scientific names, locations, GPS coordinates, and dates.

When I was finished, it was very hot outside. I was actually kind of worried about the eggs. I didn’t want them to get cooked. I hurried back to the hotel and took the eggs from the window. They didn’t feel too hot. I opened the snake bag (the eggs were nestled in the base of a Pepsi bottle I cut, and then placed inside a bag incase they hatch while I’m not around; so they won’t escape). I pulled the container out and saw one little baby peering out and another egg that had been pipped but the baby was staying inside. Hi Yin was walking by the room at the time and I called her in to show her. I asked her if she thought it was cute and she did, she is usually extremely frightened, so I was pretty surprised she thought it was cute. A baby that was exposing his head wasn’t coming out, just getting a breather. Later on he retracted back to his egg. The big eggs from Jiuchong didn’t really look any different. I put the eggs back in the bag and tied it up.

30 August

Xie Dong showed up (he wants me to call him Lao Xie – Lao means “old”) and said we had a car. He said the same police man that took us to Dongxi would take us to Pinqian, free of charge of course. I told him that was excellent and started getting dressed. I checked on the eggs and one more had pipped (the baby had slit the egg but not come out).

It was just Xie Dong, Linsen and I, no Liu Qiang. We got to Pinqian around noon. No one was there. Just one of the cooks. She made up a small lunch for the four of us. I asked where everyone was and she said they were out cutting down trees. I guess they would be back that evening maybe. It was a very mild afternoon, the weather felt great. After lunch Linsen and Xie Dong wanted to have a rest. I told them that was ok, we’d rest and go out at 4pm. Around 3:30pm I checked on the two of them, both were very asleep, so I went and walked around by myself for a bit. I got a Pepsi at the local store and headed down to the dry river bed where all the Oligodon ningshaanensis snakes seemed to originate from.

I walked to where the dry bed reached the water. At my feet I saw some small movement. I looked down and saw what looked like another Megophrys boettgeri. As I caught it, I saw another, and then another. I captured all three, just to be on the safe side. I would examine and photograph them later. I continued walking around. I went to the large rock where I had caught the baby Protobothrops jerdonii underneath, which was empty now. There was a tiny trickle of a stream coming down from the hill, but enough to grow some vegetation in the river bed. I walked along the edge and saw the tail end of a frog in mid-leap as it plunged into the water and swim to the rocks on the other side.

As I started walking through the vegetation to figure out the best approach, I saw another frog jump to my right. Too much. I concentrated on the newest frog and tracked him down. It was a baby and I couldn’t ID it right off, another one for the bag and for later. Now I turned to the rocks where the first frog had gone. I started removing rocks from the creek. The frog would swim from one rock to the other. There wasn’t much danger in the frog ultimately escaping, so I took my time and removed rocks one by one until I had an easy capture. The time eventually came and I caught the little guy. I checked my watch, 3:55pm. I didn’t bother to clean all the mud off the frog and just put him in the bag, it can wait for the photo session.

Linsen was walking down the stairs as I made it back into the station. Xie Dong was still asleep. Linsen asked which way I wanted to go. I wanted to walk up by the stream where Linsen, Vanessa and I had first walked on our first day. It was very beautiful, full of moss and some kind of thin grass that grew by the water’s edge. We headed in the direction for the trail but couldn’t find it, so we started walking up the river bed, which was very low. I saw some more Frog B’s, followed by a white flash of a frog I didn’t recognize. It traveled to a rock far from the reach of any other rocks.

Of course I’m not going to let this keep me from catching it. I looked around for some large rocks and started throwing them into the gap, in a few minutes I had enough rocks where I could jump from one to another and keep a footing. I made my way to where the frog had disappeared. He was peering out of some moss covering the rock and I immediately grabbed a handful of moss, which included the frog. I separated plant from frog and saw that it was a Rana chinensis – Chinese Brown Frog. This brings up some new information. During my off days in Muyu, I was perusing a lot of my pictures, making pamphlets and such for the refuge officers. When I went to look for my best picture of Rana chinensis I found a discrepancy. The frog from Jiuchong, the very first live field herp of China, I had IDed as Rana chinensis. When Vanessa, Linsen, and I came to Pinqian the first time, and I had found a Rana chinensis in a valley in mid-day, I had just figured it was a daytime coloration, which is why it was so bleached. I no longer felt this way. There were too many other differences in the body shape, size, and other characteristics. The Rana chinensis from Pinqian fit the illustration in book better than the “Rana chinensis” from Jiuchong, but there was no other frog that fit the frog from Jiuchong. I bagged the R. chinensis so I could take some more photos and we were on our way again. Linsen was stopping often to look at plants.

In many of the isolated pools, or shallower areas of the river we would find immature salamanders, mostly Ranodon shihi and a few Hynobius chinensis. The two could be distinguish because the R. shihi are yellow with blotches, and the Hynobius is black. I really wanted to find an adult of either species. Luckily not long after, we were flipping rocks in a deeper pool and found a large adult R. shihi. They are much faster than I expected. The species is aquatic and rarely comes on land, as such, the tail is like a paddle and they are very fast swimmers. We eventually caught it and took some pictures. The museum does not have an adult from either species, so we captured it.

