Friday, September 13, 2019

And Here It Is... September Already. Sept. 1st and 8th, 2019

Stupid EEE. We still want to poke around but we have to choose our spots very carefully. Plus, we want to try to see baby turtles. It really limited our choices. Plus, I had to play an afternoon show on this particular Sunday, so... we stayed local and went to the place that was decimated a few years ago in the name of human advancements. Nature has a way of bouncing back and slow progress has been seen there.

We got there at about 10 AM and it was still kind of cool, but the sun was shining and warming things up nicely. We didn't see much for a while but when we got to the dirt track, we lifted a bike ramp and saw two very much not-squished American Toads.
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The former "Racer Alley", then known as "Ribbon Alley", but now pretty much known now as the place that used to be great, has gotten a little better over the past couple of years. One remarkable resurgence has been Northern Leopard Frogs. Here are two that we saw on the Alley. (Leopard Alley?)
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We saw no turtles on the walk, though Andrea found what was apparently a successful nest. I saw a Garter but was too slow with my camera. This small toad was our last sight before we had to skedaddle.
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I was pretty anxious because the show was my first one back since breaking my arm but Andrea wanted to check one more spot for just a moment. Everything was worth it when she saw this brand new shoestring Garter boogieing through the grass.
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Since we were there, I wanted to peek at the drying vernal. It was buggy and we didn't last long; we didn't want to roll the dice with EEE. But before we left, we found this new Blue-Spotted Salamander, our first in quite a while.
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Not a bad Sunday morning. The show went fine, but I had some amp trouble. My own fault. Still, we rule Earth.

The next Tuesday, Andrea saw an urban Garter duo sunning themselves on the way to work. Andrea saw them on the way to her work, not the Garters were sunning themselves before heading to their jobs.
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These City Garters never fail to impress me.

The next weekend, we spent Saturday with Andrea's mum but Sunday was going to be sunny and fair, so we threw caution to the wind and went to a place just inside Plymouth County... a county that has towns listed as critical for EEE. Yeah, but turtles! We sprayed down really well and avoided the woods and went for it.

It was quite some time before we saw any animals. We worried about areal spraying and stuff killing things off besides the mosquitos. But eventually, we found a spot full of young, bright green Bullfrogs.
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Closer to the main pond, we started seeing Pickerels bounding out of the way. Here's a slower one.
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At the edge of the pond, I was weeding through a patch of plant debris, hoping for a baby turtle. This larvae, which I'm thinking is of a Diving Beetle of some kind, was there, just hanging out.
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He's about 3" long and very snazzy.

The only other thing I scared up in the floating plants was a cute Pickerel.
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Right around then, we looked over to another side of the pond and found our missing turtles. Stacks of Painted Turtles were enjoying the sun.
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Way off in the distance, I saw what looked like a big turtle and extended the zoom way out and got this shot. In the field, we chuckled because of the little guy sharing the basking site. But upon uploading it, we see that the big guy is a Red-bellied Cooter, our first photographed at this place.
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Andrea had seen a couple in previous visits but we'd been unable to get "proof" before. Nice.

This Painter is tired of your shit.
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I was in a weird mood that day; tired and maybe a little whacked out on pain-killers. I moped along and finally got to a resting spot and just plopped down. Much to my surprise (and a salve for my brain-funk), two Pickerel Frogs also chose this spot for a rest.
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I saw one of them scritch into the sand, behavior I hadn't seen before until earlier this year.

Andrea caught up to me after photographing this little Pickerel.
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We walked along together, still hoping to see some turtle hatchlings. We didn't see any, but saw plenty of very small Painters up basking. Maybe not a nursery, but a kindergarten area.
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Andrea finally spotted our first snake, a Nerodia who took off pretty quickly. Her safety shot isn't so bad, though.
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More sun-worshipping Painters.
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Here is another upload surprise... this shot of a couple of Painted Turtles has a surprise Snapper snout in the lower right side!
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Still small enough to be held up by a lily pad.
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Right around where Andrea saw the Water Snake, I saw a Water Snake, too. I grabbed it and it musked on my hand, including my nice, new, clean brace. I guess I had it coming. She looks proud of herself, too.
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Same one as the one Andrea saw? I dunno, but they were both very dark and about the same size.

