Monday, February 27, 2017

sirtalis For A Winter's Day 2-25-2017

Since I saw a couple of Garters on Friday, it seemed only fair to get Andrea's fine fine butt out into the woods on Saturday morning. We had some things to do but the sun was shining and it was warm, so we hit our nearby den-spot for a look around before our errands.

It is so rewarding to walk trails in February without jackets. In fact, we were decked out in T-shirts. Our first animal, under one of the Old Reliable rocks, was a fine looking Redback.
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Our first couple of den spots yielded no snakes, so I started to worry a bit. I shouldn't have. The Cottonwood Dens had Andrea's first snake of the year... a smiling Garter.
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While kneeling in to get a shot of it with her phone, she startled this shy guy:
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Oh look, not 3 feet away...
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Right behind us...
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That periscoping guy was watching me as I attempted a shot of this guy...
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So, yeah- the Cottonwood Den was bursting with savory sirtalis splendor! While walking back to the trail from there, Andrea startled a trio... no, wait- a quartet of Garters who were up to no good, far away from their den... wherever it might have been.
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The fourth one inspects a striped plant. Any relation?
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So, if I'm not  mistaken, that's 9 Garters... in February. On we went.

We headed over to TP Hill... the spot where, last Fall, Garters were strewn about like somebody had toilet papered the hill with snakes. Sure enough, we almost stepped on a few. They were quick to slither into tough to photograph positions.
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The nearby Rock Wall Den was looking empty until Andrea found this skinny mini. It was the smallest Garter of the day, only about 12 inches long.
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Nearby, this bright cow-flop was sunning.
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It should be noted that we didn't have much time and this entire hike was only about an hour. On the way out, we flipped a damp log and got our first Blue-spotted Salamander of the year... a fairly drab but still awesome specimen.
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We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening with family. We had planned to go out at night if it was going to rain. Our dear friend Teá was going to be in Plymouth County and we were going to meet her either there or at another spot in hopes of amphibian movement. Our family time went into the evening and we missed our chance to hang with Teá, but the rain had started up so we said to hell with exhaustion and headed down Route 3 to Plymouth County.

Our tenacity (stupidity?) eventually paid off. After seeing a half dozen DOR Peepers, we finally saw our first live ones on the year.
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Beautiful little frogs.

A very welcome first sighting... our beloved American Toad, standing tall and proud.
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Peepers were everywhere! No wonder we'd seen so many squashed ones.
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Finally, our main target came strutting out into the road, paying us no nevermind and making a decent photo really difficult... our first Spotted Salamander of 2017.
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Did I mention it was raining?
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Two adults too stupid to get out of the rain or two people enjoying amphibians on a balmy February night. You decide.

I am proud of my ability to see a Redback on the road from behind the wheel of my car. Of course, I can barely see my hand in front of my face but... priorities, you know.
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Another first of the year... a small Bullfrog.
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And our last FOY species... an Eft.
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He also had no intention of stopping for a photo so I filmed him.


A dopey looking Bully. I mean that in a nice way.
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This Peeper looks at me incredulously... "not taking a 3/4 shot??"
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Not huge but the biggest Bull of the night.
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We saw plenty more animals... here are a few of them...
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Our last animal on this remarkable day was this magnificent Spotted Salamander.
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A fitting ending to this 8-species February day.

It was after midnight by the time we started home. We were toast but this time in nature was a much needed diversion to help heal the crappy year we've been having. Thank you, Mother Nature, for being there when we need you.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Good, the Bad and the February.

Where have we been? It is February in Massachusetts. We have been dodging snowflakes, shoveling, shivering and getting the shaft. But we have been active.

On February 4th, we did our sea turtle necropsies, which went smoothly except for when I accidentally splashed turtle blood into my dear friend Tim's mouth. He seems to have survived the ordeal. What are friends for, anyway?

The following weekend was our annual Everglades trip. Good ol' Jet Blue cancelled our flight 36 hours before take-off... long before any snow had fallen. We did indeed get hit by 14 inches of snow in the city, but other airlines managed to make it out on that Friday. I got a (more or less) full refund but that one hurt. Still does.

