Wednesday, August 15, 2012

West of the Border Herping- Aug. 10th thru 12th, 2012

My sister has been taunting me with stories about Green Snakes in her yard. She, like everyone that isn't us, seem to see Greens without even trying. So, with the annual family reunion coming up, we decided to make a weekend of it and spend a couple of days in central New York state! After all, we had a pretty good trip last year (which was reported here:

Nature on the way: this attempted murder of Crows on a service plaza roof... still in Massachusetts.
Attempted Murder

So, after getting more work done on my Feldstein arm (I'm sure it will be present in future posts), we got to my sister's house in Rome, NY (my birthplace) at about 5:30/ 6ish PM. We headed straight for the places that snakes were present last year. None. Her pond, while snakeless, was hopping (literally) with Green Frogs.
(What a lovely shot!)

No snakes yet, though! So, we went out to dinner. After, on the way back into the house, Andrea found this young American Toad hopping in the dark!

The next morning (Saturday, August 11th), we started out early, but there were still no snakes around. We drove to Camden, NY to pick up my father and go to the reunion. Of course, we hit last year's herp hot-spots before leaving. No snakes, again, but some Bullfrogs in the pond.

So, we went to Andrea's first (and my first in 2 decades) Howlett family reunion in Eatonbrook, NY. It's held at an old family farm house and, in my youth, was the best herp spot in the world! I used to search the stone walls for coils, the pond for frogs and the streams for salamanders. So, that's exactly what we did.

The pond was very low and we saw no herps... nor the beavers who get very cranky with you if you're camping down there. A dam was visible, however.

We went up and searched the stone walls. Andrea was quick enough to get this shot of a Garter Snake who later handed us our asses.DSCN0545
This is exactly how I used to find them when I was a kid!! A Peeper was nearby, but we couldn't get a shot...

This small Wood Frog was hopping across the lawn.

I was looking through some rocks when I heard Andrea say "holy shit"! I couldn't see what she had...

Up walking along in the daytime on a hot day, was this large, nocturnal, cool-weather-preferring Spotted Salamander!
Not just weird behavior, but this was the biggest Spottie we've ever seen!

Elated, we went and bragged to the family... who looked at us strangely.

We headed to another spot across the street and I saw a Garter streaking away... we were too slow for a pic. Andrea found another wee Wood Frog, though!
It jumped onto her thumb.

We didn't stay as long at the reunion as we'd hoped, so we went back with my father and decided to put some serious effort into herping around his home. We invaded the neighbor's property too!

We finally got our mitts on a snake... a wee shoestring Garter that was under a huge stone. I wasn't even sure I had him he was so thin!

We headed over to another neighbor, who has the Bullfrog pond. A nearby puddle was occupied by a thin Green Frog.
Puddle frog

Well, the water in the pond was very low, exposing large slate rocks that are usually mostly underwater. Couldn't hurt to flip them, right? Right! A Water Snake! Bluie! A little nippy, but a dandy, ready-to-shed snake!

We released him before flipping the next flat rock. Good thing, for this one had Nubbie under it!
Nubby bit also, but considering his tail had probably been nipped off by a snapper, it's OK.

This crayfish did flag signals to us, but we couldn't read them...

This Pickerel Frog offered no assistance.

Snakewise, next up was the cute Lil Blue!
He bit but not badly.
He slid off into the water like all good Water Snakes should.

Next up was... Nippy. Nippy was big. His bites were pretty hard, too. My stick was 100 feet away in my trunk.
I held him up over my elbow, like a waiter showing the wine.
The wine bit me. He got a tooth stuck on my shirt which I had to gently remove... and get bitten for thanks.

While we were wrestling with Nippy, Lil Blue swam by...
Lil Blue

Another small guy had slid into the water and was hanging there looking silly...
Lil Non-blue

I think I actually said "this is redonkulous" because it had become an embarrassment of Squamate riches! Like when we soon found... errmmm... Nubby 2!
Ummm... Nubby 2?

