Two forks of the San Gabriel River meet in Georgetown, Texas (a little ways north of Austin) and the resulting river flows northeast and then eastward. Back in 2010, Clint King wrote about taking his young son to see slimy salamanders along the banks of the San Gabriel, and we had talked for some time about visiting this spot and turning up a few more. This weekend we did just that.
In Georgetown, the two forks cut through hill country limestone and in places there are boulders and smaller rocks embedded in the steep riverbank below limestone shelves. It is under some of these stones that Clint had found this salamander several years ago. This species, the western slimy salamander (Plethodon albagula) is found in Missouri, Arkansas, and eastern Oklahoma, with disjunct (isolated) populations in central Texas. It lives in damp ravines and wooded hillsides such as the areas we visited along the San Gabriel. All the plethodontid salamanders have no lungs and obtain oxygen directly through the skin and lining of the mouth. They are called “slimy” salamanders because when disturbed they exude a slimy substance that sticks like glue and may distract predators or interfere with attempts to grab them.
As we walked along the greenbelt on the banks of the river, we spotted several Texas cooters basking on a log. We managed to get a couple of photos before they slipped into the water. It may be that they were somewhat used to the presence of people jogging or walking nearby, because they were less shy than other cooters often are and only slipped off the log after we continued to watch them for 30 seconds or so.
Although we are still in the final weeks of winter, signs of emerging plant life were everywhere. Trees and shrubs were putting out new leaves everywhere, and soon the path will be covered in new bright green growth. Earlier light rain faded to sprinkles and then just cloud cover, and it felt a lot like spring.
In one section of the river we spotted a great blue heron in the river, standing watchful and attentive to our movement. As I focused for a photo, the bird decided to move to a more undisturbed area and took flight. I managed to capture the bird in the first moments in the air. Great blue herons are the largest herons in North American and can be found over much of the U.S. and Canada. These majestic birds feed on smaller fish that they stalk while standing in the water, but they are willing to eat a wide variety of small animals that they encounter.
Great blue heron
We also saw Texas spiny lizards, green anoles, little brown skinks, and Clint came across some earth snakes sheltering under cover. And ultimately, under rocks on a fairly steep hillside, we found two small slimy salamanders – juveniles a little over two inches long. We took a few photos and released them, hopefully to grow into adults that we may see some other time.
Western slimy salamander (juvenile)
For a late winter walk, this had been a very productive afternoon, filled with delightful animals and with the promise of the spring season that is just around the corner.