Wednesday, January 30, 2019

We're Still Here. 1-26-2019

Obviously, there's not much to tell. It's winter, its cold and the Northeast is crap. We did our first day of Seas Turtle necropsies on January 19th (I got a yellow jacket in a turtle's stomach) and we've been trying to exist until the weather is less shitty.

We did have a bit of niceness when our friend to Teá gave us an invite to join her at some local spots while she took water samples from some ponds and streams. Of course, any chance to hang with her gets a big YES from us. So we met up with her and Dan, yet another wonderful person she has introduced us to. We hit the dens but as it was 32° and windy, we saw just what we expected. Nothing.

The next place has a stream. With Two-lined Salamanders. After some pond samples, we hit the running stream and scored our First of 2019 Two-lines.
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The woman, the myth... the legend... Teá.
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The underside of rocks and the mud was full of wonderful life. Teá was looking for lots of tiny organisms. I settled on Two-lines and scored a few more, from teeny larvae to uppity adults.
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Having collected some leaves, water and mud from the stream into a big jar, we started to get ready to head out. But wait... there was somebody inside looking out...
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Oops... we'd accidentally scooped up 2 adults and 2 larvae in the mud.
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It was great to spend some time with a dear friend and to meet a new person who is awesome. It's tough making it through the cold months but hanging with some like-minded people helps. Plus, I always learn a ton from Teá.

So what did she find in her water samples? Well... lots of crane fly larvae and three more Two-lined larvae and... I'll let her tell you...

"Today, the samples have EXPLODED with micro-organisms, planaria, copepods, rotifers, tons of other smaller things I need the other microscope to ID, and I think I saw a tardigrade.

The salamanders were left in a container with some of those little worms we kept finding and by the time they want back [home], alllll the little worms were gone and there were some fat salamanders."

Fun-ness.

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Ringing in the New Year. 1-1-2019

It was supposed to be Fifty Degrees on New Year's Day with sunshine and a significant wind. Obviously, we wanted to peek at our local dens to see if we could see a knucklehead poking out and break our previous First Snake of the Year record (a Water Snake on January 3rd). We headed over to the local dens at around noon on that Tuesday, the first day of the year.

While flipping some rocks (looking for salamanders), we met a lovely couple named Elizabeth and Keith and we struck up a conversation about this Suffolk County stomping ground we were all enjoying. With them, we headed to the Valley of Nerodia and, sure enough, there was a beautiful Garter Snake right outside the den entrance (dentrance?) catching some New Year's Rays. First of Year (FOY)!
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Obviously, this thrilled all of us to no end.

Elizabeth and Keith hiked on and we turned back to go peek up at Robles' den before continuing. Andrea spied this gorgeous and large (my guess is roughly 30") Garter gal laying right smack in the sun.
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What a breathtaking sight. Again, she was just inches from the dentrance.

Best. New Year's Day. Ever.

We decided that the Cottonwood Dens were next. There were two Garters out there, though they were a bit harder to spot.
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Happy New Year!

We went on for a bit, checking the Rock Wall Dens (nuthin') and took a quick walk up to the main park nearby. We saw no more animals but ran into our new friends again and got to talk a little more. Not only do we have nature in common but they were both wearing hand-knits, courtesy of Elizabeth. We made our farewells and we really hope to meet up with them again in the future!

On the way out, we went up to our new, more reliable salamander spot and were rewarded with a half dozen Redbacks, obviously our FOY. The first one was a bit shy to recieve such an honor.
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2 New Year's Day Redbacks
Not even counting the many non-red phases, it's amazing just how variable the colors can be with these guys!
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Heading back through the Valley on the way to the car, this tenacious Garter was lounging on a hill, not really in the sun. We couldn't determine if he was coming out from under the rock or not. At any rate, he was a beautiful sight.
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Of course, with a new calendar year, I get a clean slate for my bird count. We grabbed a slice of pizza and headed over to a local pond to get started. There wasn't as many species as the previous year but starting with a Ring-necked Duck for #1 was fun.
#1 Ring-necked Duck

The 4th (and last) bird of the walk was a young American Robin. Super common, yes, but I doubt I'll get a better bird photo this year.
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The next morning, I took Andrea to the train station (she had work while I was still on vacation) and then headed to a nearby bird-haven to bolster my count. I added quite a few, getting my number up to 15. I was photographing at a feeder (cheating? who cares?) when all of a sudden there were no more birds. I looked below and saw why.
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This Sharp-shinned Hawk is my Lifer #180 (#11 on the year).

A few other pretty birds... a House Finch...
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and a Goldfinch.
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So while I detest Winter, this year started off OK. After a disappointing 2018, I'm hoping for a little more peace and nature and love for all of us.

