Saturday, August 27, 2016

11 Species in the Middle of a Drought. 8-21-2016

Third day in a row of herping in the dry Northeast. We chose a place in Norfolk County that is capable of giving us baby snakes and baby turtles, both of which are (or should be) appearing right about now. We got there shortly after the gates opened and headed to the first pond to see just how low it would be. Well, it was pretty darn low... there was way more "beach" along the edges. But when the water started, it got deep pretty soon. That's good... at least things have water to drink. And Bullfrogs have a place to flop.
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There wasn't yet a ton of humans there, so we had a normally bustling area all to ourselves to explore. While walking the edge of the pond, Andrea spied this Garter laying on a rock.
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We thought it a strange position to be in but when he lunged for a small Green Frog (and missed), it all made sense. At least he got a cool bath for his efforts..
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I hope he was careful... about 10 feet away, this large Bullfrog was plopped and he probably would have taken a shot at having him for breakfast.
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Before leaving this little pennisula (as we call it; it really isn't one) this fairly large, bright Pickerel Frog jumped in front of us.
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Walking further up the trail, Andrea again spied a Garter. A large one.
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Though our rule is to not handle them if you already got a decent photo (which might be debatable in this case), we wanted to measure this gal. She came in at a whopping 35 inches! Our largest in MA so far this year.
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It looks like she has just dropped her babies. She had plenty of loose skin on her sides.
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A truly gorgeous and even-tempered specimen.
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We poked around a few hilly areas but decided to stick close to the ponds. Water is life. The waterfall wasn't falling but there were puddles below. That is where we saw a small, brownish Water Snake hunting for minnows.
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That coloration and pattern almost makes it look like a Mangrove Salt Marsh Snake. But it isn't.

This Green Frog was also in the puddle area. He was small and just might fit inside that Nerodia so he was wisely hanging out in a sequestered area.
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This beautiful Bullfrog was relaxing in the shade under a tree in the pond atop the "falls". This is the best photo I have managed in quite some time.
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Speaking of frogs, here's another Pickerel that came out of nowhere and landed in this mossy nature-book-photo.
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This plump little American Toad was struggling getting up the sandy side of a hill in the same spot.
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It's kind of a good thing he wasn't able to make it... at the top was this Garter who would have gladly ingested him.
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Andrea's shot of the same snake from a different angle. Derp!
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Our last sight from the waterfall area:
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Considering that we chose this place because of the usual abundance of turtles, this 7-pack of Painters were all that we would see this day.

We moved along and finally got to a place where we have not only seen turtles nesting (and predated nests) but have seen new baby turtles making their way out  and heading towards the water. We didn't see any this time but we were surprised to flip a Redback in these hot, dry conditions.
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We sure didn't expect to see any salamanders or snakes up in this sunny, dry area but our next flip was a Ringneck who was in the blue.
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It's going to be a stunner after that shed.

Wha-wha-what? Another Redback.
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The rest of our walk for the next hour and a half or so didn't get us any animals, but it did get us hot and sweaty. Eventually, we got back near the water and encountered another Pickerel. This looks like its yearbook photo. Drama Club.
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Heading back the dusty (but shaded) path toward the entrance, a log flip gave us a very unexpected but important sight.

For the past month or so while we've been suffering from a severe lack of rain, we have been discussing the speed with which the vernal pools had dried up. Have salamanders and frogs had a chance to metamorphose? This flip showed us some promise... a new Spotted Salamander was under a not-very damp log.
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This dry and dirty salamander (who we poured some water on) proves to us that at least one Spotted Salamander survived, and I'm sure others have as well. We were fearing an Ambystoma-free 2016.
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That was also our 10th species on the day... no easy feat in New England even in perfect conditions.

We were dragging by now. I really should have taken a day off to rest after the previous two weeks of non-stop work but this is what we do, so on we went. We went over to a (dried up but damp in spots) pool where we have seen frogs, snakes and salamanders. Pickerel Frogs, the official Frog of the Month© for August, have made herping fun and easy. This little fella poked his noggin out of the grass.
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A loose wooden step that has become our new Old Reliable was once again... reliable. Another blue Ringer.
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Before heading to the car, we wanted to dip our hot hands into a fountain on the grounds. As we approached, we saw that we were not the only ones enjoying it.
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This large Pickerel was just hanging out, not taking notice in us at all.
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Extraordinary.

We hit the bathrooms before heading home. Behind the loo, I flipped this little sausage, the only new-born Garter of the day. With this kind of appetite, he'll be a bruiser in no time.
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That was a very rewarding trip. We were toast. Driving home, we recounted our day and Andrea said, "hey, want to see if that Snapper is up at the cemetery?" Ah, why not... we also wanted to check on the depth of the pond. I wonder if it has dried up...

We got there and the level was very low but there was plenty of (greenish) water left. Small Bullfrogs were jumping from the grass and the sandy, exposed edges to the water. This is an example of a Suffolk County Bull.
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Like before, we were greeted by a turtle. Not a Snapper, but a very large Red-eared Slider. This one must have been released many years ago. It has to have a 10 or 11 inch carapace.
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It was clearly begging for food (like the Snapper was before) and Andrea had some pretzels with her, so...


