Sunday, December 29, 2013

Vacation in Dookieland! 12-28-2013

We are both on vacation now! Too bad it is winter and we can't herp every day! But the temps were supposed to get into the mid-40s on Saturday, so that was good enough for us to plan some salamander seeking. With WEBS: America's Yarn Store (in Northampton) having a year-end sale, we thought we'd kill two or three birds with one stone and visit the nearby Mt. Tom for some herping. Driving over 100 miles there was fine, as long as we actually found something!

By the way, who the hell made up the phrase "kill two birds with one stone"? Barbaric!

So, we left early in hopes of getting to our target babbling brook in Hampden County by 11:30 or so. We made it more or less on time. Sadly, it still looked like a Winter Wonderland!

But it was flowing, so we settled down for some ice water digging. Pretty quickly, I found a Two-Lined Salamander larvae!

There was a lot more of this, too...

The stream split and we followed it up, choosing the slower channel with more flippables.

After a bit, I got to a nice spot and flipped a salamander that I wasn't sure of right away...

Colorful, for a Dusky, but that's what it was! We checked out the belly to make sure... no yellow!

I can't wait to get back here in the Spring... look at this!

I got to another good spot and flipped... there was some serpentine movement swimming away that looked pinkish... could this be an elusive Spring?? I couldn't locate the swimmer, but startled a hibernating Pickerel Frog...

I actually released him and accidentally flipped him again! Sorry!

Kneeling into the ice water, I reached a rock on the far side and saw a salamander shape under it... could this be our Spring? I snatched it for the observation tank...

Nope, a large, beautiful Two-Lined! Could be some eggs in there, too...

At one point, I had a good sized Dookie elude me and I spent way too long looking for it as my toes went full-on numb.

A couple of hours of ice, soakers and snow was taking its toll on our extremities. Andrea was shivering. The front halves of my feet were numb. But we couldn't stop just yet. I needed one more Dookie!

And we got him!

How fitting that our (probable) last herp of 2013, a very very rewarding year for us, was one of our many lifers of the year!

We made our way to the car and the heater within. As feeling came back to my toes, I shrieked in pain, but they eventually thawed. They still are tender the next morning but I didn't get frostbite, so that's good!

With warmed up feet, we decided to check out the vernal area where we had seen plenty of salamanders in the Fall. Sun had melted much of the snow around there, but the pond was frozen solid and nobody was under logs or stones. Andrea got a nice shot of a deserted wasp nest, though.

We left, wet and cold, and headed to Webs to warm up and fondle yarn. Being proactive, I bought three skeins of hat yarn, planning on looking good for Springtime herping. Oh, and having found the first Dookie, I called Fitzwilly's for lunch and Andrea paid!!

So, it looks like that will be the last herp adventure of 2013. Only 3 days left and temps are going to be below freezing. It has been an amazing year. I'm glad we got this last, icy trip in!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

It's *sob* a Christmas Miracle! 12-21-2013

Everybody knows I dislike the snow and cold immensely. If I could herp year-round, I surely would, but we haven't been smart enough to move to Florida yet, so we have to deal with missing out on herping for a quarter of the year. Of course, if it's not too  bad, we can look for salamanders in the winter months.

But in the past week, we had two snow storms. This is what it looked like outside my car window while driving home from work on Tuesday:

But did I let it bother me? Well, the fact that it took me an hour and a half to drive the 11 miles home was bothersome, but the forecast was calling for warmer temps by the end of the week so I knew this horrid crap wouldn't be around for long.

And we got to enjoy a beautiful blanket of snow.

So, after the Tuesday into Wednesday storm, by Thursday it had warmed to the 40s... scraping the 50s by Friday. We decided to head over to our Norfolk County pond to see if we could find any herps. Our target species list is pretty small in December. We were hoping for a Two-Lined Salamander. That's all.

It was warm... it got over 50° when we were there. Snow and ice was melting like mad. But it was slippery as hell. Footprints and tire tracks that had gathered through the week were now solid ice. The melting that was taking place made this shit very slick.

This is what we were looking for... streams cutting through the snow.

Boy, it sure seemed like there was a helluva lot more snow here than in town!

