Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Spring That Isn't. Early April, 2018

While April continues to feel like February, with raw, cold weather and snow, we have to catch as catch can, as they say. Often, our drive and desire outweighs our chances but we either go for it or go insane. Friday, April 6th and 7th, we had double rock and roll duty, with Andrea and my band Trainwreck playing Friday night and my other band playing Saturday night. That made us toast on Sunday. However, when I got my ass out of the house to go get some groceries in the late-afternoon, I yelled in, "oh, it's nice out!" That made Andrea get dressed and ready to go out by the time I got back. Surprise! Let's go take a walk.

Well, with the sun behind clouds, it was about 44°, not exactly good weather for reptiles and amphibians. We went to a nearby spot just to flip a few logs and look for salamanders. We got lucky pretty quickly with a super-fat Redback, full of eggs.
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It's not really egg time on a normal year so this further illustrates how fucked up the season is already.

Being who we are, we did meander off of the path to look at known snake den spots and it paid off this time. Right next to the opening of a den in the Vally of Nerodia, Andrea got to see her first Northern Water Snake of the year.
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Being 44°, I suggested she "boop" it to remind it to get back underground. (It had probably come out earlier when the sun was still shining.) She did and got no response. So, she pet its back. It was awake now and it struck at her pretty quickly, pink mouth all a'flyin'! Pretty damn funny.

The only other herp we encountered was another lovely Redback.
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We saw a White-tailed Deer grazing as we drove out.
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The next weekend was Patriot's Day, traditionally a great Spring weekend for us weather-wise, plus we get an extra day to hike. Well, not in good ol' 2018. It was supposed to be cold and rainy for much of the weekend. The only exception was a short window on Saturday morning when it was going to be cool, but sunny. One hitch... we were both sick.

Figuring fresh air was as important to our recovery as anything else, we picked a nearby, easy walk where things might be out trying to get some rays. We lumbered in on the trail and our first sight was our main target, one we'd missed here the month before by mere seconds... a Spotted Turtle.
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That shot won't win me any awards but at least we got our first Spotted on the year.

Better still, right where we stood to photograph the turtle was a Garter Snake den and its denizens were popping up all over to warm up in the sun.
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A meeting of the mindless.
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Nothing takes your mind off of how miserable you feel like watching snakes being snakes, poking around and sometimes swaying their heads... I think some of them were feeling randy.

Another pleasant surprise was our first Green Frog on the year. He was big and very dark, probably having just come up to get some sun and air.
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We continued on enjoying the slow walk and fresh smells and sounds. Luckily, this hike has ample sitting spots for the ill, old and weary. We got to a cross-trail and went up one side, thinking we knew where another Garter den might be. We never found it but did see one wee Garter who seemed glad to warm up in Andrea's hands.
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The other branch of the cross-trail had a lot more action. Garters were numerous on that side.
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Hey, wait... that's a Water Snake, not a Garter!
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A beautiful one, too, and the first we'd ever seen along this particular trail.

Lousy shot (I really need to get another decent camera) but this illustrates very well the perfection of natural beauty. Just a perfect swish of movement and art.
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We sat down again on some rocks, completely surrounded by nature. I said, "we could herp while just sitting here, I'll bet." After a short sit-down, we got up to go just a bit further and saw that next to our seat, on the side we weren't facing, this beauty was flattening out, grabbing some Vitamin D!
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Next up was a perfect cow-flop coil. Again, nature's perfection.
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A tree had fallen over the path. It was easy enough to step over but I started to go around it first. This guy was already there, though...
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So, over the tree we went. First come, first served.

At the turn-back point, I flipped a log and saw this wee Redback poking out of a broken off chunk.
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Heading back, we saw plenty more Garters. They were really keeping us happy. I actually got a decent shot on this one.
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As we passed the sitting rock, we saw a few more Garters poking around there. It looks as though there are some holes around the rocks that they were coming and going from. We'll have to keep our eyes out there in the future.

A couple more Garters that we'd missed on the way in...
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^ Look at that white stripe!

We got back to the beginning, to what we now call Spotted Turtle Den, and saw no Garter noggins. The sun had started to retreat so we weren't surprised. But as we stood there, heads started to appear. This shot has three that had just popped out.
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On that sirtalis trifecta, I will close this missive.

We're still trying to get over our illsnessess and it's no easy feat with the shitty weather. I drove to work this morning, April 19th, in sleet and snow. We have low hopes for the weekend but plan on getting out as long as there is some sun. I mean, as badly as we want to get out, those that hibernate underground are probably super-anxious to get out and eat, screw and bask.