The pattern was very different though. The average R. shihi has a dark background color with lighter, yellowish blotches along the dorsal and tail. This individual was mainly yellow with some black dots. The tail looked like a typical R. shihi, but that was it. Of course I am basing this on a single picture I have seen that Vanessa took when someone from her hotel had found one in a stream. The illustration in the book displays the blotch pattern, but isn’t true to the colors. I was worried about the salamander drying out or dying from the heat so I told Linsen we should turn around.

When we got back to the station we filled a water basin and put the salamander in it. We started looking through the atlas. I realized there was no illustration of the other species of salamander known in Shennongjia – Hynobius chinensis. This wasn’t helpful… We started looking at some characteristics of the animal we had. The color and pattern didn’t fit perfectly. The toes were supposed to have black claws at the end, which they did, but they were very weak and not very distinct; as they should have been. It was time to eat, so we basically left it at that.

We had an early dinner, around 6pm. This was good, because I had a trip in mind for the evening. I told Linsen I wanted to walk the trail that goes across the river. Back when Vanessa was with us, we had hiked through this way and I had heard a species of frog calling at a place where the river intersects the trail, a species that I didn’t recognize, and at the time we didn’t have time to explore, not to mention there was a good chance of coming across some snakes on the way to the river intersection. We headed out around 7pm. I was hoping we’d find an O. ningshaanensis or Rhabdophis nuchalis somewhere along the way.

Within the “town limits” we found a DOR juvenile Protobothrops jerdonii, killed maybe 2 days ago. Not far from that was a DOR juvenile Lycodon fasciata. There are 3 species of black and white banded snakes in Shennongjia; the many-banded krait (Bungarus multicinctus), which is extremely venomous, Lycodon fasciata (Lycos- is Latin for wolf, and -odon of course means tooth. Fasciata means banded, like the fasicles that make up your muscles), and Lycodon ruhstrati. Only one of them has bands encircling the entire body (except for the head and neck region) and that is L. fasciata. Both L. ruhstrati and the krait have a white belly. The way to distinguish those two (if looking at old, flat, dried, DORs; live specimens are much much easier to ID) is that the posterior white bands on L. ruhstrati have a “dirty” appearance and aren’t crisp and clear like they are on the krait (and L. fasciata). The DOR was several days old, but it was still a new species for Pinqian, and only the 2nd example of the species I’ve found – the first being in Muyu.

The trail wasn’t far from here. We hit the trail with a little bit of daylight left. This wasn’t a problem, since I had brought 3 lights, and Linsen had purchased some new batteries before leaving town for his flashlight. Very soon we found another Megophrys boettgeri. We took some photographs on the spot and let the little guy go. Not far from him was a Bufo andrewsi, another new species for Pinqian. Again, we photographed him as well and continued on. We reached the place where the river crosses the trail and I set down my camera bag and told Linsen we were here (I hadn’t told him where we were going). I broke out my head light and started scanning the banks. Immediately I found some Megophrys boettgeri along the bank, some Frog B’s resting on rocks above the water, some other frogs (most likely Frog B’s) jumping in the water, and then directly ahead of me was a frog that resembled Odorrana schmackeri/margaratae (the green frogs from Xiagu and Banqiao). There were also Bufo andrewsi lining the shore.

As I would head in the direction of one splash, another would come at my left, head in that direction, and another at my right, scanning the light in front of me and I would see eye shines on rocks further out. Way too much stimulus to take in. I decided to ignore any nearby splashes and just concentrate on the ones resting on rocks. I bagged two of the frogs that looked like they belonged in the Odorrana genus, I would sort out the species later. I bagged some more M. boettgeri just to be sure. Since the Frog B has been my biggest frustration up to this point, I took a couple of them as well.

As I was making my way across the river, jumping from rock to rock, I came up on a large moss-covered boulder that was nearly eye level. I jumped on a rock nearby, so that I could jump onto the boulder and as soon as I get there I was staring at a new species of frog right in front of my face, maybe 10″ away. I didn’t bother to take in the details and just cupped my hand over the frog immediately, obviously afraid it would jump if I took the time to admire it from its perch. I got to be conservative first; then I can be cavalier about any others I come across. For the half second I did see the frog, it looked like a Frog A, just different color and pattern.

Once he was in the bag I took some more time to examine him. As I said before, he had the same treefrog-like appearance that the first Frog A had. The coloration was definitely very different, but I would worry about it later. I was 90% sure it was a species we hadn’t seen before. I started wondering if maybe it was a seasonal coloration of Frog A though.

Immature salamanders dotted the water everywhere. I flipped several rocks hoping to find another adult R. shihi or find a Hynobius salamander. Flipping one rock I found a Bufo andrewsi resting at the bottom of the river. Very strange. For the rest of the night I found several more toads resting under rocks underwater. The species was obviously very aquatic. I do not know of any other species of toad that is as aquatic (at least in the states).