We got to a good spot and I dug in... soakers be damned!

Upon flipping some underwater rocks, I saw some Two-Lined larvae and managed to scoop a few up in our observation tank... one was teeny!

I had seen an adult too, but he slipped away without a picture, as did a snoozing Pickerel Frog that I had disturbed.

Across the path, it looked like this:

After some sloshing around and missing a golden adult Two-Lined, I finally nabbed one who was wacky, but we got some pictures!

OK, now we were soaked and muddy. But we had found what we came for, so we were stoked! Too bad about not getting a shot of the Pickerel. We'd decided to move on and maybe hit that spot on the way back.

We searched in more watery spots:

We finally reached our destination, an area that is often good for Two-Lines. Flipping rocks out of the water hadn't turned up any Redbacks, but then the ground had frozen earlier in the week, so we weren't surprised.

This spot was not turning up any Two-Lines either! Oh well. We were about to give up when I flipped a Pickerel, who hopped up to pose for one of my best shots of the year!

Right after this shot, he hopped back to his spot and I'll bet he's still there... and will be there for quite a while. Good night, Mr. Pickerel!

Upon standing back up, I knocked my camera into the water. Oops. So far, it seems to still work. I took these pictures since the accident.

So besides finding some herps 4 days before Christmas, the camera didn't die (yet) after a plunge into the icy water and we both managed to not fall the whole time! It is indeed a Christmas miracle!

Or, we just managed to have some luck on our own... with no divine intervention.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Tis the Season- December herping.

Last Sunday was December 1st. The temps were supposed to be in the low to mid 40s. We decided that it might be one of the last above-freezing days so we went over to Hoar Sanctuary to try to flip a December Redback or something. We didn't. In fact, the ground was pretty frozen... icy under many of the rocks. It was colder than I expected. Raw, it was. The wetlands looked like this:
Hoar 12-1-2013

Oh well, at least we had a nice hour and a half hike, complete with much flipping.

The end of that week had warmed up a tad. Rainy and high 40s Thursday and Friday. I headed over to Allendale after work on Friday  (Dec. 6th) in hopes of a salamander or two. It wasn't exactly warm when I got there (a bit before 4 PM... dusk) but it wasn't too bad. The morning was in the low 50s. I flipped and flipped but came up empty. Even the dry creek bed that has been heaven for Two-Lined finds failed me!

On the way back, I got down into the dried up stream bed on the other side of the forest and walked in it, hoping to find some puddled spots. I did, but the bottom is too sandy for sals. Eventually, I got up where I wanted to be... one of the few places that always has running water here... and it's good for Two-Lined Salamanders. I managed to flip one, but it scooted away. OK... so there's at least one out tonight! (It was completely dark by now)

I crossed the path and settled into a spot in the stream and flipped by headlamp. I saw a couple of black tails disappear into the leaves. Argh! I was flipping stones and scooping leaves and NOT getting any shots of the salamanders! I actually had one on my hand, but he slid off before I could secure him for a pic!

It was now a battle of wits between me and the Salamanders... a battle that I frequently lose.

Patiently, I stayed kneeling in the icy water, moving leaves and flipping small stones. My patience and insanity finally paid off when I got a Two-Lined in hand and got him to settle down enough for a pic!

December herp #1!!

So I figured that, since I was already soaked, I would seek out another. I was able to get a shot of just one more...

Yay!! Satisfied, I sloshed my way back to the car, taking one last look back at my place of supreme triumph.

Hey, I was there for over an hour and a half and was only able to document two animals but you know what? It's friggin' December and I live in Massachusetts. I'm overjoyed!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks... 11-27-2013

While we were both stuck at work on this Wednesday, the weather was trippy... 62° and pouring rain. The cold was to come in the night and freeze everything but we thought about one thing... Salamanders. With the prospect of an early release for us both (the day before Thanksgiving, y'know), we made up tentative plans to do a quick run through Brook before the temps fell. Well, we did it and got there at about 5:30. It was already pitch dark and still raining.