Sounds like a pretty good life. Let's hope they get to do it soon.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Out Like a Lion March 30 & 31, 2018

Since returning from Florida, the weather in the Northeast has been dire. Finally, the last weekend in March was going to be a bit better and some rain was expected. We made plans with friends (including dear Teá) to meet up on Friday night in Bristol County to see if any of our native amphibians would be greeting the Spring.

We all got there at 7:30(ish) PM and as soon as we stepped out of the car, the distant Peeper chorus was very audible. Excitedly, we headed through the field to the wooded path that leads us past plenty of good vernal pools. We could hear Wood Frogs and Peepers galore but would we be able to get our cameras on them? Somebody spotted the first Woodie and when I was going over to try to get a shot, Andrea noticed this Redback taking a stroll along the water's edge.
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There was one Wood Frog close enough to be photographed, our first of the year.
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Among our crew were people specializing in other fields that really wanted to see salamanders. One gent found our first Spotted, a small specimen that was our First of Year and his Lifer!
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This guy wasn't big enough to have breeding on his mind but he was up and moving about anyway.

Peepers were deafening once you were next to the water. They're always hard to find despite the noise they make. Eventually, my eyes settled on two of them. First and second on the year.
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Not long after that, we saw our first large adult Spotted and it was a beauty.
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He was Business Salamander. He didn't let the human paparazzi bother him at all... he kept on truckin' right to the water. He has things to do.

Next up, a bit further on, we saw a small Blue-spotted Salamander. Always a real treat.
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We continued up the path for a way, then decided to turn back as the sightings had become less and less. Andrea and I were bringing up the rear. I was watching the path and I saw a small black and white swirl. It took a moment for my brain to comprehend what it was and I yelled for Andrea to stop!!! Too late. She was right on top of what had finally registered in my addled brain as a Four-toed Salamander in its defensive position... on its back, belly up, head hidden. She gently stepped back and I reached down to pick him up.We all looked on to watch him slowly unravel... *whew*
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Luckily, it was small enough and it was tucked in between the heel and sole of Andrea's boot. I guess these little guys know how to survive. He walked off into the night like we were never there.

One bad thing about this spot that we walk... ATV nutjobs also like to tear up the habitat and we could hear the distant engines getting closer.

We got back to the spot where we'd seen our first Blue-spotted to make sure it was off the path before the man-children and their toys came tearing through. It was there that Teá noticed another Four-toed.
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Lovely Fu-Manchu on this guy.

We were nearing the cross path when the noise and lights of the ATV scumbags came into view. They also had an off-leash dog running with them. At that moment, I looked down and saw a lovely Blue-spotted crossing the path. Ignoring the protocol of endangered and threatened species, I scooped it up to get it off the path. The murder-bikes went up another path, allowing us to get some photos of this guy.
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The douchebags had been tearing up and down the paths and since we'd seen most of our targets, we decided to call it a night. (One mashed Blue-spotted was seen. Luckily, that's all.) As everyone headed back, I dawdled a bit just to enjoy the frog sounds and take one last peek around. When the ATVs weren't around, it was pure magic.


Back at the pool where we had seen our first animals, I looked into the water and saw a half dozen adult Spotted Salamanders swimming around. That is a sure sign of Spring.
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I ended the night with a shot of a plump Wood Frog floating in "Ride'm Cowboy" pose.
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That was fun... good friends, 6 species and a bit of exercise.

We got up early the next morning in hopes of getting some hiking in before our End Of Season Sea Turtle Party on Cape Cod. Since we'd be heading to the Cape, we made plans to hit another Cape spot early to walk one spot that has plenty of vernal pools that support many species of amphibian. Our main goal was Spadefoot Toads. We got to that sanctuary in late morning and immediately started adding to our bird count.

The main pond was overflowing, washing out the pond-side path but we went that way anyway, sticking to the edge or pushing our way through thorns up the hill. We didn't want to miss a chance at basking Garters (the spot looks likely for dens) or turtles. We were finally rewarded with our first Painted Turtle of this year.
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The man-made vernals weren't as wet as we'd hoped and we didn't see any activity in the them yet. But our lack of anurans was made better by the proliferance of birds. We added four species on the year and got to watch lots of interesting avian action.

We got back on the road and headed to the sanctuary where our party was being held. When we got there, we saw the wonderful crew that we are honored to call friends, including the legendary Box Turtle Tim and his lovely wife Kim. These two do more for turtles than anyone else I know and have my undying respect. We all enjoyed the presentation and we all patted ourselves on the back a bit, which is deserved if I do say so myself.