Eventually we came across another adult Ranodon shihi, this one was almost pure yellow, with just a few black dots. I told Linsen I was going to go back and get my camera, hoping it wouldn’t move (wishful thinking). When I returned the salamander was gone. Linsen was able to get some pictures but I haven’t had a chance to look at them to see if they turned out. Not far from that location we found an adult Hynobius chinensis, but yet again, the whole amphibian thing is pretty frustrating. I am basing the fact that it is a different species mainly on the coloration. Hynobius is supposed to be black, and this new salamander was black. As I said, there was no illustration of Hynobius in the atlas of amphibians of China.

Prior to coming to China, I tried to find photographs of as many species as I could. I was able to find a picture of what someone labeled as “Hynobius chinensis,” but in many days since being here and googling pictures of other species, I’ve come to realize the internet is not a very reliable source. Pictures I had of one species, would be labeled as another species. If it is a species that has been photographed lots of times, it usually isn’t a problem, since the majority would get the right idea, but if you do a search and you get a sample size of two, and both look very different, which one is the right one? So I no longer trusted the photograph I already had of Hynobius chinensis. The head structure of this new salamander looks identical to the Ranodon we caught earlier. The two species are in the same family, but different genus. In addition, the dorsal portion of the tail has a yellow stripe, faint, but definitely there, and on the dorsum there is a hint of a blotch or two. At the time I was pretty sure it was Hynobius chinensis, but now I am no longer sure. I am wondering now if it is just a dark morph of Ranodon shihi. Hynobius is supposed to be a small species, but this black salamander is bigger than the Ranodon we found. I’m hoping there is a picture of the two species in the Herpetology of China book when I get home. For awhile there I had started to photograph the photographs in that book, but there was way too much glare. They should have made the pictures in a matte finish.

The night revealed more of the treefrogs, several in amplexus. As I got to photograph them I had a pretty good idea of the species. I think it is Amolops granulosa. The illustration of the species in the book, though extremely poor, shows the male and female as having very different colors. That night was the night of amphibians for sure. We found Megophrys boettgeri, Bufo andrewsi, Frog B, Amolops granulosa, and Odorrana, Ranodon shihi, and Hynobius chinensis – at least that was the line up I thought we had when we walked away.

When we got back to the station I had a lot to do. I had to find some bags for all the animals. Because of the Odorrana species being toxic, I had to isolate that portion of the bag. By the time we were back, all my bags were full, and the one parachute bag was tied in 3 locations. I had to download the pictures, but first I needed to photograph the Odorrana frogs and compare them with the pictures I already had. I went into the bathroom and put a plug over the hole in the ground (the toilet) and started rearranging animals, transferring all of a single species into their own bag. When I got to the Odorrana I placed them on the counter and took some body shots.

I downloaded the pictures and started looking through them. On one of the pairs of treefrogs, the flash brought out a characteristic I had no idea existed on the frogs – they were covered with little spines, the male more so than the female, but both genders were littered with tiny little spines, which is obviously where they got the species epithet “granulosa.” So that ID was now positive.

I gathered all of my Odorrana pictures and dumped the body shots into the same folder and started comparing. They looked like an intermediate. O. margaratae is almost all green towards the head, whereas O. schmackeri is more of a piebald of green and brown. These new frogs were mainly green, but still had some small brown spots all over the dorsum. I zoomed in on one of the pictures and at the rear of the jaw there were some spines. There were also some spines along the legs. I went back to my pictures of the Amolops. I had captured one mating pair, and one solitary individual. In the mating pair, the male was brown and green, with a very cryptic pattern. The female was almost solid brown. The solitary individual was also nearly solid brown. The first pair I found in amplexus I did not capture though. I pulled up that picture, the female underneath was solid green (or at least all that was showing) and the pattern on her head had a few dark little spots. The Odorrana species were actually green phase Amolops granulosa females. I guess the females come in two color phases and the male in one. Ok, so I don’t get to add Odorrana to the species list at Pinqian, still a good night nonetheless.

Then I just had to look at the Megophrys pictures. I noticed on some that the paratoid gland was pretty large. All of them had the pale shoulders for which they get their common name. They all had the pale triangle on the head as well. I pulled up some of the new B. andrewsi photos. Not every picture, but there was one individual that had pale shoulders and a pale triangle on the head. The warts on the back also formed an arrow pointing towards the head, which all the Megophrys had as well. And though on all the Megophrys the warts were red, they could change color when they are older. End result – I am no longer confident in the Megophrys boettgeri find in Banqiao, and obviously here in Pinqian. Another ID that will have to wait until I can get back to the States and get my hands on some quality books and images.