Everything was hunky-dory for this Slider... it got a few pretzels and was pretty happy. Then, along came a small Painter.
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The look on the Slider's face when it had to share it's carbs tells the story.
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To make matters worse for our elegans friend, Catfish started coming up from the murky depths to steal pretzels right from the Slider's mouth!
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Snatch!
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Then, the last straw for the big turtle, a second, smaller Red-ear came over to beg.
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We sat there for about an hour and a half, just enjoying these beggars and watching their interaction. Common animals, invasive animals... whatever. They're all out there trying to survive. Sitting with a Pickerel Frog, feeding carbs to a released pet that has been doing it on his own for years, and just observing wild animals, it is what fuels our passion.

Sleep came easy that night and our heads were filled with wonderful memories of the day.

Leave it in the Lamp of the Gods. 8-20-2016

Saturday... high temps, drought. It is baby snake season and potentially hatchling turtle season as well. We picked a spot in Bristol County to try our luck but didn't leave as early as we'd hoped. Still, we arrived at the parking lot a little after 9 AM, ready to give it all we've got. Our quest? Find 10 species of herps despite the arid conditions.

A dilapitated house and garage near the beginning has brought us luck before but this day, we struck out. No worries, our next stop delivered a shoestring Garter... first baby of the day.
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For some reason, this lil tyke was unphotographable... out of about 20 shots, this blurry one is the best one between us.

The river that winds through this place was dreadfully low. Still, it is usually very deep, so there is water for drinking and water for being a Painted Turtle in. The guys were taking a break for some rays.
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A sandbar had popped up in the middle of the low river. It looked like we'd recently missed a Snapper traversing it.
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It was very dry, indeed. Leaves crackled under our step and dust kicked up all around. There was some moisture in the grassy areas and under logs in the shadows. It was the latter that had a small Redback under it.
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A large vernal pond had completely dried up. The muddiest areas were covered with bird and mammal prints, leading us to think that is any tadpoles that were unable to metamorphize before home dried up, at least became food for something. This Wood Frog hopped out from under a rock in the mud.
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Near the river again, some wet-loving animals were present... a small Green Frog...
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and a fabulous Painted Turtle.
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Like we did on our previous visit, we decided to reverse our path and take back trails to the midway spot. This brought us through the appliance graveyard where last month, we found loads of Garters in the Magic Blanket and the Magic Raft. They weren't so magical this time, though. The Magic Sleeping Bag, however, knocked our socks off. 4 newborn Garters and a subadult... here's a shot of one baby and the subby... the others slowly crawled away... as did these two after these photos.
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Back out to the path, this little guy was found under a bag... full of lunch and ready to grow big and strong.
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Though most of the plastic black tarps that are strewn around the back woods here were too hot to touch, much less house snakes, a couple of noodnicks were in the shadier parts.
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Heading back towards the river, we were pleasantly surprised to see that a small brook that babbles across the path still had some water in it. It also had a couple of Green Frogs relaxing.
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It was there that Andrea spied our first Pickerel Frog of the day.
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As we got to the river, we realized that we had broken the Pickerel seal and we started seeing a lot of them.
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From the usually rushing falls, we spied some Painters way out on a perch.
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They didn't last long... a large Heron decided he wanted the log.

As expected, the other side of the waterfall was dry. No water has been spilling over the falls so the bottom part was dry for about 30 feet out, until it got deeper and gets fed from a pipe that pours water out from who knows where. We walked out the rocks, flipping in hopes for Two-Lined Salamanders, eels and baby turtles. We noticed a bridge that we'd never really seen before, though it's visible from all over.
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The rocks in the foreground of that shot are usually about 2 feet under water.

Persistance paid off and I finally nabbed a Two-line under a moist rock.
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I have to admit that fatigue had set in and we were still a couple of miles out. I could easily have slept on the forest floor. We pushed on. I decided that, even though I was toast, I wanted to look at a reliable turtle log upriver and have a look at a rocky area behind where we saw the first baby Garter of the day. I still had Milks and Ringnecks in the back of my head,

The turtle log was occupied by two Painters but there was a noisy asshole fishing nearby and his booming voice scared one into the drink. I focused on the remaining turtle and much to my delight, the other one hoisted back up while I was ready.
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OK, we got to the  shady, wooded part with a bunch of rocks and cement pieces to flip. In my daze, I started flipping, saying something like "When was the last Milk we've even seen here? Seems like forever..." As so rarely happens, it was then that we flipped a Milk. A good sized one, starting to shed.
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Looks like a new one for us, according to markings.
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It's super sucky weather to be stuck in shed, so we filled my hand with water and offered it a drink. It didn't take any but I rubbed water on its head and body a little. We released her where we'd found her and were happy to see some clumps starting to peel off.
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Good night, sweet girl.
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So, we wound up with only 9 species but saw our first Milk at this place in a few years so we were pleased. Tenacity paid off... no naps in a pile of pine needles, no drownings and plenty of frogs in the middle of a serious drought. A tribute to our prowess as naturalists? No... just decent luck.