Of course, our target was any Ambystoma, be it Spotteds or Blue Spotteds. We flipped a lot, but saw nothing and the temps were dropping. But persistence paid off and we flipped a beautiful, small Spotted Salamander!
Officially our latest Ambystoma! And what a cutie-pie!!!!

The rock right next to that one had two frisky Redbacks, one of whom skittered into a hole. The other one was too fast for my camera.
Andrea had more success.

We flipped and flipped as the temps dropped and our breath became visible. Some of the previously dry areas were filling in nicely. Andrea was exploring a dried up vernal that was getting nice and mucky...
That bundle of joy under her jacket is her camera being protected from the rain. She is NOT in a family way!

We got to a pond-edge and got an unexpected surprise... an alert Green Frog!

He was our last animal as we kept the trip very short. (We're still not sure how legal it is to be here after dark.) It sure is tough to photograph in the dark (as is evidenced by my Redback shot!) and our headlamps don't really throw enough light for that purpose. But hey, we had three species in an hour on November 27th!!!!!!!

Something to be thankful for, indeed!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Do They Know It's November?

Yeah, I know it's November, Geldof, but if I can't herp, I might as well be buried!

So... Monday the 18th was very warm! 65°! But I had work. My friend Ryan found a Garter. He had the day off. I figured I would head over to my friend's house right after work and see if any of his Dekay's were up! They weren't. The stones were cold and the sun was going down by 4:30. I saw a few Redbacks, though. The first two walked away on me while I fiddled with the camera.
nov.18 redbacks
I did score two more who couldn't escape my speedy camera-work.
And that was that.

Meanwhile, Andrea and I were thinking about Spring Salamanders. Still. We made plans for a Saturday trip somewhere. We knew we had to travel a bit. Since we both slept in Saturday morning (Nov. 23rd), we decided to only travel as far as Worcester County... in fact, less than a mile from where we went last week.

Kinneywoods is on the Worcester/ Holden line and it has creeks running through it that look good for Springs. The sad thing is (again) that, despite heavy rains earlier in the week, the streams weren't running. Plus, the rocks were covered by leaves like last week. But man, the habitat is perfect!

Our first herp was a dark Redback who slowly crawled into a hole as we watched. We had forgotten to have our cameras ready. Oops.

True to form this year, we flipped some Two-Lineds while searching for the elusive Springs. I flipped these two:
This chubbasaurus was with eggs, but I didn't get a shot of her belly.

This guy was just gorgeous.

Meanwhile, Andrea found two as well. Her first was also in a family way and she was smart enough to take a picture!
Her next guy posed himself for this lovely shot.

We got together to herp in tandem as we had separated a bit too much for a minute there. We found this guy.
Andrea picked him up while I replaced the rock and got this charming shot:

We finally found another Redback! This massive beast, no matter how aggressive he was, was going to be photographed, or we would die trying!

The path crisscrossed a "creek", so we kept coming to wet spots. Still no Springs! Oops... go back to sleep, SeƱor Pickerel!

I ain't lyin'... it was damn cold. We had picked Saturday because it was going to be warmer (low 40s) but it has been a while since we subjected ourselves to this kind of weather. Plus, Andrea forgot her hat. So, we picked up the pace.

This place is littered with flippable stones and should be very snakey in the warmer climes. As it was we concentrated on sals. Like this squirmy Two-Lined.

This was our last animal, though we had many Two-Lineds hand us our asses.

But this place is great. Very well marked trails, tons of stone walls and creeks, plenty of flippable rocks; this place should be great when things warm up! I mean... look at this!

So we will definitely be hitting this place hard in the Spring. And maybe find some Springs. This should be an excellent place (along with Cascades) to hit up on those oppressive hot summer days. We can play in the water and it looks like the trail should be pretty shady when there are leaves on the trees.

By the way, since neither of us found the first Dookie (or any Dookie), lunch was Dutch Treat.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Panning for Gold in Wormtown 11-17-2013

So, yeah... we went to Cascading Waters in Worcester this past summer on a 90°+ day and enjoyed dipping ourselves into the water, finding 2-Lines and Duskies! The whole year, we thought the habitat looked great for Spring Salamanders, too. So, with no other herp excitement to look forward to, we headed out to Cascades, to seek our Springy friends!