That weekend, we took a cold walk in the Arboretum for some birds. We didn't get many and Señor Hoot's hole was empty. Or was it?
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We took a few hikes here and there with nothing to show for it photographically, but got rewarded with fresh air, each other's company and nature. We went back to the Arboretum on Saturday the 18th for some more birds. Señor Hoot was in and I also got a decent Red-tail shot.
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#13 Red-tailed Hawk

I shot this Yellow-belly Sapsucker just as he pooped, which is pretty gross.
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Thanks to Jet Blue, my 2017 bird count is only at 16.

On Presidents Day, Andrea had work so I headed over to the local stream for some Two-lines all alone. I needed at least one February herp. When I got there, I noticed that the stream had grown quite wide... the adjacent small field was flooded.
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It was going to be tougher than planned to see a salamander.

But I finally netted an adult and two larvae.
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Since then, the weather has warmed up and it's become downright nice out! My friends south of the (New York) border have been finding herps left and right. I ditched work early on Thursday the 23rd because it was 69° (in February) and the sun was shining. I got to our local den spot by about 3:30 in the afternoon. In just a T-shirt and jeans (in February), I headed to the den spots. The third one rewarded me with a skinny lil' Garter catching some late afternoon rays.
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First snake of the year.

I felt like I was being watched as I photographed that guy. I was...
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We've been having a pretty rough go of it lately. These guys made me feel better. I wish Andrea could have been with me.

I ended the hike off with a couple of nice Redbacks, the first in February.
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So, that is what we have been up to. Bad stuff, good stuff and stuffy stuff. It is gorgeous out today (Friday the 24th) and I'm trying to decide if I should head out anywhere... I probably will not. I want to share these things with Andrea.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Run to the Hills Jan. 21st, 2017

It was a Saturday morning and we had to take DeeDee, Andrea's pet Western Hognose, to the vet for a wellness check up. She passed with flying colors... she is in good flesh. This is how she looked while she waited for the doctor.
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After that, we took her home. The weather was turning out to be beautiful so we decided to head to the Blue Hills to do some actual herping. It had been unseasonably warm for a few days and there had been plenty of rain. Some salamander snooping was in order. We listened to some Iron Maiden on the drive there to get pumped up.

After arriving, our first stop was a trickling stream that is bisected by the path. It is often good for Two-lined Salamanders and their larvae. Another possibility in this teeny stream is frogs... and that's exactly what we found. This slumbering Pickerel Frog is, obviously, our first frog of the year. Premier palustris.
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He was actually fairly active as it wasn't very cold out... high 40s and starting to get sunny. We put him back and he returned to the underside of his watery rock.

The other side of the path is gorgeous... clean, shallow trickling water...
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I got on my hands and knees and sifted through the leaves and silt. I saw an adult Two-lined Salamander... this is the best shot I could get while he was in the water:
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With my face just about submerged, I was looking at the swirling silt and saw the smallest larvae I have ever seen...
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Eventually, we netted a few more for observation.
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We were very excited to see such tiny forms of life. Exhilarating.

We searched on for our first Plethodons of the year and hoped that they and some ambystomoids would be part of our sightings. It was proving harder than we thought. Finally, Andrea flipped a log and got our first Redback of the year.
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And she soon followed up with another.
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It took a while but I finally chipped in with my own.
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We got to another stream area and saw some more Two-lines.
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Our last critter in Norfolk County was this Leadback, who presented me with a real photography challenge.
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The sun had emerged and it had become a full-on beautiful day. We needed some lunch so we stopped on the way back home. We also decided to hit our local spot to see if any noggins had decided to poke out of the snake dens. By the time we got there, however, the shadows had gotten very long and anything that might have peeked out earlier had definitely returned to the underground.

We ran into a guy we'd met the week before and he asked if he and his son could walk back with us and look for salamanders. We struck out with Ambystoma again, but we all got to photograph some Redbacks.
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It's not every January day that we can get in a nice, longish hike and see three species. We considered ourselves very lucky. It felt great to get all tired and muddy. It has since become cold again, so we look at that Saturday as a gift and we say "Thank you, Mother Nature!"