This little fella is stretching for the most extreme yoga he can.
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I don't think I'd ever seen a turtle bobbing in the water in this position before. It's kind of hilarious.
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The Tree Swallows were swarming by the hundreds. It was quite an amazing sight that this picture just does not capture.
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We had walked plenty of open trails with no incident but we completely avoided the wooded areas. Thanks, EEE. But we'd seen plenty of frogs and turtles and that's never a bad thing. Our last sight was this stunning Cardinal Jumping Spider, a new one on me.
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The season is coming to a close. We're already signed up for turtle rescue day. Second season is approaching. Will we do it this year? It is still uncertain but we're going to try, I think.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Getting High on Amphibians. 8-31-2019

EEE is still running rampant throughout Massachusetts so most of our favorite stomping grounds are off-limits to those of us who do not want brain damage. After doing as much research as we could find on Worm Snakes in MA (there ain't much), we decided to visit the county that has the most recorded sightings of this elusive snake. Mind you, we knew we wouldn't actually see one, but we wanted to look at new places a bit outside the EEE hot zone, so we took a 2 hour drive out to Hampden County.

Of course, we had no idea where to go out there but settled on a green and blue spot on the map. We found a place to park that appeared to be near a few trail heads and went in. We didn't see any animals, except for some common birds for quite a while, but it was lovely anyway.
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We finally crossed some train tracks and saw this Painted Turtle basking on the other side.
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While I was photographing that guy, Andrea saw a Garter in the brush. I couldn't get a shot so I made my first post-break grab...
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Naturally, it looked better in Andrea's hands.
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I saw a bird way off in the distance up in a tree. I extended the zoom way out and got this shot. A Common Grackle, but I'm impressed with the clarity for such long distance, so I present it here.
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Now, EEE is listed as "moderate" in the town we were in so we were well sprayed. Still, after just a short walk in the wooded areas, we headed back out to less buggy conditions. While in there, I did manage a shot of this magnificent (Grass?) Spider.
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Since we hadn't encountered any mosquitoes to speak of, we wondered if they had sprayed the area. A chilling thought, as we hadn't seen any amphibians yet, either. Luckily, a mud puddle in the path gave us our first frog, a Wooly Bully.
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Then a small American Toad flopped across the path. This is more like it!
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I snuck in through some trees to get this postcard shot of a Great Egret.
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Unfortunately, a bit later when we were photographing a deceased Garter (oops... looked alive at first), I felt a tickle on my neck and brushed it. It was a Hickory Tussock caterpillar which, it turns out, I am very allergic to. My neck got lots of itchy bumps and my arm reacted too, about 3" above the incision scar. It was miserable.

But, we soldiered on and this Green Frog hopped across the path, alerting us to a big pond.
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We had done a huge loop and this pond was about 50 yards from the car... in the direction we didn't go! Better late than never, for we had found Painted Turtle Utopia.
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Oh, and ducks. Lots of ducks.
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After making the massive loop, we drove back out the entrance road, keeping an eye on the water. (We weren't the only ones doing that.) Speaking of ducks, we saw some Woods from the car.
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We talked to a few birders along the pond sides and then made our way back to town. Unfortunately, we noticed that one of the folks that were watching the water, not the road, had hit a Painter on the way in. It broke my heart.

We had no other plans (other than dinner) and since we were passing another park that looked interesting, if human filled, we pulled in. We told the woman at the gate ($3 entry fee) that we were looking to photograph turtles, snakes and frogs. She gave us some pretty good advice and directions to the "duck pond". We found the area easily.

There were indeed a fuck-ton of humans present but there was plenty of chances to distance ourselves far from the maddening crowd and when we did, it paid off. This Painter was doing some mid-afternoon yoga.
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Such a predicament. To look for salamanders (or Worm Snakes, even) we'd need the cool shade of the woods. But that's where the 'skeeters would be. So, we skirted the woods, passing by a little trickling stream where this Green Frog was large and in charge.
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We went back to a duck-weed filled pond that was pretty humanity-free and saw a few Bullfrog noggins.
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This side of the pond also gave us a better vantage point for some basking Painted Turtles.
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We decided to walk around the multitude of watery areas on the outskirts of the "duck pond" area, where other humans were scarce. Frogs were everywhere... it was great. Here's a Green.
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Big Bull covered with duckweed.
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Tiny Green looking mortified that we saw him on a rock.
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Then we encountered the source of this amphibian treasure. There were a few lily-pad and lotus flower-filled ponds that were absolutely teeming with tadpoles (and Sunfish).
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There were thousands there, some even had legs.
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Our cameras just couldn't capture the majesty of so many Anurans, so we just walked along taking it all in. Here's one last Green, and Bull to hold us over.
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And that was that. Of course, on the way to dinner I rubbed my eye and was sure I had caterpillar poison all over, as my eye swelled huge and got red. But I think it was mostly psychosomatic. But we'd had a great day; not a ton of different species, but a ton of wonderful animals. We explored new territory (and will most likely return) and had a good time together. Not a bad way to end August.