Monday, December 31, 2018

It's the End of the Year and I Know It. December, 2018.

Turtle Season ended pretty much as abruptly as it started and Andrea and I found ourselves facing the dreaded Winter months indoors. But Mother Nature threw us a few bones during this last month of 2018 and we took to the trails for a few last moments of cold stupidity.

Saturday, December 22nd
With a warm saturating rain the night before and temps in the 50s for Saturday, we decided to make a trek to an Ambystoma-laden place nearby to see if any individuals were fooled into coming up. Yes, there has been plenty of frost and sub-freezing temps but you never know. Well, as soon as we hit the trail, I realized I was way underdressed. I was freezing and there was still frost under many logs. Andrea came through in the clutch with a pretty Leadback before we turned around.
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Brrrr....

Sunday, December 23rd
We went to the Arboretum to look at birds. I added two more species to the year's count. This House Finch, snoozing above a feeder, is my last 2018 bird, bringing the year total to 108. Not too bad.
#108 House Finch

Wednesday, December 26th
We made a Day-After-Christmas jaunt out to Western Massachusetts (Hampshire County) to hit America's Yarn Store and check out a nearby stream that has Two-lines and Dookies. We got to the stream fairly late and noticed that it was much deeper and faster than we'd anticipated.
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I was without net or observation tank so I had to stick to calm, shallow spots and hope for the best (Stream-side rocks would be no good... it was pretty cold and icy out there.) Finally, I saw a golden body and snapped a shot of this Two-lined Salamander.
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I hadn't noticed the little 2-lined larvae body heading under the rock or the Mayfly larvae until I uploaded the photo.

Saturday, December 29th
 Never say die. It was 49° and sunny and we sought to end this rather shitty year on a high note. Of course, Mother Nature has had other plans in store for us all year long, so who knows. I mean, no Ribbon Snakes (what the hell?!), no Northeast vipers, no Greens... it has really been an underwhelming year.

So, with the sun up, we headed to our local dens in hopes of a knucklehead poking out of a hole. At our first stop, the Valley of Nerodia, we hit pay dirt. We saw the coils in the sun from 10 feet away... a beautiful Garter Snake.
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I thought it might be the same specimen from 2 weeks prior but upon closer inspection, we determined that it isn't.
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Even though our target was hit, we went on to look at the Cottonwood Dens. Sure enough, one Garter was coiled in the sun in that location, too.
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This olive beauty has a bit of a scruffy nose so he might be out to grab some medicinal Vitamin D.

We walked on, checking a few more den sites but seeing no more animals. Heading back, we made one last pit stop, to check on Robles' Den. We hadn't seen anything up there for a couple of years but you never know. Sure enough, there was a coil warming in the sun.
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Skinny Garter, that one is. Umm... wait... look closer...
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It seems that with three days left in the year, we'd finally seen our FIRST OF YEAR RIBBON SNAKE!!! Dusty though he may be, this might be the most satisfying sight of the entire year.

And our last one.

May 2019 treat us all very well.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

December Doesn't Have to Suck. 12-15-2018

Turtle Season is winding down; the turtles washing in are fewer, although some are still appearing. With mild temps on Saturday, we were ready to walk but we never got the call. So, we found ourselves with a rare free Saturday. Being the joyous time of year that it is, we decided to do some damn errands. Since it hadn't dropped below 40° the night before and it had been raining, we decided to take a quick hike through our local spot in hopes of a salamander or two.

It was pleasant, in the low 50s, and the sun was trying desperately to break through. Being the fools that we are, we decided to look at some known dens to see if any snakes were poking their heads out. The obvious spots were bare, as expected. In the Valley of Nerodia, I wanted to check a known den exit just to see if a Water Snake noggin was popping out. No... but when I looked down toward a trickle of water, I saw this.
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It looked pretty frozen so I broke our cardinal den site rule and picked it up. Yup... pretty stiff. Dead. Until the tongue came out. It then coiled tightly into my warm hand.
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I'm not sure what was going on here. Perhaps, this Garter left the den to go down for a quick drink and found it colder than expected. At any rate, it warmed up a bit in my hand and I put him back down into the leaves and left him alone.

Not a bad sight for December 15th.

We'd been noticing frost under logs so we didn't bother flipping many. Rocks were a better bet so we went to an area that we like and carefully flipped a few. Much to our delight, there were plenty of Redbacks there.
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We didn't encounter any more animals out in the woods but walked on for a while longer. It did our souls (and colds) a lot of good to get some fresh air and nature. After about 45 minutes, we found ourselves back in the Valley of Nerodia on the way out. Our little pal had headed up the hill towards a known Garter den entrance.
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I like to think that our gentle handling warmed him up enough to find his way back. Probably not but shut up... let me have some fun here.