Principle of parsimony: more than likely the animals are just juvenile Bufo andrewsi and not a new provincial record of Megophrys boettgeri. Amphibians are damn frustrating. At least with snakes, I am clear on whether or not I have something different. Though it took forever to ID the Oligodon, I still new it was something different. Now I don’t know if the Megophrys is Megophrys and not just a juvenile Bufo andrewsi, I don’t know if the Hynobius is Hynobius and not just a dark morph of Ranodon shihi. The frog previously IDed as Rana chinensis is now back to “Frog A.” Frog B has been an on-going complication. The frog from Dongxi was a complication, mainly because of the inadequacies of the atlas. Back in the States, Craig Stanford was able to match my pictures with the pictures in the Herpetology of China book (the book that I need with me) and identified the frog as Rana tenggerensis, definitely a new provincial record for Hubei.

Oh well, I don’t enjoy being frustrated, I enjoy sleeping. Time to sleep. It was a good first day at Pinqian.

31 August

Xie Dong came to get me up for breakfast. I told him I didn’t want any and that I was saving money by sleeping in. Minutes after he left, Linsen came in. I gave him the same speech. There have been many times the breakfasts provided just aren’t very pleasing. They are good, just not suited for breakfast. For me, all I need is maybe a roll or two, or something like a single apple. These are things they don’t have. In Muyu, my breakfast is two rolls from the bakery beside the hotel. Very good. The ones that taste like the Golden Corral ones, minus the loads of butter.

After Xie Dong and Linsen finished breakfast, Xie Dong asked me if I wanted to go to Dajiuhu. Dajiuhu was a town to the northwest that I had wanted to go to. Twenty years ago there was a big lake there, but they drained it in order to use the land for crops and agriculture. It was the ONLY lake in Shennongjia. There are no ponds and no lakes anymore. Who knows what sort of wildlife this unique habitat (unique for the area) once had; that’s now gone. I have mentioned before, only two species of turtles have been found in Shennongjia. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were found 20 years ago when the lake was still around and haven’t been seen since. Xie Dong said we didn’t have a car but that he would see what he could do.

While he left I checked on my babies. Seven eggs have pipped now, and the very first snake was now out of his egg. He measured 16.5cm (about 6″).

Xie Dong returned and said he found a car. We went out to the road and walked over to a shop where a bunch of people were piling into the back of a vegetable truck. This was our ride. I climbed up. The truck bed was littered with rotten turnips and/or radishes. The ride to Dajiuhu was long, rough, and dusty. It was maybe an hour and half. When we got there, the place was far different from any other place in Shennongjia; a huge open field, surrounded by mountains. The place must have been gorgeous when it was a lake. I later found out that Dajiuhu is outside the reserve boundary. So technically anything we found couldn’t be counted.

We followed a road into the middle of the field and then took a smaller road to the right, planning on eventually circling around. There were several scenes that reminded me of Kansas again. Lots of cows, farmers with straw hats standing nearby, under the shade of a lone cluster of trees, lots of little creeks cutting through the landscape with embankments heavily trampled by cattle, sparse open forests, and of course, blazing heat. There was a flower vaguely like a sunflower. It was much taller and much thinner, but still yellow. The flower portion was not as large either, but from a distance it could look like a sunflower. Other portions of Shennongjia are littered with sunflowers.

Walking along one of the creeks, we saw a Bufo gargarizans jump into the water and swim to the other side. Other than Dongxi, this has been the first place to have this species. No lizards or snakes. We made our way to a turn-around spot and headed back into town for lunch. Walking back along the road we found a DOR Achalinus spinalis, which has only been seen in Pinqian. It was hit earlier that morning. Not far from that DOR was another DOR; an adult Lycodon fasciata, but it was several days old.

Lunch was very simple and very good; niao ro (beef), potatoes, and lettuce in a boiling pot, and then some cucumbers and peppers dishes cold. Linsen and Xie Dong tried one of the green peppers in the cucumber dish and made a face and said “this is very interesting” and asked me to try one. I tasted it and it tasted like an ordinary green pepper. I was a bit confused. Linsen asked me “what is this called when it is prepared like this?” “What do you mean?” “What is it called when the food is not fried?” I understood now. “Ohhh, it’s called raw.” Linsen: “This pepper is raw.” “Yes.” “Very strange.” I laughed. I told him that in America almost every fruit and vegetable is eaten raw, as well as having several cooked variations. Xie Dong said “I think many foreigners like food raw.” “Only fruits and vegetables, not meat. Raw meat is dangerous.” They asked about the Japanese eating raw fish. “well, except for that. Raw beef, raw pork, raw chicken is bad.”

After lunch we walked around looking for a ride back. The only rides were around 80 Yuan, which was way too much. We came across someone in the Shennongjia traveling agency that said they would give us a ride back for free, but first we had to go look for deer. Odd, but still fine. I wouldn’t mind seeing some deer. I was assuming they knew where to go. They drove out past the town and stopped along the side of the road. We all got out and started walking in the field. None of the guys looked like they had ever been outdoors before. They were taking pictures of each other standing in the field, or in front of a tree. I was wondering if walking in a field was their tactic for finding deer. Then they started heading towards a herd of cattle. “You can’t be serious,” I thought to myself. Luckily they weren’t. They were heading towards the cattle to talk to the farmer. Meanwhile I busied myself with rotting logs. I found a juvenile Bufo gargarizans hiding out under one log, but that was it.