Well, the cascading waters looked to be dry. But upon stepping in and flipping some rocks, we saw that the water was indeed there, under the rocks... which were under a layer of leaves. The small pools looked PERFECT for Springs. But we didn't find any.

In fact, we didn't see anything until about 15 minutes in, I finally got a skinny little Two-Lined!

It was tougher than we had imagined. We flipped hundreds of rocks, but there were thousands and thousands. I said that whoever flipped the first Duskie got lunch bought for them. (If we saw none, Dutch treat.)

I flipped and saw some tiny grey larvae swimming away. After a long pursuit, I got one into the observation tank. It was a Two-Lined larvae.

Every once in a while, the water would pool.

Andrea earned herself a lunch when she flipped this beauty!
The only Dookie of the day... it got her a nice cheezy pizza!

In fact, it was the only non-Two-Lined of the day! Here are some more that we found in the first .1 mile of the excursion...

We decided to ascend the mountain, if only to see what was up there. Our only other time here was shortened by the heat and we didn't get much chance to explore. I had to sit my achey carcass down for a spell first...
To the left of the picture (my right) is all cascading water... low and covered with leaves, but all potential Spring habitat.

We got way up there and took a trail off of the main one and found ourselves at another beautiful, watery, muddy area. I flipped a stepping stone and this Two-Lined was under there... Stubby Malone!

Here are our other high-altitude Two-Lines!
We saw plenty more, but they're squirmy little devils!!

We also saw lots of these under rocks...
Anyone know what they are?

So, it started to rain, so we slowly went down the leafy, rocky path. We managed to make it with no injuries! Andrea still looked beautiful, in fact!

So, it was a quick hike, but we both flipped our backs into pain. Just 2 1/2 hours or so. Andrea's well-earned Dookie Pizza sure tasted good on the way home, too!

A new look at an old haunt 11-16-2013

Temps in the mid-50s. Yep, gonna herp.

We have always been curious about the "other" end of our favorite place, Ponkapoag Pond. We have such a successful route that in the past 7 years or so, it hasn't been necessary to  mix it up. But having had an epiphany earlier this year (finding an animal of great interest to us), we decided to enter the back end of the place, to see where those trails would lead us. Shame on anyone who sees a double entendre there.

First off, there is some interesting standing water there, fed by water through a tunnel... perhaps from Houghton's Pond?
It looks very promising for the warmer climes!

We flipped a bunch and got separated by the hunt for wood frogs. While apart, we both found Redbacks. Here's Andrea's, ol' Stubby...

I was taking a rest already (still not feeling well) and flipped a small stone in front of where I was sitting. This Redback was there!
Herping while prone!

Back together, we found a few more Redbacks.
ponk pleths

We searched diligently for Ambystoma. Perhaps we're too late this year. None turned up. We got to a small creek area where Two-Lined Salamanders can be found. It was dry. For us, that was perfect. 2-Lines can be tough to photograph sometimes but with less water, we liked our chances. And boy oh boy, did we strike gold! Striped gold!

A break in the Two-Lined action... a small, bright Green Frog was under one of the rocks!

Back to the Two-Line mania... Andrea flipped a large log that was full of 'em!

I flipped a rock that had some puddled water under it. This lovely spotty guy was under it and there was a flurry of activity in the pooled water. Tons of larvae was splashing around in there! Some are visible in the lower left part of the photo...

Andrea broke the string again with a robust Redback!

We then finished off with more Two-Lines.
ponk 2-lines

I was cooked, but Andrea carried on with the search for mole salamanders.

A couple of hikers came by and said they had seen some Spotted Salamanders last week. Evidently, we had all talked before and they knew exactly what we were doing. More interesting was their mention of a snake over on the dam that some kids had pointed out to them. "A big one". It seems that perhaps a Water Snake had emerged to enjoy the warm sun of the day over on the dam... the first time we didn't go that way!!!!

Oh well, we searched the cabin area for Charlie or any snake, but none were out on this side.

But we left happy, if weary. Only 3 1/2 hours, but we found some herps and had some fun. We went from there to meet my kid for dinner and drove by the light of a full moon.