That was that.

One more cool thing, though.

After some shopping, we were pulling into a strip mall parking lot and I saw a Raptor cruise over head and land next to a pizzeria. I drove into their lot and went toward the back where the bird had gone. I got my lifer Dumpster Hawk!
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Actually, a Cooper's Hawk, #106 on the year. Probably rodent hunting back there.

Getting out of the house in December never felt so good.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Our Mission, Should We Choose To Accept It... 12-1-2018

Turtles are coming in at an alarming rate this year. Over 700, as I type this (Dec. 4th). Loggerheads have started coming in, even on "our" island. We made ourselves available for the weekend, which we always do. We got a call Friday to see if we could go out to the point of our island to retrieve a "floater", a device that measures tides and wind and is useful to see what natural occurrences are moving the cold-stunned turtles. We said OK... how bad could it be?

The floater was about 3 1/2 miles out. Hey, we go that way anyway.
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The water was calm and we didn't expect many turtles. The sunrise was quite pretty. (We had left the house at 4 AM).
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I added a couple of birds to the year on the way out but mostly, we kept our eyes open for turtles as we made our way along the beach. Here's an arty shot of Andrea doin' her thing.
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Finally, we got out to where the floater should be. I walked up the harbor side, thinking it might be out that way. It was. I loaded it on to my sled and made my way back toward Andrea.
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One thing I hadn't counted on... it was heavy as hell. The big canvas sail was soaking wet and sand covered and the whole shebang was over 100 lbs.

I parked the sled and continued, unencumbered, out to the point with Andrea. She had found a cold-stunned cabbage while I was dragging the floater over.
Cold stunned cabbage

We found three deceased Kemp's Ridley's on our way out. They had been stuck in the middle for a while and were very dead. Out at the point, we watched Eiders and Gulls and wondered why there were no seals present. Or were there?
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We headed back, gathering up the dead turtles as we proceeded to the sled. It saddens me that I feel that I have become desensitized. Four years ago, all of these dead turtles would have made me cry but this day, I was carrying them like schoolbooks, just trying to get them safely to the sled to wrap them up and drag them back. Bringing them in is just something that has to be done and we do it unblinkingly.
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One more Kemp's was found, one that we'd missed on the way out. It too was dead.
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It started to feel like I was single-handedly destroying the alive/ dead ratio on the year.

It was very slow going. I was moving at Andrea speed and my back was achin' before too long. Still, I tried to enjoy the beauty around me (as I carried dead turtles and a massive floater)...

Blue.
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Sand painting.
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We finally got the sled back (though getting it up the steep, eroded sand dune was quite the effort and I had to take an "I can't breath" rest for a few minutes) and took the load back to the sanctuary. Evidently, I didn't need to bring the sticks and sails of the floater back but leaving it there would have felt like littering. There were students visiting so the dead turtles were taken for dissection pretty quickly. The good news was, two live Loggerheads had come in while we were out there!
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Our friends Tim and Kim were there and they had the pleasure of taking these ones to the aquarium. The top one tried to climb off of the cart while being wheeled to Tim's car!

We stuck around to make some pick-ups. We had to go back to "our" island to pick up 3 more Kemp's. When we got there, the woman was petting one of them hopefully but I could see from the car that they were all dead. We gave her and her husband the ol' "You never know!" but these three were definitely already gone.

Just as we were leaving to head home, a call came in from a beach in Dennis that we know and we decided to go grab that one before hitting the highway. I'm glad we did because the woman there had pulled a small Kemp's off of the beach and it was alive!
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We took it back to the sanctuary, relieved that we'd ended the day on a live note.

We got home 16 hours after we left the house and I was toast. I went to bed at 6:30 PM and slept for 12 hours.

So, since Tim goes by the nickname of Box Turtle Tim, I'm thinking of adopting Dead Turtle Mike. It doesn't have the cachet of Tim's name but it seems horribly accurate this year.

Monday, November 26, 2018

When Dedication Becomes Stupidity. November 22nd and 23rd, 2018

We had made our schedules completely clear for Thanksgiving and the day after. We shipped Andrea's Mum down to celebrate the day with Andrea's sisters and we were ready and available to patrol beaches on that Thursday. Of course, there was a cold snap of unprecedented proportions. And I had Andrea's cold from the week before. Undaunted (well, daunted as hell, but still...) we headed for the Cape to take our walk on the big island between tides.