We followed a stream until it came to the road again. We had lost one person. After we hit the road the truck (a four-door) came down the road to pick us up (the person we lost was driving). While waiting for it, I looked along the stream. Resting half in and half out of the water on one of the embankments was another Bufo gargarizans. I had to put my telephoto on to ID it. I watched the toad. I guess it was just cooling off. Not long after I saw it, it slowly started walking towards the embankment, where it made its way under a rock. Just for the hell of it I jumped the fence and made my way through the weeds, down the embankment, and found the rock where the toad was. Picked him up, he let out some chirps, and returned him to the front of his burrow.

We climbed into the truck and headed down the road a ways. We stopped at a little house that had a long fence enclosing some trees. Now I understood. It was something similar to a petting zoo. A long fence put up around an area to keep all the deer in one spot. The idea of seeing deer was no longer as appealing as it was. If it isn’t wild, I don’t really consider it as “seeing a deer.” Which goes the same for any animal species. I could go to several places in China to see a Chinese Alligator, but I want to find one in the wild, and to do that there is only one place. In addition to these deer being confined to this one area, I asked Linsen if this was a species only found in Shennongjia or what. He said it wasn’t even from China. When Craig was here he mentioned something about the Japanese Seeka deer, I am guessing that is the species. We walked along the fence for awhile but didn’t see any deer. One of the guys in the group was disappointed. I was constantly flipping rocks and logs. I found a newborn Sphenomorphus skink under one rock.

That was basically it for our trip to Dajiuhu. The place has tremendous potential. The roads also reminded me of Kansas, and as far as road cruising goes, I think Dajiuhu would have some of the best. Long stretches of gravel roads, surrounded by fields, some cropland, some not. But it was the most accessible. I had told Linsen I would love to walk the roads at night, if I had more time. We stopped for a drink before we left and for some corn on the cob. While we were there some girls were asking me what all I was doing. The conversation eventually got to the point where I had to rely on Linsen to relay the questions. When she found out how I felt about Dajiuhu, Linsen said “she says, if you stay here, she will walk the roads with you this evening, and she will give you a free dinner.” I smiled of course, and said I really wanted to, but that I still had a lot to do at Pinqian. Anyway, we were leaving the next day. I asked Linsen if she knew I wanted to walk the roads at night because I wanted to find snakes. Linsen asked. “Wo pa she” (I’m afraid of snakes) she responded.

We were finally ready to go. The ride back took only an hour. The truck was much faster than the commercial Mack truck. When we arrived, I asked how much time I had until dinner. The cook said I had about an hour and half. I wanted to photograph some of the frogs from the other night while I still had some daylight. Actually, I took the time to photograph those frogs from the very first day. The one juvenile of some kind, and the dirty one I didn’t bother washing off. I photographed the juvenile first. I recognized it as being a juvenile Rana chinensis. The juveniles have much more pattern than the adults, but I could tell which aspects faded with age, and which ones the adults had remnants of, and it would definitely fit the profile. After his session was finished, I brought out the muddy frog and cleaned him off. It was a sub-adult Frog B. Of course Frog B could possibly be two species. I am 75% sure it is a single species. The juveniles I think have very rugulose skin, and as they age, the skin gets smoother and smoother. This would explain why all the large adults are usually smooth, and the smaller the individual, the more bumps they have. I took several photographs. Zhangfang said he could probably help me identify it when I came to Anhui. I have come across a few dark specimens that look like they could be different, but it’s a close call.

While photographing I heard Xie Dong calling, yelling that is was time for dinner. The head director of the protection stations, the same guy that came to Banqiao was there. Most of the usual crew that inhabits Pinqian was there as well. One way to keep from drinking is by paying respect to someone else. If everyone pays their respect to the host for example, you can’t toast with anyone else because you don’t have a glass, and since the host then has 7 or 8 shot glasses in front of him, it will be awhile until he gets to your cup and the others. We all paid our respect to the director and after he finished his rounds, we all paid respect to Xie Dong. These two were the two biggest drinkers among everyone, so it was good to go ahead and get them drunk first, that way they’d be less likely to toast more later on.

I finished my dinner and got up, hoping to escape before any more toasts came my way. I took my last shot of liquor (you’re not allowed to leave the table with anything in your glass), and told everyone “ma man chi” but Linsen shook his head and told me to sit down. “What?” “We are showing our respects to you.” Hell… this is what I was trying to avoid. “Ok…”

So everyone took a shot from their respective glasses, refilled them, and set them before me. I now had 8 more shots to take, since I had drank my cup when I got up, it had to be refilled. I took my time with the drinks and when I finally got finished I headed out to buy some juice, one for the time being, and one for later. When I got back to the station I wanted to try a little experiment. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier. On some meals, we are given shot glasses, on other occasions we are given cups (usually given cups), and then sometimes we have both cups and shot glasses. I was curious to know how many shots filled a cup. The most I have had at one sitting was two cups. I went back to the table and started filling shot glasses with orange juice and then emptying them into the cup. One cup is equal to 12 shots. I am pretty fine after one cup. At a cup and a half I am a bit drunk and at two cups I am very drunk. I don’t know how many shots I had that evening, but I was a bit tipsy. Linsen and Xie Dong were both quite drunk. I packed the spare juice in my camera bag, refilled my Nalgene with some hot water – it is quite odd, but now I almost prefer hot water to cold. We’ll see how long that lasts when I get back to the States. I headed downstairs and asked Linsen if he was ready. “What? We are going out?” “Yes.”

