Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Year Ends on a High Note. November 4th, 2017.

Of course the year never really ends but our excursions will be few and far between now that we've had a killing frost. But last Saturday, November 4th, we decided to take a peek at a local Suffolk County spot to see if any noggins were poking out of dens. It was cold (50° F) but sunny and we know how tenacious our local Garter Snakes can be.

We hadn't much time as that evening, Andrea's (and mine to a lesser degree) band Trainwreck had a gig that night. The first one ever. Preparation was needed, like another last minute rehearsal. So with that in the back of our minds, we hit the trail. First up (including one under "Old Reliable") was a pair of Redbacks.
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Yeah! first November herps of the year!

Into the Valley of Nerodia we went, stepping lightly. Andrea noticed them first...
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That's a Water Snake on the left and a Garter on the right, laying out in the sun, catching some warm rays. Here are some close-ups.
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I stepped into the ravine and saw this Water Snake peering out of the hibernaculum entrance.
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She slowly pulled in as I stood there looking at her.

So, we were pretty happy already. We continued on to the Cottonwood dens to see a few small Garters laying about like garland, soaking in some late year sunshine.
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In that last shot, I was photographing the top snake but later noticed a second body below it when I uploaded the shot. Surprise snakes are the best kind!

Leaving the Cottonwood area with a few photos and a ton of ticks, we stopped to flip a log in the field on the way out. Surprise again! A Blue-spotted Salamander and a Redback were keeping company.
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Feeling quite plucky, we continued on to the Rock Wall dens. Finally, we were knocked down a notch. No snakes to be seen, nor on TP Hill. But, and this is a big but, we did see another Blue-Spotted out this way, the furthest out we've seen this species.
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This sighting might go a long way towards answering our question as to where these guys all moved to when the cemetery expansion decimated their hill. Look at that beautiful paddle-tail.

It was time to head out as we still had to make it to an early afternoon band practice. I'd still hoped to be Andrea's hero and find a maculatum for her. Blue Spots might be more rare but regular ol' Spotteds are quite stunning as well. We decided to hit some shady rocks up by the cemetery on the way out. We'd seen salamanders up there before. Nothing could have prepared us for what I flipped under a big piece of marble...
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The last thing I expected to see here was a Milk Snake, but there it was. Icy cold and full of slow-moving vinegar.
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We don't touch snakes when they're at their dens but we had to replace the large, heavy rock and... surely this guy wasn't near a hibernaculum. Was he? We figured he was out prowling the day before when it was much milder, then got stuck in a cool spot. Or something. When we let him go, he slid back under the slab, hopefully to a warm spot, deep in the ground. At any rate, that was a very happy and unexpected surprise.

We checked back in the Valley on the way to the car. The Nerodia was still out and had been joined by quite a few more small Garters, one of whom skittered right over my foot. We think that one might have been the specimen from earlier.
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Right next to the path not much further up, two gorgeous Garters were giving us some really favorable photo ops. I took advantage of their poses and got two of my better shots of the year.
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So, obviously, we were quite pleased with out hour and a half in the wilds of Suffolk County. That night, Andrea killed it at her first ever live performance.
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Next up? I'm sure we'll be on the beach. It's cold. So cold. And the turtles will be needing us.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Run to the Hills. October 22nd and 28th, 2017.

Having struck out on Copperheads the last time Box Turtle Tim and I went for a peek, it was only natural that we'd try one more time. I truly hate the thought of tromping through sensitive habitat too many times but I figured once more would be OK and we are always careful. Our pal Ryan was coming as well, and Andrea was in this time, too. Four sets of eyes. A warm sunny Sunday... we were overly confident.

We hit the trail a bit late because we had to watch a loose dog that kept running out into traffic. We got some rope and tethered her to a safe place after a while. Her stupid, careless owners passed us on the trail as we were going in. They had another dog off leash and didn't seem to care that we'd get their dog alive. Anyway, we flipped a log not too far in and were treated to the largest Spotted Salamander we've seen since Big Night... of last year!
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That's over six inches of maculatum magnificence.

Paling in comparison in size, but beautiful and clean was our second Spotted.
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How about some lungless love? A couple of Redbacks, a Red and a Lead.
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We got up to our climbing spot and ascended. Naturally, it would just be a matter of time before we started seeing Copperheads. After all, we had 16 here last year on a similar day. I was also hoping for some Racers, a species that (incredibly) we hadn't seen this year. (Three of our former Racer places had been decimated, to make the landscape better for ungrateful humans.) I even had a $1 bounty for the person who found me a Racer. I saved my dough by seeing this guy first.
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Over four feet of Racer, at least.
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We proceeded over the hill to the Copperiest part of our mission. Ryan had found another Racer... even got it pretty much in hand for a photo, but the tail end turned out to be the head end and it started defending itself somehow; it got away. But Tim spotted one crawling down the hill toward me and I got a shot before it slipped like spaghetti between two rocks.
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And we looked. Into every crevice. In front of every opening. We saw no Copperheads. Ryan and I were feeling bad because we really wanted to get Tim his first Massachusetts Copper. It was so easy last year! Once again, we got the message... even when you think you do, you really never know what animals are going to do. I managed one photo of a copper-head.
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We gave up on that area and went to another  open sunny spot. We checked it for about 45 minutes, then decided to head back. We'd been beaten. Again. Things were good on the way back, though. Ryan and I were up ahead when Andrea and Tim called for us... they'd just found a This Year's Model Garter.
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Further up the path, Ryan found this (probably yearling) Garter who would not sit still for a photo.
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Until, that is, it went to coil up in the leaves.
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Well, we struck out on our main target but managed our First Of Year Racers, so I was pleased. Tim, however, gets Racers in his yard so I still feel badly that we failed him. We'll have to try again in the Spring.