Lil Blue had settled into position... acting like a reed.
Lil Blue again...

This Green Frog couldn't bear to watch any more.

I struggled with a huge rock and when it was up, there were 2 Water Snakes under it. My eyes went right to a very large one (Big E Smalls) who had some nasty scarring on his side. He slithered off and into the pond while I tried to grab his roommate.
Admittedly, we were trying to get cool shots of Big E Smalls rather than the Roomie...
Big E. Smalls
This shot of Roomie sucks, but you can just see Big E just beyond his neck.
Roomie (Big E in back)

We backtracked a bit, looking for Big E and found this Spotted Next, no longer an Eft but not quite an aquatic adult yet, under a rock!

A wee Garter was in the blue and saying "hey" to us!

Lil Blue was still hangin'...
Lil B still hangin'

This Green might have realized that he was in the line of fire... he took off.

Big E Smalls was cruising the pond and it was a magnificent sight. We blew off roughly 50 shots of him and they all were great. Here's some.
Big E
Big E
He/ she looks pregnant here, but it's the scarring, I think. I really wanted to get a better look at his side.

Big E came close to the shore and stuck his head under a rock...

I was able to reach him.
Here's an OK shot of the scarring on one side. Looks like ol' Big E survived a snapper bite, or a rock crushing.
A look at Big E Smalls' scars

Needless to say, Big E bit the shit out of me. Unlike most of the other bites (about 15), Big E went for the wrist and it hurt!

I decided to not wash it up and let it bleed freely and spread with my sweat so I could go in and say to my father "there's lots of Water Snakes out there" while waving my bloody hands. His ophidiophobia started when he was a kid with Water Snakes and he knows they are assertive.

While still bloody, we found a high-red Garter Snake. We had found reddish ones here last year, too. Quite lovely!

"You have Water Snakes out there"!

Well, that made up for the poor snake showing at the farm. We couldn't even keep up with the photos, things were moving so fast!

The next morning, Sunday August 12th, we went out for a quick herp around the area before heading home to Massachusetts. First up was a pair of crawfish wrestling underwater! Andrea only had a second to get a shot before they disappeared!
Crawfish fight!

A stone flip revealed a large Green Frog hanging out!
Andrea went in for a closer look.

I couldn't resist looking under some of the rocks that were so snakey the night before. Most were empty. We figured that most of the snakes has receded into the cavern of rocks underneath. All except one... Big E Smalls!
Good Morning, Big E Smalls!
We let him be.

We sat on a bench that is beside the pond and just watched the water. Frogs were everywhere!

We thought we saw a large Water Snake swimming along. But no... it was a Snapping Turtle!!!
We knew they were here, but this was the proof we sought!

We got up and flipped a few more stones. We found yet another reddish Garter! Same size as last night's, we wondered if it was the same guy. It's not though... different stripe down the back! Not as red either.
Garter Red 2

Andrea, hard core nature photographer, couldn't bring herself to put down the snake before photographing the Red Eft I'd just found!
An artist at work...
It was a beautiful snake, though...

So, we bid adieu to my father and Barb and headed to take a quick peek at my sister's yard on the way home. Snakes were still eluding us, especially those damn Greens, but the frogs of the same name were still being good to us.

We raided her garden for tomatoes...
and headed home.

One last stop... WalMart for cheese curds! These Seagulls were saving parking spaces for someone...

So, no Greens, but a plethora of Water Snakes (we think we might have caught more Water Snakes in 2012 than Garters so far! Weird!). It dawned on me that in an hour and a half Saturday night, I'd gotten more Water Snake bites than in my previous 50 years on earth! Feisty little devils!

 Maybe next year...


  1. Nice Finds and some awesome photos!
    Those damn greens!

    1. Thanks Steve! Those Greens will be the death of me!

  2. ¡Con tantas mordeduras, vas a "mutar" y convertirte en " La serpiente del pantano"UUUUUUUU!!!!!!Un beso x 2 Martha

    1. Gran idea, Martha! Puede ser una historia nueva EERIE!