I waited on the steps outside for Linsen and Xie Dong. I wanted to walk south on the road for a little bit. Two months ago we had found an Oligodon on this portion of the road and then later a Rhabdophis nuchalis. We walked a little ways south, and then I thought the north route might be better. On the north route there were two recent DORs (the Lycodon and Protobothrops) and two months ago there was a DOR Rhabdophis in the same area. We turned around and started walking north. Xie Dong was too drunk and retired to the station. We got to a portion in the road where the left side was bordered by the river and the right side had a steep embankment going down maybe four feet (90º). Linsen said no snakes would be here and that we should turn around. I told him I wanted to check the area where we went that one time with Vanessa and Xiang Bing. We had found a Rana chinensis (the one found mid-day) and it was a flat meadow next to a shallow portion of the river. He knew where I was talking about. It was quite a ways away, but at least it would help us metabolize the alcohol and sweat it out, as opposed to just sitting around at the station.

We got to the gravel road that led down to the river after 30 minutes or so. Right away there was a Bufo andrewsi hopping across the road. Since it was dark I couldn’t see where the meadow broke off and before I knew it we were just walking along the gravel road. Oh well, it still went by plenty of good spots. We came up to a large isolated puddle. We could hear lots of B. andrewsi calling. I walked around the rocks. You could hear the “plunks” of anurans jumping in the water all over. Given the fact that they disappeared so quickly once they hit the water, I am guessing most were Frog B’s. Whenever a toad jumped in the water, it was easy to spot as it swam to the opposite shore. The Frog B’s would dive under a rock and stay hidden. I wanted to catch at least one individual and see if it differed at all. I caught a large adult that I wanted to photograph. We went to a fairly open area so the frog wouldn’t get away easily. I took a few quick pictures and let the frog go.

We continued along the road. We found several more toads on the road, a couple Rana chinensis, and then we came across a new frog that Linsen almost stepped on. As he passed it I said “oh, look here” and I walked over to the frog. Linsen turned around and walked to where I was, almost stepping on the frog again. “Be careful!” “What, what is it?” He was looking around but wasn’t seeing it. It was a bright green frog, about the size of a bullfrog on a white gravel road. I don’t know how he couldn’t see it. “Look beside your left foot.” “Oh!” It was an Odorrana margaratae (for sure). A new species for Pinqian. We took some pictures and continued along. We walked until about 10:30 and then decided to turn around. We got back to the station around 11:45 or so. I asked Linsen if he was still drunk. He said he was a little. I had completely sobered up a while ago. The air temp that night was 73º. The night before when we were at the stream, I could see my breath. I remember going hunting the first night we were in Pinqian with Vanessa and it being so cold that I could see my breath. This time I remembered to take a temperature reading, it was 65º. Two months ago I had estimated an air temp of 64º, close enough.

The next day we were heading back to Muyu. My Pinqian stay this time was full of amphibians. Last time it was full of snakes, now frogs and salamanders. Not terrible. I was hoping to find another Oligodon or Rhabdophis, but we had added around 7 or 8 new species for the Pinqian list, so it wasn’t a bad 2 days.

1 September

We were set for Muyu, just as soon as we found a car. I checked on my babies, all but two had pipped and four were completely out of the eggs. Still nothing from the larger eggs. I will probably cut open one more egg before I leave and see if the embryo is developed enough to identify, then one egg will go to a jar as a specimen and I will give the rest of the eggs to Linsen to see if he can hatch them. Though I am skeptical. I wanted to photograph some of the treefrogs during the daytime as well, but as soon as I got my equipment together, Xie Dong said a car was here to take us to Muyu.

I took all my stuff downstairs. I told him I had to release the baby snakes first. I walked down the dried river bed to a place far from any houses and found a portion of the embankment eroded and had some large rocks nearby. I set the eggs under the overhang at the base of a large rock. The babies that were already out of the egg went directly to the hole at the base of the rock. The ones that had pipped would most likely come out before the day was up, and I can only hope the two remaining eggs will pip either later that day or by tomorrow at the latest.

When we got back to Muyu, it was pretty hot. I unloaded my gear and took a nap. I was going to have to walk down to Guamenshan or close to it in order to find any flowers for Xiaoli, and if I went now and picked them, they would be wilted by the time I got back to Muyu, so I decided to take a nap until it was cooler. When I woke up about 2 hours later the sky was overcast and it was thundering. I got dressed and headed out the door. A light rain started and before I even got half-way it was a downpour. I sought shelter under a nearby shop and waited for maybe 15 minutes. The storm showed no signs of letting up. It was just water, and I didn’t have anything electronic or valuable on me, so I just decided to get wet. At least the flowers would survive the walk back. I found three different varieties of purple flowers and made a bouquet and started walking back. I put the flowers in a glass and tied a string around them to keep them together. They would just have to wait until Xiaoli showed up.