Tim wanted to try out a new transponder to find some of his slumbering Box Turtles and asked if we wanted to join him. But of course! While on the trail, we spied our first Painter Stack... a tenacious bunch of turtles grabbing some early spring sunshine. It wasn't even 50° out.
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When we got near the brumation spot of the targeted Box Turtle, the transponder picked it up nicely. Tim and Andrea too a peek in at her. She isn't very deep at all.
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She's only a few inches down... hopefully she didn't chill her butt.
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We found the other tagged turtle that we were looking for, still asleep for a few more weeks, then we all left and went and had some excellent Mexican food. It was a treat to get some extra Tim and Kim time. It was an excellent end to a great day. I barely made it home, what with my lack of sleep and full belly, but I did and lived to tell about it.

I'd love to end this with an "and so Spring is finally here" bit of optimism.

But it snowed today.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Everglades 2018... Day Four: Monday, March 12th.

We awoke to pouring rain. I mean, we'd already had a wonderful trip so we couldn't exactly get upset about a rainy morning. We had planned on walking the canals this morning but decided instead to cruise the park for a while. You never know... rainy weather could bring out Box Turtles. For the second day in a row, we found a Brown Anole on the hotel grounds for our first animal. This guy was flipped.
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Cruising got us no reptiles or amphibians but we were very happy to see a couple of dozen Wood Storks, a species we'd not yet seen.
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We were worried that Hurricane Irma has harmed this threatened species.

The rain let up to just a sprinkle, so we headed over to a good Alligator spot for a last look at some crocodilians before we had to head back up North.
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The Black Vulture Tree was in bloom.
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We headed back to Robert is Here for another milkshake before hitting the road. (If we lived near here, we'd both weigh 400 lbs.) I'd seen an Agama stretched out in the light rain on the way in but it was gone by the time we left. In it's place was this Marine Toad who was poking its head out of a rat trap.
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It seemingly backed up and out the rear of the trap. Species #26.

We drove North, in and out of heavy rain. It cleared a bit by the time we hit the Burrowing Owl place on the way back to the airport. We had plenty of time still, so we got out to look around.
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We went back by the water to look for Iguanas and stuff and noticed the wind picking up and the clouds thickening. Andrea warned me that we'd better hurry. I kept flipping. Thanks to my tenacity, I flipped our first lifer snake of the weekend, a Florida Brown Snake. (Note the healing Green Water Snake blossoms on my thumb.)
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Not much different than the Northern ones we have up here. This guy seemed to know what was coming next... he was bracing himself.

The skies absolutely opened up and it started pissing down. We made a break for a nearby tree.
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The tree offered us little protection. The car was about 200 yards away and we made a run for it. We got soaked. The son-we-never-wanted was texting with Andrea and he said to get a shot of a Burrowing Owl in the rain because they look even more pissed that way.

I opened Andrea's window for a shot and she got more pissed as the rain fell into her lap. I turned the car around so my window came down for this shot.
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Worth it.

Since it was a wash-out, we headed toward the airport. It let up while we were still on the way to the highway and I saw a little park and pulled in to it. Andrea needed facilities to look for Wood Frogs and, since the rain had stopped for a spell, we figured we could change into dry clothes. We looked around a bit. It was a lovely place with a pond, alligator and snake warnings and some birds and Brown Anoles (that avoided my camera). After changing, we headed back out. There was a little fountain before the road that I wanted to look at before heading to the airport. I'm glad I did.

I saw some larger-than-anoles skittering away as I approached the fountain. They looked like young Basilisks. Circling the fountain, I saw that they were basilisks, but I couldn't get a shot. This Brown Anole was sitting atop a corner of the structure, though, looking like a king.
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That's all. That's all I wanted... one more herp.

But then Andrea noticed this young Brown Basilisk sitting below the anole.
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And that was the beautiful animal that we ended our vacation on.

We got to the Ft. Lauderdale airport plenty early and it was packed. Lots of flights were being delayed and cancelled due to the storm up North. Most flights to Boston were cancelled. Our Delta flight was delayed by an hour (making arrival right at the predicted start of the storm) but we eventually made it on and got home in the pouring rain at about 2 AM. When we woke up after 10 AM the next morning, this is what it looked like outside.
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We got about a foot all told. Thank you for sticking with it, Delta.

So we consider that a damn good trip, squeezed in between two big Nor'easters. As I finish up this post, we're expecting another blast tomorrow. We know how fortunate we are to have had that weekend together, in the sun, and seeing animals. 29 herp species and 27 birds.

Maybe, if this snow should ever melt, Big Night will happen up here and we can get 2018 under way for real. Today is, after all, the first day of Spring.