EXCEPT...
Ryan put out the word that he was going to try one last time the following Saturday. I wasn't sure I wanted to go. I'd said, no more going through the sensitive habitat this year. Tim was unable to go (though he looked again on that Friday. Racers, no Coppers.) but Andrea and I decided to give it a shot. Unfortunately, Ryan assumed we weren't going and never got our messages that we'd decided to go.

We got there and hit the trail alone. It had rained during the night and it was pretty cool. Our luck didn't seem very good for snakes. Salamanders, however, seemed very possible. We approached the log under which we'd seen the massive Spotted the week before. It wasn't there. But this was...
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This was the first non-larval Marbled Salamander we'd seen in over two years and what a stunning specimen! If that's our consolation prize, we're everso thankful.

Here's yet another color variation of a Redback. I need to work on new names... maybe Chocoback?
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Approaching the hills, we turned over a log at the edge of the path and saw another Marbled.
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Who was sharing space with a Redback.
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And that is what we saw in our limited time. To be honest, we had to get to a wedding before too long and I had a massive headache. We did, however, let Ryan know there was a beautiful Marbled in an easy to find place so he came by just as we were leaving to view that alluring Ambystoma. He did see one Copper up on the hill, too.

So, we end the year with no Copperheads (or Timbers for that matter) but our Copper searches got us a few last minute F.O.Y.s so I have no complaints. Plus, we got to spend time together and with good friends. The weekly hikes are drying up for the season so every time is a gift.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

They Grow Their sirtalis Pretty in Essex. 10-21-2017

We had been wanting to take one last look at a spot in Essex County before the temps got too cold and this was going to be the day. It would be well up into the 70s and sunny. Plus, a friend was vacationing in the very same County so we mapped out a whole damn day.

We got to our destination by 11 AM and we had plenty of time to look around before hitching up with friends. This Garter Snake knew we were on a fairly tight schedule so she was right there next to the parking area, getting us warmed up as she warmed herself up.
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Ah, Plethodon cinerus... so common but always so interesting. We flipped these three in a row; a Leadback, normal Redback and a Burgundyback.
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The salamander has a burgundy back, it's a Rip Off, such a Rip Off! Do it again!

Another 2+ feet of Garter perfection.
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This is right around where we started declaring these the most beautiful Garters in the state, the Cape be damned!

We got to a pond edge and poked around the rocks where the water had receded. It was also a good place to sit down since I was Prexxing. I flipped a confused pair of White-footed Mice.
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We found a Nerodia skin that we really wanted to see the former owner of.
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Sitting down for a bit, I got a pretty decent shot of a Greater Yellowlegs, #81 on the year.
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We were sitting down with a flipped Nerodia, certainly not the one whose shed we'd found.
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This guy has an interesting battle scar, an inch below the vent.
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Believe me, if something grabbed him there and he blew some musk on it, they let go fast. This guy musked us into next month and it stunk!

This was what we looked at as we sat there. You can see a few Yellowlegs in the shallow edge.
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We started back onto the trail but Andrea had to go look for Wood Frogs so I took a slow stroll up the hill and sat on a stump next to this gal.
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We just hung out for a bit. She's a good friend now.

Back on the trail together, Andrea and I saw another perfect Garter slither behind a tree. I managed a quick photo.
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The pond was surprisingly frogless, much to my chagrin. Turtles were tough to find too, but we finally did, though these duckweed covered Painters weren't very easy to see.
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We got to another pond area, Andrea stayed high and I worked down by the water. No sooner had I said "you know, we haven't seen anything over here in two years" then I looked down and saw this stunning sirtalis at the water's edge.
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It was chilly in this shaded spot and she wasn't moving. I went to nudge her and she showed me she was very much alive.

Heading back past the duckweed pond, we saw a few more Painted Turtles up.
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The above two are obviously not on speaking terms but it looks like a mediator is coming up between them to help sort things out.

Our last goal was a powerline cut that has been very good for Garters and Waters and we suspect is a den area. There's gotta be Racers up there, too. Walking past a dried up vernal, Andrea commented how we'd never seen a Spotted Salamander or a Wood Frog in this place. Our next flip?
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Like the Milk Snake the day before, this was our "holy shit" moment for this Saturday.

The view up on the cut was better than our snake-finding luck. We saw zero animals but it was lovely all the same.
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The temps had hit 80°... might have become a bit too hot for sunning snakes up there.

So, with time getting tight, we headed back. Spots that had been empty on the way in now had some snakes catching rays. There are two Garters here.
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I saw some rocks in the pond through the trees. Were there turtles on them? Yup.
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Painted Glory.
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Our last animal before leaving the place was yet another gorgeous Garter. Andrea nearly stepped on her.
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Now we had given ourselves every chance to get ice cream. We'd said if we see a 4-Toed Salamander (nope), seen 10 species of herp (nope), seen over 10 Garters (nope) or 3 baby Nedodia (nope), we could indulge. Ah, screw it. We got ice cream anyway. Then we headed into Salem two weeks before Halloween, something I said I'd never do again. But some friends were up from Tennessee and we made the effort and had a lot of fun. Andrea met Frankenstein's Monster.
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And that, my dear, was a long but fun day.