I had dinner at Linsen’s. When I walked in it smelled very much like Italian food. I was very curious. There was some soft tofu that looked like some kind of cheese. None of the dishes tasted like the smell I smelled when I walked in. I was very disappointed. Maybe my nose was playing tricks on me or something. At one point Xie Dong and Linsen had asked if I preferred Chinese food or western food. I tried to explain that “American dining” isn’t just one type of food. I told them that my favorite food was probably Italian, but I also love Chinese, Mexican, and “American” foods. As for American foods, the only thing I could think of was steak and potatoes, salads, sandwiches, and various forms of chicken. I do miss American food. I miss the variety of foods available in the States. The Chinese food here has been excellent, but a break would be nice, which is why Beijing was so appreciated.

While at Linsen’s we looked at some train schedules to see what other alternatives I have for getting to Wuhu. Zhangfang (the guy that picked me up at the airport when I first arrived in China; Dr. Li’s student that is afraid of frogs, but works with the Chinese Alligator) works in Anhui. He teaches at Normal University. Zhangfang had told me that there wasn’t a train from Yichang to Wuhu and that I would have to go from Yichang, to Beijing, then from Beijing, to Wuhu. The ticket from Yichang to Beijing is around 319 Yuan. The ticket from Beijing to Wuhu is 1,460 Yuan (one way)! So I was really interested in seeing if there was another way, so long as it is cheaper, I will do it. Our internet search revealed no trains from Yichang to Wuhu, but there was a train from Wuhan to Wuhu. I could take a bus to Yichang for 45 Yuan, spend the night at a hotel for 80 Yuan, then the next day get on a bus to go to Wuhan for around 100 Yuan. That same evening I would get on a train to Wuhu – that ticket only costs 99 Yuan.

I am going to try the “hard seat” ticket. In China, if you travel by train, you have four choices; hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper, and soft sleeper. When Dr. Li and I came to Yichang the first time, we traveled by soft sleeper, the most expensive, around 500 Yuan I think. You have 4 bunks in a room. When Vanessa and I went from Yichang to Beijing, we traveled by hard sleeper, which was basically the same except there were 6 bunks in a room. I asked Linsen which ways he has traveled. He said he has only traveled by hard seat and hard sleeper. He said hard seat was like a big sofa couch, head rest, etc. Sounds a lot nicer than I thought. The train from Wuhan to Wuhu is only 10 hours, so I think I can deal with it. I will be arriving in Wuhu at 5am on the 7th of September. Zhangfang has already purchased tickets for our return trip on the 12th. It just now occurred to me, perhaps the reason the ticket from Beijing to Wuhu was so expensive is because Zhangfang was maybe referring to the soft sleeper ticket. On the trip from Wuhan to Wuhu, the hard seat (cheapest) was 99 Yuan, the soft sleeper was 276 Yuan, so almost 3 times the cost.

After dinner, I headed back to the hotel. Xiaoli was there. I gave her the flowers. She was pretty happy about it. She asked me to wait about an hour for a friend of hers to show up and that then we’d all go out. The friend never showed, so she took HiYin and I out to dinner – not dinner, but that post-dinner meal I talked about earlier, a late snack if you want to call it that. While we were there she asked when I was coming back to Muyu. I told her hopefully in 2008 when I had more money. She said when I come back I should go to Mt. Wudan(g) and practice Chinese kung fu (in China it’s pronounced “gung fu”). I really wanted to go to Mt. Wudan(g) on this trip, but it was another one of the many things I didn’t have time for. It is very close by, maybe 4 or 5 hours north of Shennongjia.

That was basically it for the day. Tomorrow should be Caiqi.

2 September

We were going to go to Caiqi today, but as luck would have it, it’s raining… So I’m inside working on computer stuff. First Muyu robbed me of Independence Day, in return giving me the Pacifier, a Tommy Lee Jones movie primarily in Chinese, and 1/4th of the movie Hitch (the channel switches off at 11:30pm every night, and Hitch starts at 11pm, every night); now Muyu has robbed me of these as well. Channel 13 no longer plays various movies, international or domestic, now it is some sort of game show which is unbearable. Luckily this is happening now though, rather than a month ago.

Caught up on emails, retrieved my gear from Linsen’s office and am starting to arrange my packing and see how much space I have. There are still a few more gifts I would like to buy for a few friends.

Watching USA vs Argentina in basketball. Earlier I got to see US vs China, which we won by about 30 pts. This game was far more interesting but the final result was US 96, Argentina 81. I usually can’t careless about basketball, but I actually watched this game. For some reason the World Championship holds a lot more appeal than any of the playoffs and games like that.