We arrived a little early and were told that all scheduled walks had been cancelled. Any turtles coming in wouldn't stand much of a chance in the ridiculously cold air and with the wind, it was dangerous for us warm-blooded walkers. Because we don't have the combined brain power of a gnat, we headed to the beach. This was what Andrea's thingey said:
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We wore layers and layers and heading out, the wind was at our backs. "Hmm.. it's bad but let's at least try to get to this spot..." We pushed on past the half-way rocks and were surprised that we had seen no turtles. That was good, really, because they would only have minutes to survive out of the water (the water temps are still in the 40s). We decided to head to the harbor side of the island to get out of the wind a bit. It sounded good on paper.

You can see how much fun Andrea was having as she crossed over the dune.
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We saw another deceased Ocean Sunfish. We also began to realize that we didn't know the terrain on this side and we kept coming to dead-ends and tide-pools. We had to backtrack a bit, stick to the dunes and still fight the wind. We finally decided to go back over the dune to wrestle the windy beach... at least we knew where we were. We did find two frozen-solid Kemp's Ridleys back there, though.

Much to our chagrin, when we got back on the beach, we were barely past Halfway Rock. We had made a giant U-turn in the cold back there. We pushed back towards the car for what was likely the worst hour and a half we've ever spent together. My way of dealing with wind, ice and blowing sand is to put my head down and push... try to get it over with. Andrea, on the other hand, had bad Achilles tendons flaring up and had to walk backwards, one teeny step at a time. I love her so much but I told her afterward that it was like walking the beach with Tim Conway's old man from The Carol Burnett Show. I waited for her to catch up a few times, standing with my back to the wind and freezing my balls of. Literally. It was so cold and windy that our sled broke. Shattered. I never even noticed when the main part blew away. Andrea grabbed it. I was able to fly the remaining chunk like a kite.

I beat her to the car. I just couldn't take it anymore. The Diet Coke in my backpack had frozen to slush. We really should have listened and stayed in, staying warm. All we had to show for it was two Kempsicles and a broken saucer.
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We took the dead turtles to the sanctuary and put them in the dead turtle room. It was a full house in there. Many many turtles had stranded that day, only four were still alive. We went to check in to our hotel one town over. Andrea looked much happier on a warm bed with hot tea.
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Why the hotel? Because we had our dear friend Bob coming up on Friday to walk that goddamn beach with us the next day.

Staying on the Cape also meant we got to have a nice Thanksgiving dinner at the sanctuary with our good friends Tim and Kim (who supplied the dinner! Thank you!) and others of this magnificent crew of turtle-helpers. I brought the upper left pie (mixed berry made by the one and only Stabatha LaThrills) and there were three others. Pie is good food.
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We managed to turn in pretty early. I drowned myself in NyQuil and didn't sleep too badly.

Bob and two of his kids showed up while we were having breakfast the following morning. We told him about our shitty day previous and mentioned that walks might  be cancelled because of the temps. Still, we all got ready for the inevitable. We were expecting a huge day. I borrowed a sled from the sanctuary and we headed to the island, a motley crew indeed.
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Much to our delight, the winds had died down and it was in the high 20s... a fucking tropical paradise.
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There wasn't much action on the beach and sadly, the boys' first sea turtle encounter was a frozen solid Kemp's that probably came in during the night.
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I got this ace picture of a Ruddy Turnstone. I didn't need it for my year count but its a decent shot so here it is.
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Bob and I were walking together as we neared the point, with the others about 100 yards behind us. There were loads of birds out there... Gulls and Eiders, mostly. Then we noticed a big blob right at the edge...
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He tried to call his boys to get up to where we were... seals make all things good again. He plopped into the drink.
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We all stood out at the point, 3 1/2 miles from the car, watching seals watch us. Then an extraordinary thing happened. A young Gray Seal came up out of the water, not 15 feet from us, and started looking us up and down. We stood there in the moment (I got no pics, Bob got a few) just enjoying this once in a lifetime experience. Then, it decided we had nothing of interest and he flopped back into the water. A breathtaking encounter.

Unfortunately, only one more turtle was found... a battered Kemp's that had probably washed up the day before and was taken back out with the tide. Poor guy.
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It seems the winds had shifted during the night and the expectation of a huge day turned to a very light day. Which is fine since the turtles stood much more chance for surviving if they didn't wash ashore.

Andrea and I were very proud of ourselves for making it. Thanks to Bob and his boys, we sucked it up and did a walk we thought we might not be able to do. I feel badly that we didn't get the boys some live turtles but you just can't predict these things.

The season isn't nearly over. Will I survive? Ah, who cares. As long as some turtles do.