The day was full of labeling pictures, organizing data, writing rough drafts, all the boring stuff, but it’ll give me that much more time in the sandhills if I do it now. To date, since coming to China I’ve taken 4,600 pictures totaling to about 11 gigs. I still have to go to Anhui Province, and intend to photograph some specimens at the museum in Beijing (which I didn’t get to do prior to coming to Muyu which may have helped out tremendously). I’ve basically given up on trying to ID some of these anurans until I can get back to the States. I may have to purchase another book as well. I will probably have to have some specimens sent to the States where I can take my time to examine them in some institutions. The Field Museum has offered to receive any specimens I find. Unfortunately, under the current contract this wasn’t possible, but maybe in 2008 when I return I can convince them to let me bring some specimens back to the states. I found out many of the species I have found, some of the more common species, such as kingrats and Ptyas mucosus are actually endangered elsewhere in China and so they are a protected species. So that makes it a bit more difficult to send to the States I’m sure.

I just got a list from Linsen about the protected species;

Salamanders; all three species of salamanders are protected

Anurans;
Leptolalax oshanensis
Oreolalax rhodostigmatus
Bufo gargarizans (the common toad at Dongxi)
Rana boulengeri (sometimes known as Paa boulengeri)
Rana guentheri
Fejervarya limnocharis (very common at Dongxi)
Odorrana margaratae
Rana spinosa
Rana tigrina rugulosa
Rana chinensis
Microhyla butleri
Microhyla mixtura
Micohyla ornata

Lizards;
Japalura flaviceps
Japalura splendida

Snakes;
Elaphe carinata
Elaphe mandarina
Elaphe rufodorsata
Ptyas mucosus
Zaocys dhumnades
Bungarus multicinctus
Naja atra
Azemiops feae
Deinagkistrodon acutus

And then for those not already protected under law, you have the red tape of the reserve to deal with.

3 September

Sent Linsen a text message this morning asking him if we were going to Caiqi. No response until about noon. It said “sorry, just now checked my phone. Road is closed from 11 to 6,” so no Caiqi. That was my only request for the remaining days. Dalongtan would have been nice as well, but I was primarily interested in looking around Caiqi. I think it is the only place I haven’t been in Shennongjia.

I decided to dissect one more of the larger eggs today. The embryo was very developed now. It was not from a kingrat, or a sharp-nose viper, but from a Taiwan Beauty snake. The female that laid them must have been huge. They embryo still had a lot of yolk to absorb and the remaining eggs would not be hatching before I left. We’ll see if Linsen is able to hatch them.

Watched some more basketball tonight. Spain vs Greece. Spain won. Greece received the silver and Spain got the gold. I guess somewhere along the way the US got defeated while I wasn’t looking.

Watched another made-for-TV movie. All no-names. It was about some general breaking into a museum that had a vault or something. Not too good, but it was in English, so I had to watch it. After that the Matrix Reloaded came in, in Chinese. Something about Mr. Smith saying “An-der-san xian sheng” as opposed to “Mr. Anderson” just doesn’t quite have the same impact.

Tomorrow is my last day (complete day in Shennongjia). I have bought all my gifts, I have packed all my gear. Everything is ready to go. Tomorrow I’ll photograph the preserved specimens, but knowing my luck the one lady with the key to the animal hall will be out. I bought a wooden snake today for HiYin. The ones that are cut every ½ inch or so and connected by a string so that they can move in a somewhat lifelike way if you hold them by the tail and rotate your hand. I’m going to put it in her bed tomorrow night, just like the old days with mom. I’ll wait in my room and see if I hear a scream or not. Hopefully it won’t piss her off…

Pictures are on Photobucket

Previously in this series:

Snakes On The Plain: Kevin in China
Kevin in China, part 2: Three Kinds of Natural Beauty in Jiuchong
Kevin in China, part 3 – The First Westerner in Town
Kevin in China, part 4 – Snakebites as a Daily Hobby
Kevin in China, part 5 – His Legend Preceeds Him!
Kevin in China, part 6 – The Mystery Snake
Kevin in China, part 7 – Bit By Snakes? Get Used To It!
Kevin in China, part 8 – The Dance and The Snakes
Kevin in China, part 9 – What Really Happened That Night, or, The Night Of Too Many Toasts!
Kevin In China, part 10 – “the poison of that snake, is not dangerous to people?”
Kevin In China, part 11 – How to avoid getting married in China, or, women are more complex organisms than venomous snakes
Kevin In China, part 12 – Chinese Ebola, or, Getting the Taste of Chinese Medicine
Kevin In China, part 13 – Back To Herping
Kevin In China, part 14 – The Lure Of The West: McDonalds and Chinese-dubbed Tom Cruise
Kevin In China, part 15 – Beijing
Kevin In China, part 16 – It’s not easy to catch a swimming frog
Kevin in China #17 – Drinking liquor with a snake heart makes your eyes clear
Is there a Herpetologist in the house?
Kevin in China update
Kevin in China #18 – a mandarin rat, another mystery frog that is NOT in the Atlas of Amphibians of China, and the Chinese-speaking Godzilla